To Jane: The Invitation by P. B. Shelley - Summary & Analysis

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Best and brightest, come away!
Fairer far than this fair day,
Which, like thee to those in sorrow.
Comes to bid a sweet good-morrow
To the rough Year just awake
In its cradle on the brake.
The brightest hour of unborn Spring
Through the winter wandering,
Found, it seems, the halcyon Morn
To hoar February born.
Bending from Heaven, in azure mirth,
It kissed the forehead of the Earth,
And smiled upon the silent sea,
And hade the frozen streams be free,
And waked to music all their fountains,
And breathed upon the frozen mountains,
And like a prophetess of May
Strewed flowers upon the barren way,
Making the wintry world appear
Like one on whom thou smilest, dear.

Away, away, from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs—
To the silent wilderness
Where the soul need not repress
Its music lest it should not find
An echo in another's mind,
While the touch of Nature's art
Harmonizes heart to heart.
I leave this notice on my door
For each accustomed visitor:—
'I am gone into the fields
To take what this sweet hour yields;—
Reflection, you may come to-morrow,
Sit by the fireside with Sorrow.—
You with the unpaid bill, Despair,—
You, tiresome verse-reciter, Care,—
I will pay you in the grave,—
Death will listen to your stave.
Expectation too be off!
To-day is for itself enough;
Hope, in pity mock not woe
With smiles, nor follow where I go;
Long having lived on thy sweet food,
At length I find one moment good
After long pain—with all your love,
This you never told me of.'
Radiant Sister of the Day,
Awake! arise! and come away!
To the wild woods and the plains,
And the pools where winter rains
Image all their roof of leaves,
Where the pine its garland weaves
Of sapless green and ivy dun
Round stems that never kiss the sun;
Where the lawns and pastures be,
And the sandhills of the sea;—
Where the melting hoar-frost wets
The daisy-star that never sets,
And wind-flowers, and violets,
Which yet join not scent to hue,
Crown the pale year weak and new;
When the night is left behind
In the deep east, dim and blind,
And the blue noon is over us,
And the multitudinous
Billows murmur at our feet,
Where the earth and ocean meet,
And all things seem only one
In the universal sun.

Summary & Analysis


      This poem, along with the following two—To Jane: The Recollection and With a Guitar, to Jane—was written in 1822 at Pisa. All three belong to the group of poems addressed to Jane Williams, the wife of Edward Elliker Williams, whose close friendship with Shelley began at Pisa early in 1821 and ended in the storm at sea in which both perished. Jane was a domesticated and unintellectual woman and Shelley had not at first taken much notice of her. Gradually, when he came to know her better he found her more congenial. In the home of the Williamses, Shelley foimd a harmonious and affectionate atmosphere that was very necessary for him at the time. Edward Williams had a gay, generous nature devoid of meanness. The couple were indeed a wonderful fountain of friendship at which the poet, so weary of suffering, could cool his fever. Jane could use an art of hypnotism to calm him or rouse his spirits as and when necessary. Shelley was fond of this treatment and left a record of one such session in a poem, The Magnetic Lady to her Patient. Jane was a singer in her own right and Shelley liked to listen to her singing to the times she played on a guitar he gave her. The poet was in love with Jane, but it was an nonmaterial love, without hope, and almost without desire. After Shelley and Edward died, Jane returned to England and married Shelley's old friend Hogg who had wooed unsuccessfully both Harriet and Mary before they were married to the poet.

      To Jane: The Invitation, according to Desmond King-Hele, "seems to beg comparison with the last part of Epipsychidion, where Emilia is invited to the paradisial isle. But the motive and the cue for passion were not likely to come from one so comfortable and familiar as Jane: the passionate imperatives of Epipsychidion would be out of place here. Instead, Shelley reverts to his conversational poems. Like them, The Invitation is happy, catching the spirit as well as the meter of L'Allegro. It is also gracious and civilized, the first poem in which Shelley treats a sexual theme in level tones." The poem was written on a spring-like day in winter. Mrs. Shelley writes of that winter: "if we might call that season winter in which autumn merged into spring after the interval of but few days of bleaker weather."


      The poet describes the calm, almost vernal morning which has by chance blessed a day of the winter month of February. The bright warm days of spring are not yet come on the earth; but it seems as if one stray hour of spring has found its way to the earth and has met the calm and happy morning in the month of February to bid a sweet good morning to the year which has just begun its life in the midst of winter. This brightest hour of the unborn spring has covered the earth with green verdure, calmed the sea, melted the ice on the waters, and like a harbinger of the coming spring, has set the flowers blooming. But the lady, Mrs. Williams, is purer and fairer than this beautiful day.

      The poet proposes to leave men and towns with the lady and go to the woods and downs, where their hearts may find unstifled joys of communion; and their love may find additional support from an enjoyment of the beauties of nature.

      He then describes the beauty of the spot where they will retire. There are the wild woods and plains, the pools of winter water, so translucent as to reflect the overhanging trees, the pine trees, the lawns, various kinds of flowers, the blue Sky, the waves of the sea washing at their feet, and the light of the sun covering all these.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Love of Nature and Pantheism: The chief charm of the poem lies in its beautiful descriptions of Nature. His compliment to Jane is also given in terms of Nature—"Fairer far than this fair day" and "Radiant Sister of the Day". His portrait of the day in winter when the "unborn spring" seems to have arrived, is vivid and picturesque. The pictures of the 'azure' sky, the silent sea turned gay, "the frozen stream" becoming "free", the fountains producing music, the mountains looking lively, and "the barren way" being strewn with flowers, have all been drawn in detail and suffice to take away the morbidity of the season and endow it with a rare gaiety and vivacity of character. Like Wordsworth, Shelley looks upon Nature as an ideal companion and as an inexhaustible source of comfort. He wants Jane to go with him to "the silent wilderness" because, according to Shelley, Nature has a power which encourages a free expression of the "music" of the soul, and "harmonizes heart to heart". In Nature's company the poet can put aside the thoughts of misery, despair, anxieties and even hopes, and be blessed with a free and cheerful mind. The other nature-pictures that follow—"the wild woods and the plains", the pools "where winter rains image all their roof of leaves", the pine weaving its garland of "sapless green and ivy dun" around "stems that never kiss the sun", the green lawns and pastures, the sandhills, the daisies and the violets—help to make the day seem fairer and a more appropriate setting for the proposed communion between Jane and the poet. Shelley, like Wordsworth, has a pantheistic concept of Nature. He looks upon Nature as one spiritual being that finds manifestation in all forms and remains inconceivable as the spirit of Love and Beauty. His pantheism is clearly struck in the concluding lines of the poem:

And all things seem only one
In the universal sun.

      Urbane Tone: Apart from its superb description of scenic beauty, the poem is also distinguished for a restrained urbane tone. On this feature of the poem, Donald Davie writes: "The Invitation is a nonpareil, and one of Shelley's greatest achievements. It maintains the familiar tone, though in highly figured language, and contrives to be urbane about feelings which are novel and remote. The poem presents the experience which The Recollection tries to define and rationalize; and the definition is there, already in the expression. Jane's influence upon the scene where she moved is here entirely credible; what Shelley afterward tried to express, first in Wordsworthian and then in erotic terms, here persuades us from the start with no fuss or embarrassment. It is the lack of fuss, the ease and assurance, which persuades us throughout. In other words, the poem is first and foremost a triumph of tone. We can accept Jane as radiant sister of the Day largely because the lyrical feeling has already accommodated such seemingly unmanageable things as unpaid bills and unaccustomed visitors. It is an achievement of urbanity to move with such ease from financial and social entanglements to elated sympathy with a natural process. Just as it is a mark of civilization to be able to hold these things together in one unflurried attitude."

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

      LI. 1-6. Best and brightest, come away...the brake. Shelley addresses Mrs. Williams as more beautiful and pure than the fine and splendid morning of an almost vernal day in February. Just as the good lady comes to bid a sweet good morning to a miserable man like the poet, the fine morning seems to pronounce a sweet note of welcome to the year, whose life has just begun, it being the month of February; the infant year is cradled with all its cold inclemencies on the tender frosty fems on which he seems to wake up to life and vigor in anticipation of the coming spring.

      LI. 7-10. The brightest hour of unborn spring.....February born. Shelley tries to account for the particularly happy weather in the wintry month of February for one day—the day on which he invites his lady friend to come to him and lend him her company. The warm days of spring are yet to come, but one hour of that happy season, straying from its companion days as they dance together in merry round in heaven, has accidentally found its path to the earth and met the happy calm morning in February and made an ideally fair day.

      LI. 50-61. And all things.....universal sun. After describing the wild woods and plains, the pools the trees, the lawns and pastures, the daisy-stars, the wind flowers, and the violets in the spot where the poet calls his lady friend to come and pass the one vernal day of February, he describes the light of the noon-day sun. The poet and the lady will sit on the coast of the sea at noon; there in the all-pervading light of the bright sun, all objects in the sea or on the land will lose their distinctive features and look like one. The lines may also be taken as an illustration of the Pantheistic creed of the poet; he means to say that all the visible objects on the land and the sea are but manifestations of the one all-pervading Spirit:

The light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That beauty in which all things work and move.

      The idea is characteristic of Shelley; the ineffable loveliness of the season and its transfiguration of nature make the poet think that it has resolved the manifold nature of the material universe, reducing it all into the Light of the one Spirit—the Atman behind all. Says Mr. Hamilton Thompson: "There is an echo here of the contrast, ever present to Shelley, between the one and unchangeable reality and the many and transitory shapes of earth. For a moment the perfect early spring day merges all the shapes lit by the sun in one harmony of being and time approaches the ideal perfection of eternity."


      L. 2. Fairer far than this fair Day—i.e. Mrs. Williams. L. 5. the rough year just awake,—the season was the winter of 1822, of which Mrs. Shelley writes: "The winter of 1822 was passed in Pisa, if we might call the season winter in which autumn merged into spring after the interval of but few days of bleaker weather." LI. 7-8. Hour...wandering—the imagery that 'hours' are dancing in a merry rout in heaven is borrowed from the Greeks. L. 9. halcyon morn—morning in mid-winter, when a deep calm pervades all nature; halcyon was the Greek name for the kingfisher; halcyon days were days in mid-winter, when the. kingfisher mated and brooded over its young in its floating nest on the sea, which remained calm while it was hatching; metaphorically, the phrase halcyon days has come to mean a time of peace and happiness. L. 11. in azure mirth—the joyous brightness of the blue sky. L. 35. You Despair—the relentless creditor, Despair, is always waiting to harass his victims for his arrears, which are none other than the dull, benumbing days of sheer hopelessness. Flours and days of leaden-eyed despair were 'familiar' to Shelley; the reader will recall the third Stanza of Dejection, L. 37. I will pay you in the grave—the wages of care is Death. L. 38. stave—stanza, verse. L. 53. dun—dark-hued. L. 55. lawns—glades, open spaces in the forest. L. 58. The daisy-star that never sets—the daisy never sets, as it blooms at all seasons of the year, in The Question, L. 59. wind-flowers—the anemone nemorosa. L. 61. the pale year weak and new—it is February, when the year is as yet a puny weakling, it is pale because winter is still in possession. LI. 65-66. the multitudinous billows—an echo of Macbeth's, 'The multitudinous seas incarnadine' (Macbeth.)

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