Song: (Rarely, Rarely, Comest Thou) Summary & Analysis

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SONG
Or
RARELY, RARELY, COMEST THOU

Text
I
Rarely, rarely, comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!
Wherefore hast thou left me now
Many a day and night?
Many a weary night and day
'Tis since thou art fled away.

II
How shall ever one like me
Win thee back again?
With the joyous and the free
Thou wilt scoff at pain.
Spirit false! thou hast forgot
All but those who need thee not.

III
As a lizard with the shade
Of a trembling leaf,
Thou with sorrow art dismayed;
Even the sighs of grief
Reproach thee, that thou art not near, And reproach thou wilt not hear.

IV
Let me set my mournful duty
To a merry measure;
Thou wilt never come for pity,
Thou wilt come for pleasure;
Pity then will cut away
Those cruel wings, and thou wilt stay.

V
I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight!
The fresh Earth in new leaves dressed, And the starry night;
Autumn evening, and the mom When the golden mists are born.

VI
I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms, Everything almost
Which is Nature's, and may be
Untainted by man's misery.

VII
I love tranquil solitude
And such society
As is quiet, wise, and good,
Between thee and me
What difference? but thou dost possess
The things I seek, not love them less.

VIII
I love Love—though he has wings,
And like light can flee,
But above all other things,
Spirit, I love thee—
Thou art love and life! Oh, come,
Make once more my heart thy home.

Summary & Analysis

Introduction

      The poem Song: (Rarely, Rarely, Comest Thou) was composed during the summer of 1821 and was published in Posthumous Poems, 1824. Shelley and his wife were at that time living at Bagni di San Giuliano, near Pisa in Italy. Shelley was, at the time of writing this poem, in a comparatively happier state of mind. Mrs. Shelley writes: "It was a Pleasant summer, bright in all but Shelley's health and inconstant spirits: yet he enjoyed himself greatly, and became more and more attached to the part of the country where chance appeared to cast us." This is the reason why this poem, unlike poems such as Stanzas Written, in Dejection, is devoid of the familiar note of frustration and gloom.

Summary

      The poet is sad that the Spirit of Delight has left him. It is long since, he has been in this sorrowful mood and yet there is no likelihood if its early return to him. He complains that it visits only the happy persons who do not need it. It avoids the sad man who needs to be cheered up. So the poet decides to be cheerful and begins to play a merry tune in order to attract the Spirit of Delight towards him. He sings of his intense love for the beauties of nature such as green grass, leaves, starry night, calm and balmy autumn evening, misty morning, shining snows, waves, winds, storms, solitude etc. In fact, he loves all that is calm, wise and good and is free from human sorrow. He loves the Spirit of Love and Joy as much as the Spirit of Delight loves and possesses them. As there is sympathy between the two, he invokes the joyful spirit to bless him once more with happiness.

      The poet realizes that happiness is very rare. It does not fall to the lot of the sad but visits those who love the beauties of nature and lead a calm, quiet and virtuous life. It is the lamp which is darkened without the light of joy.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Lyrical Quality: This remarkable lyric written by Shelley is personal in character in that it expresses the poet's personal sadness and his yearning for joy. Because the feelings that inspire the poem are genuine, their expressions are spontaneous and, as such, contributory to a lyrical effect. The simplicity of diction employed in the poem, the clarity of ideas presented, the easy flow of words expressing the ideas and the skillful use of much shorter lines have all contributed to a musical effect and have turned this poem into a melodious song.

      Love of Nature: This poem also brings out Shelley's great love of Nature. Nature, according to the poem, is a source of delight. It is superior to human beings because it can always keep itself away from the perils and anxieties of human life. The poet tries to discover a possible association with delight through his intense love of Nature:

I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight!
The fresh earth in new leaves drest,
And the starry night;
Autumn evening, and the morn
When the golden mists are born,

      The nature-pictures that Shelley has given in this poem have greatly enhanced the poem's all-round charm.

      Shelley as an Artist: Though many of Shelley's poems are artistically excellent, in most of them thought gets more prominence than art. Thus, Song, An Exhortation, To Jane, The Ode to Heaven, are perhaps Shelley's only poems where the poet has been more inclined to write poetry for poetry's sake than to give expression to his complex philosophies. About these three poems, in the given order, John Holloway writes: "There is no need to look further than these poems, which save for the last are all comparatively simple, to recognize how Shelley's intelligence could operate not as that of a philosopher in his verse, but essentially as that of a poet, thinking and working through the detailed fabric of the verse, controlling and modulating the tone, and creating a train of thought, intricate and exact yet unforced and unostentatious, of which the meter, the rhyming, the Stanza, come to form the necessary vehicle"

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

      LI. 7-12. How shall ever one.....who need thee not. The poet despairs of all hope of getting back his happiness which he has lost. He feels, he is doomed to eternal sorrow. He is quite pessimistic about his future; hence he asks how an unhappy man like himself can ever regain the Spirit of Delight. He does not know love to attract the Spirit of Delight whose nature is to befriend the happy and the free people and mock at those who are in trouble and pain. The Spirit of Delight does not realize the sad plight of the poet. Instead of sympathizing with him, it makes light of his pain and laughs at him. He finds it to be deceitful because it deserts the sad persons who need her the most and favors the happy people who are not in need of it.

      LI. 13-18. As a lizard.....not hear. The poet complains that the Spirit of Delight has deserted him. Presently, he is passing through a very dull and cheerless period of his life. He is sorry to realize that it is unfaithful and avoids the company of the sad people who need it most. Just as a lizard is frightened at the shadow of a leaf moving in the wind, the Spirit of Delight is frightened at the sight of sorrow. Even the sighs of a sad man has no effect on it. He curses it for its indifference. But these rebukes and criticism fail to have any influence on it. The poet emphasizes the fact that the Spirit of Delight does not abide in the hearts of sad persons. Hence the secret of winning happiness is to be cheerful and banish all thoughts of sorrow from our mind.

      LI. 19-24. Let me set.....wilt stay. The poet has fallen upon the thorns of life and complains that the Spirit of Delight has proved false to him. He realizes that it befriends the happy and avoids the unhappy. Hence to win it, he decides to put on a cheerful appearance. Once he is able to win it by changing his mood, it may pity his sad lot and stay for ever with him to lighten his heart. The poet means to say that once he looks cheerful he may be able to retain his happiness forever. Thus, the cruel wings with which the Spirit of Delight flies away from sad persons, leaving them to their fate, may be clipped for ever so that the spirit may no longer desert them.

      LI. 25-30.1 love all.....mists are born. The poet begins to sing of happy things. He loves them as much as the Spirit of Delight loves them. The beauties of nature are a source of permanent joy to him. He is charmed by the beauty of the earth when it is studded with bright stars. Even the morning and evening in the autumn season are loved by him as they are beautified by the mists shining bright and red in the golden rays of the rising or setting sun. This marks the change in his mood. Instead of sorrow and pain, he beings to sing of the beautiful things that he loves so intensely. Human life is full of sorrow and grief. The poet loves all objects of Nature which are free from human sufferings.

      LI. 40-42. Between thee.....them less. According to Shelley there is no essential difference between him and the Spirit of Delight; fundamentally they are alike. They have the same likes and dislikes. The poet loves all those things which are loved by the Spirit of Delight. Hence there should exist no difference between them: yet a difference does exist. The poet does not possess these and desires to possess these and enjoy them, whereas the Spirit of Delight actually possesses them and feels the greatest joy. The poet's love for these things is as intense as that of the Spirit of Delight. But whereas the former's love is only an unrealized desire, the love of the latter has been successfully fulfilled.

      LI. 43-48. I love Love.....heart thy home. The poet is passing through a very miserable period of his life and invokes the Spirit of Delight to bless him with happiness once more. At first, he tries to prove that there is no essential difference between him and the Spirit of Joy as they have common likes and dislikes. He describes the objects which are dearly cherished by both of them. Here he points out that besides other things, he loves the very element of Love although it is fickle and disappears like a flash of light. Though love is transient, yet it is delightful and enjoyable. More than anything, the poet cherishes the Spirit of Delight without which it is not possible for us to live and love. This realization makes him appeal to it to visit him and cheer him up once again. These lines express the poet's intense longing to win back the Spirit of Delight who has deserted him. His words touch lyrical heights and he pays a noble tribute to the Spirit in describing it as the very "love and life."

Annotations

      Stanza I. rarely—on few occasions, infrequently, spirit of Delight— spirit of Joy. weary—tiresome and boring, fled away—gone, deserted.

      Stanza II. one like me—a sad man like Shelley himself. Shelley is always haunted by a feeling of melancholy and depression, win thee back again—get back the Spirit of Delight. Shelley persuades the Spirit of Delight to bestow a favor upon the poet, with the joyous and the free—happy persons who are free from feelings of sorrow or pain, scoff at—mock at; make fun of pain—used in the concrete sense meaning "the suffering humanity", false—unfaithful; elusive; inconsistent.

      Stanza III. lizard—a reptile, dismayed—frightened; discouraged, grief—grief-stricken people, reproach—rebuke; blame.

      Stanza IV. mournful ditty—a song depicting feelings of sorrow. Pity then will...wilt stay. Once the Spirit visits the poet, it will feel pity for his miserable plight and hence will stay with him to make him happy.

      Stanza V. fresh earth—the earth covered with new leaves in spring. starry night—a night with a star-studded sky. golden mists—mists of golden color.

      Stanza VI. radiant—bright, untainted—unaffected, misery—sorrows and sufferings.

      Stanza VII. tranquil—calm; peaceful, solitude—loneliness, society—company, seek—desire.

      Stanza VIII. I love Love—Love here is personified. Shelley is a believer and preacher of Platonic love, though he has wings—though love is fleeting, Love is fickle and ever changing. Thou art love and life—the Spirit of Delight gives life and love to human beings. Without that it is impossible for human beings to live and love.

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