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Life of Life (from Prometheus Unbound II.v.48-71)(1820)

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Life of Life! thy lips enkindle
MeterLife of Life! thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;
MeterWith their love the breath between them;
And thy smiles before they dwindle
MeterAnd thy smiles before they dwindle
Make the cold air fire; then screen them
MeterMake the cold air fire; then screen them

Note on line 4:Trochaic meters are not very common in the English tradition, and something of a stunt when pulled off as here. The meter feels more insistently driven than its iambic opposite, and thus is suited to the sexy drive of Shelley’s love anthem, which comes at a climax in his visionary drama Prometheus Unbound. This means that when the trochees are successfully resisted, as with the spondee-dactyl pair that flames and flickers in this line, the effect is more noteworthy than it would be in iambics. Look for something of the same kind in the second line of stanza 4: use of rhythmic deceleration to hold an image in the spotlight.

In those looks, where whoso gazes
MeterIn those looks, where whoso gazes
Faints, entangled in their mazes.
MeterFaints, entangled in their mazes.

Child of Light! thy limbs are burning
MeterChild of Light! thy limbs are burning
Thro’ the vest which seems to hide them;
MeterThro’ the vest which seems to hide them;
As the radiant lines of morning
MeterAs the radiant lines of morning

Note on line 9: “Radiant” may be elided, to be sure, into a disyllable (thus making a regular trochee). Yet letting the middle syllable ripple the line out in dactylic substitution heightens the sense of a resistance overcome within the medium, whether clouds or clothes, through which Shelley’s erotic hot stuff burns. Not x-rated, exactly, but x-ray vision all the same. Decades before radiography was discovered, Shelley was already into radiation.

Thro’ the clouds ere they divide them;
MeterThro’ the clouds ere they divide them;
And this atmosphere divinest
MeterAnd this atmosphere divinest
Shrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.
MeterShrouds thee wheresoe’er thou shinest.

Fair are others; none beholds thee,
MeterFair are others; none beholds thee,
But thy voice sounds low and tender
MeterBut thy voice sounds low and tender
Like the fairest, for it folds thee
MeterLike the fairest, for it folds thee
From the sight, that liquid splendour,
MeterFrom the sight, that liquid splendour,
And all feel, yet see thee never,
MeterAnd all feel, yet see thee never,
As I feel now, lost forever!
MeterAs I feel now, lost forever!

Lamp of Earth! where’er thou movest
MeterLamp of Earth! where’er thou movest
Its dim shapes are clad with brightness
MeterIts dim shapes are clad with brightness
And the souls of whom thou lovest
MeterAnd the souls of whom thou lovest
Walk upon the winds with lightness,
MeterWalk upon the winds with lightness,
Till they fail, as I am failing,
MeterTill they fail, as I am failing,
Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!
MeterDizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!

Rhyme
Show Stress    Foot division    Caesura    Syncopation