I read this poem recently by the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822). He was one of the finest lyric poets in English, as this poem aptly displays. It is titled simply, “Lines”.
When the lamp is shatter’d
The light in the dust lies dead;
When the cloud is scatter’d
The rainbow’s glory is shed;
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remember’d not
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot
As music and splendour
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart’s echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute–
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through the ruin’d cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman’s knell
When hearts have once mingled
Love first leaves the well built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possest.
O Love, who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For you cradle, your home, and your bier?
Its passions will rock thee
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from the wintry sky.
From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.
Poetry is one of my great passions. It is the purest form of verbal art, and, when done well, has the power to enchant and fill the mind and soul like nothing else. I suppose modern pop music is the closest thing we have today to what poetry what once was in our society. My grandmother, who was from Glasgow, Scotland, and who had not been educated beyond the high school level, proudly displayed a copy of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns in her home. She could recite many of his verses by memory, and with her Scottish accent it was always a treat for me to hear her say those verses when I was a boy. She could also recite from memory large passages of Shakespeare, something most college educated people today could not even do.
I particularly enjoy older poets, those who wrote when poetry was still part of the everyday cultural landscape in a way it is no longer today. I find that earlier poetry (pre-twentieth century) strove for a musical quality to the verse, sought to enchant, please, and fill the listener with a certain degree of verbal and imaginary pleasure. It is one of the things I enjoy about Shelly’s poem here. I find too much of modern poetry abstruse, abstract, overly intellectual and just downright ugly. Those are just my tastes. I enjoy beauty in all things, especially artistic things, and especially in poetry.
When I read this poem recently it reminded me of Rivelino’s torturous journey through different women, from his ex-wife Valentina to his latest infatuation with Mia. See his blog alpharivelino.wordpress.com for all the juicy details. But what this poem relates so well, and how it relates to Rivelino, is that it is often the ones most prone to love, to romantic feelings, who are the most destroyed in the process. When Shelly says in the third stanza: “The weak one is singled/ To endure what is once possest/O Love, who bewailest/The frailty of all things here/Why chose you the frailest/ for your cradle, your home, and your bier?” I was reminded of Rivelino, who comes across in his blog as quite “ weak” and “frail” indeed when it comes to romantic passions. I don’t mean this in a demeaning way; rather, it is true that those who are the most sensitive to love and susceptible to romantic passions are the ones who can be most easily hurt and damaged by that very power of love.
And when the last stanza begins by declaring about romantic love, “Its passions will rock thee,” I found this most true. I have experienced this, gladly so, throughout my life. It is one of the joys of life, to be rocked by romantic, even sexual passion, to experience not only the joys but also the pains of love, for when we experience these things we know we have lived, lived well, and not missed out on the pleasures that life can offer. It is then, when we are infused with love and passion, when we feel and share that deepest connection with another person, that we are fully human. Love is a risky business, but a risk worth taking.