Shelley; an essay by Francis Thompson


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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Shelley, by Francis Thompson

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Title: Shelley
An Essay

Author: Francis Thompson

Release Date: March 27, 2005 [eBook #1336]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)



Transcribed from the 1914 Burns & Oates edition by David Price, email


The Church, which was once the mother of poets no less than of saints,
during the last two centuries has relinquished to aliens the chief
glories of poetry, if the chief glories of holiness she has preserved for
her own. The palm and the laurel, Dominic and Dante, sanctity and song,
grew together in her soil: she has retained the palm, but forgone the
laurel. Poetry in its widest sense, {1} and when not professedly
irreligious, has been too much and too long among many Catholics either
misprised or distrusted; too much and too generally the feeling has been
that it is at best superfluous, at worst pernicious, most often
dangerous. Once poetry was, as she should be, the lesser sister and
helpmate of the Church; the minister to the mind, as the Church to the
soul. But poetry sinned, poetry fell; and, in place of lovingly
reclaiming her, Catholicism cast her from the door to follow the feet of
her pagan seducer. The separation has been ill for poetry; it has not
been well for religion.

Fathers of the Church (we would say), pastors of the Church, pious laics
of the Church: you are taking from its walls the panoply of Aquinas--take
also from its walls the psaltery of Alighieri. Unroll the precedents of
the Church's past; recall to your minds that Francis of Assisi was among
the precursors of Dante; that sworn to Poverty he forswore not Beauty,
but discerned through the lamp Beauty the Light God; that he was even
more a poet in his miracles than in his melody; that poetry clung round
the cowls of his Order. Follow his footsteps; you who have blessings for
men, have you no blessing for the birds? Recall to your memory that, in
their minor kind, the love poems of Dante shed no less honour on
Catholicism than did the great religious poem which is itself pivoted on
love; that in singing of heaven he sang of Beatrice--this supporting
angel was still carven on his harp even when he stirred its strings in
Paradise. What you theoretically know, vividly realise: that with many
the religion of beauty must always be a passion and a power, that it is
only evil when divorced from the worship of the Primal Beauty. Poetry is
the preacher to men of the earthly as you of the Heavenly Fairness; of
that earthly fairness which God has fashioned to His own image and
likeness. You proclaim the day which the Lord has made, and Poetry
exults and rejoices in it. You praise the Creator for His works, and she
shows you that they are very good. Beware how you misprise this potent
ally, for hers is the art of Giotto and Dante: beware how you misprise
this insidious foe, for hers is the art of modern France and of Byron.
Her value, if you know it not, God knows, and know the enemies of God. If
you have no room for her beneath the wings of the Holy One, there is
place for her beneath the webs of the Evil One: whom you discard, he
embraces; whom you cast down from an honourable seat, he will advance to
a haughty throne; the brows you dislaurel of a just respect, he will bind
with baleful splendours; the stone which you builders reject, he will
make his head of the corner. May she not prophesy in the temple? then
there is ready for her the tripod of Delphi. Eye her not askance if she
seldom sing directly of religion: the bird gives glory to God though it
sings only of its innocent loves. Suspicion creates its own cause;
distrust begets reason for distrust. This beautiful, wild, feline
Poetry, wild because left to range the wilds, restore to the hearth of
your charity, shelter under the rafter of your Faith; discipline her to
the sweet restraints of your household, feed her with the meat from your
table, soften her with the amity of your children; tame her, fondle her,
cherish her--you will no longer then need to flee her. Suffer her to
wanton, suffer her to play, so she play round the foot of the Cross!

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