Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Hymn to Intellectual Beauty
By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
THE AWFUL shadow of some unseen power
    Floats though unseen amongst us,—visiting
    This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;
Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,        5
        It visits with inconstant glance
        Each human heart and countenance;
        Like hues and harmonies of evening,—
        Like clouds in starlight widely spread,—
        Like memory of music fled,—        10
        Like aught that for its grace may be
  Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.
  Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
    With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
    Of human thought or form,—where art thou gone?        15
  Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
        Ask why the sunlight not for ever
        Weaves rainbows o’er yon mountain river,
  Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,        20
        Why fear and dream and death and birth
        Cast on the daylight of this earth
        Such gloom,—why man has such a scope
  For love and hate, despondency and hope?
  No voice from some sublimer world hath ever        25
    To sage or poet these responses given;
    Therefore the names of demon, ghost, and heaven,
  Remain the records of their vain endeavor,—
Frail spells, whose uttered charm might not avail to sever,
        From all we hear and all we see,        30
        Doubt, chance, and mutability.
  Thy light alone—like mist o’er mountains driven,
        Or music by the night wind sent
        Through strings of some still instrument,
        Or moonlight on a midnight stream—        35
  Gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream.
  Love, hope, and self-esteem, like clouds depart
    And come, for some uncertain moments lent.
    Man were immortal and omnipotent
  Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,        40
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
        Thou messenger of sympathies
        That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes—
  Thou that to human thought art nourishment,
        Like darkness to a dying flame!        45
        Depart not as thy shadow came,
        Depart not—lest the grave should be,
  Like life and fear, a dark reality.
  While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
    Through many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin,        50
    And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
  Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
        I was not heard—I saw them not—
        When, musing deeply on the lot        55
  Of life, at the sweet time when winds are wooing
        All vital things that wake to bring
        News of birds and blossoming,
        Sudden thy shadow fell on me
  I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!        60
  I vowed that I would dedicate my powers
    To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?
    With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now
  I call the phantoms of a thousand hours
Each from his voiceless grave: they have in visioned bowers        65
        Of studious zeal or love’s delight
        Outwatched with me the envious night;
  They know that never joy illumed my brow
        Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
        This world from its dark slavery;        70
        That thou, O awful Loveliness,
  Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.
  The day becomes more solemn and serene
    When noon is past; there is a harmony
    In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,        75
  Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
        Thus let thy power, which like the truth
        Of nature on my passive youth
  Descended, to my onward life supply        80
        Its calm,—to one who worships thee,
        And every form containing thee,
        Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bind
  To fear himself and love all human-kind.

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