by Alfred Austin
Maiden, with English hair, and eyes
The colour of Italian skies,
What seek you by this shore?
``I seek, sir, for the latest home
Where Shelley dwelt, and, o'er the foam
Speeding, returned no more.''
Come, then, with me: I seek it, too.
Are you his kith? For strangely you
Resemble him in mien.
``No, save it be that all are kin
Who cherish the same thoughts within,
And gaze on things unseen.''
It should be easy, sure, to find.
Waves close in front, woods close behind,
Green shutters, whitewashed walls;
A little space of rocky ground,
Where climbs the wave, and, round and round
The seagull curves and calls.
Lo! there it stands. A quiet spot,
Untenanted, it seems forgot,
Like shrine from which the God
Hath vanished, and but left behind
A something in the air, the wind,
Recalling where he trod.
Upon this balcony how oft,
When waves were smooth and winds were soft,
As now, he must have stood,
And dreamed of days when men should be
Bondless as this unfettered sea,
And peaceful as that wood.
What would he find if came he now?
A phantom crown on kingly brow,
Veiled sceptre, trembling throne;
Pulpits where threat and curse have ceased,
And shrines whereat half-sceptic priest
Worships, too oft, alone.
With muffled psalm and whispered hymn,
At secret dawn or twilight dim,
A pious remnant pray;
For their maimed rites indulgence plead,
And, half uncertain of their creed,
Explain their God away.
Gone the conventions Shelley cursed:
The first are last, the last are first;
The lame, the halt, the blind,
Now in the seat of power, along
With the far-seeing and the strong,
Mould mandates for mankind.
No longer doth man's will decide,
And woman's feebler impulse guide;
He yields to her his might:
Duty hath grown an old-world tale,
And chaste Obedience rends her veil,
For epicene delight.
Where now do towering despots reign
Over lithe knee and servile brain,
The scared, the base, the bought?
Monarchs themselves now bend with awe
Before the kingliness of Law,
The majesty of Thought.
Yes, Kings have gone, or reign as slaves;
Religion mumbles round our graves,
But shapes our lives no more:
Tradition, thrice-spurned Sibyl, burns
The leaves mob Sovereignty spurns,
Contemptuous of her lore.
Fair Maiden with the sea-blue eyes,
With whom, beneath these sea-blue skies,
Shelley had loved to live,
Forgive me if his dream, unborn
Then, but now adult, moves my scorn:
Would He too not forgive?
For where both Crown and Cowl defied
Sue for the ruth they once denied,
What would he find instead?
A fiercer despot, fouler creed,
The Rule of Gold, the rites of Greed,
And a bitterer cry for bread.
Wake, poet! and retune your strings.
The earth now swarms with petty kings,
Seated on self-made thrones,
And altar-tables richly spread,
Where Roguery consecrates the bread,
And Opulence atones.
Here Shelley prayed that War might cease
From earth, and Pentecostal Peace
Descend with dovelike breath.
Look round this bay! each treeless gorge,
Each scarred ravine, incessant forge
The instruments of death.
From Salterbrand's unfreezing peaks
To sunny Manfredonia's creeks,
Have alien satraps gone;
But, guarding Italy the Free,
Her murderous mammoth-monsters, see,
Come grimly wallowing on.
Yes, here He dwelt and dreamed: and there,
Gleams Porto Venere the fair,
The mockery of a name.
Where fervent Venus once was Queen,
Hot Mars now ravishes the scene,
And fans a fiercer flame.
Fair Maiden with the English brow,
Although from me, who shortly now
Must tread life's downward slope,
Illusions one by one depart,
Still foster in your virgin heart
The embryo of Hope.
The hills remain, the woods, the waves;
And they alone are dupes or slaves
Who, spurning Nature's breast,
Too high would soar, too deep would sound,
And madden vainly round and round
The orbit of unrest.
Pity, too, lingers. As I speak,
The teardrops tremble on your cheek,
Too silent to deceive;
And with assuaging hand you show
How tenderness still tempers woe,
And none need singly grieve.
Yes! sweet it were, with you for guide,
To float across that dimpling tide,
And, on its farther shore,
To prove if Venus still holds sway,
And, wandering with you round the bay,
Tempt back one's youth once more.
But, child! it is not Shelley's world.
Fancy's light sails had best be furled,
Before they surge and swell.
What helm can steer the heart? or who
Keep moored, inspired by such as You?
Heaven prosper you! Farewell.
Last updated January 14, 2019