"Faithful Pictures of My Feelings": Shelley's Early Poems

Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in Italy at age 29; a volume of Keats "” doubled-back in a pocket "” helped identify the body when it washed ashore. Cremation was quickly arranged, and with equal speed the Shelley legend was born. If one can credit the testimony of that colorfully dubious Romantic hanger-on, Edward John Trelawny, the angelic Shelley's heart was too pure to be consumed by fire - and, seeing this, Trelawny plucked it, unburnt, from the pyre. In England, Shelley was hardly mourned: one obituary triumphantly noted, "Shelley the Atheist is dead. Now he knows whether there is Hell or not."

The famous Esdaile Notebook "” one of the great treasures of the Pforzheimer Collection "” contains 56 or 57 early fair copies of poems by Shelley, and one or two probably by Harriet Shelley, the poet's first wife. The notebook opens with "To Harriet":

Whose is the love that gleaming thro' the world,
Wards off the poisonous arrow of its scorn?
Whose is the warm & partial praise,
Virtue's most sweet reward?

Whose looks gave grace to the majestic theme
The sacred, free & fearless theme of truth
Whose form did I gaze fondly on
And love mankind the more?

Harriet! on thine: "” thou wert my purer soul
Thou wert the inspiration to my song
Thine are these early wilding flowers,
Tho' garlanded by me.

Then twine the withering wreath-buds round thy brow
Its bloom may deck their pale & faded prime
Can they survive without thy love
Their wild & moody birth?

Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Esdaile Notebook. Holograph copybook of almost 60 early poems, including one (or possibly two) poems by Harriet Shelley, mostly in the hand of P.B. Shelley, but with nine pages and one title in the hand of Harriet Shelley, ca. 1808-13.
The New York Public Library, Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle.


Related Publication: The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle: A History, a Biography, and a Guide

About the Pforzheimer Collection