Julian and Maddalo

Original Text: 
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Posthumous Poems, ed. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1824). Cf. Postumous Poems of Shelley. Mary Shelley's Fair Copy Book, Bodleian MS. Shelley adds. d. 9, collated with the Holographs and the Printed Texts. Ed. Irving Massey. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1969. PR 5403 M27 ROBA.
3Of Adria towards Venice: a bare strand
4Of hillocks, heap'd from ever-shifting sand,
5Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,
6Such as from earth's embrace the salt ooze breeds,
7Is this; an uninhabited sea-side,
8Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,
9Abandons; and no other object breaks
10The waste, but one dwarf tree and some few stakes
11Broken and unrepair'd, and the tide makes
12A narrow space of level sand thereon,
13Where 'twas our wont to ride while day went down.
14This ride was my delight. I love all waste
15And solitary places; where we taste
16The pleasure of believing what we see
17Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be:
18And such was this wide ocean, and this shore
19More barren than its billows; and yet more
20Than all, with a remember'd friend I love
21To ride as then I rode; for the winds drove
22The living spray along the sunny air
23Into our faces; the blue heavens were bare,
24Stripp'd to their depths by the awakening north;
25And, from the waves, sound like delight broke forth
26Harmonizing with solitude, and sent
27Into our hearts aëreal merriment.
28So, as we rode, we talk'd; and the swift thought,
29Winging itself with laughter, linger'd not,
30But flew from brain to brain--such glee was ours,
31Charg'd with light memories of remember'd hours,
32None slow enough for sadness: till we came
33Homeward, which always makes the spirit tame.
34This day had been cheerful but cold, and now
35The sun was sinking, and the wind also.
36Our talk grew somewhat serious, as may be
37Talk interrupted with such raillery
38As mocks itself, because it cannot scorn
39The thoughts it would extinguish: 'twas forlorn,
41The devils held within the dales of Hell
42Concerning God, freewill and destiny:
43Of all that earth has been or yet may be,
44All that vain men imagine or believe,
45Or hope can paint or suffering may achieve,
46We descanted, and I (for ever still
47Is it not wise to make the best of ill?)
48Argu'd against despondency, but pride
49Made my companion take the darker side.
50The sense that he was greater than his kind
51Had struck, methinks, his eagle spirit blind
52By gazing on its own exceeding light.
53Meanwhile the sun paus'd ere it should alight,
54Over the horizon of the mountains--Oh,
55How beautiful is sunset, when the glow
56Of Heaven descends upon a land like thee,
57Thou Paradise of exiles, Italy!
58Thy mountains, seas, and vineyards, and the towers
59Of cities they encircle! It was ours
60To stand on thee, beholding it: and then,
61Just where we had dismounted, the Count's men
62Were waiting for us with the gondola.
63As those who pause on some delightful way
64Though bent on pleasant pilgrimage, we stood
65Looking upon the evening, and the flood
66Which lay between the city and the shore,
68And aëry Alps towards the North appear'd
69Through mist, an heaven-sustaining bulwark rear'd
70Between the East and West; and half the sky
71Was roof'd with clouds of rich emblazonry
72Dark purple at the zenith, which still grew
73Down the steep West into a wondrous hue
74Brighter than burning gold, even to the rent
75Where the swift sun yet paus'd in his descent
76Among the many-folded hills: they were
77Those famous Euganean hills, which bear,
78As seen from Lido thro' the harbour piles,
79The likeness of a clump of peakèd isles--
80And then--as if the Earth and Sea had been
81Dissolv'd into one lake of fire, were seen
82Those mountains towering as from waves of flame
83Around the vaporous sun, from which there came
84The inmost purple spirit of light, and made
85Their very peaks transparent. "Ere it fade,"
86Said my companion, "I will show you soon
87A better station"--so, o'er the lagune
88We glided; and from that funereal bark
89I lean'd, and saw the city, and could mark
90How from their many isles, in evening's gleam,
91Its temples and its palaces did seem
92Like fabrics of enchantment pil'd to Heaven.
93I was about to speak, when--"We are even
94Now at the point I meant," said Maddalo,
95And bade the gondolieri cease to row.
96"Look, Julian, on the west, and listen well
97If you hear not a deep and heavy bell."
98I look'd, and saw between us and the sun
99A building on an island; such a one
100As age to age might add, for uses vile,
101A windowless, deform'd and dreary pile;
102And on the top an open tower, where hung
103A bell, which in the radiance sway'd and swung;
104We could just hear its hoarse and iron tongue:
105The broad sun sunk behind it, and it toll'd
106In strong and black relief. "What we behold
107Shall be the madhouse and its belfry tower,"
108Said Maddalo, "and ever at this hour
109Those who may cross the water, hear that bell
110Which calls the maniacs, each one from his cell,
111To vespers." "As much skill as need to pray
112In thanks or hope for their dark lot have they
113To their stern Maker," I replied. "O ho!
114You talk as in years past," said Maddalo.
115" 'Tis strange men change not. You were ever still
116Among Christ's flock a perilous infidel,
117A wolf for the meek lambs--if you can't swim
118Beware of Providence." I look'd on him,
119But the gay smile had faded in his eye.
120"And such," he cried, "is our mortality,
121And this must be the emblem and the sign
122Of what should be eternal and divine!
123And like that black and dreary bell, the soul,
124Hung in a heaven-illumin'd tower, must toll
125Our thoughts and our desires to meet below
126Round the rent heart and pray--as madmen do
127For what? they know not--till the night of death,
128As sunset that strange vision, severeth
129Our memory from itself, and us from all
130We sought and yet were baffled." I recall
131The sense of what he said, although I mar
132The force of his expressions. The broad star
133Of day meanwhile had sunk behind the hill,
134And the black bell became invisible,
135And the red tower look'd gray, and all between
136The churches, ships and palaces were seen
137Huddled in gloom;--into the purple sea
138The orange hues of heaven sunk silently.
139We hardly spoke, and soon the gondola
140Convey'd me to my lodgings by the way.
141     The following morn was rainy, cold and dim:
142Ere Maddalo arose, I call'd on him,
144A lovelier toy sweet Nature never made,
145A serious, subtle, wild, yet gentle being,
146Graceful without design and unforeseeing,
147With eyes--Oh speak not of her eyes!--which seem
148Twin mirrors of Italian Heaven, yet gleam
149With such deep meaning, as we never see
150But in the human countenance: with me
151She was a special favourite: I had nurs'd
152Her fine and feeble limbs when she came first
153To this bleak world; and she yet seem'd to know
154On second sight her ancient playfellow,
155Less chang'd than she was by six months or so;
156For after her first shyness was worn out
157We sate there, rolling billiard balls about,
158When the Count enter'd. Salutations past--
159"The word you spoke last night might well have cast
160A darkness on my spirit--if man be
161The passive thing you say, I should not see
162Much harm in the religions and old saws
163(Though I may never own such leaden laws)
164Which break a teachless nature to the yoke:
165Mine is another faith"--thus much I spoke
166And noting he replied not, added: "See
167This lovely child, blithe, innocent and free;
168She spends a happy time with little care,
169While we to such sick thoughts subjected are
170As came on you last night. It is our will
171That thus enchains us to permitted ill.
172We might be otherwise. We might be all
173We dream of happy, high, majestical.
174Where is the love, beauty, and truth we seek
175But in our mind? and if we were not weak
176Should we be less in deed than in desire?"
177"Ay, if we were not weak--and we aspire
178How vainly to be strong!" said Maddalo:
179"You talk Utopia." "It remains to know,"
180I then rejoin'd, "and those who try may find
181How strong the chains are which our spirit bind;
182Brittle perchance as straw.... We are assur'd
183Much may be conquer'd, much may be endur'd,
184Of what degrades and crushes us. We know
185That we have power over ourselves to do
186And suffer--what, we know not till we try;
187But something nobler than to live and die:
188So taught those kings of old philosophy
189Who reign'd, before Religion made men blind;
190And those who suffer with their suffering kind
191Yet feel their faith, religion." "My dear friend,"
192Said Maddalo, "my judgement will not bend
193To your opinion, though I think you might
194Make such a system refutation-tight
195As far as words go. I knew one like you
196Who to this city came some months ago,
197With whom I argu'd in this sort, and he
198Is now gone mad--and so he answer'd me--
199Poor fellow! but if you would like to go
200We'll visit him, and his wild talk will show
201How vain are such aspiring theories."
202"I hope to prove the induction otherwise,
203And that a want of that true theory, still,
204Which seeks a 'soul of goodness' in things ill
205Or in himself or others, has thus bow'd
206His being. There are some by nature proud,
207Who patient in all else demand but this--
208To love and be belov'd with gentleness;
209And being scorn'd, what wonder if they die
210Some living death? this is not destiny
211But man's own wilful ill."
212                                          As thus I spoke
213Servants announc'd the gondola, and we
214Through the fast-falling rain and high-wrought sea


1] Sub-titled a conversation," it reflects discussions between Shelley (Julian) and Byron (Maddalo) at Venice in August and September 1818. It was not published until Posthumous Poems (1824). Shelley's brief Preface defines the pride of Maddalo and gives a partly comic self-portrait of Julian himself: "Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions, human society may yet be susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world, he is for ever speculating how good may be made superior. He is a complete infidel, and a scoffer at all things reputed holy, and Maddalo takes a wicked pleasure in drawing out his taunts against religion. What Maddalo thinks on these matters is not exactly known. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious." The name "Julian" may be an allusion to Julian the Apostate, the Roman emperor (A.D. 361-63) who reverted from Christianity to the worship of the pagan gods. Back to Line
2] Bank of land. A chain of sandy islands called the Lido lies between Venice and the Adriatic. Back to Line
40] The poem's setting, characters, and conversation suggest many parallels with Paradise Lost, I and II. Here Shelley refers directly to II, 557-69. Back to Line
67] Compare Lines Written among the Euganean Hills, 100-14. Back to Line
143] Allegra, Byron's daughter by Claire Claremont (Shelley's sister-in-law), was born at the Shelley's house in Marlow near London (see 151-53) and was now living with Byron in Venice. Back to Line
215] madhouse: located on San Servolo, a small island in the Venetian lagoon between the city and the lido (information courtesy of Sara Meyer).Most of the rest of the poem's 617 lines is taken up with the madman's monologue, in which he laments his condition and reveals fragments of his story. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.561.