The Cloud: Poem by P. B. Shelley - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother's breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain.
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

The Cloud is one of the most striking Naturemyths in English literature. Shelley is ever inclined to look at Nature "not as one Being, but as many beings" and regards every natural phenomenon as having its own life and emotions as a human being. The resultant personifications of Nature in Shelley's poetry are sources of delight to all his admirers. The most astonishing and beautiful of all his Nature-myths is The Cloud. S.A. Brooke writes: "It is not only a myth of the cloud; the cloud is accompanied by a host of other impersonations of nature—the sanguine sunrise with his meteor eyes, the orbed maiden of the moon, the imprisoned giant of the thunder, the lightning which runs through the sky to find his love—all are touched into life, and yet there is not one phrase, not one adjective which is contrary of, or which does not illuminate, natural fact".
The Cloud by P. B. Shelley

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night 'tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over eartli and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead;
As on the jag of a mountain crag,
Which an earthquake rocks and swings,
An eagle alit one moment may sit
In the light of its golden wings.
And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aery nest,
As still as a brooding dove.

That orbed maiden with while fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor, By the midnight breezes strewn;
And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,
Which only the angels hear,
May have broken the woof of my tent's thin roof,
The stars peep behind her and peer;
And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,
Like a swarm of golden bees,
When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,
Till the calm rivers, lakes, and seas,
Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,
Are each paved with the moon and these.

I bind the Sun's throne with a burning zone,
And the Moon's with a girdle of pearl;
The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.
From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,
Over a torrent sea,
Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,—
The mountains its columns be.
The triumphal arch through which I march
With hurricane, fire, and snow,
When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,
Is the million-colored bow;
The sphere-fire above its soft colors wove,
While the moist Earth was laughing below.

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.



      The Cloud was composed in 1820, the chief year of Shelley's lyrics, and published with Prometheus Unbound in the same year. It is perhaps the most purely 'objective' and elemental of all of Shelley's nature lyrics. The poem has been put through the mouth of the Cloud itself to become its autobiography. As such, the poet's own personality is debarred from intruding by a deliberate sense of detachment. There may be some personal sentiments in the poem, but these have totally merged into the wonderful life with which Shelley has endowed the Cloud. The Cloud, the Ode to the West Wind and The Skylark, according to Desmond King-Hele, are together "an abiding monument to Shelley's passion for the sky: 'I take great delight in watching the changes of the atmosphere'. In all three the meter is unusual, yet not unbecoming. In all three the tone is subjective, yet not undisciplined: for if we lump the three together we find a tough core of exact science—chiefly aerodynamics, astronomy, botany, hydrodynamics and meteorology—which can withstand and even benefit from leavening of personality". Shelley may have derived some of the scientific ideas in this poem from Father Giovanni Battista Beccaria's treatise, Artificial Electricity, but more probably from lectures by Dr. Adam Walker, Shelley's teacher of science and a visiting lecturer at Eton.


      The cloud brings showers from the rivers and the oceans and drenches the flowers in order to keep them alive and make them fresh. It lends a cool shade to the leaves and protects them from the noonday sun. It sprinkles dew drops upon the budding flowers to make them blossom when they are cradled either on the plants or in the bosom of the earth. It also brings hail which whitens the earth's surface for a time and then dissolves into rain again. (Stanza 1)

      The cloud sends blasts and rends the snow on the mountain tops, and the blocks of ice roll down into the valley rudely shaking the pine trees. The cloud brings storms and thunder along with the flashes of lightning which serve as a guide to it over oceans, rivers, mountains and plains. And when the lightning flashes melt with the rains, the cloud hangs or floats brightly in the clear blue sky. Claps of thunder resound in the dome of the sky, the caves of the mountains and even the depths of the lakes and the seas. The cloud is tempted to move on as if out of its love for some spirit that dwells in the plains, rivers, mountains and seas. The lightning flashes guide the cloud everywhere the wind tempts it to go. (Stanza 2)

      The cloud is a beautifying principal or agent of nature. In the morning the sun rises in the east, and when its rays fall upon the clouds, it presents a glorious view. In the evening, when the atmosphere is calm, the cloud keeps hanging in the sky quite motionless like a brooding dove. At night when the moon and the stars come out in the sky, the cloud sometimes gets scattered giving an opportunity to the moon and the stars to peep out through the openings in the cloud and also to reflect their light in the oceans and the lakes. (Stanza 3-4)

      When the sun rises, the cloud forms a brilliant belt round the sun while at night it forms a similar girdle round the moon. When driven by the stormy winds, the cloud looks like a long bridge covering the whole sky. And when the storm is over, the rain drops screen the rays of the sun and thereby create the beautiful rainbow in the sky making an arch as it were over the tall mountains. While the sim shines with its variegated colors, the earth is also flooded with those colors. (Stanza 5)

      The cloud is the creature of the earth and water and it is nursed by the sky; it is part and parcel of the ocean and the shores; it constantly changes its form but it never disappears altogether, because when the rains completely cease and the sky becomes perfectly clear, when the wind and the sunrays form a blue canopy in the air, the cloud mocks as it were at this empty tomb and suddenly appears again like a ghost or like a child out of its mother's womb. That is how the clouds are made and unmade throughout the year but they never die altogether. (Stanza 6)


      A Nature-myth: The Cloud is one of the most striking Naturemyths in English literature. Shelley is ever inclined to look at Nature "not as one Being, but as many beings" and regards every natural phenomenon as having its own life and emotions as a human being. The resultant personifications of Nature in Shelley's poetry are sources of delight to all his admirers. The most astonishing and beautiful of all his Nature-myths is The Cloud. S.A. Brooke writes: "It is not only a myth of the cloud; the cloud is accompanied by a host of other impersonations of nature—the sanguine sunrise with his meteor eyes, the orbed maiden of the moon, the imprisoned giant of the thunder, the lightning which runs through the sky to find his love—all are touched into life, and yet there is not one phrase, not one adjective which is contrary of, or which does not illuminate, natural fact". One important feature of Shelley's Nature-myths is that though he personifies natural objects, he is always careful not to humanize them but to give them a separate, individual entity. The cloud, though personified, never takes on human attributes but remains a cloud all through the poem in all its scientific details. On the personification of cloud in this poem, Clutton-Brock comments: "That personification which in the Ode to Liberty is a rhetorical device seems in The Cloud to be a simple telling of the truth. For the cloud was a living creature to Shelley, one of those spirits with whose music, he filled Prometheus Unbound, and he makes it live for us through all its phases and travels. We know nothing of his Witch of Atlas, but we are familiar with clouds and can be interested in their history when it is told so as to make a new romance of the sky and one that gives a new significance to all its changes. The Cloud is not mere phantasy, but transfigured fact, fact emotionally apprehended by the poet, and so rendered into music..." Here Shelley is making a new kind of myth, one that expresses exact knowledge and not primitive fancy. It is a myth in which the world seems to be emptied of human beings, or in which they are too small to be visible.

      Scientific Descriptions: Science, especially chemistry, fascinated Shelley when he was young. This explains how the science of the period, or at least the more or less popular science, enters into his work. The descriptions in The Cloud are made with such scientific accuracy that the poem almost seems to be written by a meteorologist. Shelley follows the life of the cloud through every phase of its life-cycle, through rough and smooth, night and day, summer and winter. There are of course certain scientific observations in the poem which need to be corrected; but those observations, we must remember, were accepted as fact in those days. Shelley's observation that clouds are controlled by atmospheric electricity is no longer accepted. He may have got the idea from Dr. Adam Walker, who states that "Water rises through the air, flying on the winds of electricity..." Shelley leads up to the topic through a beautiful visual image:

Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits.....
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
The pilot is guiding me.

      The description is not without some truth, for electricity does play a part in the creation of clouds by providing charged particles as condensation-nuclei. His description of the optical illusion resulting from looking at the moon and the stars through gaps in a cloud, when they appear to "whirl and flee", is an absolute truth. In such cases, the stars indeed appear to move rather than the cloud passing over them. Shelley's way of explaining cloud-births is to call the cloud "The daughter of Earth and water". This explanation covers most cloudbirths, but of course not all. Earth and water are parents of clouds formed of dust particles and of water molecules evaporated from land. The image that sums up the undying circulation of the particles which form the cloud is another scientific truth:

I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.

      During its life-cycle the cloud material undergoes any of these three forms—vapor, a liquid droplet or an ice particle. The expression "I change" refers to such changes of shape, size and color. The image "sunbeams with their convex gleams" further confirms Shelley's excellent scientific knowledge. The atmospheric refraction of sun-rays into a curve which makes daylight linger for a few minutes after sunset was known to Shelley and so enables him to create this beautiful image. On the use of science in this poem, Desmond King Hele observes: Shelley was doing his best to bridge the gap between science and the humanities. His attempt is more valuable today because the gap is wider and because The Cloud has in the last fifty years become a regular anthology-piece. Unfortunately the non-scientist usually reads it without noticing the scientific discipline being observed; while the scientist rarely reads it at all".

      Artistic Excellence: The Cloud is one of Shelley's purest lyrics. The poem pictures a vast sphere of the sky where mortals are too insignificant. Hie movement of the poem is, therefore, in keeping with the vastness of its range, correspondingly rapid. This is, indeed, one of the fastest poems in English language. The rhythm suggests the movement of clouds scudding across the sky before a tempestuous wind. The frequent use of unstressed syllables in pairs followed by a stressed syllable helps to produce the effect of great speed:

From my wings are shaken the dews that waken

      Shelley does not adhere to a particular measure. The lines are full of surprises, and each change has a purpose. For example, in the line:

Leaps on the back of my sailing rack

      the stress is thrown most effectively upon the first word. Some of the lines have a swaying movement which is full of suggestion, e,g.,

Over earth and ocean with gentle motion...

      The lengths of the lines are also varied to match the varied grouping in bands of clouds, and the continual adventure of the rhyming reflects the cloud's precarious life. The perfect blending between sense and versification that has lent the poem its wonderful musical quality comes from the poet's complete identification with the ever-changing cloud. The exquisite imagery employed in the poem has also added to the beauty of the poem. The picture of the moon that Shelley offers in the poem is unique and yet most truthful:

That orbed maiden with white fire laden,
Whom mortals call the Moon,
Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor,
By the midnight breezes strewn.

      The similes and metaphors used in the poem display Shelley's unique ability to combine imagination, precision and artistic beauty. The snow on the mountains is described as the cloud's "pillow white"; sunrise is brilliantly revealed as one with "meteor eyes" and "burning plumes outspread"; the moon is presented as an "orbed maiden with white fire laden"; the stars are likened to "a swarm of golden bees"; the rainbow is called the "triumphal arch". These lovely figures of speech are in fact the chief contributors to the artistic excellence of this poem.


      LI. 2-8. From.....the sun. The Cloud, personified by the poet, gives here an account of some of its activities. It says that like a bird, a winged creature, it flies about in the sky. As it flies, it moves its wings and they cast off small particles of moisture. These come down on the earth as tiny dew-drops of the morning. Beautiful little buds remain asleep on the breast of their mothers, the plants. They are like sweet human babies, tossed to and fro and lulled to sleep by their mothers. For the plants also move to and fro in the breeze with their leaves raised towards the sun and thus lull the buds into sleep. When, however, the dew-drops are sprinkled on the sleeping buds, they wake up by opening their petals, as beautiful as the eyelids of the human babies. In other words the morning dew-drops touch the buds and the buds bloom into flowers. It is to be noted that here the poet has imagined the Cloud to be a bird. Further, he has compared the buds with the human bodies and their mother, the plant, with a human mother.

      LI. 9-12.1 thunder. The Cloud here gives an account of some of its activities. It says that sometimes it hurls the frozen rain or particles of ice. It uses them to strike the earth with a whipping sound just as a farmer uses the wooden implement to thresh the com. As a result, the fields below, covered with green grass, look all white. But that is not all. Shortly after this, it begins to pour rain and the rain melts the particles of ice and washes them away. Then it moves away. As it does so, it laughs in joy and that joyful laughter is heard as the roar of thunder. Thus, the Cloud is a mighty force acting at will. It should be noted that the poet here imagines the Cloud to be very much like a living human being.

      LI. 17-20. fits. In these lines the Cloud speaks as if it were a castle. On the high and grand towers sits lightning the pilot or guide. In a hollow dungeon below lies the mighty giant of thunder striving in relentless chains. He tries desperately to free himself and roars loudly at intervals. It may be noted that the poet's fancy in these lines is primarily based on certain facts of common knowledge. The close connection between the cloud and the lightning has inspired him to imagine the latter as the former's 'pilot'. Secondly, the deep hollow sound caused by the roar of thunder has been his inspiration for conceiving of thunder as a mighty giant chained in an underground hollow and yelling out from time to time in vain attempt to secure freedom. The picture described in the last two lines is most probably suggested by Virgil's Aenid, Book I.

      LI. 39-44. And when.....dove. The cloud is describing its activities in the evening hour, the hour that brings bliss or repose. It says that when the brightness of the day dies slowly and the sim sinks in the horizon, the soothing softness of a spirit pervades the air. Breezes, cool and comforting, blow, carrying the enchanting call of sleep. Down below, the multi-colored rays of the setting sun touch the surface of the seas with a brilliant splendor. The whole sea looks lit up with the glow of a magnificent life. The breezes, the poet imagines, carry the message of the fervent passions of the spirit of the sea—the message of rest and love and it all seems as though a fond lover is whispering his words of passion slowly into the ear of his beloved, words that soothe and charm and induce the eyes to be closed in bliss. Then slowly but steadily right from the heart of the sky a curtain drops and shuts out all light and wakeful alertness. The poet imagines that it is the red covering of the evening let drop by the spirit of the evening as though to mark the end of a scene of life, that is the day. The Cloud, who is as innocent and gentle as a dove, in this hour of total cessation of activities closes its wings and ceases floating about in the sky. Then in keeping with the all-pervading and compelling spirit, it rests in the sky in an abode which is like a nest built with air. It remains there motionless and still, as though seated on eggs, busy hatching them.

      LI. 49-52. And wherever.....peer. By way of describing mirthful activities in the night, the Cloud here gives an account of the ways of the moon, the silk-draped maiden who emits silvery light. This damsel moves silently through-the soft, fleecy portions of the Cloud scattered by the low winds of the midnight hour. She moves like a dancing girl, and every single step of her invisible feet is in a rhythmic sequence of sounds. The sounds of these graceful steps in their totality produce a music which is inaudible to the creatures of the earth, but is thoroughly enjoyed by the celestial beings, the angels. These steps of the moon, however, cause holes into a texture of the slight covering of the Cloud created by cloudlets. Through these holes appear the moon and the stars. The stars, of course, insignificant in their scanty luster due to the greater glory of the moon, cast stealthy looks from behind her and look narrowly. Thus in the midnight sky a merry game goes on in which the moon and the stars and clouds are the principal partners.

      It may be noted that the poet in these lines makes a direct reference to the famous Pythagorean doctrine of the music of the spheres, and uses it in a beautifully poetic way. According to this doctrine, the heavenly bodies have an angel each and as they move, they produce a sweet music audible only to the angels.

      LI. 58. And I laugh....these. Here the Cloud gives a description of its mirthful activities in the midnight sky. It says that the rhythmic steps of the moon cause holes in the texture of its slight covering. Through these holes appear the moon with her silvery luster and the stars which look stealthily and narrowly from behind her. It is amusing to the Cloud to notice that the stars move around and round very swiftly and then fly away very much like a host of golden bees. Sometimes, however, the Cloud makes the holes in its airy covering even wider. Then a beautiful spectacle follows. Parts of the sky with the moon and the stars are reflected through these holes down on the undisturbed surface of the rivers, lakes and seas. These put up the appearance of so many fragments of the sky itself studded with the moon and the other heavenly bodies. It seems then, as though, the earth too, has many skies each of which can rightly vie with the great sky above in beauty and splendor. But nobody cares to know that the author of all these is the Cloud.

      LI. 66-72. The triumphal arch....below. While giving an account of its manifold activities, the Cloud here describes how it marches majestically in a magnificent procession through the rainbow, even as a Roman general of the past marched through an arch of victory. It says that like the victorious Roman general, it too is followed by an unnumbered host of captives and attendants. The principal among these are the storm, the lightning and the hail. It moves with them in a stately fashion and in a battle array. The Cloud is carried in a chariot drawn by the spirits of winds enslaved and bound in chains with the throne on which the Cloud is seated. With this train and in this splendid fashion, it marches through the great and the colorful arch of triumph, which is none other than the multi-colored bow known to mortals as the rainbow. The great ball of fire blazing on high i.e., the sun, weaves the colorful pattern of this wonder of Nature for it while down below the earth, soaked by a shower of rain, looks beaming with joy, as though to witness this spectacular pageant.

      It may be noted that in these lines the poet offers us a highly enjoyable poetic version of the principles behind certain natural phenomena, particularly the phenomenon of the rainbow. He compares the Cloud with a victorious Roman general of the past and the rainbow to a triumphal arch. The comparison is complete in all the details, just as an adequate emphasis has been laid on the agency of the sunlight and the rain in the formation of a rainbow.

      LI. 73-76. I am....I cannot die. Here the poet makes the Cloud tell the story of its birth and life. The Cloud says that it is the child of Earth and Water. But it is brought up by the Sky, and is therefore to the Sky what an adopted child is to her foster mother. It escapes through the very small holes in the surface of the sea-water as well as the earth. Moreover, it is immortal. True, it puts on different forms, but it has no final death.

      This account of the Cloud, though figurative, is based on scientific fact. The cloud, indeed, originates when the heat of the sun causes the water in the sea and river etc. and the moisture in the earth to evaporate. The water vapor escapes through the small gaps between the molecules of water and earth, rises to the sky, gathers together to form the clouds. Moreover, the cloud, like any other matter, is indestructible. The cloud, of course, melts into rain and thus puts on the form of water. But that water is again turned into vapor and the vapors reform the cloud.

      LI. 81-84. I silently....again. These are the concluding lines of the poem, The Cloud. Here the poet makes the Cloud explain the truth of its statement, "I change, but I cannot die." The Cloud says that sometimes it pours an rain. It then leaves the sky free. The winds and the sunbeams think it is dead and gone forever. They join together and build up the blue airy dome as a monument to its memory. But all the while, as the Cloud says here, it laughs unnoticed at their foolishness and ignorance. It feels amused to look at its own empty tomb. Then it rises again out of the cavities in the earth holding rain water, suddenly and mysteriously. This is very much like the birth of a baby or the rise of the spirit of a dead man from the grave. It rises and overcasts the sky again. Thus the blue memorial of the Cloud is again destroyed.


      Stanza 1. L. 1. showers—of rain, thirsting—for rain. L. 2. From...streams—loaded with vapors from the seas and rivers, a scientific phenomenon. L. 3. laid—dozing. L. 4. noonday dreams—daydreams is a common expression; Shelley gets more effect by making it ’noonday’ dreams—the 'noon' signifying an atmosphere of laziness or relaxation. L. 5. the dews that waken—again a scientific fact, the dews refresh and reinvigorate all buds, providing sap, the juice. L. 7. When....breast—when lulled to sleep on the breast of the mother bud. L. 8. she—mother-bud. L. 9. I wield...hail—I scatter particles of ice (frozen rain) as if by threshing (separating grain from the husk) by means of a flail—an implement for threshing corn, consisting of a wooden bar (the swingle) hinged or tied to a handle, lashing—stroking with any- thing pliant. L. 10. whiten—over with snow. L. 11. dissolve it in rain— hail melts into raindrops. L. 12. And....thunder—the cloud flashes lightning which is like a micheivous smile fallowed by crashing of thunder. thunder—the rmnbling sound and consequent discharge of electricity in the clouds.

      Stanza 2. L. 13. sift—separate. L. 14. pines—pine-trees, groan aghast—moan, pale and stricken with terror under the effect of the visitation of the cloud. L. 15. It—snow. It....white—I take my rest all the night on the snow-covered peaks of the mountains. L. 16. in the ....blast—In the forceful grip of a gust of wind. L. 17. sublime—high up. the towers...bowers—arbours (enclosures in a garden) in the sky, resembling a fortress (connect it with the next line). L. 18. pilot—an aviator; guide. L. 19. cavern—a deep hollow place in the earth; here over the sky, fettered—chained. L. 20. howls at fits—sounds by fits and starts. L. 21. gentle—strange epithet to apply to lightning. L. 23. lured—attracted. genii—Spirits and fairies.

      Stanza 3. L. 31. Sanguine—of the colour of blood, bright red. meteor—shooting star, meteor eyes—i.e., the appearance of the sun, as bright and dazzling as the shooting stars. Here the sun has been imagined to possess a pair of eyes which resemble the meteor in their blinding brilliance. L. 32. burning plumes—fiery feathers, i.e., the rays which are as red and glowing as the flames of a blazing fire, outspread—i.e. spread out. L. 33. sailing—drifting; floating, rack—part of cloud driven by the wind, sailing rack—cloudlets driven by the wind and floating in the sky. L. 35. jag—sharp projection, the jag...crag—the projected point of a rough and steep rock, rocks—shakes. L. 36. swings—sways. L. 37. an eagle—The sun is compared to an eagle which is a large bird of prey, with keen vision and powerful flight, alit—having come down to earth i.e. the jag of a crag, from the air. one moment—for a bare fraction of a second. L. 39. breathe—i.e. convey as gently as a soft breath, lit—illuminated, the lit sea—i.e. the sea which looks splendidly brilliant as the multi-coloured rays of the setting sun touch its surface. L. 40. ardours—fervent passions. L. 41. crimson pall—covering of red colour, eve—i.e. evening. (The red covering of the evening slowly descends. The poet imagines that the spirit of the evening slowly drops a red cover and all light is shut out.) L. 42. From...Heaven—from the heart of the sky. L. 43. folded~~ losed, clasped. I rest—I cease floating about, as though in response to the ardent message of the 'lit sea beneath', aery nest—abode of the sky. L. 44. still— motionless, brooding dove—dove that is sitting on its eggs to hatch them. The poet compares the cloud with a dove obviously to emphasise upon its gentleness, innocence and modesty, the virtues for which a dove is famous.

      Stanza 4. L. 45. orbed maiden—The moon who looks like an orb (circle), laden—covered, white fire—white moonbeams. L. 46. mortals— human beings. L. 47. glides—sails along smoothly noiselessly glimmering—shining faintly, fleece-like—like the coat of wool shorn from a sheep at one time, strewn—scattered. L. 48. midnight breezes—breezes blowing at midnight, her—moon's. LI. 49-50. The beat....hear—She walks so softly that only the angels can hear her footsteps. L. 51.
may have broken the woven fabric of my thin surface. L. 52. peer—to peep closely. L. 53. whirl—turn round with velocity, flee— fly. L. 54. swarm of golden bees—Mark how the stars are compared to golden bees; very characteristic of Shelley's cosmic descriptions. L. 55. rent—pening. wind-built—wind-inflated. L. 57. strips—a long narrow piece of anything, on high—from on high. L. 58. paved....these—are each coloured with moonlight and these 'strips of the sky'.

      Stanza 5. L. 59. bindncircle. the Sun's throne—the seat of the sun; i.e. the base of the circular disc which is the sun. burning zone—an area of flaming fire. I bind zone—Early in the morning as the sun is just up in the sky, clouds gather round the glowing disc and create something like a belt of glorious brilliance. L. 60. the Moon's—i.e. the moon’s throne, or the orb of the moon, girdle—belt, L. 61. dim—indistinct. volcanoes are dim—The idea is, that when the sky is dark with stormy clouds, the fiery flames emitted by even the mighty volcanoes look indistinct, stagger; tremble out of a feeling of giddiness. L. 62. whirlwinds—violeift serial currents with rotary or spiral motion and wild circling rush, tona—military flag; here standard indicative of power, unfurl—unfold; spread. L. 63. cape—a head of land rimming into the sea to another end, therefore, across the entire stretch of the sea. with....shape—with an appearance of a bridge. L. 65. Sunbeam-proof—immune from the action of the stmbeams; i.e. being indissoluble even though the sunbeams touch it. L. 68. hurricane—gale of extreme and unusual violence. With....snow—these are the companions, or rather the attendants of the Cloud in its victorious and stately march. L. 69. The powers....air—the mighty spirits of the winds, are chained— are enslaved and bound in chains. My chair—i.e., my golden throne in the magnificent chariot that carries me. L. 70. million-colored bow— i.e., the rainbow, which is of a bow-like shape and of many colours. To call a rainbow 'million-coloured’ is evidently to exaggerate, for, speaking precisely, the rainbow has no more than seven colours. L. 71. The sphere fire—i.e., the sun which is an orb of fire, wove—composed. The sphere fire....wove—The soft colours of the rainbow were composed by the light of the great globe of fire i.e., the sun, blazing high in the sky. L. 72. moist—humid, the moist Earth—i.e., the wet earth which was moistened by the rains that immediately precede the formation of the rainbow.

      Stanza 6. L. 74. Nursling—infant. L. 75. pores—literacy, an opening between the molecules of a body. L. 76.1 change...die—an optimistic note. LI. 77-78. when......bare—When the tent of the sky is stainless, dear, cloudless. L. 79. convex—rising into a round form on the outside, the reverse of concave, gleams—beams. L. 80. Build air—create the blue cupola of the sky. L. 81. cenotaph—literally a sepulchral monument to one who is buried elsewhere. L. 83. ghost tomb—The belief that ghosts actually came out of their graves was common even in the Shakespearean times. L. 84. unbuild—destroy, cf. West Wind:

Wild spirit, which are moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear oh, hear!

Previous Post Next Post