This week’s poem is by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He was a Romantic poet.
Do you have a favorite Romantic poet? Sometimes I find myself asking people this at parties. Then I immediately think, ooooh that was a really stupid thing to ask someone at a party. This is why I am not very good at parties. But hey, if you are reading this blog, you might actually have a favorite Romantic poet.
My favorite Romantic poet is Blake. He did it all first and was a pretty insane artist to boot. Plus he invented his own mythology. Inventing your own mythology = crazypants or genius, and there are about 10,000 mythology-inventing arrogant buttwipes for every mythology-inventing genius. Like I can only think of four mythology-inventing geniuses off the top of my head: William Blake, W.B. Yeats, J.R.R. Tolkien, and… shoot, I had it. There is another one. It will come to me. As usual I am writing for the Internet while high as a KITE on sleep deprivation.
My other favorite is Coleridge. Self-doubt and insecurity ate away at Coleridge like termites in a rotten stump that was slowly collapsing on itself in a stinky mouldering heap. Meanwhile, his friend Wordsworth was growing into a big old beautiful oak tree, albeit one that was becoming alarmingly conservative, politically. I identify with Coleridge on a painfully personal level. I just want to reach back in time and give him a hug. Like if I could hug one historical personage, it would be Samuel Coleridge. He needed it. Your poems are good too, Mr. Coleridge, and I think they have more emotional resonance than your BFF’s.
Wordsworth… Whatevs, he is the one they definitely made you read in school. He sure did write a lot of poetry. He also founded the Romantic movement, what with the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…recollected in tranquility” and all that. He is good too I guess, but I am sort of tired of hearing about him.
My other other favorite is Keats. If there is one poet who makes me feel okay about being a feeble, flawed human who is going to die one day – leaving behind this simultaneously beautiful and horrendous planet – that poet is Keats. Keats makes me feel like we humans do have it in us to be a little bit better than mosquitos and other annoying parasitic organisms. A lot of people feel this way about him, so I think it is safe to say that Keats is almost everyone’s favorite. Well, that would be “a lot” of people who read poetry, so not actually a lot of people.
My other other other favorite is Shelley. His poems make my brain hurt, and I will probably never completely understand them despite spending a more than average amount of time trying. Shelley was a temperamental super-genius, and therefore necessarily died very young while unwisely going out for a sail in a violent storm. (Because that is just what you do if you are a super-genius Romantic poet.) It sucks that he died though, because if he had not died he would have written more poetry. However it probably would not have been as good if he had avoided stupid shnit like stormy boat trips. Shelley wrote the poem that I am drawing today. It is about spring, so I thought it might be a nicer pick than that last one about a dead woman who gets accidentally dug up by her dog, and no one loved her, not even her dog, etc.
Byron, Byron, Byron. Insufferable in my opinion, but he could throw a good party. I guess Byron would have been my favorite Romantic poet to hang out with – a heck of a lot more fun than all those other dudes. Hey guys, is Coleridge crying in the bathroom again? And where Shelley go? Is he okay? Should we call someone? We should definitely call Mary. Oh wait, she is MARY SHELLEY and she is busy writing THE BEST NOVEL IN WESTERN LITERATURE, EVER, WHILE BEING ONLY NINETEEN YEARS OLD. YES, IT IS BETTER THAN MOBY DICK. SHE KICKS ALL OF YOUR BUTTS INTO NEXT WEEK, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
So anyways… Here is the first section (of three) of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Sensitive Plant.” It is a pretty poem about spring, the Beautiful, and being highly emotional. You might even say it is melancholic. One thing I love about this poem is how it sustains satirical and sincere readings simultaneously, although that becomes clearer in parts two and three, which I will also draw one of these days. I prefer the satirical interpretation, obviously.
The Sensitive Plant, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819
A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.
And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.
But none ever trembled and panted with bliss
In the garden, the field, or the wilderness,
Like a doe in the noontide with love’s sweet want,
As the companionless Sensitive Plant.
The snowdrop, and then the violet,
Arose from the ground with warm rain wet,
And their breath was mixed with fresh odour, sent
From the turf, like the voice and the instrument.
Then the pied wind-flowers and the tulip tall,
And narcissi, the fairest among them all,
Who gaze on their eyes in the stream’s recess,
Till they die of their own dear loveliness;
And the Naiad-like lily of the vale,
Whom youth makes so fair and passion so pale
That the light of its tremulous bells is seen
Through their pavilions of tender green;
And the hyacinth purple, and white, and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense;
And the rose like a nymph to the bath addressed,
Which unveiled the depth of her glowing breast,
Till, fold after fold, to the fainting air
The soul of her beauty and love lay bare:
And the wand-like lily, which lifted up,
As a Maenad, its moonlight-coloured cup,
Till the fiery star, which is its eye,
Gazed through clear dew on the tender sky;
And the jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose,
The sweetest flower for scent that blows;
And all rare blossoms from every clime
Grew in that garden in perfect prime.
And on the stream whose inconstant bosom
Was pranked, under boughs of embowering blossom,
With golden and green light, slanting through
Their heaven of many a tangled hue,
Broad water-lilies lay tremulously,
And starry river-buds glimmered by,
And around them the soft stream did glide and dance
With a motion of sweet sound and radiance.
And the sinuous paths of lawn and of moss,
Which led through the garden along and across,
Some open at once to the sun and the breeze,
Some lost among bowers of blossoming trees,
Were all paved with daisies and delicate bells
As fair as the fabulous asphodels,
And flow’rets which, drooping as day drooped too,
Fell into pavilions, white, purple, and blue,
To roof the glow-worm from the evening dew.
And from this undefiled Paradise
The flowers (as an infant’s awakening eyes
Smile on its mother, whose singing sweet
Can first lull, and at last must awaken it),
When Heaven’s blithe winds had unfolded them,
As mine-lamps enkindle a hidden gem,
Shone smiling to Heaven, and every one
Shared joy in the light of the gentle sun;
For each one was interpenetrated
With the light and the odour its neighbour shed,
Like young lovers whom youth and love make dear
Wrapped and filled by their mutual atmosphere.
But the Sensitive Plant which could give small fruit
Of the love which it felt from the leaf to the root,
Received more than all, it loved more than ever,
Where none wanted but it, could belong to the giver,–
For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
Radiance and odour are not its dower;
It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,
It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!
The light winds which from unsustaining wings
Shed the music of many murmurings;
The beams which dart from many a star
Of the flowers whose hues they bear afar;
The plumed insects swift and free,
Like golden boats on a sunny sea,
Laden with light and odour, which pass
Over the gleam of the living grass;
The unseen clouds of the dew, which lie
Like fire in the flowers till the sun rides high,
Then wander like spirits among the spheres,
Each cloud faint with the fragrance it bears;
The quivering vapours of dim noontide,
Which like a sea o’er the warm earth glide,
In which every sound, and odour, and beam,
Move, as reeds in a single stream;
Each and all like ministering angels were
For the Sensitive Plant sweet joy to bear,
Whilst the lagging hours of the day went by
Like windless clouds o’er a tender sky.
And when evening descended from Heaven above,
And the Earth was all rest, and the air was all love,
And delight, though less bright, was far more deep,
And the day’s veil fell from the world of sleep,
And the beasts, and the birds, and the insects were drowned
In an ocean of dreams without a sound;
Whose waves never mark, though they ever impress
The light sand which paves it, consciousness;
(Only overhead the sweet nightingale
Ever sang more sweet as the day might fail,
And snatches of its Elysian chant
Were mixed with the dreams of the Sensitive Plant);–
The Sensitive Plant was the earliest
Upgathered into the bosom of rest;
A sweet child weary of its delight,
The feeblest and yet the favourite,
Cradled within the embrace of Night.