« ZurückWeiter »
moods. Half way between them are the two dirges for poets, Alastor and Adonais.
Alastor is the earliest of his poems in which the true Shelley soars and sings; Adonais, written near the end of his life, has been called with some justice his masterpiece. To compare one with the other is to perceive how his hold upon reality grew with experience and the practice of his art. Alastor is the outcry of a spirit against the limitations of life. It is the idealized story of one who was born to pursue a dream and clasp a shadow, yet to whom “it seemed better to die obedient to the light within him than to live the life of those who are morally dead"; and between these extremes Shelley saw no compromise. In the Adonais this intense striving and despair have given place to a mood of calm exaltation. It celebrates the death of Keats, but it goes far beyond any concrete subject to dwell upon the mysteries of life and death. Abstract thoughts are clothed in living images, images are woven together in a sustained harmony that rises higher and higher as the poet's bark is driven farther from the shore of reality and sails fearlessly on the wings of faith into the unknown. Metaphysical speculation has given place to religion -the religion that bows reverently before the unknowable and accepts with faith the union of the soul with the Eternal. It is no swift flight of lyric ecstasy; it is the swelling of strain after strain of solemn music, each one more charged than the last with "immortal longings”, until the benediction of sustaining Love descends in the great climax.
Shelley's genius expressed itself in so many different forms that to give any account of his poems in their relation to his life and character is a large task. If you attempt to put even his short lyrics into categories you hear Shelley saying, in one of his swift images,
Bright reason will mock thee
Like the sun from a wintry sky. His personal lyrics are songs of joy and despair, of triumph and defeat; but they are lifted above the pain that often drags upon the poet's spirit by the beauty of their music. Different as they are,-impossible as it is to catch them and chain them with epithets,-they are the expression of one who, “born to desire more
than any understand," was yet able “to hope till hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates”.
We have been told within a few months by the editors of two leading English reviews that our greatest need at the present time is a poetical interpretation of life, a poetical interpretation of religion; that we have exaggerated the importance of government on the one hand and of dogma on the other; that the historical interpretation of religion must give way to a belief in the spirit of Christ in its lasting, its poetical significance; and that in that alone lies our hope of an enlightened democracy.
Would these men look for guidance to a poet who defied both Church and State, who was a disobedient son, an insubordinate student, a breaker of the marriage vow, an advocate of free love and a vegetarian diet,-one who soared aloft on dreams of man made perfect and disregarded the restraints mankind has placed about his known weaknesses,-a visionary poet with his head among the stars and his feet stumbling along the rocky paths of earth? One who could call himself
A pard-like spirit beautiful and swift, and yet cry out, “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!”—what light can such a poet have for an age like ours?-one moreover who delights in abstract ideas and etherialized emotions, piling his images one upon another till the mind pants in pursuing them?
Yet where shall one look for a more exalted hope or a more sincere expression of the religion that is poetically divined?
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Shelley does not paint all the colors of that fragile dome. We shall not look to him for life in action, but for life in thought and feeling; for refinements of thought and feeling, but the refinements not of a mind overshadowed by a degenerate world-weariness, but of an intellect that retained the unworldly simplicity of a free and open nature—“one of the few persons who can literally be said to love their kind.”
Shelley combines a mystic's faith with the humanitarian in
stincts of our time. Nor is there anything in his treatment of
That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
The fire for which all thirst.
“DARK, MANY-TOWERED BOLOGNA”
BY VERNON LEE
Sorge nel chiaro inverno la fosca, turrita Bologna.—Carducci
Once or twice wandering about Bologna while my friends were at the Congress of Philosophers, I caught a glimpse . . . (or was it rather one of those sounds whose hearing is partly one of expectation?)—I caught, shall we say, the ghost of a mood; almost an emotion of forty years ago.
Forty years ago we used to come, pushed by my childish Machiavellian machinations, to Bologna on our way from the North to Rome. For Bologna seen between trains during a summer journey had become one of those places which exist only in childhood where, in virtue of some one thing acquiring a supernatural value, all the most ordinary circumstances of life come to partake of its magic; or rather as, under some summer full moon, just such a town as this, of its pleasure. At Bologna the wonder-working objects (like the ring you turn or the lamp you rub in fairy tales) were those gaunt rooms of the Music School whence issued for the earthly ear piano scales, fiddle exercises and vocal arpeggi of doubtful accuracy; but which, the walls beinghung with the portraits of seventeenth and eighteenth century musicians, were filled for the ear of my childish fancy with their unheard music, or at least with their music's charm. Long afterward I was taken by my hospitable Contessa Carmelita to a concert in the hall where these portraits mostly hang. And while, alas, unable to see them otherwise than as lamentably ugly or unintentionally funny pictures, I swear that none of the music, however excellent, which I listened to with ears of the flesh in that or indeed any other place, has ever been a patch upon that silent music, or, as I have just said, music's fascination (for there were neither consecutive sounds nor combined ones, nor anything save my own musical emotion) of all those years ago.
It is a very curious experience, this catching the tail of an emotion of long ago. It is like what happens when by some trick of associative memory or of unconscious interpretation you suddenly smell lemon flowers, or wine-vats, or some more personal perfume in places where there is no trace of any such things. In the case of emotion such as this old, old one of Bologna, what stands for the London street, where there can evidently be neither lemon trees nor wine-vats, is your own elderly blasé self to whom red-brick battlements and Renaissance carved lintels and eighteenth century bobwigged portraits have become mere ordinary prosaic facts; and in whom, nevertheless, there suddenly arises the thrill of rareness and mystery which they once awoke, brief like the briefest lightning flash wherein one recognizes, in some inscrutable manner, that one is not one's present self, but that child of long years past.
They have restored churches and palaces in Bologna, Rubbiani and sundry other of my archæological acquaintances; and
rebuilt or disengaged the Ghibelline battlements, like wild tulip 9 petals, of the House of King Enzo, son of Barbarossa. But at
the base of the two leaning towers there no longer hang those great basins and pudding-moulds and ewers and platters and pitchers which were more resplendent in their delicate copper rosiness and brass yellow, and in a way more mediæval almost, than any knight's armor in the town museum. And on the closed shutters of those venerable booths I read a printed notice: “The Coppersmiths Ildebrando and Oliviero inform their customers of their removal to a shop alongside the new market building.” The new market building, cast iron and disinfectants, excellent modern products. But think that the predecessors of Ildebrando and Oliviero (fit names for the last of a chivalrous line!), or at least their copper-wares, had looked for seven centuries up the steep slanting sides of those two watch towers; and had been there, no doubt, when Dante also looked up at the clouds passing atop of them, and made a mental note of the simile for his Giant Hunters in Hell.
One of my haunts at Bologna was the Seven Churches round San Stefano. Seven they are called, though they seem far more numerous; a maze of low tin-roofed basilicas, chapels, crypts