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

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Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,—
And ever-changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?


      To the Moon, was brief spells of depression or illness that the short somber poem were written in the period of end toward 1820. It was a time when Shelley's life seems to have been reasonably happy. These poems contain two short pieces about the moon which Shelley, like Coleridge, always found fascinating. One piece, that begins "And like a dying lady..." has some confused echoes from Sir Philip Sidney's sonnet "With how sad steps..." The other, the present poem, is clear, sober, and to some extent, cynical.


      Shelley who apprehends the true and the beautiful asks the moon whether its paleness is due to its weariness of climbing the sky, or of gazing on the earth, wandering alone among the stars of a different nature and origin. Or is it because the moon is ever-changing like the sorrowful looks that see inconstancy everywhere. Perhaps the moon wanes and waxes because she finds no objects worthy of her constancy.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      To the Moon, is another superb illustration of Shelley's myth-making power. In the sphere of making myths out of Nature he is unsurpassed by others, because he, more perhaps than any other poet, possesses an imaginative insight into Nature as a world of events and processes, especially those which occur through a great volume of space. His imagination comes to life when he thinks of the sun and the planets, the light and sound transmitted through air, growth of things and beings and the great cycles of interaction between sea, land and air. The moon, in particular, always fascinated him. In many of his poems, he has dealt with the moon, always considering it as a living and feeling object. In Prometheus Unbound, the moon has been thoroughly humanized; Io's report on the moon translates its face into human features; the Moon is presented as a lover of the Earth and they are seen to indulge in an erotic myth; the Moon's intimate contact with the Earth occurs at its eclipse. In The Cloud also the moon is personified:

That orbed maiden with white fire laden Whom mortals call the Moon.

      In To the Moon, its humanization takes a more realistic, commonplace form. The moon looks pale, because, the poet says, she is wary of "climbing heaven and gazing on the earth"; the "weariness" attributed to the Moon is essentially an earthly weakness. The Moon is given other human feelings. She loves the Earth and she continues to "gaze" on it. Like human beings, she needs companionable society, and for want of it, turns melancholy like them. She keeps changing her form; because she is restless, finding no one worthy of her unchanging love. Shelley's myth of the moon, though in variance with modem scientific explanations, has lent this poem a unique refreshing appeal.

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

      LI. 1-6. Art thou pale...constancy? The poet watches the pale moon in the murky east and tries to account for its paleness. He wonders if the moon is pale because it is tired of climbing the heavens and of looking down at the earth. The poet fancies that perhaps the moon is pale because it feels lonely amidst stars that have a different origin and widely differ from her in nature. Lastly, the poet imagines that the moon is pale because it is constantly waxing and waning, and is restless because she cannot find anybody worthy of her devotion and love, just as a man's eyes may be restless because he cannot find a beloved worthy of constant love.


      L. 1. weariness—fatigue. L. climbing heavens—ascending high up in the sky. gazing on the earth—looking on the earth. Constant gazing on the earth makes the moon weary and pale. L. 3. wandering companionless—walking alone. L. 4. stars...birth—stars are of widely different origin and the moon has nothing in common with them. Hence they cannot become the companions of the moon. L. 5. ever-changing— reference is to the waxing and waning of the moon, joyless eye—unhappy person.

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