Ave! (An Ode for the Shelley Centenary, 1892)

Original Text: 
Selected Poems of Sir Charles G. D. Roberts (Toronto: Ryerson, 1936): 23-31. PS 8485 O22A17 Robarts Library.
2    Wide marshes ever washed in clearest air,
3Whether beneath the sole and spectral star
4    The dear severity of dawn you wear,
5Or whether in the joy of ample day
6    And speechless ecstasy of growing June
7You lie and dream the long blue hours away
8        Till nightfall comes too soon,
9Or whether, naked to the unstarred night,
10You strike with wondering awe my inward sight, --
II
11You know how I have loved you, how my dreams
12    Go forth to you with longing, though the years
13That turn not back like your returning streams
14    And fain would mist the memory with tears,
15Though the inexorable years deny
16    My feet the fellowship of your deep grass,
17O'er which, as o'er another, tenderer sky,
18        Cloud phantoms drift and pass, --
19You know my confident love, since first, a child,
20Amid your wastes of green I wandered wild.
III
21Inconstant, eager, curious, I roamed;
22    And ever your long reaches lured me on;
23And ever o'er my feet your grasses foamed,
24    And in my eyes your far horizons shone.
25But sometimes would you (as a stillness fell
26    And on my pulse you laid a soothing palm)
27Instruct my ears in your most secret spell;
28        And sometimes in the calm
29Initiate my young and wondering eyes
30Until my spirit grew more still and wise.
IV
31Purged with high thoughts and infinite desire
32    I entered fearless the most holy place,
33Received between my lips the secret fire,
34    The breath of inspiration on my face.
35But not for long these rare illumined hours,
36    The deep surprise and rapture not for long.
37Again I saw the common, kindly flowers,
38        Again I heard the song
40Peeled like a tangle of small bells afloat.
43In gusty flocks that puffed and fled; the play
45Were memorable events. But most availed
46    Your strange unquiet waters to engage
47My kindred heart's companionship; nor failed
48        To grant this heritage, --
49That in my veins forever must abide
50The urge and fluctuation of the tide.
VI
51The mystic river whence you take your name,
52    River of hubbub, raucous Tantramar,
53Untamable and changeable as flame,
54    It called me and compelled me from afar,
55Shaping my soul with its impetuous stress.
56    When in its gaping channel deeps withdrawn
57Its waves ran crying of the wilderness
58        And winds and stars and dawn,
59How I companioned them in speed sublime,
60Led out a vagrant on the hills of Time!
VII
61And when the orange flood came roaring in
66    Inland along the radiant chasm, exploring
67The green solemnity with boisterous haste;
68        My pulse of joy outpouring
69To visit all the creeks that twist and shine
VIII
71And after, when the tide was full, and stilled
72    A little while the seething and the hiss,
73And every tributary channel filled
74    To the brim with rosy streams that swelled to kiss
75The grass-roots all awash and goose-tongue wild
76    And salt-sap rosemary, -- then how well content
77I was to rest me like a breathless child
78        With play-time rapture spent, --
79To lapse and loiter till the change should come
80And the great floods turn seaward, roaring home.
IX
81And now, O tranquil marshes, in your vast
82    Serenity of vision and of dream,
83Wherethrough by every intricate vein have passed
84    With joy impetuous and pain supreme
85The sharp, fierce tides that chafe the shores of earth
86    In endless and controlless ebb and flow,
87Strangely akin you seem to him whose birth
88        One hundred years ago
89With fiery succour to the ranks of song
90Defied the ancient gates of wrath and wrong.
X
91Like yours, O marshes, his compassionate breast,
92    Wherein abode all dreams of love and peace,
93Was tortured with perpetual unrest.
94    Now loud with flood, now languid with release,
95Now poignant with the lonely ebb, the strife
96    Of tides from the salt sea of human pain
97That hiss along the perilous coasts of life
98        Beat in his eager brain;
99But all about the tumult of his heart
100Stretched the great calm of his celestial art.
XI
101Therefore with no far flight, from Tantramar
102    And my still world of ecstasy, to thee,
104    Of Song, Love, Dream, Desire, and Liberty;
105To thee I turn with reverent hands of prayer
106    And lips that fain would ease my heart of praise,
107Whom chief of all whose brows prophetic wear
108        The pure and sacred bays
109I worship, and have worshipped since the hour
110When first I felt thy bright and chainless power.
XII
111About thy sheltered cradle in the green
112    Untroubled groves of Sussex, brooded forms
113That to the mother's eye remained unseen, --
114    Terrors and ardours, passionate hopes, and storms
115Of fierce retributive fury, such as jarred
116    Ancient and sceptred creeds, and cast down kings,
117And oft the holy cause of Freedom marred,
118        With lust of meaner things,
119With guiltless blood, and many a frenzied crime
120Dared in the face of unforgetful Time.
XIII
121The star that burns on revolution smote
122    Wild heats and change on thine ascendant sphere,
123Whose influence thereafter seemed to float
124    Through many a strange eclipse of wrath and fear,
125Dimming awhile the radiance of thy love.
126    But still supreme in thy nativity,
127All dark, invidious aspects far above,
128        Beamed one clear orb for thee, --
129The star whose ministrations just and strong
XIV
131With how august contrition, and what tears
132    Of penitential unavailing shame,
133Thy venerable foster-mother hears
134    The sons of song impeach her ancient name,
135Because in one rash hour of anger blind
137Too soon to earth's wild outer ways consigned, --
138        Far from her well-loved seat,
139Far from her studious halls and storied towers
XV
141And thou, thenceforth the breathless child of change,
143Of unimagined loveliness didst range,
144    Urged ever by the soul's divine unrest.
145Of that high quest and that unrest divine
146    Thy first immortal music thou didst make,
148        And phantom seas that break
149In soundless foam along the shores of Time,
150Prisoned in thine imperishable rhyme.
153Pregnant with elemental fire, and driven
154    Through deeps of quivering light, and darkness loud
155With tempest, yet beneficent as prayer;
156    Thyself the wild west wind, relentless strewing
157The withered leaves of custom on the air,
158        And through the wreck pursuing
160Thy radiant visions to their viewless homes.
XVII
161And when thy mightiest creation thou
162    Wert fain to body forth, -- the dauntless form,
163The all-enduring, all-forgiving brow
165Of pangs unspeakable and nameless hates,
166    Yet rent by all the wrongs and woes of men,
167And triumphing in his pain, that so their fates
168        Might be assuaged, -- oh then
169Out of that vast compassionate heart of thine
170Thou wert constrained to shape the dream benign.
172    In such transcendent rhapsodies of green
173That one might guess the sprites of spring were glad
174    For your majestic ruin, yours the scene,
175The illuminating air of sense and thought;
176    And yours the enchanted light, O skies of Rome,
177Where the giant vision into form was wrought;
178        Beneath your blazing dome
179The intensest song our language ever knew
180Beat up exhaustless to the blinding blue! --
187    Rapture of mystic love, and so inspired
189        A strain of such elect and pure intent
190It breathes of a diviner element.
XX
191Thou on whose lips the word of Love became
192    A rapt evangel to assuage all wrong,
193Not Love alone, but the austerer name
194    Of Death engaged the splendours of thy song.
195The luminous grief, the spacious consolation
196    Of thy supreme lament, that mourned for him
197Too early haled to that still habitation
198        Beneath the grass-roots dim, --
199Where his faint limbs and pain-o'erwearied heart
200Of all earth's loveliness became a part,
XXI
201But where, thou sayest, himself would not abide, --
202    Thy solemn incommunicable joy
204    Attesting death to free but not destroy,
205All this was as thy swan-song mystical.
206    Even while the note serene was on thy tongue
207Thin grew the veil of the Invisible,
208        The white sword nearer swung, --
209And in the sudden wisdom of thy rest
210Thou knewest all thou hadst but dimly guessed.
212    Mourn that pure light of song extinct at noon!
213Ye waves of Spezzia that shine and toss
214    Repent that sacred flame you quenched too soon!
215Mourn, Mediterranean waters, mourn
216    In affluent purple down your golden shore!
217Such strains as his, whose voice you stilled in scorn,
218        Our ears may greet no more,
219Unless at last to that far sphere we climb
220Where he completes the wonder of his rhyme!
XXIII
221How like a cloud she fled, thy fateful bark,
222    From eyes that watched to hearts that waited, till
223Up from the ocean roared the tempest dark --
224    And the wild heart Love waited for was still!
225Hither and thither in the slow, soft tide,
226    Rolled seaward, shoreward, sands and wandering shells
227And shifting weeds thy fellows, thou didst hide
228        Remote from all farewells,
229Nor felt the sun, nor heard the fleeting rain,
230Nor heeded Casa Magni's quenchless pain.
XXIV
231Thou heedest not? Nay, for it was not thou,
232    That blind, mute clay relinquished by the waves
233Reluctantly at last, and slumbering now
235Not thou, not thou, -- for thou wert in the light
236    Of the Unspeakable, where time is not.
237Thou sawest those tears; but in thy perfect sight
238        And thy eternal thought
239Were they not even now all wiped away
240In the reunion of the infinite day!
XXV
241There face to face thou sawest the living God
242    And worshippedst, beholding Him the same
243Adored on earth as Love, the same whose rod
244    Thou hadst endured as Life, whose secret name
245Thou now didst learn, the healing name of Death.
246    In that unroutable profound of peace,
247Beyond experience of pulse and breath,
248        Beyond the last release
249Of longing, rose to greet thee all the lords
250Of Thought, with consummation in their words:
XXVI
251He of the seven cities claimed, whose eyes,
252    Though blind, saw gods and heroes, and the fall
256    As thou the Titan victor; the benign
258        Singer and seer divine;
260And Shakespeare, captain of the host of Song.
XXVII
261Back from the underworld of whelming change
262    To the wide-glittering beach thy body came;
263And thou didst contemplate with wonder strange
264    And curious regard thy kindred flame,
265Fed sweet with frankincense and wine and salt,
266    With fierce purgation search thee, soon resolving
267Thee to the elements of the airy vault
268        And the far spheres revolving,
269The common waters, the familiar woods,
270And the great hills' inviolate solitudes.
XXVIII
271Thy close companions there officiated
272    With solemn mourning and with mindful tears, --
273The pained, imperious wanderer unmated
274    Who voiced the wrath of those rebellious years;
276    And he, that gentlest sage and friend most true,
277Whom Adonais loved. With these bore part
279Hither and thither through the smoke unstirred
280In wailing semblance of a wild white bird.
XXIX
281O heart of fire, that fire might not consume,
282    Forever glad the world because of thee;
283Because of thee forever eyes illume
284    A more enchanted earth, a lovelier sea!
285O poignant voice of the desire of life,
286    Piercing our lethargy, because thy call
287Aroused our spirits to a nobler strife
288        Where base and sordid fall,
289Forever past the conflict and the pain
290More clearly beams the goal we shall attain!
XXX
291And now once more, O marshes, back to you
292    From whatsoever wanderings, near or far,
293To you I turn with joy forever new,
294    To you, O sovereign vests of Tantramar!
295Your tides are at the full. Your wizard flood,
296    With every tribute stream and brimming creek,
297Ponders, possessor of the utmost good,
298        With no more left to seek, --
299But the hour wanes and passes; and once more
300Resounds the ebb with destiny in its roar.
XXXI
301So might some lord of men, whom force and fate
302    And his great heart's unvanquishable power
303Have thrust with storm to his supreme estate,
304    Ascend by night his solitary tower
305High o'er the city's lights and cries uplift.
306    Silent he ponders the scrolled heaven to read
307And the keen stars' conflicting message sift,
308        Till the slow signs recede,
309And ominously scarlet dawns afar
310The day he leads his legions forth to war.

Notes

1] Tantramar: a river flowing by Sackville, and a saltwater tidal marsh on the isthmus connecting New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The name is from the French tintamarre, `din' (from the sound of the tide rushing in and out; see 52). Back to Line
39] bobolink: American songbird. Back to Line
41] marsh-hawk: native to the Tantramar marshes. Back to Line
42] sand-pipers: shorebirds. Back to Line
44] vetches: climber plants. Back to Line
62] Fundy: the Bay of Fundy, south of New Brunswick, has extremely powerful tides. Back to Line
63] Minudie: Nova Scotia village across the Bay of Fundy from New Brunswick. Back to Line
64] Chignecto: Chignecto Bay is the northeastern arm of the Bay of Fundy. Back to Line
65] refluent: flowing back. Back to Line
70] Beauséjour: a fort near the border of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Tormentine: the cape on the eastern end of New Brunswick. Back to Line
103] Shelley: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Back to Line
130] Dante: Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Italian poet and author of the Divina Commedia. Back to Line
136] in exile: Oxford University expelled Shelley in 1811 for writing a pamphlet on atheism. Back to Line
140] Isis: the river running through Oxford that becomes the Thames below Oxford. Back to Line
142] Alastor: Shelley published on poem with this title in 1816. Back to Line
147] Reuss and Rhine: two rivers originating in Switzerland and running through Europe. Back to Line
152] Protean: as Proteus, the sea-god who tended Poseidon's flocks and took many forms. Back to Line
159] Arnos: river in Italy. Back to Line
164] the great Titan: Shelley wrote "Prometheus Unbound" about this Titan, whom Zeus chained and tortured for stealing fire from Olympus and giving it to man. Back to Line
171] Baths of Caracalla: initiated by Septimius Severus, opened by his son Caracalla in 217, and still found in ruins in Rome on the Via Antonina. Back to Line
181] Pisa: Italian city on the Arno river, famous for its leaning tower. Back to Line
182] ilexes: south European evergreen oak. Back to Line
183] San Giuliano: San Giuliano Terme, a spa about 8 km from Pisa. Back to Line
184] aziola: little owl. Back to Line
185] Serchio: river north of Pisa. Back to Line
186] Plato: Greek philosopher, died 347 B.C.. Back to Line
188] psalm: an allusion to Shelley's poem "Epipsychidion". Back to Line
203] Adonais: the title of Shelley's elegy on the death of John Keats (1795-1821), and his name for Keats. Back to Line
211] Lerici: Shelley drowned in the gulf of Spezzia on his way to his villa (Casa Magni; line 229) near Lerici. Back to Line
234] Shelley is buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome, along with Keats. Back to Line
253] Ilium: Troy, whose fall was told by Homer, the blind poet referred to at line 250. Back to Line
254] Circe's Isle: Aeaea. Back to Line
255] The Thunderous: Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), Greek dramatist of Prometheus Bound. Back to Line
257] Job: Biblical figure whom God permits Satan to test.
Judah's crowned: King David. Back to Line
259] Omar: see Edward Fitzgerald's "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam."
the Tuscan: Dante Alighieri.
Milton: John Milton, the English epic poet of Paradise Lost. Back to Line
275] Trelawney: one of Shelley's friends, E. J. Trelawney, managed the cremation of Shelley's body on the beach where he had been at first buried in quicklime, and the burial of his ashes in Rome. Back to Line
278] ghost: perhaps Keats. Back to Line
Publication Notes: 
Ave (Toronto: Williamson, 1892; PS 8485 .O22A9 Robarts Library)
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: