A LYRICAL DRAMA IN FOUR ACTS.
AUDISNE HAEC AMPHIARAE, SUB TERRAM ABDITE?
[Composed at Este, September, October, 1818 (Act 1); at Rome,
March-April 6, 1819 (Acts 2, 3); at Florence, close of 1819
(Act 4). Published by C. and J. Ollier, London, summer of
1820. Sources of the text are (1) edition of 1820; (2) text
in "Poetical Works", 1839, prepared with the aid
of a list of errata in (1) written out by Shelley; (3) a fair
draft in Shelley's autograph, now in the Bodleian. This has
been carefully collated by Mr. C.D. Locock, who prints the
result in his "Examination of the Shelley Manuscripts
in the Bodleian Library", Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1903.
Our text is that of 1820, modified by edition 1839, and by
the Bodleian fair copy. In the following notes B = the Bodleian
manuscript; 1820 = the editio princeps, printed by Marchant
for C. and J. Ollier, London; and 1839 = the text as edited
by Mrs. Shelley in the "Poetical Works", 1st and
2nd editions, 1839. The reader should consult the notes on
the Play at the end of the volume.]
The Greek tragic writers, in selecting as their subject any
portion of their national history or mythology, employed in
their treatment of it a certain arbitrary discretion. They
by no means conceived themselves bound to adhere to the common
interpretation or to imitate in story as in title their rivals
and predecessors. Such a system would have amounted to a resignation
of those claims to preference over their competitors which
incited the composition. The Agamemnonian story was exhibited
on the Athenian theatre with as many variations as dramas.
I have presumed to employ a similar license. The "Prometheus
Unbound" of Aeschylus supposed the reconciliation of
Jupiter with his victim as the price of the disclosure of
the danger threatened to his empire by the consummation of
his marriage with Thetis. Thetis, according to this view of
the subject, was given in marriage to Peleus, and Prometheus,
by the permission of Jupiter, delivered from his captivity
by Hercules. Had I framed my story on this model, I should
have done no more than have attempted to restore the lost
drama of Aeschylus; an ambition which, if my preference to
this mode of treating the subject had incited me to cherish,
the recollection of the high comparison such an attempt would
challenge might well abate. But, in truth, I was averse from
a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion
with the Oppressor of mankind. The moral interest of the fable,
which is so powerfully sustained by the sufferings and endurance
of Prometheus, would be annihilated if we could conceive of
him as unsaying his high language and quailing before his
successful and perfidious adversary. The only imaginary being
resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus
is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan,
because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and
patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible
of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition,
envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which,
in the Hero of "Paradise Lost", interfere with the
interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious
casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs,
and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure.
In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction
with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But
Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection
of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and
the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.
This Poem was chiefly written upon the mountainous ruins
of the Baths of Caracalla, among the flowery glades, and thickets
of odoriferous blossoming trees, which are extended in ever
winding labyrinths upon its immense platforms and dizzy arches
suspended in the air. The bright blue sky of Rome, and the
effect of the vigorous awakening spring in that divinest climate,
and the new life with which it drenches the spirits even to
intoxication, were the inspiration of this drama.
The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many
instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human
mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed.
This is unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shakespeare
are full of instances of the same kind: Dante indeed more
than any other poet, and with greater success. But the Greek
poets, as writers to whom no resource of awakening the sympathy
of their contemporaries was unknown, were in the habitual
use of this power; and it is the study of their works (since
a higher merit would probably be denied me) to which I am
willing that my readers should impute this singularity.
One word is due in candour to the degree in which the study
of contemporary writings may have tinged my composition, for
such has been a topic of censure with regard to poems far
more popular, and indeed more deservedly popular, than mine.
It is impossible that any one who inhabits the same age with
such writers as those who stand in the foremost ranks of our
own, can conscientiously assure himself that his language
and tone of thought may not have been modified by the study
of the productions of those extraordinary intellects. It is
true, that, not the spirit of their genius, but the forms
in which it has manifested itself, are due less to the peculiarities
of their own minds than to the peculiarity of the moral and
intellectual condition of the minds among which they have
been produced. Thus a number of writers possess the form,
whilst they want the spirit of those whom, it is alleged,
they imitate; because the former is the endowment of the age
in which they live, and the latter must be the uncommunicated
lightning of their own mind.
The peculiar style of intense and comprehensive imagery which
distinguishes the modern literature of England has not been,
as a general power, the product of the imitation of any particular
writer. The mass of capabilities remains at every period materially
the same; the circumstances which awaken it to action perpetually
change. If England were divided into forty republics, each
equal in population and extent to Athens, there is no reason
to suppose but that, under institutions not more perfect than
those of Athens, each would produce philosophers and poets
equal to those who (if we except Shakespeare) have never been
surpassed. We owe the great writers of the golden age of our
literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which
shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian
religion. We owe Milton to the progress and development of
the same spirit: the sacred Milton was, let it ever be remembered,
a republican, and a bold inquirer into morals and religion.
The great writers of our own age are, we have reason to suppose,
the companions and forerunners of some unimagined change in
our social condition or the opinions which cement it. The
cloud of mind is discharging its collected lightning, and
the equilibrium between institutions and opinions is now restoring,
or is about to be restored.
As to imitation, poetry is a mimetic art. It creates, but
it creates by combination and representation. Poetical abstractions
are beautiful and new, not because the portions of which they
are composed had no previous existence in the mind of man
or in nature, but because the whole produced by their combination
has some intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sources
of emotion and thought, and with the contemporary condition
of them: one great poet is a masterpiece of nature which another
not only ought to study but must study. He might as wisely
and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be
the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe as
exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists
in the writings of a great contemporary. The pretence of doing
it would be a presumption in any but the greatest; the effect,
even in him, would be strained, unnatural and ineffectual.
A poet is the combined product of such internal powers as
modify the nature of others; and of such external influences
as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one, but both.
Every man's mind is, in this respect, modified by all the
objects of nature and art; by every word and every suggestion
which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is
the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which
they compose one form. Poets, not otherwise than philosophers,
painters, sculptors and musicians, are, in one sense, the
creators, and, in another, the creations, of their age. From
this subjection the loftiest do not escape. There is a similarity
between Homer and Hesiod, between Aeschylus and Euripides,
between Virgil and Horace, between Dante and Petrarch, between
Shakespeare and Fletcher, between Dryden and Pope; each has
a generic resemblance under which their specific distinctions
are arranged. If this similarity be the result of imitation,
I am willing to confess that I have imitated.
Let this opportunity be conceded to me of acknowledging that
I have, what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms,
'a passion for reforming the world:' what passion incited
him to write and publish his book, he omits to explain. For
my part I had rather be damned with Plato and Lord Bacon,
than go to Heaven with Paley and Malthus. But it is a mistake
to suppose that I dedicate my poetical compositions solely
to the direct enforcement of reform, or that I consider them
in any degree as containing a reasoned system on the theory
of human life. Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can
be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and
supererogatory in verse. My purpose has hitherto been simply
to familiarise the highly refined imagination of the more
select classes of poetical readers with beautiful idealisms
of moral excellence; aware that until the mind can love, and
admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles
of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which
the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they
would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to
accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical
history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of
human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition
flatter themselves that I should take Aeschylus rather than
Plato as my model.
The having spoken of myself with unaffected freedom will
need little apology with the candid; and let the uncandid
consider that they injure me less than their own hearts and
minds by misrepresentation. Whatever talents a person may
possess to amuse and instruct others, be they ever so inconsiderable,
he is yet bound to exert them: if his attempt be ineffectual,
let the punishment of an unaccomplished purpose have been
sufficient; let none trouble themselves to heap the dust of
oblivion upon his efforts; the pile they raise will betray
his grave which might otherwise have been unknown.
OCEANIDES: ASIA, PANTHEA, IONE.
THE PHANTASM OF JUPITER.
THE SPIRIT OF THE EARTH.
THE SPIRIT OF THE MOON.
SPIRITS OF THE HOURS.
SPIRITS. ECHOES. FAUNS. FURIES.