Shelley's Pyre

by Robert Laurence Binyon

Laurence Binyon

The Spirit of Earth, robed in green;
The Spirit of Air, robed in blue;
The Spirit of Water, robed in silver;
The Spirit of Fire, robed in red.
Each steps forward in turn.
Spirit of Earth
I am the Spirit of Earth.
Spirit of Air
I am the Spirit of Air.
Spirit of Water
I am the Spirit of Water.
Spirit of Fire
I am the Spirit of Fire.
All [together]
This is the shore of the sea. Stillness and hot noon;
Stillness after storm. The sun scorches the sand.
On the sand of the sea is a pyre:
On the pyre a young man's body,
White and naked,
Spirit of Earth
A child of Earth,
Spirit of Water
Out of the sea he is come
Spirit of Earth
To the last shore.
Ringed with flames this body lies; flames shining, flames entwining,
Spirit of Fire
Spirit of Fire
On the noon intenser light,
Branding on the air a fierier fire.
Spirit of Water
The slow sea--ripple sparkles up the sand.
Afar the mountains look down on the land.
Spirit of Air
He was swiftness.
Spirit of Earth
He is still.
Spirit of Water
A wave breaking; a wave broken.
At the sea's will.
His eyes drank of the world's beauty;
His eyes wept for the world's wrong.
Spirit of Fire
His eyes shine on the world no more.
Out of his mouth came forth song,
Wondering, trembling, triumphing, lamenting.
Spirit of Earth
His mouth will utter songs no more.
A Power breathed, a Power filled, a Power kindled and made strong
The heart this mortal throbbed with. O whence came it? O whence came
Power to frailty, hope to anguish? He was swift and he was strange,
Swift as stream, swift as wind; strange to all he came among.
Spirit of Fire
Leap, my flames! tower and quiver!
So into the world he came.
Spirit of Fire
No wind blows, the fire to bend.
It springs right upward to the sun.
Mount, my flames, ascend, ascend!
Spirit of Earth
Out of me this spirit rose,
His cradle green and sleepy earth;
A seed sown in a chance place,
Where--from, who knows?
Yet from my womb was his birth.
Spirit of Water
He was my lover. In river and sea
He plunged his body; his ardour flowed
With the flow of the streams, and the rain and the cloud.
Now I have rendered up my lover.
Spirit of Fire
Higher, higher, higher
In wild dishevelled blaze
Single plumes of light aspire
To be lost in the noon's haze.
These flames are your thoughts, these fires your desires, O Mortal!
Speeding before you, as you, the far forerunner
Outstript, O spirit arrayed in the sanguine colour
Of cloud at dawn, the laggard, the lulled and dulled,
Announcing a dawn too dazzling for your kind.
Spirit of Fire
You left them behind!
And winged in a radiant mist of love, you flew
Onward, alone: not on earth was a home for you,
Where men oppressed and trafficked, and hope was foiled,
Soiled, despoiled! Yet hope was the breath you drew.
Spirit of Air
The white body is changing: it has taken the swift shape
Of fire, and the fire passes, dazzling the noon,
Shedding all but swiftness and the ecstasy of flight,
Of the light into light.
Spirit of Fire
Sink my flames!
Spirit of Water
As a falling fountain
The flames sink down,
Spirit of Earth
But the heart remains
Unconsumed; it is mine in earth.
Out of the fire, O spirit, come forth
To us, who have been from the beginning.
Bond by bond, chain by chain,
Our hands are untwisting what bound you; we free you,
Release you from Time
And the harsh taste of the cold world,
Custom, calumny, ignorance, pain.
Come away! Noon is silent in heat that trembles,
Silent the sea that took you, and all the winds,
Silent the shadowy mountains; they look down;
And the stars that are known but in darkness to men,
They also, the true stars.
They are the silence; you the voice!
And the voice soars upward, singing,
From where the sparks expire
And the embers of fire darken,
A fountain cascading in drops as of light,
Flowing over, invading the silence, in joy to be free.
It ascends in its radiance, singing, singing; and we,
We hearken.

Last updated January 14, 2019