Percy Bysshe Shelley

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All love is sweet,
Given or returned. Common as light is love,
And its familiar voice wearies not ever.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 – July 8, 1822) was one of the major English romantic poets, widely considered to be among the finest lyric poets in the English language; husband of Mary Shelley.

Quotes[edit]

  • You would not easily guess
    All the modes of distress
    Which torture the tenants of earth;
    And the various evils,
    Which like so many devils,
    Attend the poor souls from their birth.
  • Cease, cease, wayward Mortal! I dare not unveil
    The shadows that float o’er Eternity’s vale;
    Nought waits for the good but a spirit of Love,
    That will hail their blest advent to regions above.
    For Love, Mortal, gleams through the gloom of my sway,
    And the shades which surround me fly fast at its ray.
  • Dar’st thou amid the varied multitude
    To live alone, an isolated thing?
    • "The Solitary" (1810) st. 1.
  • Not the swart Pariah in some Indian grove,
    Lone, lean, and hunted by his brother’s hate,
    Hath drunk so deep the cup of bitter fate
    As that poor wretch who cannot, cannot love:
    He bears a load which nothing can remove,
    A killing, withering weight.
    • "The Solitary" (1810) st. 2.
  • Sweet the rose which lives in Heaven,
    Although on earth ’tis planted
    ,
    Where its honours blow,
    While by earth’s slaves the leaves are riven
    Which die the while they glow.
    • Untitled (1810); titled "Love's Rose" by William Michael Rossetti in Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1870).
  • Age cannot Love destroy,
    But perfidy can blast the flower,
    Even when in most unwary hour
    It blooms in Fancy’s bower.

    Age cannot Love destroy,
    But perfidy can rend the shrine
    In which its vermeil splendours shine.
    • Untitled (1810); titled "Love's Rose" by William Michael Rossetti in Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1870).
  • Here I swear, and as I break my oath may Infinity Eternity blast me, here I swear that never will I forgive Christianity! It is the only point on which I allow myself to encourage revenge... Oh, how I wish I were the Antichrist, that it were mine to crush the Demon, to hurl him to his native Hell never to rise again — I expect to gratify some of this insatiable feeling in Poetry.
  • I think that the leaf of a tree, the meanest insect on wh. we trample are in themselves arguments more conclusive than any which can be adduced that some vast intellect animates Infinity.
  • GOVERNMENT has no rights; it is a delegation from several individuals for the purpose of securing their own. It is therefore just, only so far as it exists by their consent, useful only so far as it operates to their well-being.
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 1.
  • No man has a right to disturb the public peace, by personally resisting the execution of a law however bad. He ought to acquiesce, using at the same time the utmost powers of his reason, to promote its repeal.
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 9.
  • Man has no right to kill his brother, it is no excuse that he does so in uniform. He only adds the infamy of servitude to the crime of murder.
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 19.
  • Belief is involuntary; nothing involuntary is meritorious or reprehensible. A man ought not to be considered worse or better for his belief.
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 23.
  • A Christian, a Deist, a Turk, and a Jew, have equal rights: they are men and brethren.
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 24.
  • If a person's religious ideas correspond not with your own, love him nevertheless. How different would yours have been, had the chance of birth placed you in Tartary or India!
    • "Declaration of Rights" (1812), article 25.
  • Once, early in the morning,
    Beelzebub arose,
    With care his sweet person adorning,
    He put on his Sunday clothes.
  • It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust.
    • "A Vindication of Natural Diet" (1813)
  • The butchering of harmless animals cannot fail to produce much of that spirit of insane and hideous exultation in which news of a victory is related altho' purchased by the massacre of a hundred thousand men.
    If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.
    • "On the Vegetable System of Diet'" (c. 1815; posthumously published, 1929)
  • The awful shadow of some unseen Power
    Floats though unseen among 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,
    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,
    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?

    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,
    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?
    • Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, st. 2.
  • 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,
    Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream.
    • Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, st. 3.
  • The day becomes more solemn and serene
    When noon is past; there is a harmony
    In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
    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
    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.
    • Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, st. 7.
  • Some say that gleams of a remoter world
    Visit the soul in sleep, — that death is slumber,
    And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber
    Of those who wake and live.
  • We rest. — A dream has power to poison sleep;
    We rise. — One wandering thought pollutes the day;
    We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
    Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

    It is the same! — For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free:
    Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.

  • Yet now despair itself is mild,
    Even as the winds and waters are;
    I could lie down like a tired child,
    And weep away the life of care
    Which I have borne and yet must bear,
    Till death like sleep might steal on me,
    And I might feel in the warm air
    My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
    Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.
  • Chameleons feed on light and air:
    Poets' food is love and fame.
    • Love's Philosophy, st. 1 (1819)
    • Variant:
    • All things by a law divine
      In one spirit meet and mingle —
      Why not I with thine?
      • Less widely published variant which appears in the original manuscript.
  • I arise from dreams of thee
    In the first sweet sleep of night,
    When the winds are breathing low,
    And the stars are shining bright.
  • O lift me from the grass!
    I die! I faint! I fail!
    Let thy love in kisses rain
    On my lips and eyelids pale.
    My cheek is cold and white, alas!
    My heart beats loud and fast:
    O press it to thine own again,
    Where it will break at last!
    • The Indian Serenade, st. 3.
  • Hell is a city much like London —
    A populous and smoky city.
  • Teas,
    Where small talk dies in agonies.
    • Peter Bell the Third, Pt. III, st. 12.
  • Peter was dull; he was at first
    Dull,—oh so dull, so very dull!
    Whether he talked, wrote, or rehearsed,
    Still with this dulness was he cursed!
    Dull,—beyond all conception, dull.
    • Peter Bell the Third, Pt. VII, st. 11.
  • I have drunken deep of joy,
    And I will taste no other wine tonight.
    • The Cenci, Act I, sc. iii, l. 88 (1819).
  • The breath
    Of accusation kills an innocent name,
    And leaves for lame acquittal the poor life,
    Which is a mask without it.
    • The Cenci (1819).
  • An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king, —
    Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
    Through public scorn, — mud from a muddy spring, —
    Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
    But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
    Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
  • A lovely lady, garmented in light
    From her own beauty.
  • First our pleasures die — and then
    Our hopes, and then our fears — and when
    These are dead, the debt is due,
    Dust claims dust — and we die too.
    • Death, st. 3 (1820).
  • There grew pied wind-flowers and violets,
    Daisies, those pearl’d Arcturi of the earth,
    The constellated flower that never sets;
    Faint oxlips; tender bluebells at whose birth
    The sod scarce heaved; and that tall flower that wets
    Its mother’s face with heaven-collected tears,
    When the low wind, its playmate’s voice, it hears.
  • Though we eat little flesh and drink no wine,
    Yet let's be merry: we'll have tea and toast;
    Custards for supper, and an endless host
    Of syllabubs and jellies and mince-pies,
    And other such ladylike luxuries.
    • Letter to Maria Gisborne (1820).
  • A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
    And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
    And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
    And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.
  • Rough wind, the moanest loud
    Grief too sad for song;
    Wild wind, when sullen cloud
    Knells all the night long;
    Sad storm, whose tears are vain,
    Bare woods, whose branches strain,
    Deep caves and dreary main, —
    Wail, for the world's wrong!
  • Music, when soft voices die,
    Vibrates in the memory —
    Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
    Live within the sense they quicken.
    Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
    Are heaped for the beloved's bed;
    And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
    Love itself shall slumber on.
  • One word is too often profaned
    For me to profane it;
    One feeling too falsely disdained
    For thee to disdain it.
  • The desire of the moth for the star,
    Of the night for the morrow,
    The devotion to something afar
    From the sphere of our sorrow.
    • One Word is Too Often Profaned, st. 2.
  • Swiftly walk over the western wave,
    Spirit of Night!
    Out of the misty eastern cave
    Where, all the long and lone daylight,
    Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear,
    Which make thee terrible and dear, —
    Swift be thy flight!
  • Death will come when thou art dead,
    Soon, too soon —
    Sleep will come when thou art fled;
    Of neither would I ask the boon
    I ask of thee, beloved Night —
    Swift be thine approaching flight,
    Come soon, soon!
    • To Night, st. 5.
  • There is no sport in hate where all the rage
    Is on one side.
  • When the lamp is shattered
    The light in the dust lies dead —
    When the cloud is scattered,
    The rainbow's glory is shed.
  • The more we study, we the more discover
    Our ignorance.
    • "Scenes from the Magico Prodigioso", sc. i (1822).
  • Are ye, two vultures sick for battle,
    Two scorpions under one wet stone,
    Two bloodless wolves whose dry throats rattle,
    Two crows perched on the murrained cattle,
    Two vipers tangled into one.
  • That orbed maiden with white fire laden,
    Whom mortals call the moon.
    • The Cloud, iv; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • What! alive, and so bold, O earth?
    • Written on hearing the News of the Death of Napoleon; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Sing again, with your dear voice revealing
    A tone
    Of some world far from ours,
    Where music and moonlight and feeling
    Are one.
    • To Jane. The keen Stars were twinkling; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • You lie—under a mistake,
    For this is the most civil sort of lie
    That can be given to a man's face. I now
    Say what I think.
    • Translation of Calderon's Magico Prodigioso, Scene i; reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).

The Necessity of Atheism (1811)[edit]

  • There is no God!
    This negation must be understood solely to affect a creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit co-eternal with the universe remains unshaken.
  • If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him?
    If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future?
    If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers?
    If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?
    If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses?

    If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them?
    If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him?
    If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable?
    If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees?
    If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him?
    If he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced?
    If the knowledge of a God is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest?
  • The body is placed under the earth, and after a certain period there remains no vestige even of its form. This is that contemplation of inexhaustible melancholy, whose shadow eclipses the brightness of the world. The common observer is struck with dejection of the spectacle. He contends in vain against the persuasion of the grave, that the dead indeed cease to be. The corpse at his feet is prophetic of his own destiny. Those who have preceded him, and whose voice was delightful to his ear; whose touch met his like sweet and subtle fire: whose aspect spread a visionary light upon his path — these he cannot meet again.
  • We must prove design before we can infer a designer.[1]
    • Alternate: Design must be proved before a designer can be inferred.[2]

Queen Mab (1813)[edit]

  • How wonderful is Death,
    Death and his brother Sleep!
    • Canto I
  • Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;
    The subject, not the citizen; for kings
    And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
    A losing game into each other's hands,
    Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man
    Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
    Power, like a desolating pestilence,
    Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
    Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
    Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
    A mechanized automaton.
    • Canto III
  • Heaven's ebon vault,
    Studded with stars unutterably bright,
    Through which the moon's unclouded grandeur rolls,
    Seems like a canopy which love has spread
    To curtain her sleeping world.
    • Canto IV
  • War is the statesman's game, the priest's delight,
    The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade.
    • Canto IV
  • Thus suicidal selfishness, that blights
    The fairest feelings of the opening heart,
    Is destined to decay, whilst from the soil
    Shall spring all virtue, all delight, all love,
    And judgment cease to wage unnatural war
    With passion's unsubduable array.
    • Canto V
  • Twin-sister of Religion, Selfishness!
    Rival in crime and falsehood, aping all
    The wanton horrors of her bloody play;
    Yet frozen, unimpassioned, spiritless,
    Shunning the light, and owning not its name,
    Compelled by its deformity to screen
    With flimsy veil of justice and of right
    Its unattractive lineaments that scare
    All save the brood of ignorance; at once
    The cause and the effect of tyranny;
    Unblushing, hardened, sensual and vile;
    Dead to all love but of its abjectness;
    With heart impassive by more noble powers
    Than unshared pleasure, sordid gain, or fame;
    Despising its own miserable being,
    Which still it longs, yet fears, to disenthrall.
    • Canto V
  • Gold is a living god and rules in scorn,
    All earthly things but virtue.
    • Canto V
  • A husband and wife ought to continue so long united as they love each other. Any law which should bind them to cohabitation for one moment after the decay of their affection, would be a most intolerable tyranny, and the most unworthy of toleration.
    • Notes.
  • Love is free: to promise for ever to love the same woman, is not less absurd than to promise to believe the same creed: such a vow in both cases, excludes us from all enquiry.
    • Notes.
  • Chastity is a monkish and evangelical superstition, a greater foe to natural temperance even than unintellectual sensuality; it strikes at the root of all domestic happiness, and consigns more than half the human race to misery.
    • Notes.
  • It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation, that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion; and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust.
    • Notes.

On a Future State (1815; publ. 1840)[edit]

  • It has been the persuasion of an immense majority of human beings in all ages and nations that we continue to live after death,—that apparent termination of all the functions of sensitive and intellectual existence. Nor has mankind been contented with supposing that species of existence which some philosophers have asserted; namely, the resolution of the component parts of the mechanism of a living being into its elements, and the impossibility of the minutest particle of these sustaining the smallest diminution. They have clung to the idea that sensibility and thought, which they have distinguished from the objects of it, under the several names of spirit and matter, is, in its own nature, less susceptible of division and decay, and that, when the body is resolved into its elements, the principle which animated it will remain perpetual and unchanged.
  • Some philosophers—and those to whom we are indebted for the most stupendous discoveries in physical science, suppose... that intelligence is the mere result of certain combinations among the particles of its objects; and those among them who believe that we live after death, recur to the interposition of a supernatural power, which shall overcome the tendency inherent in all material combinations, to dissipate and be absorbed into other forms.
  • Let us bring the question to the test of experience and fact; and ask ourselves, considering our nature in its entire extent, what light we derive from a sustained and comprehensive view of its component parts, which may enable us to assert with certainty that we do or do not live after death.
  • If it be proved that the world is ruled by a Divine Power, no inference necessarily can be drawn from that circumstance in favour of a future state.
  • Should it be proved... that the mysterious principle which regulates the proceedings of the universe, is neither intelligent nor sensitive, yet it is not an inconsistency to suppose at the same time, that the animating power survives the body which it has animated, by laws as independent of any supernatural agent as those through which it first became united with it. Nor, if a future state be clearly proved, does it follow that it will be a state of punishment or reward.
  • The natural philosopher, in addition to the sensations common to all men inspired by the event of death, believes that he sees with more certainty that it is attended with the annihilation of sentiment and thought. He observes the mental powers increase and fade with those of the body, and even accommodate themselves to the most transitory changes of our physical nature. Sleep suspends many of the faculties of the vital and intellectual principle; drunkenness and disease will either temporarily or permanently derange them. Madness or idiotcy may utterly extinguish the most excellent and delicate of those powers. In old age the mind gradually withers; and as it grew and was strengthened with the body, so does it together with the body sink into decrepitude. Assuredly these are convincing evidences that so soon as the organs of the body are subjected to the laws of inanimate matter, sensation, and perception, and apprehension are at an end.
  • It is probable that what we call thought is not an actual being, but no more than the relation between certain parts of that infinitely varied mass, of which the rest of the universe is composed, and which ceases to exist as soon as those parts change their position with regard to each other.

The Revolt of Islam (1817)[edit]

  • Then black despair,
    The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
    Over the world in which I moved alone.
    • Dedication, st. 6.
  • A wild dissolving bliss
    Over my frame he breathed, approaching near,
    And bent his eyes of kindling tenderness
    Near mine, and on my lips impressed a lingering kiss.
    • Canto I, st. 42.
  • With hue like that when some great painter dips
    His pencil in the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.
    • Canto V, st. 23.
  • Fear not the future, weep not for the past.
    • Canto XI, st. 18.

Ozymandias (1818)[edit]

  • I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: — Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert.
    Near them on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
    And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains: round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Prometheus Unbound (1818–1819; publ. 1820)[edit]

Full text online
  • Ere Babylon was dust,
    The Magus Zoroaster, my dead child,
    Met his own image walking in the garden.
    That apparition, sole of men, he saw.
  • In each human heart terror survives
    The ravin it has gorged: the loftiest fear
    All that they would disdain to think were true:
    Hypocrisy and custom make their minds
    The fanes of many a worship, now outworn.
    They dare not devise good for man’s estate,
    And yet they know not that they do not dare.
    • Fury, Act I, l. 618–624.
  • The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
    The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
    The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom;
    And all best things are thus confused to ill.

    Many are strong and rich, and would be just,
    But live among their suffering fellow-men
    As if none felt: they know not what they do.
    • Fury, Act I, l. 625–631.
  • Thy words are like a cloud of winged snakes;
    And yet I pity those they torture not.
  • Peace is in the grave.
    The grave hides all things beautiful and good.
    I am a God and cannot find it there,
    Nor would I seek it; for, though dread revenge,
    This is defeat, fierce king, not victory.
    • Prometheus, Act I, l. 638.
  • He will watch from dawn to gloom
    The lake-reflected sun illume
    The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom,
    Nor heed nor see, what things they be;
    But from these create he can
    Forms more real than living man,
    Nurslings of immortality!
    • Fourth Spirit, Act I, l. 742.
  • To know nor faith, nor love, nor law, to be
    Omnipotent but friendless, is to reign.
    • Asia, Act II, sc. iv, l. 47.
  • All spirits are enslaved which serve things evil.
  • All love is sweet,
    Given or returned. Common as light is love,
    And its familiar voice wearies not ever.

    Like the wide heaven, the all-sustaining air,
    It makes the reptile equal to the God;
    They who inspire it most are fortunate,
    As I am now; but those who feel it most
    Are happier still.
    • Asia, Act II, sc. v, l. 39.
  • Death is the veil which those who live call life;
    They sleep, and it is lifted.
    • Earth, Act III, sc. iii, l. 113.
  • Nor yet exempt, though ruling them like slaves,
    From chance, and death, and mutability,
    The clogs of that which else might oversoar
    The loftiest star of unascended heaven,
    Pinnacled dim in the intense inane.
    • Spirit of the Hour, Act III, sc. iv, l. 200.
  • The pale stars are gone!
    For the sun, their swift shepherd,
    To their folds them compelling,
    In the depths of the dawn,
    Hastes, in meteor-eclipsing array, and the flee
    Beyond his blue dwelling,
    As fawns flee the leopard.
    • Voice of Unseen Spirits, Act IV, l. 1.
  • Familiar acts are beautiful through love.
    • The Earth, Act IV, l. 403.
  • Soul meets soul on lovers' lips.
    • The Moon, Act IV, l. 451.
  • Man, who wert once a despot and a slave,
    A dupe and a deceiver! a decay,
    A traveller from the cradle to the grave
    Through the dim night of this immortal day.
    • Demogorgon, Act IV, l. 549.
  • This is the day, which down the void abysm
    At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism
    And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:
    Love, from its awful throne of patient power
    In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
    Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
    And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs
    And folds over the world its healing wings.
    • Demogorgon, Act IV, l. 554–561.
  • Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
    These are the seals of that most firm assurance
    Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength
    ;
    And if, with infirm hand, Eternity,
    Mother of many acts and hours, should free
    The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
    These are the spells by which to reassume
    An empire o’er the disentangled doom.
    • Demogorgon, Act IV, l. 562–569.
  • To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
    To forgive wrongs darker than Death or Night;
    To defy Power, which seems Omnipotent;
    To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates
    From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
    Neither to change nor falter nor repent;
    This, like thy glory, Titan! is to be
    Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
    This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory!
    • Demogorgon, Act IV, closing lines.

Julian and Maddalo (1819)[edit]

  • I love all waste
    And solitary places; where we taste
    The pleasure of believing what we see
    Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be.
    • l. 14.
  • It is our will
    That thus enchains us to permitted ill.
    We might be otherwise, we might be all
    We dream of happy, high, majestical.
    Where is the love, beauty and truth we seek,
    But in our mind? and if we were not weak,
    Should we be less in deed than in desire?
    • l. 170.
  • Me — who am as a nerve o'er which do creep
    The else unfelt oppressions of this earth,
    And was to thee the flame upon thy hearth,
    When all beside was cold: — that thou on me
    Shouldst rain these plagues of blistering agony!
    • l. 449.
  • Those who inflict must suffer, for they see
    The work of their own hearts, and this must be
    Our chastisement or recompense.
    • l. 482.
  • Most wretched men
    Are cradled into poetry by wrong;
    They learn in suffering what they teach in song.
    • l. 543.

Ode to the West Wind (1819)[edit]

  • O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
    Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
    Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
    Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
    Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
    Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed
    The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
    Each like a corpse within its grave, until
    Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow
    Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth.
    • St. I
  • Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
    Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!
    • St. I
  • Thou dirge
    Of the dying year, to which this closing night
    Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
    Vaulted with all thy congregated might.
    • St. II
  • Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
    The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
    Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams
    Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
    And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
    Quivering within the wave's intenser day,
    All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
    So sweet, the sense faints picturing them.
    • St. III
  • Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
    I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
    • St. IV
  • Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
    What if my leaves are falling like its own!
    The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
    Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
    Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
    My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
    • St. V
  • The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
    If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
    • St. V

The Mask of Anarchy (1819)[edit]

  • As I lay asleep in Italy
    There came a voice from over the Sea,
    And with great power it forth led me
    To walk in the visions of Poesy.
    • St. 1.
  • I met Murder on the way —
    He had a mask like Castlereagh —
    Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
    Seven blood-hounds followed him.
    • St. 2.
  • All were fat; and well they might
    Be in admirable plight,
    For one by one, and two by two,
    He tossed them human hearts to chew.
    • St. 3.
  • And many more Destructions played
    In this ghastly masquerade,
    All disguised, even to the eyes,
    Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies.
    • St. 7.
  • Last came Anarchy: he rode
    On a white horse, splashed with blood;
    He was pale even to the lips,
    Like Death in the Apocalypse.
    • St. 8.
  • And he wore a kingly crown;
    And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
    On his brow this mark I saw —
    'I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!'
    • St. 9.
  • And with glorious triumph, they
    Rode through England proud and gay,
    Drunk as with intoxication
    Of the wine of desolation.
    • St. 12.
  • My father Time is weak and gray
    With waiting for a better day;
    See how idiot-like he stands,
    Fumbling with his palsied hands!
    • St. 23.
  • What is Freedom? — ye can tell
    That which slavery is, too well —

    For its very name has grown
    To an echo of your own.
    • St. 39.
  • Thou art Justice — ne'er for gold
    May thy righteous laws be sold
    As laws are in England — thou
    Shield'st alike the high and low.
    • St. 57.
  • What if English toil and blood
    Was poured forth, even as a flood?
    It availed, Oh, Liberty,
    To dim, but not extinguish thee.
    • St. 60.
  • Spirit, Patience, Gentleness,
    All that can adorn and bless
    Art thou — let deeds, not words, express
    Thine exceeding loveliness.
    • St. 64.
  • Let the blue sky overhead,
    The green earth on which ye tread,
    All that must eternal be
    Witness the solemnity.
    • St. 66.
  • From the haunts of daily life
    Where is waged the daily strife
    With common wants and common cares
    Which sows the human heart with tares.
    • St. 69.
  • Be your strong and simple words
    Keen to wound as sharpened swords,
    And wide as targes let them be,
    With their shade to cover ye.
    • St. 74.
  • Stand ye calm and resolute,
    Like a forest close and mute,
    With folded arms and looks which are
    Weapons of unvanquished war.
    • St. 79.
  • The old laws of England — they
    Whose reverend heads with age are gray,
    Children of a wiser day;
    And whose solemn voice must be
    Thine own echo — Liberty!
    • St. 82.
  • Rise like Lions after slumber
    In unvanquishable number —
    Shake your chains to earth like dew
    Which in sleep had fallen on you —
    Ye are many — they are few.
    • St. 91.

The Cloud (1820)[edit]

Full text online
  • I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
    From the seas and the streams;
    I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
    In their noonday dreams.

    From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
    The sweet buds every one,
    When rocked to rest on their mother's breast,
    As she dances about the sun.
    I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
    And whiten the green plains under,
    And then again I dissolve it in rain,
    And laugh as I pass in thunder.
    • St. 1.
  • I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
    And the nursling of the Sky;
    I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
    I change, but I cannot die.
    • St. 7.
  • For after the rain when with never a stain
    The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
    And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
    Build up the blue dome of air,
    I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
    And out of the caverns of rain,
    Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
    I arise and unbuild it again.
    • St. 7 (A cenotaph is an empty tomb or a monument erected in honor of a person who is buried elsewhere).

To a Skylark (1821)[edit]

  • Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
    Bird thou never wert,
    That from Heaven, or near it,
    Pourest thy full heart
    In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
    • St. 1.
  • Higher still and higher
    From the earth thou springest,
    Like a cloud of fire;
    The blue deep thou wingest,
    And singing still dost soar and soaring ever singest.
    • St. 2.
  • Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight.
    • St. 4.
  • We look before and after,
    And pine for what is not:
    Our sincerest laughter
    With some pain is fraught;
    Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
    • St. 18.
  • Teach me half the gladness
    That thy brain must know,
    Such harmonious madness
    From my lips would flow
    The world should listen then — as I am listening now.
    • St. 21.

Hellas (1821)[edit]

  • We are all Greeks. Our laws, our literature, our religion, our arts have their root in Greece.
    • Preface
  • Life may change, but it may fly not;
    Hope may vanish, but can die not;
    Truth be veiled, but still it burneth;
    Love repulsed, — but it returneth!
    • l. 34.
  • Kings are like stars — they rise and set, they have
    The worship of the world, but no repose.
    • l. 195.
  • The moon of Mahomet
    Arose, and it shall set;
    While, blazoned as on heaven's immortal noon,
    The cross leads generations on.
    • l. 221.
  • But Greece and her foundations are
    Built below the tide of war,
    Based on the crystalline sea
    Of thought and its eternity;
    Her citizens, imperial spirits,
    Rule the present from the past,
    On all this world of men inherits
    Their seal is set.
    • l. 696-703.
  • The world's great age begins anew,
    The golden years return,
    The earth doth like a snake renew
    Her winter weeds outworn;
    Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
    Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
    • l. 1060.
  • The world is weary of the past,
    Oh, might it die or rest at last!
    • Final chorus.

Epipsychidion (1821)[edit]

  • My Song, I fear that thou wilt find but few
    Who fitly shalt conceive thy reasoning,
    Of such hard matter dost thou entertain
    ;
    Whence, if by misadventure, chance should bring
    Thee to base company (as chance may do),
    Quite unaware of what thou dost contain,
    I prithee, comfort thy sweet self again,
    My last delight! tell them that they are dull,
    And bid them own that thou art beautiful.
    • Dedication
  • Poor captive bird! Who, from thy narrow cage,
    Pourest such music, that it might assuage
    The rugged hearts of those who prisoned thee,
    Were they not deaf to all sweet melody.
    • l. 9.
  • I never thought before my death to see
    Youth's vision thus made perfect.
    • l. 41.
  • Thy wisdom speaks in me, and bids me dare
    Beacon the rocks on which high hearts are wreckt.
    I never was attached to that great sect,
    Whose doctrine is, that each one should select
    Out of the crowd a mistress or a friend,
    And all the rest, though fair and wise, commend
    To cold oblivion
    , though it is in the code
    Of modern morals, and the beaten road
    Which those poor slaves with weary footsteps tread,
    Who travel to their home among the dead
    By the broad highway of the world, and so
    With one chained friend, — perhaps a jealous foe,
    The dreariest and the longest journey go.
    • l. 147.
  • True Love in this differs from gold and clay,
    That to divide is not to take away.
    Love is like understanding, that grows bright,
    Gazing on many truths
    ; 'tis like thy light,
    Imagination! which from earth and sky,
    And from the depths of human phantasy,
    As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills
    The Universe with glorious beams, and kills
    Error, the worm, with many a sun-like arrow
    Of its reverberated lightning.
  • Mind from its object differs most in this:
    Evil from good; misery from happiness;
    The baser from the nobler; the impure
    And frail, from what is clear and must endure.
    If you divide suffering and dross, you may
    Diminish till it is consumed away;
    If you divide pleasure and love and thought,
    Each part exceeds the whole; and we know not
    How much, while any yet remains unshared,
    Of pleasure may be gained, of sorrow spared:
    This truth is that deep well, whence sages draw
    The unenvied light of hope; the eternal law
    By which those live, to whom this world of life
    Is as a garden ravaged
    , and whose strife
    Tills for the promise of a later birth
    The wilderness of this Elysian earth.
    • l. 174.
  • Love's very pain is sweet,
    But its reward is in the world divine
    Which, if not here, it builds beyond the grave.
    • l. 595.
  • And bid them love each other and be blest:
    And leave the troop which errs, and which reproves,
    And come and be my guest, — for I am Love's.
    • l. 602.

Adonais (1821)[edit]

  • I weep for Adonais — he is dead!
    O, weep for Adonais! though our tears
    Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
    • St. I
  • Till the Future dares
    Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
    An echo and a light unto eternity!
    • St. I
  • Most musical of mourners, weep again!
    • St. IV
  • To that high Capital, where kingly Death
    Keeps his pale court in beauty and decay,
    He came.
    • St. VI
  • Lost Angel of a ruined Paradise!
    She knew not 'twas her own; as with no stain
    She faded, like a cloud which had outwept its rain.
    • St. X
  • And others came... Desires and Adorations,
    Winged Persuasions and veiled Destinies,
    Splendours, and GloOms, and glimmering Incarnations
    Of hopes and fears, and twilight Phantasies;
    And Sorrow, with her family of Sighs,
    And Pleasure, blind with tears, led by the gleam
    Of her own dying smile instead of eyes,
    Came in slow pomp; — the moving pomp might seem
    Like pageantry of mist on an autumnal stream.
    • St. XIII
  • Ah, woe is me! Winter is come and gone,
    But grief returns with the revolving year.
    • St. XVIII
  • The intense atom glows
    A moment, then is quenched in a most cold repose.
    • St. XX
  • Alas! that all we loved of him should be,
    But for our grief, as if it had not been,
    And grief itself be mortal! Woe is me!
    Whence are we, and why are we? of what scene
    The actors or spectators?
    • St. XXI
  • As long as skies are blue, and fields are green,
    Evening must usher night, night urge the morrow,
    Month follow month with woe, and year wake year to sorrow.
    • St. XXI
  • The Pilgrim of Eternity, whose fame
    Over his living head like Heaven is bent,
    An early but enduring monument,
    Came, veiling all the lightnings of his song
    In sorrow.
    • St. XXX
  • A pardlike Spirit beautiful and swift —
    A Love in desolation masked; — a Power
    Girt round with weakness; — it can scarce uplift
    The weight of the superincumbent hour;
    It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
    A breaking billow; — even whilst we speak
    Is it not broken? On the withering flower
    The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
    The life can burn in blood, even while the heart may break.
    • St. XXXII
  • What softer voice is hushed over the dead?
    Athwart what brow is that dark mantle thrown?
    What form leans sadly o'er the white death — bed,
    In mockery of monumental stone,
    The heavy heart heaving without a moan?
    • St. XXXV
  • Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep —
    He hath awakened from the dream of life.
    • St. XXXIX
  • He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
    Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
    And that unrest which men miscall delight,
    Can touch him not and torture not again;
    From the contagion of the world's slow stain
    He is secure, and now can never mourn
    A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain.
    • St. XL
  • He lives, he wakes — 'tis Death is dead, not he;
    Mourn not for Adonais. — Thou young Dawn,
    Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
    The spirit thou lamentest is not gone.
    • St. XLI
  • He is made one with Nature: there is heard
    His voice in all her music, from the moan
    Of thunder, to the song of night's sweet bird.
    • St. XLII
  • He is a portion of the loveliness
    Which once he made more lovely.
    • St. XLIII
  • The One remains, the many change and pass;
    Heaven's light forever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
    Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
    Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
    Until Death tramples it to fragments.
    • St. LII
  • The soul of Adonais, like a star,
    Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
    • St. LV

Song: Rarely, Rarely, Comest Thou (1821)[edit]

  • Rarely, rarely, comest thou,
    Spirit of Delight!
    Wherefore hast thou left me now
    Many a day and night?

    Many a weary night and day
    'Tis since thou are fled away.
    • St. 1.
  • Let me set my mournful ditty
    To a merry measure;
    Thou wilt never come for pity,
    Thou wilt come for pleasure;
    Pity then will cut away
    Those cruel wings, and thou wilt stay.
    • St. 4.
  • I love tranquil solitude,
    And such society
    As is quiet, wise, and good;
    Between thee and me
    What difference? but thou dost possess
    The things I seek, not love them less.
    • St. 7.
  • I love Love — though he has wings,
    And like light can flee
    ,
    But above all other things,
    Spirit, I love thee —
    Thou art love and life! Oh come,
    Make once more my heart thy home.
    • St. 8.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)[edit]

  • Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
  • The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.
  • Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.
  • Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.
  • Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.
  • Tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.
  • Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.
  • A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. His auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician.
  • The life of Camillus, the death of Regulus; the expectation of the senators, in their godlike state, of the victorious Gauls; the refusal of the republic to make peace with Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, were not the consequences of a refined calculation of the probable personal advantage to result from such a rhythm and order in the shows of life, to those who were at once the poets and the actors of these immortal dramas. The imagination beholding the beauty of this order, created it out of itself according to its own idea; the consequence was empire, and the reward everlasting fame. These things are not the less poetry, quia carent vate sacro [because they lack a sacred bard]. They are the episodes of that cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of men.
    • This passage has sometimes been paraphrased as "History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man".
  • Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

To Jane: The Invitation (1822)[edit]

  • Best and brightest, come away!
    • l. 1.
  • And like a prophetess of May
    Strewed flowers upon the barren way,
    Making the wintry world appear
    Like one on whom thou smilest, dear.
    • l. 17.
  • Away, away, from men and towns,
    To the wild wood and the downs —
    To the silent wilderness
    Where the soul need not repress
    Its music lest it should not find
    An echo in another’s mind.
    • l. 21.
  • I am gone into the fields
    To take what this sweet hour yields; —
    Reflection, you may come to-morrow,
    Sit by the fireside with Sorrow. —
    You with the unpaid bill, Despair, —
    You, tiresome verse-reciter, Care, —
    I will pay you in the grave, —
    Death will listen to your stave.
    • l. 31.

The Triumph of Life (1822)[edit]

  • … they who wore
    Mitres and helms and crowns, or wreaths of light,
    Signs of thought's empire over thought —their lore
    Taught them not this, to know themselves; their might
    Could not repress the mystery within.
  • … why God made irreconcilable
    Good and the means of good.

Essay on Christianity (1859)[edit]

Unfinished essay (c. 1815), first published in Shelley Memorials: From Authentic Sources (1859) edited by Lady Jane Gibson Shelley; also in The Works of Shelley in Verse and Prose (1880) , edited by H. Buxton Forman. Full essay online.
  • The Being who has influenced in the most memorable manner the opinions and the fortunes of the human species, is Jesus Christ. At this day, his name is connected with the devotional feelings of two hundred millions of the race of man. The institutions of the most civilized portions of the globe derive their authority from the sanction of his doctrines; he is the hero, the God, of our popular religion. His extraordinary genius, the wide and rapid effect of his unexampled doctrines, his invincible gentleness and benignity, the devoted love borne to him by his adherents, suggested a persuasion to them that he was something divine. The supernatural events which the historians of this wonderful man subsequently asserted to have been connected with every gradation of his career, established the opinion.
  • The thoughts which the word "God" suggests to the human mind are susceptible of as many variations as human minds themselves. The Stoic, the Platonist, and the Epicurean, the Polytheist, the Dualist, and the Trinitarian, differ infinitely in their conceptions of its meaning. They agree only in considering it the most awful and most venerable of names, as a common term devised to express all of mystery, or majesty, or power, which the invisible world contains. And not only has every sect distinct conceptions of the application of this name, but scarcely two individuals of the same sect, who exercise in any degree the freedom of their judgment, or yield themselves with any candour of feeling to the influences of the visible world, find perfect coincidence of opinion to exist between them.
  • It is important to observe that the author of the Christian system had a conception widely differing from the gross imaginations of the vulgar relatively to the ruling Power of the universe. He everywhere represents this Power as something mysteriously and illimitably pervading the frame of things. Nor do his doctrines practically assume any proposition which they theoretically deny. They do not represent God as a limitless and inconceivable mystery; affirming, at the same time, his existence as a Being subject to passion...
  • "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Blessed are those who have preserved internal sanctity of soul; who are conscious of no secret deceit; who are the same in act as they are in desire; who conceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their own conscience; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, before the tribunal of their own judgments, of all that passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God.
  • God, it has been asserted, was contemplated by Jesus Christ as every poet and every philosopher must have contemplated that mysterious principle. He considered that venerable word to express the overruling Spirit of the collective energy of the moral and material world. He affirms, therefore, no more than that a simple, sincere mind is the indispensable requisite of true science and true happiness. He affirms that a being of pure and gentle habits will not fail, in every thought, in every object of every thought, to be aware of benignant visitings from the invisible energies by which he is surrounded.
  • Whosoever is free from the contamination of luxury and licence, may go forth to the fields and to the woods, inhaling joyous renovation from the breath of Spring, or catching from the odours and sounds of Autumn some diviner mood of sweetest sadness, which improves the softened heart. Whosoever is no deceiver or destroyer of his fellow men — no liar, no flatterer, no murderer may walk among his species, deriving, from the communion with all which they contain of beautiful or of majestic, some intercourse with the Universal God. Whosoever has maintained with his own heart the strictest correspondence of confidence, who dares to examine and to estimate every imagination which suggests itself to his mind — whosoever is that which he designs to become, and only aspires to that which the divinity of his own nature shall consider and approve — he has already seen God.
  • We live and move and think; but we are not the creators of our own origin and existence. We are not the arbiters of every motion of our own complicated nature; we are not the masters of our own imaginations and moods of mental being. There is a Power by which we are surrounded, like the atmosphere in which some motionless lyre is suspended, which visits with its breath our silent chords at will.
    Our most imperial and stupendous qualities — those on which the majesty and the power of humanity is erected — are, relatively to the inferior portion of its mechanism, active and imperial; but they are the passive slaves of some higher and more omnipotent Power. This Power is God; and those who have seen God have, in the period of their purer and more perfect nature, been harmonized by their own will to so exquisite consentaneity of power as to give forth divinest melody, when the breath of universal being sweeps over their frame. That those who are pure in heart shall see God, and that virtue is its own reward, may be considered as equivalent assertions. The former of these propositions is a metaphorical repetition of the latter. The advocates of literal interpretation have been the most efficacious enemies of those doctrines whose nature they profess to venerate.
  • Tacitus says, that the Jews held God to be something eternal and supreme, neither subject to change nor to decay; therefore, they permit no statues in their cities or their temples. The universal Being can only be described or defined by negatives which deny his subjection to the laws of all inferior existences. Where indefiniteness ends, idolatry and anthropomorphism begin.
  • The absurd and execrable doctrine of vengeance, in all its shapes, seems to have been contemplated by this great moralist with the profoundest disapprobation; nor would he permit the most venerable of names to be perverted into a sanction for the meanest and most contemptible propensities incident to the nature of man. "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, that ye may be the sons of your Heavenly Father, who makes the sun to shine on the good and on the evil, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust." How monstrous a calumny have not impostors dared to advance against the mild and gentle author of this just sentiment, and against the whole tenor of his doctrines and his life, overflowing with benevolence and forbearance and compassion!
  • My neighbour, or my servant, or my child, has done me an injury, and it is just that he should suffer an injury in return. Such is the doctrine which Jesus Christ summoned his whole resources of persuasion to oppose. "Love your enemy, bless those who curse you:" such, he says, is the practice of God, and such must ye imitate if ye would be the children of God.
  • This, and no other, is justice: — to consider, under all the circumstances and consequences of a particular case, how the greatest quantity and purest quality of happiness will ensue from any action … there is no other justice.
  • The nature of a narrow and malevolent spirit is so essentially incompatible with happiness as to render it inaccessible to the influences of the benignant God. All that his own perverse propensities will permit him to receive, that God abundantly pours forth upon him. If there is the slightest overbalance of happiness, which can be allotted to the most atrocious offender, consistently with the nature of things, that is rigidly made his portion by the ever-watchful Power of God. In every case, the human mind enjoys the utmost pleasure which it is capable of enjoying. God is represented by Jesus Christ as the Power from which, and through which, the streams of all that is excellent and delightful flow; the Power which models, as they pass, all the elements of this mixed universe to the purest and most perfect shape which it belongs to their nature to assume
  • This much is certain, that Jesus Christ represents God as the fountain of all goodness, the eternal enemy of pain and evil, the uniform and unchanging motive of the salutary operations of the material world.
  • It appears that we moulder to a heap of senseless dust; to a few worms, that arise and perish, like ourselves. Jesus Christ asserts that these appearances are fallacious, and that a gloomy and cold imagination alone suggests the conception that thought can cease to be. Another and a more extensive state of being, rather than the complete extinction of being will follow from that mysterious change which we call Death. There shall be no misery, no pain, no fear. The empire of evil spirits extends not beyond the boundaries of the grave. The unobscured irradiations from the fountain-fire of all goodness shall reveal all that is mysterious and unintelligible, until the mutual communications of knowledge and of happiness throughout all thinking natures, constitute a harmony of good that ever varies and never ends.
  • This is Heaven, when pain and evil cease, and when the Benignant Principle, untrammelled and uncontrolled, visits in the fulness of its power the universal frame of things. Human life, with all its unreal ills and transitory hopes, is as a dream, which departs before the dawn, leaving no trace of its evanescent lines.
  • We die, says Jesus Christ; and, when we awaken from the languor of disease, the glories and the happiness of Paradise are around us. All evil and pain have ceased for ever. Our happiness also corresponds with, and is adapted to, the nature of what is most excellent in our being. We see God, and we see that he is good. How delightful a picture, even if it be not true! How magnificent is the conception which this bold theory suggests to the contemplation, even if it be no more than the imagination of some sublimest and most holy poet, who, impressed with the loveliness and majesty of his own nature, is impatient and discontented with the narrow limits which this imperfect life and the dark grave have assigned for ever as his melancholy portion. It is not to be believed that Hell, or punishment, was the conception of this daring mind. It is not to be believed that the most prominent group of this picture, which is framed so heart-moving and lovely — the accomplishment of all human hope, the extinction of all morbid fear and anguish — would consist of millions of sensitive beings enduring, in every variety of torture which Omniscient vengeance could invent, immortal agony.
  • Jesus Christ opposed with earnest eloquence the panic fears and hateful superstitions which have enslaved mankind for ages. Nations had risen against nations, employing the subtlest devices of mechanism and mind to waste, and excruciate, and overthrow. The great community of mankind had been subdivided into ten thousand communities, each organized for the ruin of the other. Wheel within wheel, the vast machine was instinct with the restless spirit of desolation.
  • If all the thought which had been expended on the construction of engines of agony and death — the modes of aggression and defence, the raising of armies, and the acquirement of those arts of tyranny and falsehood without which mixed multitudes could neither be led nor governed — had been employed to promote the true welfare and extend the real empire of man, how different would have been the present situation of human society! how different the state of knowledge in physical and moral science, upon which the power and happiness of mankind essentially depend!
  • The emptiness and folly of retaliation are apparent from every example which can be brought forward. Not only Jesus Christ, but the most eminent professors of every sect of philosophy, have reasoned against this futile superstition. Legislation is, in one point of view, to be considered as an attempt to provide against the excesses of this deplorable mistake.
  • Mankind, transmitting from generation to generation the legacy of accumulated vengeances, and pursuing with the feelings of duty the misery of their fellow-beings, have not failed to attribute to the Universal Cause a character analogous with their own. The image of this invisible, mysterious Being is more or less excellent and perfect — resembles more or less its original — in proportion to the perfection of the mind on which it is impressed.
  • The conceptions which any nation or individual entertains of the God of its popular worship may be inferred from their own actions and opinions, which are the subjects of their approbation among their fellow-men. Jesus Christ instructed his disciples to be perfect, as their Father in Heaven is perfect, declaring at the same time his belief that human perfection requires the refraining from revenge and retribution in any of its various shapes.
  • God is a model through which the excellence of man is to be estimated, whilst the abstract perfection of the human character is the type of the actual perfection of the divine. It is not to be believed that a person of such comprehensive views as Jesus Christ could have fallen into so manifest a contradiction as to assert that men would be tortured after death by that Being whose character is held up as a model to human kind, because he is incapable of malevolence and revenge. All the arguments which have been brought forward to justify retribution fail, when retribution is destined neither to operate as an example to other agents, nor to the offender himself. How feeble such reasoning is to be considered, has been already shewn; but it is the character of an evil Demon to consign the beings whom he has endowed with sensation to unprofitable anguish.
  • Jesus Christ represented God as the principle of all good, the source of all happiness, the wise and benevolent Creator and Preserver of all living things. But the interpreters of his doctrines have confounded the good and the evil principle.
  • Jesus Christ expressly asserts that distinction between the good and evil principle which it has been the practice of all theologians to confound. How far his doctrines, or their interpretation, may be true, it would scarcely have been worth while to inquire, if the one did not afford an example and an incentive to the attainment of true virtue, whilst the other holds out a sanction and apology for every species of mean and cruel vice.
  • It cannot be precisely ascertained in what degree Jesus Christ accommodated his doctrines to the opinions of his auditors; or in what degree he really said all that he is related to have said. He has left no written record of himself, and we are compelled to judge from the imperfect and obscure information which his biographers (persons certainly of very undisciplined and undiscriminating minds) have transmitted to posterity. These writers (our only guides) impute sentiments to Jesus Christ which flatly contradict each other. They represent him as narrow, superstitious, and exquisitely vindictive and malicious. They insert, in the midst of a strain of impassioned eloquence or sagest exhortation, a sentiment only remarkable for its naked and drivelling folly. But it is not difficult to distinguish the inventions by which these historians have filled up the interstices of tradition, or corrupted the simplicity of truth, from the real character of their rude amazement. They have left sufficiently clear indications of the genuine character of Jesus Christ to rescue it for ever from the imputations cast upon it by their ignorance and fanaticism. We discover that he is the enemy of oppression and of falsehood; that he is the advocate of equal justice; that he is neither disposed to sanction bloodshed nor deceit, under whatsoever pretences their practice may be vindicated. We discover that he was a man of meek and majestic demeanour, calm in danger; of natural and simple thought and habits; beloved to adoration by his adherents; unmoved, solemn, and severe.
  • Every fanatic or enemy of virtue is not at liberty to misrepresent the greatest geniuses and most heroic defenders of all that is valuable in this mortal world. History, to gain any credit, must contain some truth, and that truth shall thus be made a sufficient indication of prejudice and deceit.
    With respect to the miracles which these biographers have related, I have already declined to enter into any discussion on their nature or their existence. The supposition of their falsehood or their truth would modify in no degree the hues of the picture which is attempted to be delineated.
  • Jesus Christ did what every other reformer who has produced any considerable effect upon the world has done. He accommodated his doctrines to the prepossessions of those whom he addressed. He used a language for this view sufficiently familiar to our comprehensions. He said, — However new or strange my doctrines may appear to you, they are in fact only the restoration and re-establishment of those original institutions and ancient customs of your own law and religion. The constitutions of your faith and policy, although perfect in their origin, have become corrupt and altered, and have fallen into decay. I profess to restore them to their pristine authority and splendour
  • The practice of utter sincerity towards other men would avail to no good end, if they were incapable of practising it towards their own minds. In fact, truth cannot be communicated until it is perceived. The interests, therefore, of truth require that an orator should, as far as possible, produce in his hearers that state of mind on which alone his exhortations could fairly be contemplated and examined.
  • Too mean-spirited and too feeble in resolve to attempt the conquest of their own evil passions, and of the difficulties of the material world, men sought dominion over their fellow-men, as an easy method to gain that apparent majesty and power which the instinct of their nature requires.
  • In proportion to the love existing among men, so will be the community of property and power. Among true and real friends, all is common; and, were ignorance and envy and superstition banished from the world, all mankind would be friends. The only perfect and genuine republic is that which comprehends every living being. Those distinctions which have been artificially set up, of nations, societies, families, and religions, are only general names, expressing the abhorrence and contempt with which men blindly consider their fellowmen.
  • You ought to love all mankind; nay, every individual of mankind. You ought not to love the individuals of your domestic circles less, but to love those who exist beyond it more. Once make the feelings of confidence and of affection universal, and the distinctions of property and power will vanish; nor are they to be abolished without substituting something equivalent in mischief to them, until all mankind shall acknowledge an entire community of rights.
  • Fame, power, and gold, are loved for their own sakes — are worshipped with a blind, habitual idolatry. The pageantry of empire, and the fame of irresistible might, are contemplated by the possessor with unmeaning complacency, without a retrospect to the properties which first made him consider them of value. It is from the cultivation of the most contemptible properties of human nature that discord and torpor and indifference, by which the moral universe is disordered, essentially depend. So long as these are the ties by which human society is connected, let it not be admitted that they are fragile.
  • Before man can be free, and equal, and truly wise, he must cast aside the chains of habit and superstition; he must strip sensuality of its pomp, and selfishness of its excuses, and contemplate actions and objects as they really are. He will discover the wisdom of universal love; he will feel the meanness and the injustice of sacrificing the reason and the liberty of his fellow-men to the indulgence of his physical appetites, and becoming a party to their degradation by the consummation of his own.
    Such, with those differences only incidental to the age and state of society in which they were promulgated, appear to have been the doctrines of Jesus Christ. It is not too much to assert that they have been the doctrines of every just and compassionate mind that ever speculated on the social nature of man.
  • Nothing is more obviously false than that the remedy for the inequality among men consists in their return to the condition of savages and beasts. Philosophy will never be understood if we approach the study of its mysteries with so narrow and illiberal conceptions of its universality.
  • When you understand the degree of attention which the requisitions of your physical nature demand, you will perceive how little labour suffices for their satisfaction. Your Heavenly Father knoweth you have need of these things. The universal Harmony, or Reason, which makes your passive frame of thought its dwelling, in proportion to the purity and majesty of its nature will instruct you, if ye are willing to attain that exalted condition, in what manner to possess all the objects necessary for your material subsistence. All men are to become thus pure and happy. All men are called to participate in the community of Nature's gifts. The man who has fewest bodily wants approaches nearest to the Divine Nature.
  • In proportion as mankind becomes wise — yes, in exact proportion to that wisdom — should be the extinction of the unequal system under which they now subsist. Government is, in fact, the mere badge of their depravity. They are so little aware of the inestimable benefits of mutual love as to indulge, without thought, and almost without motive, in the worst excesses of selfishness and malice. Hence, without graduating human society into a scale of empire and subjection, its very existence has become impossible. It is necessary that universal benevolence should supersede the regulations of precedent and prescription, before these regulations can safely be abolished. Meanwhile, their very subsistence depends on the system of injustice and violence, which they have been devised to palliate.
  • The demagogues of the infant republic of the Christian sect, attaining through eloquence or artifice, to influence amongst its members, first violated (under the pretence of watching over their integrity) the institutions established for the common and equal benefit of all. These demagogues artfully silenced the voice of the moral sense among them by engaging them to attend, not so much to the cultivation of a virtuous and happy life in this mortal scene, as to the attainment of a fortunate condition after death; not so much to the consideration of those means by which the state of man is adorned and improved, as an inquiry into the secrets of the connexion between God and the world — things which, they well knew, were not to be explained, or even to be conceived. The system of equality which they established necessarily fell to the ground, because it is a system that must result from, rather than precede, the moral improvement of human kind.
  • Every man, in proportion to his virtue, considers himself, with respect to the great community of mankind, as the steward and guardian of their interests in the property which he chances to possess. Every man, in proportion to his wisdom, sees the manner in which it is his duty to employ the resources which the consent of mankind has intrusted to his discretion.
  • Some benefit has not failed to flow from the imperfect attempts which have been made to erect a system of equal rights to property and power upon the basis of arbitrary institutions. They have undoubtedly, in every case, from the instability of their foundation, failed. Still, they constitute a record of those epochs at which a trite sense of justice suggested itself to the understandings of men, so that they consented to forego all the cherished delights of luxury, all the habitual gratifications arising out of the possession or the expectation of power, all the superstitions with which the accumulated authority of ages had made them dear and venerable. They are so many trophies erected in the enemy's land, to mark the limits of the victorious progress of truth and justice.
  • No mistake is more to be deplored than the conception that a system of morals and religion should derive any portion of its authority either from the circumstance of its novelty or its antiquity, that it should be judged excellent, not because it is reasonable or true, but because no person has ever thought of it before, or because it has been thought of from the beginning of time.
  • An established religion turns to deathlike apathy the sublimest ebullitions of most exalted genius, and the spirit-stirring truths of a mind inflamed with the desire of benefiting mankind. It is the characteristic of a cold and tame spirit to imagine that such doctrines as Jesus Christ promulgated are destined to follow the fortunes and share the extinction of a popular religion.


Misattributed[edit]

  • Change is certain. Peace is followed by disturbances; departure of evil men by their return. Such recurrences should not constitute occasions for sadness but realities for awareness, so that one may be happy in the interim.
    • Not Shelley but the I Ching

Quotes about Shelley[edit]

  • Poor soul, he has always seemed to me an extremely weak creature, and lamentable much more than admirable. Weak in genius, weak in character (for these two always go together); a poor thin, spasmodic, hectic, shrill and pallid being; -- one of those unfortunates, of whom I often speak, to whom the 'talent of silence', first of all, has been denied. The speech of such is never good for much. Poor Shelley, there is something void and Hades-like in the whole inner-world of him; his universe is all vacant azure, hung with a few frosty mournful if beautiful stars; the very voice of him (his style &c), shrill, shrieky, to my ear has too much of the ghost!
    • Thomas Carlyle, Letter to Robert Browning, 8 March 1852, in The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, ed. C. de L. Ryals and K.J. Fielding (1999)
  • Shelley I saw once. His voice was the most obnoxious squeak I ever was tormented with, ten thousand times worse than the Laureat's, who voice is the worst part about him, except his Laureatship.
    • Charles Lamb, Letter to Bernard Barton, 9 October 1822, in The Life, Letters and Writings of Charles Lamb (1897)
  • I regard Shelley's early 'atheism' and later Pantheism, as simply the negative and the affirmative side of the same progressive but harmonious life-creed. In his earlier years his disposition was towards a vehement denial of a theology which he never ceased to detest; in his maturer years he made more frequent reference to the great World Spirit in whom he had from the first believed. He grew wiser in the exercise of his religious faith, but the faith was the same throughout; there, was progression, but no essential change.
  • Shelley resembled Blake in the contrast of feeling with which he regarded the Christian religion and its founder. For the human character of Christ he could feel the deepest veneration, as may be seen not only from the "Essay on Christianity," but from the "Letter to Lord Ellenborough" (1812), and also from the notes to "Hellas" and passages in that poem and in "Prometheus Unbound"; but he held that the spirit of established Christianity was wholly out of harmony with that of Christ, and that a similarity to Christ was one of the qualities most detested by the modern Christian. The dogmas of the Christian faith were always repudiated by him, and there is no warrant whatever in his writings for the strange pretension that, had he lived longer, his objections to Christianity might in some way have been overcome.
  • The real difference between Byron and Shelley is this: those who understand and love them rejoice that Byron died at thirty-six, because if he had lived he would have become a reactionary bourgeois; they grieve that Shelley died at twenty-nine, because he was essentially a revolutionist and he would always have been one of the advanced guard of socialism.
  • At last, at the age of 17 I came across Shelley, whom no one had ever told me about. He remained for many years the man I loved most among the great men of the past.
  • Shelley appealed to me from his hatred of tyranny. And also from his very vivid sense of beauty, natural beauty, and every kind of beauty. And I thought he sort of portrayed a lovely world of the imagination.
  • Shelley, whose talents would otherwise have made him eligible, was an outcast from the first … They always knew where to draw the line and they drew it, emphatically, at Shelley. I was informed that Byron could be forgiven because, though he had sinned, he had been led into sin by the unfortunate circumstances of his youth, and had always been haunted by remorse, but that for Shelley's moral character there was nothing to be said since he acted on principle and therefore he could not be worth reading.
  • The more I see the more I doubt whether people ever really make aesthetic judgements at all. Everything is judged on political grounds which are then given an aesthetic disguise. When, for instance, Eliot can't see anything good in Shelley or anything bad in Kipling, the real underlying reason must be that one is a radical and the other a conservative, of sorts.
  • Lucretius and his tradition taught Shelley that freedom came from understanding causation.
  • Shelley, who in Prometheus Unbound had observed that the wise lack love and those who have love lack wisdom, went to his end in The Triumph of Life asking why good and the means of good were irreconcilable.

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