A Sunday poem: ‘Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples’

The Bay of Naples from space

The English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was in Naples from 29 November 29 1818 until 28 February 1819.  He was at a low ebb: he was ill and estranged from his wife Mary over the death earlier in the year of his daughter Clara.  His first wife, Harriet Westbrook, and Mary Shelley’s half sister, Fanny Inlay, had both committed suicide and his two children by Harriet had been taken off him by the courts.  His friends had turned against him and his poetry was neglected by the public and condemned by the critics.  And he was plagued by financial and personal problems. The beauty of the Bay of Naples could not lift his mood and the depressive tone of this poem reflects this.

‘The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon’s transparent might,
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City’s voice itself, is soft like Solitude’s.

I see the Deep’s untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.

Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan;
They might lament—for I am one
Whom men love not,—and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet’.

 

Poem by Percy Bysshe Shelly.  Picture of the Bay of Naples via Italy’s own astronaut Sam Cristoforetti.

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