Shelley worked on ‘The Triumph of Life’, a dark and visionary poem, while living at the Villa Magni. Despite being left in a very incomplete state at the time of Shelley’s death, it is generally considered one of his major poetic achievements. Life is envisioned as a remorseless triumphal procession: a chariot is driven blindly through a madly dancing crowd, taking with it ‘a captive multitude … all those who had grown old in power / Or misery’.
‘The Triumph of Life’ caused Shelley considerable trouble. Most of the manuscript is heavily revised, and the page shown here is his fourth attempt at the opening lines. He wrote in terza rima, an Italian verse form used by Dante in the Divine Comedy, and by Petrarch in his Trionfi (Triumphs). Both these poems were sources for ‘The Triumph of Life’, but the triple rhyme scheme of terza rima is exceedingly difficult to sustain in English.
The Triumph of Life
Swift as a Spirit hastening to his its dai task
Of glory & of good, the Sun came forth
Rejoicing in his splendour; & the mask
Of darkness fell from the awakened earth;
The smokeless altars of the mountain snows
Flamed amid crimson clouds, and [at] the birth
Of light the Ocean’s orison arose
Mixed Amid the music of the morning birds.
The flowers infield or forest did unclose
beneath the breath of [?day] kiss
in the to the days the breeze of dawn swing [?below]
to the [mists]
Their [dewy] lids, and in the air of dawn day
Veiled lids in dew [?north]
Swinging their painted censers
Swinging their painted censers to the wind
Percy Bysshe Shelley; (1822) Mary Shelley; (bequest, 1851) Sir Percy and Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1889) Lady Shelley; (bequest, 1899) John C.E. Shelley (later Sir John Shelley-Rolls); (gift, 1946) Bodleian.
Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, I (1986), ed. D.H. Reiman, esp. pp. 274-5, 315, 325-9; Shelley’s Guitar, no. 152.