Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples: Summary & Analysis

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The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon's transparent might:
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City's voice itself, is soft like Solitude's.

I see the Deep's untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Alas! I have not hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor Love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and walers are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o'er my dying brain its last monotony.

Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old.
Insults with this untimely moan,
They might lament—for I am one
Whom men love not,—and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.



      Shelley visited various Italian towns and spent December and January in Naples, where he wrote these lines, following his final departure from England in the spring of 1818. They are dated December 1818, and were first published by Mrs. Shelley in 1824. Shelley's letters to Thomas Love Peacock from Naples, giving details of his excursion, show how much he enjoyed there: "the scenery which surrounds this city is more delightful than any within the immediate reach of civilized man." Shelley was, however, in a mood of frustration and bitterness at that time. He had been denied the guardianship of his children by Harriet and had faced the death of Clara, his daughter by Mary, in Italy. His health too was in bad shape. Mrs. Shelley writes: "Constant and poignant suffering exhausted him, and though he preserved the appearance of cheerfulness, and often greatly enjoyed our wanderings in the environs of Naples, and our excursions on its sunny sea, yet many hours were passed when his thoughts, shadowed by illness, became gloomy,—and then he escaped to solitude, and in verses, which he hid from fear of wounding me, poured forth morbid but too natural bursts of discontent and sadness."


      A beautiful day: The poet found himself on the seashore near Naples on a beautiful day. The sun was warm, the sky clear and the waves dancing cheerfully. The blue islands and the snowy mountains nearby were made to dazzle by the light of the sun. Everything was gentle, so that the breezes touched the unopened buds gently. The atmosphere was filled with sweet and murmuring sounds from the winds, the birds and the waves. There was brilliance everywhere, so that the whole sea was lit up, now shining at a thousand points as if stars were mingled in it, now reflecting the light of the sun as brilliantly as a flash of lightning.

      The poet's mood: The poet’s heart was filled with a craving for the company of some dear one who could share his feelings and bring consolation to his heart. But the poet was all alone, and a feeling of sadness overpowered him.

      The poet's lament: The poet felt that life had treated him very cruelly. It had robbed him of all those objects which men desire. He felt that he had neither hope nor health, nor fame, power, love and leisure. He lacked even that contentment which sets the heart at rest. He looked with envy at those who, in his opinion, had all that he desired.

      The desire for death: The poet's heart was heavy but his grief was as gentle as the winds and the waves. At this moment, he felt like a tired child who has no other desire but to go to sleep. He longed for a peaceful death which should end all his troubles.

      The self-pity: Towards the end of the poem, the poet imagines himself dying by stages. He would like to feel death creeping over him by slow degrees, his cheek growing older and the sound of the waves growing dimmer.


      Subjective Element. This poem is one of the most subjective lyrics written by Shelley. At the time of writing this poem, Shelley was in a mood of despair and frustration. He had faced a series of personal misfortunes and was left sad and lonely. He felt that he was one "whom men love not" and as such looked for an escape from life. It is natural, therefore, that the poem has become an expression of the deepest kind of pessimism and a record of the poet's intense suffering. Sitting amidst the lovely natural scenery around the Bay of Naples, the poet constrasts his miseries with the happiness of others. There is rare and sharp poignancy in the outburst expressing his frustration:

Alas! I have not hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.

      In such a mood of hopelessness death is always welcome. Shelley thus wants to relax in the company of Nature and wait calmly for death which will put all his miseries to an end. Shelley's fits of sadness are not wholly to be deplored, because some of his most haunting poems spring from his personal despair. Though the sadness pervading this poem remains personal and never rises to a universal and poetic level, yet it has not hindered in any way the beauty and melody running through the poem.

      Description of Nature. Shelley's love of Nature is so intense that even in his miserable state, he does not fail to notice its beauty. The first two Stanzas of the poem, therefore, contain a beautiful and picturesque description of the landscape of the Bay of Naples. How beautifully he portrays the glory and music of Nature in the following lines:

The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple moon's transparent might.

      Under-water vegetation was known to have a special attraction for Shelley. It is natural therefore that the submarine growths, he had seen in the pellucid waters of the Bay of Naples should find such beautiful description in his poem:

I see the Deep's untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds str own.

      Like Wordsworth, Shelley always looks to Nature for solace and joy. His effort to concentrate on the beauties of Nature, as we find in this poem, is made with the purpose of distracting himself from his bleak mood. Nature has, indeed, a soothing power over his miseries and it can prepare him to wait for his end calmly and in a relaxing mood:

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are,
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care.

      As a lyric. The poem is one of the most beautiful lyrics written by Shelley. Spontaneity of expression, one of the requisites of a good lyric, is a marked feature of this poem, and it comes straight from the poet's heart. This poem, like all Shelley's personal lyrics, is charged with pathos and has a most entrancing melody. It is endowed with the sweetest and the most liquid harmonies, pure in their intensity. The simplicity of diction employed in the poem, the flowing ease with which the words merge into one another have all contributed to the lyrical quality of this poem.


      L. 5-7. The breath one.....delight—The present lines occur in the first Stanza. The Stanza is devoted to a description of the natural scene in which these emotions are aroused in the poet's heart. He is on the sea-shore near Naples. The day is warm and bright. A gentle peace reigns everywhere.

      The present lines are meant to capture the joy and the gentleness of the scene. The earth is moist and the breezes that blow are so gentle that they do not shake the unopened buds. All nature seems to be singing. The winds, the birds and the waves of the ocean produce murmuring sounds which blend together into a song of joy. Sounds from the nearby town of Naples are also heard, but these are so subdued that they do not disturb the poet's solitude.

      LI. 14-18. I sit my emotion. The poet describes a scene of great natural beauty and peace. He is alone, surrounded by the beauty of the sea and sky. The impression that the entire scene gives is that of dazzling brilliance. The waves sparkled like a shower of stars. The light of the sun is reflected from the waves and is as dazzling as lightning. The poet hears the regular sound made by the rise and fall of the waves. This is a rhythmical sound and the rhythm is sad.

      This scene arouses deep yearnings in the poet's heart. He is so sad and his heart is so heavy that he feels the need of an intimate companion who could share his feelings.

      LI. 19-27. Alas, I have nor.....hope nor another measure. The beauty of the mid-day ocean by Naples, flashing in the light of the clear sun, and the gentle harmony of the voices of nature send a thrill into Shelley's heart, but they remind him at the same time that he has none to share the joy with him. This thought leads him to a lyrical outburst about his own miseries.

      He regrets that he has not any one of the many things that go to make a man happy, viz., hope, health, peace of mind or material comfort; above all, he lacks that contentment, which the wise philosophers like the Stoics found in a life of contemplation and which alone gave them true mental happiness. He also lacks all those possessions that go to make the life of the average man a success—fame, power, love and leisure. Other more fortunate people have all these and they take life to be a blessing; but to the poet his miserable life is like a cup of bitter drink.

      LI. 28-36. Yet now despair itself.....last monotony. Though the poet is cursed with a life of suffering that makes him despair of any good, the calm beauty of the scene in the Bay of Naples soothes and charms his very despair away for the time being. The agitation of the poet's mind has been soothed for the time being, and he accepts his fate as it is; he has been led into that state of mind when, like a child tired of the game, he can lie down and solace his soul by shedding heart-easing tears. In that state of resignation, he wishes he could feel the slow approach of a painless death, which would make his cheeks cold, but leave his ears to be entertained by the noise of the waves, growing fainter and fainter with the sinking of his vitality. (This seems to be a wonderful poetic anticipation of the poet's own death by drowning which really took place in 1821).

      LI. 37-45. Some might lament...memory yet. Shelley imagines what the reaction of the people would be on his death. He feels that some might lament his death, although they now show little sympathy for him, just as he shall lament the passing of the sweet day, although now his despairing heart, grown old too soon, insults it with a complaint unsuited to its beauty. He goes on to draw a contrast between his own passing and that of the day. They might lament for him, for though they love him not yet they might regret his death. But this day, on the other hand, when the sun sets on its stainless glory, though its actual present joy is passed, will leave no regret, for the joy which it has given him will remain an abiding part of his memory. He feels that as he is not loved by people, he will not be remembered by them, but this beautiful day will certainly be remembered by him.


      Stanza 1. L. 1. The sun is warm—it is obviously a day in spring or summer. CW—cloudless. L. 3. Isles—islands. Blue isles—this is a reference to the island of Capri and other smaller islands near the bay of Naples. Snowy mountains—this is a reference to Mount Vesuvius. This is a volcanic mountain in Italy. Wear—are covered by. L. 4. Purple—a colour. It is a mixture of blue and red, Moon—here signifies the bright sunlight. Transparent night—the light of the sun is so brilliant that it seems to make everything transparent. A transparent object is one through which we can see to the other side. L. 5. moist—wet. The breath of the moist earth—the light winds that blow across the wet earth. light—gentle. L. 6. Unexpanded buds—buds which have not yet opened or blossomed. L. 7. Like many a voice of one delight—the poet hears many sounds. These are very different from each other and yet all of them express happiness. L. 8. The ocean floods—the waves of the ocean. L. 9. The city—this is a reference to the city of Naples near which the poet happened to be. Solitude—loneliness.

      Stanza 2. L. 10. The Deep's—the ocean's. Untrampled—untrodden, where no one walks. Floor—bottom. L. 11. Sea weeds—plants growing at the bottom of the sea. Strown—scattered; spread. L. 13. Dissolved— melt into; become a part of. Star showerspoint of light mingled in the waves. Sand—the sand that covers the beach. L. 15. Lightning—the bright light. Noontide ocean—the sea at midday. L. 15. Flashing—shining brightly and swiftly. Tone—mood, a feeling. L. 17. Its measured motion—the regular rise and fall of waves. L. 18. Any heart—some companion. Share in my emotion—ould feel as I feel.

      Stanza 3. L. 20. Within—in the heart. Around—in life. L. 21. Content—feeling of happiness in whatever one has. Surpassing wealth— greater than all riches. L. 22. The sage—a wise philosopher, who believes that contentment is the greatest aim of life. Meditation—deep thinking. L. 23. With inward glory crowned—possessing a greatness which flowed from the inner peace of their heart. L. 24. Leisure—free time. L. 25. These—i.e. fame, power, love, leisure etc. When these surround—who have all these gifts. L. 27. That cup—the cup of life. Life is compared to a drink which is sweet for others but bitter for the poet.

      Stanza 4. L. 28. Despair—absence of all hope; extreme dejection and sorrow. Mild—gentle, lacking violence. L. 31. Weep away—go on crying till death overtakes me. This life of care—this life, full of so many worries. L. 32. And yet must bear—the poet does not like to live. He is compelled to do so, and every minute causes him pain. L. 33. Steal on me—overpower me gently. L. 34. Breathe over—send its gentle waves and winds over. Dying brain—the poet imagines how he would feel when he dies on the sea-shore. Its last monotony—its last dull and repetitive sound.

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