Shelley Sunday: ‘Sorrow’ (A Song)


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

To me this world’s a dreary blank,
All hopes in life are gone and fled,
My high strung energies are sank,
And all my blissful hopes lie dead.–

The world once smiling to my view, _5
Showed scenes of endless bliss and joy;
The world I then but little knew,
Ah! little knew how pleasures cloy;

All then was jocund, all was gay,
No thought beyond the present hour, _10
I danced in pleasure’s fading ray,
Fading alas! as drooping flower.

Nor do the heedless in the throng,
One thought beyond the morrow give[,]
They court the feast, the dance, the song, _15
Nor think how short their time to live.

The heart that bears deep sorrow’s trace,
What earthly comfort can console,
It drags a dull and lengthened pace,
‘Till friendly death its woes enroll.– _20

The sunken cheek, the humid eyes,
E’en better than the tongue can tell;
In whose sad breast deep sorrow lies,
Where memory’s rankling traces dwell.–

The rising tear, the stifled sigh, _25
A mind but ill at ease display,
Like blackening clouds in stormy sky,
Where fiercely vivid lightnings play.

Thus when souls’ energy is dead,
When sorrow dims each earthly view, _30
When every fairy hope is fled,
We bid ungrateful world adieu.

AUGUST, 1810.

2 thoughts on “Shelley Sunday: ‘Sorrow’ (A Song)

  1. Depression looks but lovely from Mr. Shelley’s pen! I particularly like these phrasings: “humid eyes” and “When every fairy hope has fled.” I wonder if there is any forensic (or other non-textual) evidence that he suffered from depression? (I don’t remember his biography that well, sadly.) In any case, a great selection, Brandy.

    • Hi Leigh! Thanks for your comments! I don’t know of any forensic evidence of depression, but he did seem to surely suffer from it. Shelley talks of feeling depressed often in his letters, even quite blatantly when he writes about having suicidal thoughts. He apparently carried a vial of poison with him at times, and Mary alludes to this as well in some of her letters. Trelawny, who you always have to take with a grain of salt, recounts an episode where he says he found Shelley laying in the bottom of a pond, making no move to swim back up to the surface. Trelawny claims to have dived in after Shelley to bring him out of the water, and he says Shelley simply told him he wondered what it would be like to drown.

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