The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (ed. Hutchinson, 1914)/The Sunset

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For works with similar titles, see Sunset.



[Written at Bishopsgate, 1816 (spring). Published in full in the Posthumous Poems, 1824. Lines 9-20, and 28-42, appeared in Hunt's Literary Pocket-Book, 1823, under the titles, respectively, of Sunset, From an Unpublished Poem, and Grief. A Fragment.]

There late was One within whose subtle being,
As light and wind within some delicate cloud
That fades amid the blue noon's burning sky,
Genius and death[1] contended. None may know
The sweetness of the joy which made his breath5
Fail, like the trances of the summer air,
When, with the Lady of his love, who then
First knew the unreserve of mingled being,
He walked along the pathway of a field
Which to the east a hoar wood shadowed o'er,10
But to the west was open to the sky.
There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold
Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points
Of the far level grass and nodding flowers
And the old dandelion's hoary beard,15
And, mingled with the shades of twilight, lay
On the brown massy woods—and in the east
The broad and burning moon lingeringly rose
Between the black trunks of the crowded trees,
While the faint stars were gathering overhead.—20
'Is it not strange, Isabel,' said the youth,
'I never saw the sun? We will walk[2] here
To-morrow; thou shalt look on it with me.'

That night the youth and lady mingled lay
In love and sleep—but when the morning came25
The lady found her lover dead and cold.
Let none believe that God in mercy gave
That stroke. The lady died not, nor grew wild,
But year by year lived on—in truth I think
Her gentleness and patience and sad smiles,30
And that she did not die, but lived to tend
Her agèd father, were a kind of madness,
If madness 'tis to be unlike the world.
For but to see her were to read the tale
Woven by some subtlest bard, to make hard hearts35
Dissolve away in wisdom-working grief;—
Her eyes were black and lustreless and wan[3]:
Her eyelashes were worn[4] away with tears,
Her lips and cheeks were like things dead—so pale;
Her hands were thin, and through their wandering veins40
And weak articulations might be seen
Day's ruddy light. The tomb of thy dead self
Which one vexed ghost inhabits, night and day,
Is all, lost child, that now remains of thee!

'Inheritor of more than earth can give,45
Passionless calm and silence unreproved,
Whether the dead find, oh, not sleep! but rest,
And are the uncomplaining things they seem,
Or live, or drop in the deep sea of Love;
Oh, that like thine, mine epitaph were—Peace!'50
This was the only moan she ever made.

  1. death 1839; youth 1824.
  2. sun? We will walk 1824; sunrise? We will wake cj. Forman.
  3. Her eyes ... wan Hunt, 1823; omitted 1824, 1839.
  4. worn 1824; torn 1839.