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

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Now the last day of many days,
All beautiful and bright as thou,
The loveliest and the last, is dead,
Rise, Memory, and write its praise!
Up,—to thy wonted work! come, trace
The epitaph of glory fled,—
For now the Earth has changed its face,
A frown is on Heaven's brow.

We wandered to the Pine Forest
That skirts the Ocean's foam,
The lightest wind was in its nest,
The tempest in its home.
The whispering waves were half asleep,
The clouds were gone to play
And on the bosom of the deep
The smile of Heaven lay;
It seemed as if the hour were one
Sent from beyond the skies,
Which scattered from above the sun
A light of Paradise.

We paused amid the pines that stood
The giants of the waste,
Tortured by storms to shapes as rude
As serpents interlaced,
And soothed by every azure breath,
That under Heaven is blown,
To harmonies and hues beneath,
As tender as its own;
Now all the tree-tops lay asleep,
Like green waves of the sea,
As still as in the silent deep
The ocean woods may be.

How calm it was!—The silence there
By such a chain was bound,
That even the busy woodpecker
Made stiller by her sound
Hie inviolable quietness;
The breath of peace we drew,
With its soft motion made not less
The calm that round us grew.
There seem'd from the remotest seat
Of the wide mountain waste,
To the soft flower beneath our feet,
A magic circle traced,—
A spirit interfused around,
A thrilling silent life;
To momentary peace it bound
Our mortal nature's strife;—
And still I felt the center of
The magic circle there
Was one fair form that fill'd with love
The lifeless atmosphere.

We paused beside the pools that lie
Under the forest bough;
Each seem'd as 'twere a little sky
Gulf'd in a world below;
A firmament of purple light,
Which in the dark earth lay,
More boundless than the depth of night,
And purer than the day—
In which the lovely forests grew
As in the upper air,
More perfect both in shape and hue
Than any spreading there.
There lay the glade and neighboring lawn;
And through the dark green wood
The white sun twinkling like the dawn
Out of a speckled cloud.
Sweet views which in our world above
Can never well be seen
Were imaged in the water's love
Of that fair forest green;
And all was interfused beneath
With an Elysian glow,
An atmosphere without a breath,
A softer day below.
Like one beloved the scene had lent
To the dark water's breast
Its every leaf and lineament With more than truth expressed;
Until an envious wind crept by,
Like an unwelcome thought,
Which from the mind's too faithful eye
Blots one dear image out.
Though thou art ever fair and kind,
The forests ever green,
Less oft is peace in Shelley's mind,
Than calm in waters, seen.

Summary & Analysis


      See Introduction to To Jane: The Invitation. The Recollection commemorates the day, in the pine-forest near Pisa to which The Invitation was a prelude. In Posthumous Poems 1824, these two poems were printed as they were written, as one piece, under the title of The Pine Forest of the Cascine near Pisa.


      Now that the glorious days, all beautiful and bright as the dear lady-companion herself, have passed away, the poet will write down a description of the beauty that has vanished.

      The poet and the lady wandered to the pine forest on the sea coast. The air was calm, the sky cloudless, the sun lit up the surface of the sea, which was making a gentle murmuring sound. The hour was more than heavenly in beauty. The gigantic pine trees of the Maremma, with their branches turned and twisted by strong winter storms into shapes of intertwining serpents, were then given a beauty of verdure by the gentle vernal breeze; the trees stood motionless as the forest reflected in the depths of the ocean is motionless. Not the tree-tops only, but the whole landscape was under the spell of a deep and solemn calm. From the sea-limit on the west, to the Appenines on the east, there seemed to settle a supernatural spirit of calm and peacefulness, which produced a calm in the human hearts, while the presence of the lady filled the atmosphere with love.

      They wandered to the side of pools of still water, in which the sky of purple light, the lovely forests, the glade, the lawn, were all reflected with such celestial beauty as cannot be seen in our world above. Every leaf and lineament could be seen there with more than truth expressed, till an envious wind ruffled the surface and blotted out the beautiful image. Though the lady is ever kind to him, and the forests are green, there is little peace in the mind of the poet.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Treatment of Nature: To Jane the Recollection, perhaps contains Shelley's, most detailed picture of landscape. In this poem, and to some extent in The Invitation, Shelley has departed from his usual practice of creating myths out of Nature and has described natural objects in minute detail. The poem is, therefore, expectedly full of images from Nature. The beauty and the tranquility of the day in the Pine Forest has been conveyed with graphic certainty through a few crisp and familar images—"the lightest wind", "half asleep" waves, the clouds "gone to play" and a "light of paradise". The description of the pine trees:

The giants of the waste,
Tortured by storms to shapes as rude
As serpents interlaced,-

       is at once precise and picturesque. It also brings forth a sense of tranquility following a storm which is similar to the peace that Shelley has found in Jane's company after a long period of suffering. The image of the pools represents Shelley's unique artistic capacity to express the most complicated through clear, visual images. Leone Vivante has thus remarked on the significance of this image of the pools. "There is in them, again perspicuity and distinctness of form—reflecting an intrinsic or externa! modality of thought, and not only belonging to the objects qua objects. There is, in the poet's transparency, in the fact that, the water is there but is not seen as such—rather is converted in the image of the landscape, made invisible in it, yet delicately bears the image of itself—a likeness of love (cf. 'Were imaged by the water's love'). There is represented the distinct acquisition of a deeper truth (cf. 'With more than truth expressed'). This is a fundamental character of artistic activity. For things become truer, more real, they acquire a new and different reality, when they are, in a non-subordinate way, transformed into intrinsic values and modes of thought. And here, in fact, there is clearness, which is not that of the objects, but is more convincing and powerful, more real as a quality. Above all, not timelessness, but a time not measured by change, or not primarily constituted by change, seems to be suggested. Thought's perpetual identity through its manifold forms seems to be almost perceptible in the stainless mirror no less, even more, than in the silence and inviolable quietness of the forest". This description of the landscape through the image of pools is one of the most delicate and vivid in the whole of English poetry. Shelley's concept of Nature is essentially pantheistic. Like Wordsworth, he too perceives a spirit which pervades Nature and can give us comfort.

Pantheism is clearly struck in the following lines:

A spirit interfused around,
A thrilling, silent life,
To momentary peace it bound
Our mortal nature's strife.

      Serenity: The poet, through his description of landscape, wishes to convey the sense of calm that he receives in the soothing company of Jane. The response to Jane's influence is similar and simultaneous in Nature and the poet. A sense of calm and serenity therefore runs through the whole poem. The windless and clear day, the quiet pine trees, the tree tops lying asleep, the still "ocean woods" in "the silent deep" and the sound made by the woodpecker are all drawn carefully to bring out the impression of an "inviolable quietness." Desmond King-Hele aptly sums up: "This is perhaps the most serene of all Shelley's poems. The windless weather is so fused with Jane's calming influence that we sometimes forget which is which. The gentle, rather monotonous beat of the meter and the careful pictures of Nature seem to imply that nothing will ever change, from now till eternity."

Which from the mind's too faithful eye
Blots one dear image out.
Though thou art ever fair and kind,
The forests ever green,
Less oft is peace in Shelley's mind,
Than calm in waters, seen.

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

      LI. 41-46. There seem'd from the remotest.....silent life. Shelley describes the absolute calm that prevailed in the forest by the sea, where he spent his happy hours in the company of Mrs. Williams. It seemed as if the very spirit of calm brooded over the whole visible scene.

      A circle of absolute peace and calm embraced within itself the whole visible scene, from the snow-clad Appenines at a distance to the spot by the sea where the poet was sitting. The very spirit of calm brooded over the scene and sent a thrill of tranquil well-being through the heart of the poet which felt the supernatural influence of that unseen spirit of calm. (The lines are an expression of the pantheistic creed of Shelley. In his moments of highest inspiration, Shelley believed in an all-pervading spirit co-eternal with the universe.)

      LI. 69-71. Sweet views which in our Elysian glow. Shelley is describing the charming scene of the forest in which he spent his happy hours with Mrs. Williams. They paused beside a pool in the torest and saw the surrounding scene reflected clearly in the calm water. Deep below, under the surface of the water of the still pools, the patches of the sky, the forest trees and the white sun were seen reflected.

      As a lover fondly retains the image of the beloved in his heart, the still waters fondly retained the image of the sky, the trees, etc. All these reflections in the water were permeated with a heavenly beauty and were more lovely than their real counterparts on the earth. Though every feature and every part of the reflection had their real counterparts on earth or sky, the reflections looked more beautiful than what can ever be seen on the earth.


      L. 2. Thou—Jane Williams, the poet's friend. LI. 5-6. Trace...fled—write a description of the beautiful days and scenes that are no more. L. 11. lightest...nest—Wind is compared to a bird, which has its nest in the sky; there was no wind. L. 19. from beyond— the poet supposes the ideal region of happy weather lies in Paradise somewhere above the sun. The light of the bright day came from that region down to the earth. L. 25. azure breath—the breeze blowing from the blue sky. And soothed its own—the idea is that the gentle breeze of spring blowing from the sky gave the twisted boughs of the trees a sweet blending of shape and color, which were its own beauties. L. 32. ocean woods —Shelley loved to figure the unseen world of the forest under the ocean. L. 41. remotest.....waste—the most distant end of the bleak snowclad Appenines. The Appenines would be on the eastern limit. L. 42. White mountain—The Appenines on the east. L. 44. magic circle—the whole visible area enjoying a supernatural calm. L. 45. spirit interfused—a power brooding over and interpenetrating everything. L. 46.—an unseen presence that sends a sensation through the soul. L. 56. Gulf.....reflected deep under the water. L. 65. There—under the water. L. 71.—as a lover retains a romantic idea of the features of the beloved, so also the water added a glow and charm to the scenery reflected in it. L. 74. Elysian glow—heavenly beauty.

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