The Flower That Smiles Today Mutability: Summary & Analysis

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THE FLOWER THAT SMILES TODAY MUTABILITY

Text
The flower that smiles today
Tomorrow' dies;
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
What is this world's delight?
Lightning, that mocks the night,
Brief even as bright.

Virtue, how frail it is!—
Friendship, how rare!—
Love, how it sells poor bliss
For proud despair!
But we, though soon they fall,
Survive their joy, and all
Which ours we call.—

Whilst skies are blue and bright,
Whilst flowers are gay,
Whilst eyes that change ere night
Make glad the day;
Whilst yet the calm hours creep,
Dream thou—and from thy sleep
Then wake to weep.

Summary & Analysis

Introduction

      These lines were written in 1821, and published posthumously in 1824. This lyric is supposed to be written for the opening of Hellas to be sung by a favorite slave to the sleeping Mahmud, whose empire was collapsing as he slept.

Summary

      All things in this world are transitory and have a fleeting nature. The flower that blooms today dies tomorrow. The things that we wish to stay for ever, stay for a while and fly away. Hence the delights of this world are transitory. Even the lightning is as brief as its brightness. Virtue is frail, love is nothing but exchange of happiness which results in despair. Though these things are transitory, yet they survive their joy. In the final Stanza, the poet advises us how to enjoy life. The ultimate end of life is to suffer and weep. Hence as long as joy and beauty exist, we should enjoy it. Happiness is like a dream which vanishes when one wakes up. Instead of worrying over lost happiness, it is better to enjoy it while it survives.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Shelley was obsessed by the idea of mutability or change. He was a pessimist in life and was always overpowered by the sense of sorrow and suffering in the world. His sad and melancholic feeling over the fleeting nature of beautiful and lovely things is reflected in this poem.

      The poet's pessimistic view is lessened by his own consolatory wards: since beauty and joy are transitory, we should enjoy them when they are bright and shining with dazzling brightness. Man's ultimate end is to suffer and weep. Hence why not enjoy life as long as there is joy and beauty to please us? Thus the poet overcomes his sorrow and melancholy.

      This poem gives a reflection of the poet's personal life. Shelley finds 'frailty' in virtue, rarity in friendship and dishonesty in love, because in his own life, he hardly found any faithful friend. Above all he found weaknesses in virtuous persons too. This realization has made him generalize

Virtue, how frail it is!
Friendship too rare!
How, how it sells poor bliss
For proud despair!

      It is a fine lyric, remarkable for its sincerity, simplicity, imaginative beauty and haunting rhythm and melody.

Annotations

      Stanza 1. smiles—blossoms, dies—withers away, stay—remain. tempts—attracts, world's delight—joys and pleasures of the world, mocks the night—laughs at the darkness of the night.

      Stanza 2. sells—brings. bliss—happiness, proud despair—little happiness. fall—disappear.

      Stanza 3. whilst skies are blue—so long as the sky appears beautiful and charming, gay—cheerful, ere—before, glad—bright. Dream thou—enjoy the dream of delight.

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