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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

It’s not often that a new constitution stimulates a poet to write a poem about it, but the liberty-loving and Italy-loving English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was so moved. He and Lord Byron were living in Italy in the late 1810s and early 1820s and together began a short-lived journal called The Liberal to promote their political and literary ideas. The early 1820s was a time of reform for liberal and republican ideas, whether it was in Naples, Greece (in its struggle for independence against the Ottoman Empire), or Latin America (Simon Bolivar against the Spanish Empire). This is the longest quotation in this collection because it is so unusual, so little known, and hard to determine what to leave out. Shelley tells us of the physical beauty of the city of Naples, its glorious heritage, its fall and subjection to foreign powers (“The Anarchs of the North lead forth their legions Like Chaos o’er creation, uncreating”), and now its apparent revival in a more liberty-loving time - “Thou which wert once, and then didst cease to be, Now art, and henceforth ever shalt be, free, If Hope, and Truth, and Justice can avail, Hail, hail, all hail!” It was Shelley’s great hope that Naples and its new constitution might be a model for the world - “thy shield is as a mirror To make their blind slaves see”.

Other quotes about Literature & Music:

8 October, 2007

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Percy Bysshe Shelley on the new Constitution of Naples which he hoped would be “as a mirror to make … blind slaves see” (1820)

Read the full quote in context here.

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote "Ode to Naples (1820)" on hearing about the proclamation of a Constitutional Government at Naples:

ANTISRHE β. 2.
From Freedom’s form divine,
From Nature’s inmost shrine,
Strip every impious gawd, rend Error veil by veil:
O’er Ruin desolate,
O’er Falsehood’s fallen state
Sit thou sublime, unawed; be the Destroyer pale!
And equal laws be thine,
And winged words let sail,
Freighted with truth even from the throne of God:
That wealth, surviving fate,
Be thine.—All hail!

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

ODE TO NAPLES.

EPODE I. α.
I stood within the city disinterred;
And heard the autumnal leaves like light footfalls
Of spirits passing through the streets; and heard
The Mountain’s slumberous voice at intervals
Thrill through those roofless halls;
The oracular thunder penetrating shook
The listening soul in my suspended blood;
I felt that Earth out of her deep heart spoke—
I felt, but heard not:—through white columns glowed
The isle-sustaining Ocean-flood,
A plane of light between two Heavens of azure:
Around me gleamed many a bright sepulchre
Of whose pure beauty, Time, as if his pleasure
Were to spare Death, had never made erasure;
But every living lineament was clear
As in the sculptor’s thought; and there
The wreathes of stony myrtle, ivy and pine,
Like winter leaves o’ergrown by moulded snow,
Seemed only not to move and grow
Because the crystal silence of the air
Weighed on their life; even as the Power divine
Which then lulled all things, brooded upon mine.

EPODE II. α.
Then gentle winds arose
With many a mingled close
Of wild Æolian sound and mountain odour keen;
And where the Baian ocean
Welters with airlike motion,
Within, above, around its bowers of starry green,
Moving the sea flowers in those purple caves
Even as the ever stormless atmosphere
Floats o’er the Elysian realm,
It bore me like an Angel, o’er the waves
Of sunlight, whose swift pinnace of dewy air
No storm can overwhelm;
I sailed, where ever flows
Under the calm Serene
A spirit of deep emotion
From the unknown graves
Of the dead kings of Melody.
Shadowy Aornos darkened o’er the helm
The horizontal æther; heaven stript bare
Its depths over Elysium, where the prow
Made the invisible water white as snow;
From that Typhæan mount, Inarime
There streamed a sunlike vapour, like the standard
Of some ethereal host;
Whilst from all the coast,
Louder and louder, gathering round, there wandered
Over the oracular woods and divine sea
Prophesyings which grew articulate—
They seize me—I must speak them—be they fate!

STROPHE α. I.
Naples! thou Heart of men which ever pantest
Naked, beneath the lidless eye of heaven!
Elysian City which to calm enchantest
The mutinous air and sea: they round thee, even
As sleep round Love, are driven!
Metropolis of a ruined Paradise
Long lost, late won, and yet but half regained!
Bright Altar of the bloodless sacrifice,
Which armed Victory offers up unstained
To Love, the flower-enchained!
Thou which wert once, and then didst cease to be,
Now art, and henceforth ever shalt be, free,
If Hope, and Truth, and Justice can avail,
Hail, hail, all hail!

STROPHE β. 2.
Thou youngest giant birth
Which from the groaning earth
Leap’st, clothed in armour of impenetrable scale!
Last, of the Intercessors!
Who ’gainst the Crowned Transgressors
Pleadest before God’s love! Arrayed in Wisdom’s mail,
Wave thy lightning lance in mirth
Nor let thy high heart fail,
Though from their hundred gates the leagued Oppressors,
With hurried legions move!
Hail, hail, all hail!

ANTISTROPHE α.
What though Cimmerian Anarchs dare blaspheme
Freedom and thee? thy shield is as a mirror
To make their blind slaves see, and with fierce gleam
To turn his hungry sword upon the wearer,
A new Acteon’s error
Shall their’s have been—devoured by their own hounds!
Be thou like the imperial Basilisk
Killing thy foe with unapparent wounds!
Gaze on oppression, till at that dread risk
Aghast she pass from the Earth’s disk,
Fear not, but gaze—for freemen mightier grow,
And slaves more feeble, gazing on their foe;
If Hope and Truth and Justice may avail,
Thou shalt be great—All hail!

ANTISTROPHE β. 2.
From Freedom’s form divine,
From Nature’s inmost shrine,
Strip every impious gawd, rend Error veil by veil:
O’er Ruin desolate,
O’er Falsehood’s fallen state
Sit thou sublime, unawed; be the Destroyer pale!
And equal laws be thine,
And winged words let sail,
Freighted with truth even from the throne of God:
That wealth, surviving fate,
Be thine.—All hail!


ANTISTROPHE α. γ.
Didst thou not start to hear Spain’s thrilling pæan
From land to land re-echoed solemnly,
Till silence became music? From the Æean
To the cold Alps, eternal Italy
Starts to hear thine! The Sea
Which paves the desart streets of Venice laughs
In light and music; widowed Genoa wan
By moonlight spells ancestral epitaphs,
Murmuring, where is Doria? fair Milan,
Within whose veins long ran
The vipers† palsying venom, lifts her heel
To bruise his head. The signal and the seal
(If Hope and Truth and Justice can avail)
Art Thou of all these hopes.—O hail!

ANTISTROPHE β. γ.
Florence! beneath the sun,
Of cities fairest one,
Blushes within her bower for Freedom’s expectation:
From eyes of quenchless hope
Rome tears the priestly cope,
As fuling once by power, so now by admiration,
An athlete stript to run
From a remoter station
For the high prize lost on Philippi’s shore:—
As then Hope, Truth, and Justice did avail,
So now may Fraud and Wrong! O hail!

EPODE I. β.
Hear ye the march as of the Earth-born Forms
Arrayed against the everliving Gods?
The crash and darkness of a thousand storms
Bursting their inaccessible abodes
Of crags and thunder-clouds?
See ye the banners blazoned to the day,
Inwrought with emblems of barbaric pride?
Dissonant threats kill Silence far away,
The serene Heaven which wraps our Eden wide
With iron light is dyed,
The Anarchs of the North lead forth their legions
Like Chaos o’er creation, uncreating;
An hundred tribes nourished on strange religions
And lawless slaveries,—down the aerial regions
Of the white Alps, desolating,
Famished wolves that bide no waiting,
Blotting the glowing footsteps of old glory,
Trampling our columned cities into dust,
Their dull and savage lust
On Beauty’s corse to sickness satiating—
They come! The fields they tread look black and hoary
With fire—from their red feet the streams run gory!

EPODE II. β.
Great Spirit, deepest Love!
Which rulest and dost move
All things which live and are, within the Italian shore;
Who spreadest heaven around it,
Whose woods, rocks, waves, surround it;
Who sittest in thy star, o’er Ocean’s western floor,
Spirit of beauty! at whose soft command
The sunbeams and the showers distil its foison
From the Earth’s bosom chill;
O bid those beams be each a blinding brand
Of lightning! bid those showers be dews of poison!
Bid the Earth’s plenty kill!
Bid thy bright Heaven above,
Whilst light and darkness bound it,
Be their tomb who planned
To make it ours and thine!
Or, with thine harmonizing ardours fill
And raise thy sons, as o’er the prone horizon
Thy lamp feeds every twilight wave with fire—
Be man’s high hope and unextinct desire,
The instrument to work thy will divine!
Then clouds from sunbeams, antelopes from leopards,
And frowns and fears from Thee,
Would not more swiftly flee
Than Celtic wolves from the Ausonian shepherds.—
Whatever, Spirit, from thy starry shrine
Thou yieldest or withholdest, Oh let be
This city of thy worship ever free!

[More works by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)]