Swift as a spirit hastening to his task
Of glory & of good, the Sun sprang forth
Rejoicing in his splendour, & the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth.
The smokeless altars of the mountain snows
Flamed above crimson clouds, & at the birth
Of light, the Ocean\'s orison arose
To which the birds tempered their matin lay,
All flowers in field or forest which unclose
Their trembling eyelids to the kiss of day,
Swinging their censers in the element,
With orient incense lit by the new ray
Burned slow & inconsumably, & sent
Their odorous sighs up to the smiling air,
And in succession due, did Continent
Isle, Ocean, & all things that in them wear
The form & character of mortal mould
Rise as the Sun their father rose, to bear
Their portion of the toil which he of old
Took as his own & then imposed on them;
But I, whom thoughts which must remain untold
Had kept as wakeful as the stars that gem
The cone of night, now they were laid asleep,
Stretched my faint limbs beneath the hoary stem
Which an old chestnut flung athwart the steep
Of a green Apennine: before me fled
The night; behind me rose the day; the Deep
Was at my feet, & Heaven above my head
When a strange trance over my fancy grew
Which was not slumber, for the shade it spread
Was so transparent that the scene came through
As clear as when a veil of light is drawn
O\'er evening hills they glimmer; and I knew
That I had felt the freshness of that dawn,
Bathed in the same cold dew my brow & hair
And sate as thus upon that slope of lawn
Under the self same bough, & heard as there
The birds, the fountains & the Ocean hold
Sweet talk in music through the enamoured air.
And then a Vision on my brain was rolled.
As in that trance of wondrous thought I lay
This was the tenour of my waking dream......
Shelley is one of the supreme lyric poets of any age and in any language. His verse has the power to accumulate images with an almost breathless rapidity and with an allusive/elusive complexity that only occasionally lapses into the vapourous.
Split between ecstasy and brooding despair the Shelleyan visionary seems to exist in some transcendent other world-only there can human aspirations ever be satisfied. As regards this world there is often bitter eloquence and a harsh prophetic intensity.
The present selection is read by Samuel West who is a first-rate verse speaker. The excerpts are well chosen and include extended readings of The Triumph of Time, The Sensitive Plant and Adonais.
The Triumph of Life is more a dance of death-humankind caught up in a swirling pageant of immense futility. Only the Imagination can redeem life. Among those few who have resisted the world\'s corruption are Jesus and Socrates and, by implication, Keats and Shelley himself . Though an enthusiast for humanity the poet delivers a severe judgement upon the shallow rationalism of the Enlightenment. In a Dantesque survey of great souls Rousseau is metamorphosed into a shell of a man with burnt out eyes, and Voltaire and Kant similarly reduced.
Adonais depicts the plight of the visionary in a society controlled by tyrannical forces. The poem is passionately pantheistic and the rapture at the end seems to become identical with engulfment into nothingness.
As usual, download either as FLAC or mp3 files. To follow will be the Penguin Audiobook Shelley, and the Naxos \'Great Poets\' Shelley, together with miscellaneous collections.