Thursday, August 17, 2017

Like Some Grave Mighty Thought Threading a Dream

Shelley, Leigh Hunt, and Keats once held a sonnet-writing competition in which the goal was to write a sonnet about the Nile in fifteen minutes. Hunt's was the only one published in their lifetimes. All three, interestingly, are explicitly allegorical; very difficult to do well in short space, and I think Hunt is the only one who quite pulled it off. I would give first prize to Hunt, second to Keats, and third to Shelley; Hunt is easily the least talented of the three in general, but in poetry it is the poem and not the reputation or ability that gives the laurels.

To the Nile
by Percy Bysshe Shelley


Month after month the gathered rains descend
Drenching yon secret Aethiopian dells,
And from the desert’s ice-girt pinnacles
Where Frost and Heat in strange embraces blend
On Atlas, fields of moist snow half depend.
Girt there with blasts and meteors Tempest dwells
By Nile’s aereal urn, with rapid spells
Urging those waters to their mighty end.
O’er Egypt’s land of Memory floods are level
And they are thine, O Nile--and well thou knowest
That soul-sustaining airs and blasts of evil
And fruits and poisons spring where’er thou flowest.
Beware, O Man--for knowledge must to thee,
Like the great flood to Egypt, ever be.

A Thought of the Nile
by Leigh Hunt


It flows through old hushed Egypt and its sands,
Like some grave mighty thought threading a dream,
And times and things, as in that vision, seem
Keeping along it their eternal stands,—
Caves, pillars, pyramids, the shepherd bands
That roamed through the young world, the glory extreme
Of high Sesostris, and that southern beam,
The laughing queen that caught the world's great hands.
Then comes a mightier silence, stern and strong,
As of a world left empty of its throng,
And the void weighs on us; and then we wake,
And hear the fruitful stream lapsing along
Twixt villages, and think how we shall take
Our own calm journey on for human sake.

To the Nile
by John Keats


Son of the old moon-mountains African!
Stream of the Pyramid and Crocodile!
We call thee fruitful, and, that very while,
A desert fills our seeing's inward span;
Nurse of swart nations since the world began,
Art thou so fruitful? or dost thou beguile
Such men to honour thee, who, worn with toil,
Rest them a space 'twist Cairo and Decan?
O may dark fancies err!—they surely do;
'Tis ignorance that makes a barren waste
Of all beyond itself. Thou dost bedew
Green rushes like our rivers, and dost taste
The pleasant sun-rise; green isles hast thou too,
And to the sea as happily dost haste.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.