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.

See also: Essay on Christianity (c. 1815-1817; published 1859)


  • 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).
  • Twilight, ascending slowly from the east,
    Entwined in duskier wreaths her braided locks
    O'er the fair front and radiant eyes of day,
    Night followed, clad with stars.
  • 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 (1816), 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 (1816), 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 (1816), 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 (1819), st. 1.
    • 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(1819), 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 (1819), 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 (1819), Pt. VII, st. 11.
  • I have drunken deep of joy,
    And I will taste no other wine tonight.
    • The Cenci (1819), Act I, sc. iii, l. 88.
  • 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 (1820), st. 3.
  • 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 (1821), 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 (1821), 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" (1822), sc. i.
  • 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 Masque of Anarchy (1819)[edit]

Full text online
  • 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 —
    • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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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