We Are As Clouds: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly—yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.

We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same—For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.


      We Are As Clouds was written in 1821, and was published in Posthumous Poems, in 1824. The poem deals with the theme of transitory nature of all worldly phenomena which forever kept on hunting the poet's mind.

      Shelley compares the life of human beings to the clouds that veil the midnight moon. These clouds restlessly move fast and shine in the brightness of the moon. But once the radiance of the moon is lost they once again become dark and are not seen. So also human beings' lives are short and mortal.

      Next the poet distinguishes each man from the other and each action and experience from the other. Human life is compared to forgotten lyres. Just as each blast of wind produces its own note, each human being is different from the other. No two notes are similar. So also no two human beings are alike. Each man reacts differently to different situations and his experiences too are never alike.

      He then goes on to generalize human life which is transient and temporary. We go to sleep; but one bad dream is enough to poison our sleep. We rise; but one sad thought is enough to pollute the happy day. Our feelings, ideas, emotions, enjoyments and sorrows—all are transient and different.

      He comes to a conclusion. Whether joy or sorrow; whether yesterday or tomorrow, even if they are different from each other, they are alike in one thing—being transient. Nothing endures except 'Mutability'. This is the basic truth of life.

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