The Indian Serenade: by P. B. Shelley - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low
And the stars are shining bright:
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Has led me who knows how?
To thy chamber-window, sweet!
The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream—
The champak odours fill
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The nightingale's complaint
It dies upon her heart,
As I must die on thine,
O beloved as thou art!
O lift me from the grass!
I die, I faint, I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;
O! press it close to thine again
Where it will break at last.



      Written in 1819, The Indian Serenade was first published in Leigh Hunt's magazine, The Liberal with the title, Song Written for an Indian Air in 1882. Later it was collected in Posthumous Poems, 1824, where it was called Lines to an Indian Air. In November 1819, one Miss Sophia Stacey, a ward of Shelley’s uncle, visited Florence where Shelley at that time was living. She was a good singer and, therefore, made some impression on the poet. When she asked him to write songs to fit some tunes she liked, Shelley was obliged to write a few poems including The Indian Serenade, To Sophia, Love's Philosophy, and To—In spite of their many good qualities these poems written for Miss Stacey do not carry the mark of Shelley's poetic genius at its best. Shelley himself considered them trifles and did not think any of them, worth publishing among the 'other poems' with Prometheus Unbound. Desmond King-Hele has called them "Sentimental album-pieces" and has assigned to them a place among "the weakest poems" by Shelley.


      The lover wakes up from dreams of love and runs to the window of his beloved. The delicate air and the calmness of the night charm him. He is all the more restless to meet his beloved. He longs for her helping hand and sweet embrace so that he could die peacefully in her arms. He is feeling sad and weak and the kisses of his beloved could alone soothe him.

      LI. 17-24. O lift last. The poet or the young lover appeals to the beloved to have pity on him and save him from utter ruin by lifting him in her affectionate arms. He is dying, fainting and falling upon the grass, because of his love; he has lost all control over himself. His lips and eyelids which have become pale should be refreshed and revitalised by the showers of sweet kisses. His cheeks have grown pale and on account of excitement his heart is beating loudly and at a quick pace. The poet appeals to the beloved to press his heart to hers, so that at last it may break there. The lover's passions know no bounds and are unrestrained. The sentiment of love overwhelms him completely and puts his whole personality out of gear. He loses all control over himself and nothing can save him from collapse except the warm response from the beloved. Shelley binds art with emotion in these lines.


      As a Love Poem: Though The Indian Serenade is certainly not a fruit of Shelley's greatest poetic genius, yet it has some appeal as a love poem and hence has found its way into most of the modern anthologies. Shelley's portrait of the lover, the pains and agonies of a loving heart, the ultimate wish to be united with the lover, are all drawn in the conventional style and have nothing original about them. The basic appeal of this love poem, however, lies eleswhere—in Shelley's talent for identifying himself completely with an imagined forlorn lover and in the refreshing device of beautifying love by associating it with the charming aspects of Nature. His dreams of the beloved are not commonplace dreams; they have taken an airy and ethereal character against the natural background of the low-breathing winds and the stars "shining bright". Shelley lends his love a spontaneity and a gentility by using the images of "the wandering airs" and "the silent stream" and then adds to it a refreshing flavour by associating it with the "champak odours". By this time, his presentation of love has become so fascinating and spell-binding that under its effect we are made to overlook the incongruity of the hackneyed image that follows—that of the nightingale. In the last Stanza, the poet, through an appeal to his beloved, tries to give an expression to the eternal agonies of a lover:

O lift me from the grass
I die! I faint! I fail!

      His cry is no doubt the product of a conscious artist and yet it is heart-rending. Shelley has a rare talent for blending art with emotion and that accounts for whatever is of some value in this poem.

      As a Lyric: The poem has rightly been placed among Shelley's lyrics. In fact, considering the origin of the poem, the poem is meant to be a song only. The poem is undoubtedly the product of a conscious effort, but that effort, thanks to Shelley's poetic genius, is hardly discernible in the poem. Shelley can so closely imagine himself in a stipulated situation that he can create the emotion necessary for a spontaneous expression of it. All this explains why this poem has succeeded, in spite of its drawbacks, in being marked with a distinct spontaneity, an essential feature of a lyric poem. The simplicity of thought and diction in this poem, which stand in contrast to the magnificence of his longer poems, have contributed greatly to its lyric quality. The poem is best appreciated when it is considered primarily as a song. Desmond King-Hele aptly sums up: "Deprived of its musical setting, the Indian Serenade is feeble: it is mechanical in meter, empty of matter, and sentimental in tone".

On my lips and eyelids pale
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;
O! press it close to thine again
Where it will break at last.


      Serenade—an evening song or instrumental piece sung or played by a lover at his lady's window. L. 2. first sweet sleep—Sleep, in the beginning, is quite pleasant and is called the beauty sleep. L. 3. winds are breathing low—mild wind which is blowing over the land. L. 5. dreams of thee—has dreams of his beloved in his first sweet sleep. L. 6. spirit in my feet—the impulse which takes him to his lady-love's chamber's window. L. 7. who knows how—unconsciously the lover walks up to her window. L. 8. sioeet—a term of endearment addressed to his beloved. L. 9. The wandering., faint—the mild and slowly blowing breeze. L. 10. on the dark—in the dark night. L. 10-11. the silent stream...dream— the strong odours of the champak tree faintly fill the air which is as pleasant as a love dream. L. 13. the nightingale's complaint—the notes of the nightingale's song. L. 14. It dies upon her heart—It is the middle of the night and the bird has gone to sleep. Hence its song is heard no more. L. 15. As I must....thine—Like the song dying in the heart of the bird, the lover, too, aspires to die on the breast of her beloved and become eternally silent. L. 17. lift me from the grass—The passion of the lover is so intense that he cannot Bear the thought of separation from his beloved and the pangs of separation causes him to collapse. L. 20. lips and eyelids pale—The dejected lover due to pangs of separation from his beloved results in bloodless and pale eyelids and lips. L. 21. cheek is cold and white—sign of desperation and dejection. L. 22. Heart beats loud and fast—symptom of body's weakness. L. 24. 'Where last—the lover expresses his wish to die in the embrace of his beloved.

Previous Post Next Post