Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

Original Text: 
The Examiner (January 19, 1817). AP E83 MICR mfm.
2      Floats though unseen among us; visiting
3      This various world with as inconstant wing
4As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;
5Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,
6           It visits with inconstant glance
7           Each human heart and countenance;
8Like hues and harmonies of evening,
9           Like clouds in starlight widely spread,
10           Like memory of music fled,
11           Like aught that for its grace may be
12Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.
13Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate
14      With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
15      Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?
16Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
17This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
18           Ask why the sunlight not for ever
19           Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain-river,
20Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,
21           Why fear and dream and death and birth
22           Cast on the daylight of this earth
23           Such gloom, why man has such a scope
24For love and hate, despondency and hope?
25No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
26      To sage or poet these responses given:
27      Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,
28Remain the records of their vain endeavour:
29Frail spells whose utter'd charm might not avail to sever,
30           From all we hear and all we see,
31           Doubt, chance and mutability.
32Thy light alone like mist o'er mountains driven,
33           Or music by the night-wind sent
34           Through strings of some still instrument,
35           Or moonlight on a midnight stream,
36Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream.
37Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart
38      And come, for some uncertain moments lent.
39      Man were immortal and omnipotent,
40Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
41Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
42           Thou messenger of sympathies,
43           That wax and wane in lovers' eyes;
44Thou, that to human thought art nourishment,
45           Like darkness to a dying flame!
46           Depart not as thy shadow came,
47           Depart not--lest the grave should be,
48Like life and fear, a dark reality.
49While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
50      Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
51      And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
52Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
53I call'd on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
54           I was not heard; I saw them not;
55           When musing deeply on the lot
56Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
57           All vital things that wake to bring
58           News of birds and blossoming,
59           Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
60  I shriek'd, and clasp'd my hands in ecstasy!
61I vow'd that I would dedicate my powers
62      To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?
63      With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now
64I call the phantoms of a thousand hours
65Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision'd bowers
66           Of studious zeal or love's delight
67           Outwatch'd with me the envious night:
68They know that never joy illum'd my brow
69           Unlink'd with hope that thou wouldst free
70           This world from its dark slavery,
71           That thou, O awful LOVELINESS,
72Wouldst give whate'er these words cannot express.
73The day becomes more solemn and serene
74      When noon is past; there is a harmony
75      In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
76Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
77As if it could not be, as if it had not been!
78           Thus let thy power, which like the truth
79           Of nature on my passive youth
80Descended, to my onward life supply
81           Its calm, to one who worships thee,
82           And every form containing thee,
83           Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind
84To fear himself, and love all human kind.

Notes

1] In her note on the poems of 1816, Mrs. Shelley writes: "he spent the summer on the shores of Lake Geneva. The Hymn to Intellectual Beauty was conceived during his voyage round the lake with Lord Byron."
Intellectual: knowable by the mind without the aid of physical sensation (as is made clear in lines 1-2). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1817
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.555.
Rhyme: