Shelley, “Mont Blanc: Lines written in the Vale of Chamouni” (1816)


The everlasting universe of things Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves, Now dark, now glittering, now reflecting gloom, Now lending splendour, where from secret springs The source of human thought its tribute brings 5 Of waters, with a sound but half its own, Such as a feeble brook will oft assume In the wild woods, among the mountains lone, Where waterfalls around it leap forever, Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river 10 Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.
II Thus thou, ravine of Arve -- dark, deep ravine -- Thou many-coloured, many-voiced vale, Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams: awful scene, 15 Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down From the ice gulfs that gird his secret throne, Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame Of lightning through the tempest; thou dost lie, Thy giant brood of pines around thee clinging, 20 Children of elder time, in whose devotion The chainless winds still come and ever came To drink their odours, and their mighty swinging To hear -- an old and solemn harmony; Thine earthly rainbows stretched across the sweep 25 Of the ethereal waterfall, whose veil Robes some unsculptured image; the strange sleep Which, when the voices of the desert fail, Wraps all in its own deep eternity; Thy caverns echoing to the Arve's commotion -- 30 A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame; Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion, Thou art the path of that unresting sound, Dizzy ravine! -- and when I gaze on thee I seem as in a trance sublime and strange 35 To muse on my own separate fantasy, My own, my human mind, which passively Now renders and receives fast influencings, Holding an unremitting interchange With the clear universe of things around; 40 One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings Now float above thy darkness, and now rest Where that or thou art no unbidden guest, In the still cave of the witch Poesy, Seeking among the shadows that pass by, 45 Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee, Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast From which they fled recalls them, thou art there! III Some say that gleams of a remoter world Visit the soul in sleep, that death is slumber, 50 And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber Of those who wake and live. I look on high; Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled The veil of life and death? Or do I lie In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep 55 Spread far around and inaccessibly Its circles? For the very spirit fails, Driven like a homeless cloud from steep to steep That vanishes among the viewless gales! Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky, 60 Mont Blanc appears, still, snowy, and serene. Its subject mountains their unearthly forms Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread 65 And wind among the accumulated steeps; A desert peopled by the storms alone, Save when the eagle brings some hunter's bone, And the wolf tracks her there. How hideously Its shapes are heaped around! -- rude, bare, and high, 70 Ghastly, and scarred, and riven. Is this the scene Where the old earthquake-daemon taught her young Ruin? Were these their toys? Or did a sea Of fire envelop once this silent snow? None can reply -- all seems eternal now. 75 The wilderness has a mysterious tongue Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild, So solemn, so serene, that man may be But for such faith with nature reconciled. Thou hast a voice, great mountain, to repeal 80 Large codes of fraud and woe -- not understood By all, but which the wise, and great, and good Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel. IV The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams, Ocean, and all the living things that dwell 85 Within the daedal earth; lightning, and rain, Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane, The torpor of the year when feeble dreams Visit the hidden buds, or dreamless sleep Holds every future leaf and flower; the bound 90 With which from that detested trance they leap; The works and ways of man, their death and birth, And that of him and all that his may be; All things that move and breathe with toil and sound Are born and die; revolve, subside and swell. 95 Power dwells apart in its tranquillity Remote, serene, and inaccessible And this, the naked countenance of earth On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains Teach the adverting mind. The glaciers creep 100 Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains Slow rolling on; there, many a precipice, Frost and the sun in scorn of mortal power Have piled: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle, A city of death, distinct with many a tower 105 And wall impregnable of beaming ice. Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing Its destined path, or in the mangled soil 110 Branchless and shattered stand; the rocks, drawn down From yon remotest waste, have overthrown The limits of the dead and living world, Never to be reclaimed. The dwelling-place Of insects, beasts, and birds, becomes its spoil; 115 Their food and their retreat for ever gone, So much of life and joy is lost. The race Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling Vanish like smoke before the tempest's stream, And their place is not known. Below, vast caves 120 Shine in the rushing torrents' restless gleam, Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling Meet in the vale; and one majestic river, The breath and blood of distant lands, forever Rolls its loud waters to the ocean waves, 125 Breathes its swift vapours to the circling air. V Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: the Power is there, The still and solemn Power of many sights And many sounds, and much of life and death. In the calm darkness of the moonless nights, 130 In the lone glare of day, the snows descend Upon that mountain; none beholds them there, Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun, Or the starbeams dart through them; winds contend Silently there, and heap the snow with breath 135 Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home The voiceless lightning in these solitudes Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods Over the snow. The secret strength of things Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome 140 Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee! And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea, If to the human mind's imaginings Silence and solitude were vacancy?

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