PRINCE ATHANASE by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A FRAGMENT (The idea Shelley had formed of Prince Athanase was a good deal modelled on "Alastor". In the first sketch of the poem, he named it "Pandemos and Urania". Athanase seeks through the world the One whom he may love. He meets, in the ship in which he is embarked, a lady who appears to him to embody his ideal of love and beauty. But she proves to be Pandemos, or the earthly and unworthy Venus; who, after disappointing his cherished dreams and hopes, deserts him. Athanase, crushed by sorrow, pines and dies. 'On his deathbed, the lady who can really reply to his soul comes and kisses his lips' ("The Deathbed of Athanase"). The poet describes her [in the words of the final fragment, page 164]. This slender note is all we have to aid our imagination in shaping out the form of the poem, such as its author imagined. [Mrs. Shelley's Note.]) [Written at Marlow in 1817, towards the close of the year; first published in "Posthumous Poems", 1824. Part 1 is dated by Mrs. Shelley, 'December, 1817,' the remainder, 'Marlow, 1817.' The verses were probably rehandled in Italy during the following year. Sources of the text are (1) "Posthumous Poems", 1824; (2) "Poetical Works" 1839, editions 1st and 2nd; (3) a much-tortured draft amongst the Bodleian manuscripts, collated by Mr. C.D. Locock. For (1) and (2) Mrs. Shelley is responsible. Our text (enlarged by about thirty lines fro the Bodleian manuscript) follows for the most part the "Poetical Works", 1839; verbal exceptions are pointed out in the footnotes. See also the Editor's Notes at the end of this volume, and Mr. Locock's "Examination of Shelley Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library", Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1903.] PART 1. There was a youth, who, as with toil and travel, Had grown quite weak and gray before his time; Nor any could the restless griefs unravel Which burned within him, withering up his prime And goading him, like fiends, from land to land. _5 Not his the load of any secret crime, For nought of ill his heart could understand, But pity and wild sorrow for the same;-- Not his the thirst for glory or command, Baffled with blast of hope-consuming shame; _10 Nor evil joys which fire the vulgar breast, And quench in speedy smoke its feeble flame, Had left within his soul their dark unrest: Nor what religion fables of the grave Feared he,--Philosophy's accepted guest. _15 For none than he a purer heart could have, Or that loved good more for itself alone; Of nought in heaven or earth was he the slave. What sorrow, strange, and shadowy, and unknown, Sent him, a hopeless wanderer, through mankind?-- _20 If with a human sadness he did groan, He had a gentle yet aspiring mind; Just, innocent, with varied learning fed; And such a glorious consolation find In others' joy, when all their own is dead: _25 He loved, and laboured for his kind in grief, And yet, unlike all others, it is said That from such toil he never found relief. Although a child of fortune and of power, Of an ancestral name the orphan chief, _30 His soul had wedded Wisdom, and her dower Is love and justice, clothed in which he sate Apart from men, as in a lonely tower, Pitying the tumult of their dark estate.-- Yet even in youth did he not e'er abuse _35 The strength of wealth or thought, to consecrate Those false opinions which the harsh rich use To blind the world they famish for their pride; Nor did he hold from any man his dues, But, like a steward in honest dealings tried, _40 With those who toiled and wept, the poor and wise, His riches and his cares he did divide. Fearless he was, and scorning all disguise, What he dared do or think, though men might start, He spoke with mild yet unaverted eyes; _45 Liberal he was of soul, and frank of heart, And to his many friends--all loved him well-- Whate'er he knew or felt he would impart, If words he found those inmost thoughts to tell; If not, he smiled or wept; and his weak foes _50 He neither spurned nor hated--though with fell And mortal hate their thousand voices rose, They passed like aimless arrows from his ear-- Nor did his heart or mind its portal close To those, or them, or any, whom life's sphere _55 May comprehend within its wide array. What sadness made that vernal spirit sere?-- He knew not. Though his life, day after day, Was failing like an unreplenished stream, Though in his eyes a cloud and burthen lay, _60 Through which his soul, like Vesper's serene beam Piercing the chasms of ever rising clouds, Shone, softly burning; though his lips did seem Like reeds which quiver in impetuous floods; And through his sleep, and o'er each waking hour, _65 Thoughts after thoughts, unresting multitudes, Were driven within him by some secret power, Which bade them blaze, and live, and roll afar, Like lights and sounds, from haunted tower to tower O'er castled mountains borne, when tempest's war _70 Is levied by the night-contending winds, And the pale dalesmen watch with eager ear;-- Though such were in his spirit, as the fiends Which wake and feed an everliving woe,-- What was this grief, which ne'er in other minds _75 A mirror found,--he knew not--none could know; But on whoe'er might question him he turned The light of his frank eyes, as if to show He knew not of the grief within that burned, But asked forbearance with a mournful look; _80 Or spoke in words from which none ever learned The cause of his disquietude; or shook With spasms of silent passion; or turned pale: So that his friends soon rarely undertook To stir his secret pain without avail;-- _85 For all who knew and loved him then perceived That there was drawn an adamantine veil Between his heart and mind,--both unrelieved Wrought in his brain and bosom separate strife. Some said that he was mad, others believed _90 That memories of an antenatal life Made this, where now he dwelt, a penal hell; And others said that such mysterious grief From God's displeasure, like a darkness, fell On souls like his, which owned no higher law _95 Than love; love calm, steadfast, invincible By mortal fear or supernatural awe; And others,--''Tis the shadow of a dream Which the veiled eye of Memory never saw, 'But through the soul's abyss, like some dark stream _100 Through shattered mines and caverns underground, Rolls, shaking its foundations; and no beam 'Of joy may rise, but it is quenched and drowned In the dim whirlpools of this dream obscure; Soon its exhausted waters will have found _105 'A lair of rest beneath thy spirit pure, O Athanase!--in one so good and great, Evil or tumult cannot long endure. So spake they: idly of another's state Babbling vain words and fond philosophy; _110 This was their consolation; such debate Men held with one another; nor did he, Like one who labours with a human woe, Decline this talk: as if its theme might be Another, not himself, he to and fro _115 Questioned and canvassed it with subtlest wit; And none but those who loved him best could know That which he knew not, how it galled and bit His weary mind, this converse vain and cold; For like an eyeless nightmare grief did sit _120 Upon his being; a snake which fold by fold Pressed out the life of life, a clinging fiend Which clenched him if he stirred with deadlier hold;-- And so his grief remained--let it remain--untold.  PART 2. FRAGMENT 1. Prince Athanase had one beloved friend, _125 An old, old man, with hair of silver white, And lips where heavenly smiles would hang and blend With his wise words; and eyes whose arrowy light Shone like the reflex of a thousand minds. He was the last whom superstition's blight _130 Had spared in Greece--the blight that cramps and blinds,-- And in his olive bower at Oenoe Had sate from earliest youth. Like one who finds A fertile island in the barren sea, One mariner who has survived his mates _135 Many a drear month in a great ship--so he With soul-sustaining songs, and sweet debates Of ancient lore, there fed his lonely being:-- 'The mind becomes that which it contemplates,'-- And thus Zonoras, by for ever seeing _140 Their bright creations, grew like wisest men; And when he heard the crash of nations fleeing A bloodier power than ruled thy ruins then, O sacred Hellas! many weary years He wandered, till the path of Laian's glen _145 Was grass-grown--and the unremembered tears Were dry in Laian for their honoured chief, Who fell in Byzant, pierced by Moslem spears:-- And as the lady looked with faithful grief From her high lattice o'er the rugged path, _150 Where she once saw that horseman toil, with brief And blighting hope, who with the news of death Struck body and soul as with a mortal blight, She saw between the chestnuts, far beneath, An old man toiling up, a weary wight; _155 And soon within her hospitable hall She saw his white hairs glittering in the light Of the wood fire, and round his shoulders fall; And his wan visage and his withered mien, Yet calm and gentle and majestical. _160 And Athanase, her child, who must have been Then three years old, sate opposite and gazed In patient silence. FRAGMENT 2. Such was Zonoras; and as daylight finds One amaranth glittering on the path of frost, _165 When autumn nights have nipped all weaker kinds, Thus through his age, dark, cold, and tempest-tossed, Shone truth upon Zonoras; and he filled From fountains pure, nigh overgrown and lost, The spirit of Prince Athanase, a child, _170 With soul-sustaining songs of ancient lore And philosophic wisdom, clear and mild. And sweet and subtle talk they evermore, The pupil and the master, shared; until, Sharing that undiminishable store, _175 The youth, as shadows on a grassy hill Outrun the winds that chase them, soon outran His teacher, and did teach with native skill Strange truths and new to that experienced man; Still they were friends, as few have ever been _180 Who mark the extremes of life's discordant span. So in the caverns of the forest green, Or on the rocks of echoing ocean hoar, Zonoras and Prince Athanase were seen By summer woodmen; and when winter's roar _185 Sounded o'er earth and sea its blast of war, The Balearic fisher, driven from shore, Hanging upon the peaked wave afar, Then saw their lamp from Laian's turret gleam, Piercing the stormy darkness, like a star _190 Which pours beyond the sea one steadfast beam, Whilst all the constellations of the sky Seemed reeling through the storm...They did but seem-- For, lo! the wintry clouds are all gone by, And bright Arcturus through yon pines is glowing, _195 And far o'er southern waves, immovably Belted Orion hangs--warm light is flowing From the young moon into the sunset's chasm.-- 'O, summer eve! with power divine, bestowing 'On thine own bird the sweet enthusiasm _200 Which overflows in notes of liquid gladness, Filling the sky like light! How many a spasm 'Of fevered brains, oppressed with grief and madness, Were lulled by thee, delightful nightingale,-- And these soft waves, murmuring a gentle sadness,-- _205 'And the far sighings of yon piny dale Made vocal by some wind we feel not here.-- I bear alone what nothing may avail 'To lighten--a strange load!'--No human ear Heard this lament; but o'er the visage wan _210 Of Athanase, a ruffling atmosphere Of dark emotion, a swift shadow, ran, Like wind upon some forest-bosomed lake, Glassy and dark.--And that divine old man Beheld his mystic friend's whole being shake, _215 Even where its inmost depths were gloomiest-- And with a calm and measured voice he spake, And, with a soft and equal pressure, pressed That cold lean hand:--'Dost thou remember yet When the curved moon then lingering in the west _220 'Paused, in yon waves her mighty horns to wet, How in those beams we walked, half resting on the sea? 'Tis just one year--sure thou dost not forget-- 'Then Plato's words of light in thee and me Lingered like moonlight in the moonless east, _225 For we had just then read--thy memory 'Is faithful now--the story of the feast; And Agathon and Diotima seemed From death and dark forgetfulness released...' FRAGMENT 3. And when the old man saw that on the green Leaves of his opening ... a blight had lighted _230 He said: 'My friend, one grief alone can wean A gentle mind from all that once delighted:-- Thou lovest, and thy secret heart is laden With feelings which should not be unrequited.' _235 And Athanase ... then smiled, as one o'erladen With iron chains might smile to talk (?) of bands Twined round her lover's neck by some blithe maiden, And said... FRAGMENT 4. 'Twas at the season when the Earth upsprings _240 From slumber, as a sphered angel's child, Shadowing its eyes with green and golden wings, Stands up before its mother bright and mild, Of whose soft voice the air expectant seems-- So stood before the sun, which shone and smiled _245 To see it rise thus joyous from its dreams, The fresh and radiant Earth. The hoary grove Waxed green--and flowers burst forth like starry beams;-- The grass in the warm sun did start and move, And sea-buds burst under the waves serene:-- _250 How many a one, though none be near to love, Loves then the shade of his own soul, half seen In any mirror--or the spring's young minions, The winged leaves amid the copses green;-- How many a spirit then puts on the pinions _255 Of fancy, and outstrips the lagging blast, And his own steps--and over wide dominions Sweeps in his dream-drawn chariot, far and fast, More fleet than storms--the wide world shrinks below, When winter and despondency are past. _260 FRAGMENT 5. 'Twas at this season that Prince Athanase Passed the white Alps--those eagle-baffling mountains Slept in their shrouds of snow;--beside the ways The waterfalls were voiceless--for their fountains Were changed to mines of sunless crystal now, _265 Or by the curdling winds--like brazen wings Which clanged along the mountain's marble brow-- Warped into adamantine fretwork, hung And filled with frozen light the chasms below. Vexed by the blast, the great pines groaned and swung _270 Under their load of [snow]-- ... ... Such as the eagle sees, when he dives down From the gray deserts of wide air, [beheld] _275 [Prince] Athanase; and o'er his mien (?) was thrown The shadow of that scene, field after field, Purple and dim and wide... FRAGMENT 6. Thou art the wine whose drunkenness is all We can desire, O Love! and happy souls, _280 Ere from thy vine the leaves of autumn fall, Catch thee, and feed from their o'erflowing bowls Thousands who thirst for thine ambrosial dew;-- Thou art the radiance which where ocean rolls Investeth it; and when the heavens are blue _285 Thou fillest them; and when the earth is fair The shadow of thy moving wings imbue Its deserts and its mountains, till they wear Beauty like some light robe;--thou ever soarest Among the towers of men, and as soft air _290 In spring, which moves the unawakened forest, Clothing with leaves its branches bare and bleak, Thou floatest among men; and aye implorest That which from thee they should implore:--the weak Alone kneel to thee, offering up the hearts _295 The strong have broken--yet where shall any seek A garment whom thou clothest not? the darts Of the keen winter storm, barbed with frost, Which, from the everlasting snow that parts The Alps from Heaven, pierce some traveller lost _300 In the wide waved interminable snow Ungarmented,... ANOTHER FRAGMENT (A) Yes, often when the eyes are cold and dry, And the lips calm, the Spirit weeps within Tears bitterer than the blood of agony _305 Trembling in drops on the discoloured skin Of those who love their kind and therefore perish In ghastly torture--a sweet medicine Of peace and sleep are tears, and quietly Them soothe from whose uplifted eyes they fall _310 But... ANOTHER FRAGMENT (B) Her hair was brown, her sphered eyes were brown, And in their dark and liquid moisture swam, Like the dim orb of the eclipsed moon; Yet when the spirit flashed beneath, there came _315 The light from them, as when tears of delight Double the western planet's serene flame. NOTES: _19 strange edition 1839; deep edition 1824. _74 feed an Bodleian manuscript; feed on editions 1824, 1839. _124 [1. The Author was pursuing a fuller development of the ideal character of Athanase, when it struck him that in an attempt at extreme refinement and analysis, his conceptions might be betrayed into the assuming a morbid character. The reader will judge whether he is a loser or gainer by this diffidence. [Shelley's Note.] Footnote diffidence cj. Rossetti (1878); difference editions 1824, 1839.] _154 beneath editions 1824, 1839; between Bodleian manuscript. _165 One Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; An edition 1824. _167 Thus thro' Bodleian manuscript (?) edition 1839; Thus had edition 1824. _173 talk they edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; talk now edition 1839. _175 that edition 1839; the edition 1824. _182 So edition 1839; And edition 1824. _183 Or on Bodleian manuscript; Or by editions 1824, 1839. _199 eve Bodleian manuscript edition 1839; night edition 1824. _212 emotion, a swift editions 1824, 1839; emotion with swift Bodleian manuscript. _250 under edition 1824, Bodleian manuscript; beneath edition 1839. _256 outstrips editions 1824, 1839; outrides Bodleian manuscript. _259 Exulting, while the wide Bodleian manuscript. _262 mountains editions 1824, 1839; crags Bodleian manuscript. _264 fountains editions 1824, 1839; springs Bodleian manuscript. _269 chasms Bodleian manuscript; chasm editions 1824, 1839. _283 thine Bodleian manuscript; thy editions 1824, 1839. _285 Investeth Bodleian manuscript; Investest editions 1824, 1839. _289 light Bodleian manuscript; bright editions 1824, 1839. ***
Image Credit: Frankenstein Unbound. Michael Hutchence & Bridget Fonda.