ODE TO NAPLES
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
(The Author has connected many recollections of his visit to Pompeii and Baiae with the enthusiasm excited by the intelligence of the proclamation of a Constitutional Government at Naples. This has given a tinge of picturesque and descriptive imagery to the introductory Epodes which depicture these scenes, and some of the majestic feelings permanently connected with the scene of this animating event.—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.])
[Composed at San Juliano di Pisa, August 17-25, 1820; published in
“Posthumous Poems”, 1824. There is a copy, ‘for the most part neat and
legible,’ amongst the Shelley manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. See
Mr. C.D. Locock’s “Examination”, etc., 1903, pages 14-18. Edited by Thomas Hutchinson, M. A.]
I stood within the City disinterred;
And heard the autumnal leaves like light footfalls
Of spirits passing through the streets; and heard
The Mountain’s slumberous voice at intervals
Thrill through those roofless halls; _5
The oracular thunder penetrating shook
The listening soul in my suspended blood;
I felt that Earth out of her deep heart spoke—
I felt, but heard not:—through white columns glowed
The isle-sustaining ocean-flood, _10
A plane of light between two heavens of azure!
Around me gleamed many a bright sepulchre
Of whose pure beauty, Time, as if his pleasure
Were to spare Death, had never made erasure;
But every living lineament was clear _15
As in the sculptor’s thought; and there
The wreaths of stony myrtle, ivy, and pine,
Like winter leaves o’ergrown by moulded snow,
Seemed only not to move and grow
Because the crystal silence of the air _20
Weighed on their life; even as the Power divine
Which then lulled all things, brooded upon mine.
NOTE: _1 Pompeii.—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.]
Then gentle winds arose
With many a mingled close
Of wild Aeolian sound, and mountain-odours keen; _25
And where the Baian ocean
Welters with airlike motion,
Within, above, around its bowers of starry green,
Moving the sea-flowers in those purple caves,
Even as the ever stormless atmosphere _30
Floats o’er the Elysian realm,
It bore me, like an Angel, o’er the waves
Of sunlight, whose swift pinnace of dewy air
No storm can overwhelm.
I sailed, where ever flows _35
Under the calm Serene
A spirit of deep emotion
From the unknown graves
Of the dead Kings of Melody.
Shadowy Aornos darkened o’er the helm _40
The horizontal aether; Heaven stripped bare
Its depth over Elysium, where the prow
Made the invisible water white as snow;
From that Typhaean mount, Inarime,
There streamed a sunbright vapour, like the standard _45
Of some aethereal host;
Whilst from all the coast,
Louder and louder, gathering round, there wandered
Over the oracular woods and divine sea
Prophesyings which grew articulate—
They seize me—I must speak them!—be they fate! _50
NOTES: _25 odours B.; odour 1824. _42 depth B.; depths 1824. _45 sun-bright B.; sunlit 1824. _39 Homer and Virgil.—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.]
Naples! thou Heart of men which ever pantest
Naked, beneath the lidless eye of Heaven!
Elysian City, which to calm enchantest
The mutinous air and sea! they round thee, even _55
As sleep round Love, are driven!
Metropolis of a ruined Paradise
Long lost, late won, and yet but half regained!
Bright Altar of the bloodless sacrifice
Which armed Victory offers up unstained _60
To Love, the flower-enchained!
Thou which wert once, and then didst cease to be,
Now art, and henceforth ever shalt be, free,
If Hope, and Truth, and Justice can avail,—
Hail, hail, all hail! _65
Thou youngest giant birth
Which from the groaning earth
Leap’st, clothed in armour of impenetrable scale!
Last of the Intercessors!
Who ‘gainst the Crowned Transgressors _70
Pleadest before God’s love! Arrayed in Wisdom’s mail,
Wave thy lightning lance in mirth
Nor let thy high heart fail,
Though from their hundred gates the leagued Oppressors
With hurried legions move! _75
Hail, hail, all hail!
What though Cimmerian Anarchs dare blaspheme
Freedom and thee? thy shield is as a mirror
To make their blind slaves see, and with fierce gleam
To turn his hungry sword upon the wearer; _80
A new Actaeon’s error
Shall theirs have been—devoured by their own hounds!
Be thou like the imperial Basilisk
Killing thy foe with unapparent wounds!
Gaze on Oppression, till at that dread risk _85
Aghast she pass from the Earth’s disk:
Fear not, but gaze—for freemen mightier grow,
And slaves more feeble, gazing on their foe:—
If Hope, and Truth, and Justice may avail,
Thou shalt be great—All hail! _90
From Freedom’s form divine,
From Nature’s inmost shrine,
Strip every impious gawd, rend
Error veil by veil;
O’er Ruin desolate,
O’er Falsehood’s fallen state, _95
Sit thou sublime, unawed; be the Destroyer pale!
And equal laws be thine,
And winged words let sail,
Freighted with truth even from the throne of God:
That wealth, surviving fate, _100
Be thine.—All hail!
NOTE: _100 wealth-surviving cj. A.C. Bradley.
Didst thou not start to hear Spain’s thrilling paean
From land to land re-echoed solemnly,
Till silence became music? From the Aeaean
To the cold Alps, eternal Italy _105
Starts to hear thine! The Sea
Which paves the desert streets of Venice laughs
In light, and music; widowed Genoa wan
By moonlight spells ancestral epitaphs,
Murmuring, ‘Where is Doria?’ fair Milan, _110
Within whose veins long ran
The viper’s palsying venom, lifts her heel
To bruise his head. The signal and the seal
(If Hope and Truth and Justice can avail)
Art thou of all these hopes.—O hail! _115
NOTES: _104 Aeaea, the island of Circe.—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.] _112 The viper was the armorial device of the Visconti, tyrants of Milan.—[SHELLEY’S NOTE.]
Florence! beneath the sun,
Of cities fairest one,
Blushes within her bower for Freedom’s expectation:
From eyes of quenchless hope
Rome tears the priestly cope, _120
As ruling once by power, so now by admiration,—
An athlete stripped to run
From a remoter station
For the high prize lost on Philippi’s shore:—
As then Hope, Truth, and Justice did avail, _125
So now may Fraud and Wrong! O hail!
Hear ye the march as of the Earth-born Forms
Arrayed against the ever-living Gods?
The crash and darkness of a thousand storms
Bursting their inaccessible abodes _130
Of crags and thunder-clouds?
See ye the banners blazoned to the day,
Inwrought with emblems of barbaric pride?
Dissonant threats kill Silence far away,
The serene Heaven which wraps our Eden wide _135
With iron light is dyed;
The Anarchs of the North lead forth their legions
Like Chaos o’er creation, uncreating;
An hundred tribes nourished on strange religions
And lawless slaveries,—down the aereal regions _140
Of the white Alps, desolating,
Famished wolves that bide no waiting,
Blotting the glowing footsteps of old glory,
Trampling our columned cities into dust,
Their dull and savage lust _145
On Beauty’s corse to sickness satiating—
They come! The fields they tread look black and hoary
With fire—from their red feet the streams run gory!
Great Spirit, deepest Love!
Which rulest and dost move _150
All things which live and are, within the Italian shore;
Who spreadest Heaven around it,
Whose woods, rocks, waves, surround it;
Who sittest in thy star, o’er Ocean’s western floor;
Spirit of beauty! at whose soft command _155
The sunbeams and the showers distil its foison
From the Earth’s bosom chill;
Oh, bid those beams be each a blinding brand
Of lightning! bid those showers be dews of poison!
Bid the Earth’s plenty kill! _160
Bid thy bright Heaven above,
Whilst light and darkness bound it,
Be their tomb who planned
To make it ours and thine!
Or, with thine harmonizing ardours fill _165
And raise thy sons, as o’er the prone horizon
Thy lamp feeds every twilight wave with fire—
Be man’s high hope and unextinct desire
The instrument to work thy will divine!
Then clouds from sunbeams, antelopes from leopards, _170
And frowns and fears from thee,
Would not more swiftly flee
Than Celtic wolves from the Ausonian shepherds.—
Whatever, Spirit, from thy starry shrine
Thou yieldest or withholdest, oh, let be _175
This city of thy worship ever free!
NOTES: _143 old 1824; lost B. _147 black 1824; blue B.
Image Credit: Silvestr Fedosievich Shchedrin, The Bay of Mergellina, Naples, 1827, 1st Art Gallery.com