"On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci": Dialogic Text

This on-line version of "On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is edited by Melissa J. Sites and Neil Fraistat. The text is taken from Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Mary W. Shelley (London: John and Henry L. Hunt, 1824), pages 139-40. Mary Shelley's transcription of the poem can be found in Bodleian MS Shelley adds. d.7, pp. 97-8, 100, reproduced in the Garland Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts, volume 2.

This hypertext also contains both an evolving bibliography of critical works focused on this poem and a Dialogic Commentary which users have used to enter an edited discussion about the poem using a simple, on-line form.



       I T lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
        Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;
      Below, far lands are seen tremblingly;
        Its horror and its beauty are divine.
      Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie 5
        Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine,
      Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,
      The agonies of anguish and of death.
      Yet it is less the horror than the grace
        Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone; 10
      Whereon the lineaments of that dead face
        Are graven, till the characters be grown
      Into itself, and thought no more can trace;
        'Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown
      Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain, 15
      Which humanize and harmonize the strain.
      And from its head as from one body grow,
        As [    ] grass out of a watery rock,
      Hairs which are vipers, and they curl and flow
        And their long tangles in each other lock, 20
      And with unending involutions shew
        Their mailed radiance, as it were to mock
      The torture and the death within, and saw
      The solid air with many a ragged jaw.
      And from a stone beside, a poisonous eft 25
        Peeps idly into those Gorgonian eyes;
      Whilst in the air a ghastly bat, bereft
        Of sense, has flitted with a mad surprise
      Out of the cave this hideous light had cleft,
        And he comes hastening like a moth that hies 30
      After a taper; and the midnight sky
      Flares, a light more dread than obscurity.
      'Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror;
        For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare
      Kindled by that inextricable error, 35
        Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air
      Become a [      ] and ever-shifting mirror
        Of all the beauty and the terror there-
      A woman's countenance, with serpent locks,
      Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks. 40
           Florence, 1819.


1. shrine is corrected to shine in 1847. back

2. Mary Shelley gives these instead of those in her editions of 1839.back