Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Analysis of "Mutability" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Original poem reprinted online here: "Mutability" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Originally read: July 31, 2013
More information about the Poet: Percy Bysshe Shelley


Four quatrains.  ABAB rhyme scheme.  The rhyme scheme would indicate a consistent separation and returning -- changing.  However, the first stanza, mostly dealing with natural image, brings a sense of unveiling.  The speaker states that "We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;" and note the semi-colon in which indicates a connection.  "How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver / Streaking the darkness radiantly!"  So note, the motions of the clouds represent the "we": speed, gleam, quiver.  It seems like a very marvelous time, "-- / yet soon Night closes round, and they are lost"  So the moment is lost when it's morning -- light revealing the time.

So one of the key words here is "or" in the second stanza.  What does the "or" compare?  "Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings / give various responses to each varying blast."  Past me noted "vary" key adjective (out of sync).  From the first line, it can be inferred the comparison could be the relationship -- fun in the dark, not so much during the day.  But the image of the "lyres" giving varying responses.  Yes, it is music, but, no, it's not harmonious.  Even the most pleasing sounds don't mesh well when played together, "To whose frail frame no second motion brings / One mood or modulation like the last."

The third stanza returns to the coupling (contrary to the individual sound in stanza two):

     We rest -- A dream has power to poison sleep
     We rise -- One wandering thought pollutes the day
     We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep.
     Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away.

Here the speaker goes over how contrary actions have similar consequences.  Resting and rising either poisons or pollutes -- note note the area, but the mind.  But how?  I think "wandering" serves as the key term in the first two lines.  As music is dissonant, wandering causes a lack of focus.  And what should the focus return to -- how "we" feel, conceive "or" reason.  Separate entities that both experience like laughing or crying.  Both feel them together.

"It is the same!"  Like shared emotions, and shared experience, right?  Or at this is what the speaker wants.  When the speaker exclaims things being the same, I get a sense of desperation.  Note the lack of the "other" in the poem as to not create "dissonance."  This poem is a concoction examining the we where each part doesn't wander. "The path of its departure still is free: / Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow, / Nought may endure but Mutability."

The turn with the last three lines is the acknowledgement of departure.  In stanza three, the focus wasn't departure, rather how one can depart.  When focused on someone actually leaving, the poem goes didactic and focuses on "man" as a concept.

And so when the speaker claim (not proclaim or exclaim) that nothing can endure except change, the concept of change, there is not a strong sense of positive or negative connotation.  But there isn't a sense of acceptance either, only acknowledgment that things will always change.  It's as if the poem declines to take a stance in order to keep the "we" active.

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