Hellas: Chorus

Original Text: 
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Hellas (1822). Cf. the reprint of this edition edited by Thomas J. Wise, Shelley Soc., 2nd ser., no. 5 (London: Reeves and Turner, 1886). PR 5410 A1 1886 ROBA.
1061      The golden years return,
1062The earth doth like a snake renew
1063      Her winter weeds outworn:
1064Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
1065Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
1066A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
1067      From waves serener far;
1069    Against the morning star.
1073      Fraught with a later prize;
1075      And loves, and weeps, and dies.
1076A new Ulysses leaves once more
1077Calypso for his native shore.
1078Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,
1079      If earth Death's scroll must be!
1081      Which dawns upon the free:
1083Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
1084Another Athens shall arise,
1085      And to remoter time
1086Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
1087      The splendour of its prime;
1088And leave, if nought so bright may live,
1089All earth can take or Heaven can give.
1091      Shall burst, more bright and good
1092Than all who fell, than One who rose,
1093      Than many unsubdu'd:
1094Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
1095But votive tears and symbol flowers.
1096Oh cease! must hate and death return?
1097      Cease! must men kill and die?
1098Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
1099      Of bitter prophecy.
1100The world is weary of the past,
1101Oh might it die or rest at last!


1060] Written at Pisa in the autumn of 1821 and published in 1822, Hellas is a "lyrical drama" treating of the contemporary struggle for freedom in Greece and dedicated to Prince Mavrocordato, whom Shelley met in exile at Pisa and who had returned to Greece in June 1821 to take part in the revolution against the Turks. Shelley writes in a Preface: "The Persae of Aeschylus afforded me the first model of my conception, although the decision of the glorious contest now waging in Greece being yet suspended forbids a catastrophe parallel to the return of Xerxes and the desolation of the Persians. I have, therefore, contented myself with exhibiting a series of lyric pictures ... [suggesting] the final triumph of the Greek cause as a portion of the cause of civilization and social improvement." The action takes place in the palace of the Turkish king, where he receives reports on the progress of the war from messengers and prophecies of doom from visionary visitors. The last news, however, is of a Turkish victory, to the dismay of the Greek slaves who act as chorus throughout the play. "The final chorus," according to Shelley's note, "is indistinct and obscure, as the event of the living drama whose arrival it foretells. Prophecies of wars, and rumours of wars, etc., may safely be made by poet or prophet in any age, but to anticipate however darkly a period of regeneration and happiness is a more hazardous exercise of the faculty which bards possess or feign. It will remind the reader 'magno nec proximus intervallo' of Isaiah and Virgil, whose ardent spirits overleaping the actual reign of evil which we endure and bewail, already saw the possible and perhaps approaching state of society in which the 'lion shall lie down with the lamb,' and 'omnis feret omnia tellus.' Let these great names be my authority and excuse."
The world's great age: the "annus magnus" at the end of which, according to an idea of the ancients, all the heavenly bodies would return to their original positions, and when, in consequence, the history of the world would begin to repeat itself. Back to Line
1068] Peneus: a river in Thessaly. Back to Line
1070] Tempe: the vale through which Peneus flows. Back to Line
1071] Cyclads: a group of islands in the Aegean. Back to Line
1072] Argo: the vessel which bore Jason on his search for the Golden Fleece.
1072-77.: See Virgil, Eclogue IV:
Another Tiphys shall new seas explore;
Another Argo land the chiefs upon th'Iberian shore;
Another Helen other wars create,
And great Achilles urge the Trojan fate
(Dryden's translation). Back to Line
1074] Orpheus. For the stories of Orpheus--his entrancing music, the loss of his wife Eurydice and his ultimate failure to recover her from the underworld, and his death at the hands of Maenads (worshippers of Dionysus)--see Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Calypso: a sorceress on whose island Ulysses remained for seven years on the way home from Troy to Ithaca. Back to Line
1080] Laian rage. Laius was King of Thebes, father of Oedipus, and head of a house whose horrors were a favourite theme of Greek tragedy. Back to Line
1082] Sphinx: a monster who sat on the roadside at Thebes and slew all who could not solve a riddle it proposed. Back to Line
1090] Shelley's note reads (in part): "Saturn and Love were among the deities of a real or imaginary state of innocence and happiness. All those who fell, or the Gods of Greece, Asia and Egypt; the One who rose, or Jesus Christ . . .; and the many unsubdued, or the monstrous objects of the idolatry of China, India, the Antarctic islands, and the native tribes of America...." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.601.