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Alastor - Percy Bysshe Shelley

Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude [extract]


Nondum amabam, et amare amabam, quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare.— 
Confess. St. August.

Earth, ocean, air, belovèd brotherhood! 

If our great Mother has imbued my soul 

With aught of natural piety to feel 

Your love, and recompense the boon with mine; 

If dewy morn, and odorous noon, and even, 

With sunset and its gorgeous ministers, 

And solemn midnight's tingling silentness; 

If autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood, 

And winter robing with pure snow and crowns 

Of starry ice the grey grass and bare boughs; 

If spring's voluptuous pantings when she breathes 

Her first sweet kisses, have been dear to me; 

If no bright bird, insect, or gentle beast 

I consciously have injured, but still loved 

And cherished these my kindred; then forgive 

This boast, belovèd brethren, and withdraw 

No portion of your wonted favour now! 

         Mother of this unfathomable world! 

Favour my solemn song, for I have loved 

Thee ever, and thee only; I have watched 

Thy shadow, and the darkness of thy steps, 

And my heart ever gazes on the depth 

Of thy deep mysteries. I have made my bed 

In charnels and on coffins, where black death 

Keeps record of the trophies won from thee, 

Hoping to still these obstinate questionings 

Of thee and thine, by forcing some lone ghost 

Thy messenger, to render up the tale 

Of what we are. In lone and silent hours, 

When night makes a weird sound of its own stillness, 

Like an inspired and desperate alchymist 

Staking his very life on some dark hope, 

Have I mixed awful talk and asking looks 

With my most innocent love, until strange tears 

Uniting with those breathless kisses, made 

Such magic as compels the charmèd night 

To render up thy charge:...and, though ne'er yet 

Thou hast unveiled thy inmost sanctuary, 

Enough from incommunicable dream, 

And twilight phantasms, and deep noon-day thought, 

Has shone within me, that serenely now 

And moveless, as a long-forgotten lyre 

Suspended in the solitary dome 

Of some mysterious and deserted fane, 

I wait thy breath, Great Parent, that my strain 

May modulate with murmurs of the air, 

And motions of the forests and the sea, 

And voice of living beings, and woven hymns 

Of night and day, and the deep heart of man. 


Percy Bysshe Shelley was a Romantic poet.


From: A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms, Second Edition.

A broad literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that developed in Western Europe and America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although scholars have debated the usefulness of a term that is frequently seen as self-contradictory, Romanticism and Romantic continue to be essential words in the vocabulary of literary history. They designate not only a historical period, but also a fundamental, recurring attitude toward literature and life, in which the emotional and intellectual freedom of the individual is elevated over the traditional norms and strictures of society. Thus the term can be used to describe contemporary writers as well as those associated with the Romantic movement.

The Romantic movement developed as a reaction against the narrow rationalism of the early and mid-18th century. Among the first manifestations of the new impulse were the philosophical and personal writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France, the appearance of the Sturm und Drang movement in Germany, and the developments of the cult of sensibility and the gothic novel in England. An important historical progenitor of the movement was the French Revolution, particularly in its emphasis on liberty and equality.

A central tenet of Romanticism was the belief in nature as a source of poetic inspiration. The interaction of the poet's creative imagination and the underlying spirit of nature produced an intense, subjective experience, communicated to readers in fresh, spontaneous language. Thus the Romantics enshrined the natural genius, the child of nature, whose creative understanding of the world-as-symbol provided readers the opportunity to explore their own "inner worlds." For the Romantics, the prototype of the natural genius was Shakespeare.

The first stirrings of Romanticism occurred in Germany in the doctrines of the philosopher Immanuel Kant and in the poems and plays and stories of Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller. English Romanticism is identified principally with the poetry of William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Lord Byron, John Keats, and with the novels of Sir Walter Scott.

Despite the early influence of Madame de Stael, French Romanticism was slow to develop, emerging in the 1820s and '30s in the poetry of Lamartine and the novels of Victor Hugo. In Russia, Romanticism is reflected in the work of Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. American Romanticism first emerged in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking novels, prototypes of the Western, and in the New England–based movement known as trancendentalism.

In the latter half of the 19th century Romanticism was opposed by realism, and in the 20th century by the doctrines of New Humanism and, to some extent, New Criticism. In contemporary theory, on the other hand, the Romantics have assumed a central role in illustrating critical positions, such as deconstruction.