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only versions of Greek dramas that give any idea of the original. The translations from Faust, by Shelley, shew how intimately he had thought himself unto the works of that great author.
Shelley's more finished larger poems are Rosalind and Helen, Adonais, Hellas, Prometheus Unbound, and the Cenci. The first-mentioned although cast in the narrative form, and human in its interest, is still deeply tinged with his original vice, his controversial tendency. The versification is sweet and fluent, but in other respects it is scarcely worthy of Shelley. The Hellas, he himself tells us, "written at the suggestion of the events of the moment, is a mere improvise." It contains some magnificent passages. The opening chorus, in particular, is beautiful, but too long for insertion here. The Adonais is also a child of occasion—a lament for Keates. It has much of Milton's Lycidas in the flow of it3 verse, although the structure of the stanza be different; nor does its imagery, or the constant under-tone of simple subdued pathos which pervades the poem, render it unworthy to stand in competition with that "melodious tear."
In his " Cenci," Shelley first displayed to the world the full extent, of his genius. Medwin tells us, that while "The Revolt of Islam" and others of his poems were thrown off by him, almost without exertion, the " Cenci" was the product of severe and continuous labour. Its solid worth confirms the story. It is worthy to rank among the most successful efforts of dramatic art in the English language; and the fragments which have been given to the world of the unfinished drama, "Charles the First," shew that it wa* no chance burst, no happy accident. Shelley had occupied the field of the drama, and would have maintained it. He had the power of subduing the expressions of agony to the modulations of harmony, without lessening their power or diminishing the sympathy they were likely to excite. He could be alternately homely and magnificent. He knew how to check that overflowing of poetical thought which was natural to him, in order to give character to his dialogue; and this restraint, by compressing his thoughts, gave them a spring and elasticity which are felt unseen. Lastly, he saw clearly the distinction between the narrative and dramatic, and allows his characters to be seen and heard as the necessity of his art dictates. They but appear—the chain of causation which links their appearances is supplied, involuntarily, by the mind of the be. holder.
The story of the "Cenci" is too well known to need repetition here. The characters are boldly expressed both by their words and actions. Not a syllable is attributed to them which the forwarding of the action does not call for. Not a scene is introduced in which some event does not occur to forward the catastrophe. The characters are discriminated by a delicate metaphysical tact. Old Cenci and Beatrice are the marked and prominent characters, and are distinguished not merely as male from female—good from evil—but as old from young. They are akin in power: but the power of Cenci is that of a full-grown petrified soul which advances not; the power of Beatrice is growing, it increases with every struggle, every opportunity of display. Even the feebler characters differ in their feebleness—Gracoma too feeble to be virtuous, Orsino too feeble to be successfully a villain, the Pope too feeble to be just. How truly dramatic is the execution of the piece will be felt in the breathless horror of the murder scenes.
Olimpio How feel you to this work?
Margio.—As one who thinks
Olim.—It is the white reflection of your own,
Mar.—Is that their natural hue?
Olim Or 'tis my hate, and the deferred desire
To wreak it, which extinguishes their blood.
Mar.—You are inclined then to this business?
If one should bribe me with a thousand crowns
Enter Beatrice and Lucretia beloir.
Btatr.—Are ye resolved?
Olim Is he asleep?
Mar.—\s all Quiet?
Lucr I mixed an opiate with his drink:
He sleeps so soundly—
Beatr That his death will be
But as a change of sin-chastising dreams,
Olim We are resolved.
Mar—As to the how this act Be warranted, it rests with you.
Bcatr Well, follow!
Olim Hush! Hark! What noise is that?
Mar.—Ha 1 some one comes!
Beatr.—Ye conscience-stricken cravens, rock to rest
An Apartment in the Castle. Enter Beatrice and Lucretia.
Lucr My God!
If he be now a cold stiff corpse.
Beatr O, fear not
What may he done, but what is left undone:
Enter OHmpio and Marxio.
Olim Did you not call?
Beatr I nsk if all is over?
Olim We dare not kill an old and sleeping man;
His thin grey hair, his stern and reverent brow,
Mar But I was bolder; for I chid Olimpio,
And bade him bear his wrongs to his own grave
Beair.—Miserable slaves 1
(Snatching a dagger from one of them and raising it.)
Hadst thou a tongue to say, She murdered her own father, I must do it! But never dream ye shall outlive him long!
Olim.—Stop, for God's sake!
Afar.—I will go back and kill him.
Olim.—Give me the weapon, we must do thy will.
Beatr.—Take it! Depart! Return 1
(Exeunt Olim. and Mar.)
Luer.—Would it were done 1
Beatr Even whilst
That doubt is passing through your mind, the world
(Enter Olimpio and Marzio.)
Mar.—We strangled him that there might be no blood; And then we threw his heavy corpse i' the garden Under the balcony; 'twill seem it fell.
Beatr (Giving them a bag of coin.)
Here, take this gold, and hasten to your homes.
And, Manio, because thou wast only awed
By that which made me tremble, wear thou this I
(Clothes him in a rich mantle.)
CA horn is sounded.)
Luer Hark I 'tis the castle horn; my God, it sounds
Like the last trump.
Beatr.—Some tedious guest is coming.
Luer. The drawbridge is let down; there is a tramp
Of horses in the court j fly, hide yourselves!
(Exeunt Olim and Mar.)
Beatr.—Let us retire to counterfeit deep rest;
The Prometheus is dramatic in form only; there is little or no human interest in it. The sphere of action is the universe; the actors the gigantic creatures of the poet's imagination. Love, hatred, fear, the beauty of the elements and the human form,—these in the abstract are the materials employed by the poet, but he has fused them in the glowing furnace of his own mind, cast them in more gigantic moulds, and given them new purposes and relations. It is indeed a gigantic work, worthy, from the might and magnitude of its conceptions, to rank beside iEschylus. The great and good Titan, the tyrant Jove, the mysterious all-absorbing Demigorgon, are adequate to the infinity they are created to fill. The Oceanides and other lovely spirits cluster in undying beauty around these colossal beings. And on the outward form of the poem the author has lavished all the riches of his sweet majestic and varying versification. The Prometheus is a poem that never can be popular. The habits of thought presupposed in those to whom it addresses itself exist only in minds which have been long devoted to literature. But those who can appreciate must ever regard it as a mine of the richest beauties of poetry. Perfect we cannot call it; for, independently of one or two wanton defiances of feelings which may (and ought to) find place in the most cultivated minds, the consummation is imperfect. Man being finite, cannot comprehend infinite good, and all attempts to clothe such an idea in a bodily form must be unsuccessful.
Words vainly attempt to describe a poem which can be known only from repeated perusals. Those who can find pleasure in rich combinations of melodious measures giving voice to crowding images of beauty, abstracted from every thin?rthat is of the earth earthy, will relish the revels of the Hours and Spirits, after the delivery of Prometheus.
Scene, a Part of the Forest near the Cave of PnoMETHEts. Panthea and lost are sleeping; they awaken gradually during the First Song.
Voice of Unseen Spirits.
A train of dark Forms and Shadows passes by confusedly, Singing.
Here, oh here:
We bear the bier
Of the dead Honrs be,
Strew, oh, strew
Hair, not yew!
Be the faded flowers
Of Death's bare bowers
Haste, oh, haste!
As shades are chased, Trembling, by day, from heaven's blue waste,
We melt away,
Like dissolving spray, From the children of a diviner day,
With the lullaby
Of winds that die
lone.—What dark forms were they?
Panthea—The past Hours weak and grey,
lone.—Have they past?
Panthea.—They have past; They outspeeded the blast, While 'tis said, they arc fled:
lone.—Whither, oh, whither?
Panthea.—To the dark, to the past, to the dead.
Voice of Unseen Spirits.
Waves assemble on ocean,
The pine boughs are singing
The storms mock the mountains
lone.—What charioteers are these?
Semichorus of Hours.
A Voiee.~\n the deep?
Semichortts II.—Oh, lielow the deep.
Semichorus I An hundred ages we have been kept
Cradled in visions of hate and care,
And each one who waked as his brother slept,
Found the truth—
Semichorus II.—Worse than his visions were!
Semichorus I.—We have heard the lute of Hope in sleep; We have known the voice of Love in dreams, We have felt the wand of Power, and leap—
Semichorns II.—As the billows leap in the morning beams!
Chorus—Weave the dance on the floor of the breeze,
Pierce with song heaven's silent light, Enchant the day that too swiftly flees,
To check its flight ere the cave of night.
Once the hungry Hours were hounds
Which chased the day like a bleeding deer,
Through the nightly dells of the desert year.