Lines Written Among The Euganean Hills: Summary & Analysis

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      This rather lengthy poem written in October 1818 during Shelley's stay at Este, a beautiful town situated on the slopes of the Euganean hills in Italy. The town of Este was seventeen miles away from Padua and within a few miles of Arqua, associated with Petrarch's life and poetry. The town is enclosed by medieval walls and has ruined castles, ancient cathedrals and churches. From the villa at Este where the Shelleys stayed they could look, writes Mrs. Shelley, "over the wide plain of Lombardy, bounded to the west by the far Apennines, while in the east the horizon was lost in misty distance. After the picturesque but limited view of mountain, ravine, and chestnut wood at the Baths of Lucca, there was something infinitely gratifying to the eye in the wide range of prospect commanded by our new abode." Shelley had suffered a series of misfortunes prior to the composition of this poem. He had been declared unfit by Lord Eldon, the Chancellor, to take into his custody his children by Harriet and, then, during his stay at Este, Clara, his daughter by Mary, died of an intestinal disorder. Byron's affair with Claire Clairmont and his living in degraded company had a further depressing effect on Shelley. Shelley wrote this poem in a miserable state of mind though he also used it to rid himself of his misery through reflections on the islands of delight.


      Human life, surrounded as it is on all sides by dangers and miseries, would be too dreary for us to bear, unless it was relieved at times by momentary glimpses of happiness.

      Isles of happiness: In his life of misery, the poet had such a brief, a very short, spell of happiness among the Euganean hills. He enjoyed immensely the dawn of a beautiful autumn morning: it was early dawn, and the flocks of rooks with their gray pinions flew about through the dewy mist in the sky as they cawed a welcome to the rising sun. Then the sun rises and the rooks look like bright patches of evening clouds flecked with dew-drops, which shine in the new splendor of the sun. The morning wind disperses the mist and all become bright and clear and still. From the hills, the poet can see the long stretch of the plains of Lombardy with their cities; at a distance lies the ocean-borne town of Venice under the blue sky destined soon to be submerged under the ocean waters. The sun rises behind Venice on the eastern horizon, and lights up with a flood of fiery flame columns, towers, domes, and spires of the city, which tremble in the bright atmosphere like pillars of fire rising from the bosom of the ocean to the sky.

      Address to Venice: The poet addresses Venice. She rose out of the sea, owed all her glory to the sea and took the ocean as her mate: now that she has been conquered by a foreign power and is being tyrannized over by the Austrian ruler, it would be her good fortune if the sea is pleased to swallow her up and thus hide her shame for ever. If the sea does swallow her up, the depopulated islands will then invert to the old state in which they were before the foundation, of Venice, and the palace gates will be overgrown with sea-weeds and will topple down in the ocean; the fishermen will then try to avoid those isles of haunted ruins.

      Mysterious Influence of Noon and Sorrow Returning with Evening: Then the noon begins: a soft and purple mist fills the whole atmosphere from the limits of the horizon to the zenith of the sky. The unsodden leaves still glistening with the morning frost, trellised lines of golden vines, the grey grass on the distant castle, the flowers on the ground, the olive-based Apennines in the south, the snow-capped Alps—all these inanimate objects of nature, and all the living creatures as well as the very spirit of the poet himself,—all are permeated by a mysterious influence which the poet cannot fathom, and which may be called love or light or harmony or the Universal Soul that descends from heaven or the thought-creating mind.

      The beautiful autumnal noon is succeeded by a beautiful evening when the crescent moon appears in the sky accompanied by the evening star which lends the moon half its brilliance. The tender joys that cheered the poet in the morning vanish and he falls a prey once more to his wonted melancholy.

      Hope of Finding on Idyllic Spot Free of Sorrow: The poet concludes that there must be other sources of joy and comfort in this life than those already mentioned by the poet which, however, are over only too soon. It may be that he will some day fix up his abode in a windless bower, where he will live with those whom he loves, far from passion, pain and guilt. The charm of that ideal place of beauty and joy will attract the 'polluting multitude', but they will not be able to corrupt the place, divine and calm as it is: on the contrary, they themselves will be subdued by the charms of that ideally happy region. Love will reign supreme, envy will be banished, land all will live in happy brotherhood-the very earth will grow young again.


      Shelley's Optimism: Though the poem opens with a morbid contemplation of death, it closes in the familiar dream of an escape to a land where music and moonlight and feeling are one. Though the sadness in his household inevitably filters into his verse, Shelley has done his best to argue himself out of his miseries by musing upon the islands of Delight which stud the sea of Misery:

Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of Misery,
Or the mariner, worn and wan,
Never thus could voyage on—
Day and night and night and day,
Drifting on his dreary way...

      Though the islands Shelley speaks of are random, unexpected, and the voyager can do little to steer himself towards them, the islands do exist and there is always a hope of reaching them. This note of optimism runs through the entire length of this basically sad poem. His reference to the flowering islands in "the sea of life and agony" and his finally expressed hope that mankind will soon discard its vices, are a few instances of this optimism. A modern critic has thus summarised the main ideas of the poem: "There are green isles in the wide sea of Misery, there are compensations for the agonies which human beings must endure. They consist in the beauties of Nature, of poetry, of thoughts, of liberty, and dreams centering in some healing paradise of the writer and those he loves, where 'the love which heals all strife' (Line 366) will encircle them 'with its old mild brotherhood' (Line 369) so that soon every spirit beneath the moon would repent its vain envy and make the earth grow young again. In short, the lines are of a piece with many other visionary poems from Shelley's pen". This criticism provides further confirmation of Shelley's optimism expressed in the poem.

      Love of Nature: The poem is an evidence of Shelley's passionate love of Nature and a mystic involvement with it. Fowler remarks: "The wonderful expression here given to the atmospheric effects of the sunrise, noon, and the sunset of the bright autumn day should be studied: and with the description of noon the author's Stanzas Written in Dejection, Near Naples should be compared. We may also compare Wordsworth's Ode, Composed upon an Evening of Extraordinary Splendour and Beauty and contrast the attitude of the two poets towards Nature. Wordsworth had taught Shelley to look to her for healing." Shelley is both subjective and objective in his treatment of Nature. He regards his mystical experiences of Nature as both a solace and poetic material. Nature to him is a never ending source of delightful poetic images. The sun to him is something "broad, red, radiant, half-reclined on the level quivering lines of the waters crystalline." His picture of the evening in autumn:

Leading the infantine moon,
And that one star which to her
Almost seems to minister
Half the crimson light she brings
From the sunset's radiant springs

      is at once picturesque and delightful. Like Wordsworth, Shelley looks upon Nature as a source of comfort and tries to draw from it calm and happiness. A pantheistic belief finds expression in the lines where he says:

And my spirit which so long
Darkened this swift stream of song,
Interpenetrated lie
By the glory of the sky:
Be it love, light, harmony,
Odour, or the soul of all...

      Matthew Arnold compares this poem with Keats's Ode to Autumn, to the disadvantage of Shelley's poem. Keats's ode, according to Arnold, "renders Nature" while Shelley's poem "tries to render her." Swinburne has offered an effective answer to Arnold's criticism: "This poem of the Euganean Hills is no piece of spiritual sculpture or painting after the life of natural is a rhapsody of thought and feeling colored by contact with nature, but not born of the contact...His aim is rather to render the effect of a thing than a thing itself; the soul and spirit of life rather than the living form, the growth rather than the thing grown."

      Shelley a reformer and a rebel: Mrs. Shelley herself has thus mentioned the spirit of reformation and rebellion in her husband: "To defecate life of its misery and its evil was the ruling passion of his soul; he dedicated to it every power of his mind, every pulsation of his heart. He looked on political freedom as the direct agent to effect the happiness of mankind." The core of Shelley's poetry is his philosophy of social revolution. In this poem, his love for political freedom has found expression in his hatred for tyranny, his downright denunciation of Austrian dictatorship over Venice and Padua. He uses the term "the slave of slaves" in bitter contempt of the imperial power of which Venice had become a subject. He calls the Australian emperor "the Celtic Anarch" because, with his republican enthusiasm, he cannot help regarding monarchy as foreign to all principles of government, and therefore, as a form of anarchy. The poet hopes that the people of Venice would stand united to overthrow the despotic rulers of Austria and regain freedom. If they cannot do so, the city would better perish and go into oblivion. He then goes on to sound a stern warning to Tyranny:

O Tyranny, beholdest now
Light around thee, and thou hearest
The loud flames ascend, and fearest:
Grovel on the earth; ay, hide
In the dust thy purple pride!

      He is agonized to find how Venice and Padua, the two centers of culture and learning, are suffering under a foreign yoke. Shelley, indeed, shares Byron's deep sympathy with the Italians' aspiration for freedom.

      Diction and Metre: Desmond King-Hele thus comments on the diction and meter of the poem: "In this poem the words are simple, the meaning is plain and the details fit neatly. So we can savor the form and texture of the verse, its rhythms and indeed its counterpoint, for its has enough of music to remind us how closely Shelley resembled Mozart in his liking for thin and fragile melodies unrelated to the coarser fabric of every day life.....In the Lines Written among the Eugenean Hills, a simple meter, basically seven syllables with four stresses, is made to express every mood from joy to despair, from calm to tumult. The changes in stress, which often go to with the changes in mood, prevent the poem from slipping into a sprightly measure, like L' Allegro or a mechanical sing-song, like Hiawatha. With lines so short and meter so simple, more strain is thrown on the individual words, and the poem is sufficiently unspecialized to give a fair picture of Shelley's vocabulary. We notice at once in the Euganean Hills habit which was to grow on him, the use of compound adjectives: olive-sandalled Apennines, Sapphire-tinted skies, harvest-shining plain, tempest-cleaving swan. He was just as fond of long adjectives with Latin pre-fixes, like interpenetrated, unpremeditated, antenatal and the Miltonic interlunar."!


      L. 1-8. Many a green isle-needs.....vessel's track. As an introduction to the beautiful description of an autumnal day among the Euganean Hills, Shelley brings a personal and characteristic note of melancholy. In this life of misery which is apt to overwhelm us, there are brief moments of respite to the soul, offered by the comforting aspects of Nature.

      The world is compared to a sea of misery, the human life to a boat sailing helplessly on it, and the brief moments of respite are compared to some happy green islands, where the voyager may land and breathe for a time. The existence of such dreamy respite of happiness is required unless the life, beset with troubles and miseries, as it is on all sides, would be unbearable. In these islands the mariners will anchor their ship to relax otherwise they would have been endlessly floating on at the mercy of the wind and the waves while impenetrable darkness of a cloudy sky surrounds the path of the vessel.

      LI. 94-99. Underneath Day's azure eyes....beaming waves. From the foot of the Euganean Hills, Shelley sees the distant prospect of Venice; he dwells on the past greatness of the city and regrets the present and the future of the city, now fallen so low.

      Venice lies at a distance under the blue canopy of the sky, lit up by the morning beauty of the newly risen sun. She is built up of many small isles in the sea and may be looked upon as a child of the sea; as a father carefully nurtures his child, so the sea took care to rear her into greatness by giving her commercial and naval greatness while she was free. She appears to the eye as an indistinguishable mass of buildings at a distance of some twenty miles from the spot where Shelley is sitting at the time. She looks populous and beautiful indeed; but she is no more free, being made over to Austria by Napoleon. So Shelley imagines that harrowed by the Austrian tyranny, the people of the city will desert the islands and leave them to be swallowed up by the ocean; when that consummation comes, she will be a fitting abode for Amphitrite, the wife of the sea-god. (It is probable that the poet thought that the sea was gaining on the land and showed signs of submerging the isles in the near future).

      LI. 104-114. And before the chasm.....of cold. From the Euganean hills Shelley looks at early dawn towards the city of Venice, lying at a distance of some twenty miles, till the broad sun rises just above the level of the sea, bathing everything in his glorious radiant light. The deep fiery mass of red light of the solar sphere communicates itself to the whole city of Venice lying in front of it and bathes every object in the city with a kind of almost liquid, quivering iridescence; consequently, the high-pointing tops of the buildings of the city wear an aspect of peculiarly solemn radiant grandeur and the whole city looks like a furnace of fire. The tall towers, domes, spires of the buildings, catching the red light of the sun look quite aglow, while the intervening atmosphere makes their light-clothed forms tremble and quiver before the eyes of the poet. They look like pillars of quivering fire arising from the blue base of the calm sea-water and reaching up to the heights of the blue-coloured clear surface of the sky. As such they very much resemble the flames of sacrificial fire which were lit in ancient times on stone altars in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and which danced and quivered so high as to touch the gold ceiling of the sacred temple which was famous for the oracles that were uttered there by the inspired priestess to those who wanted to know the will of the god.

      LI. 115-120. Sun-girt City! thou has been.....watery bier. Looking upon the distant prospect, Shelley's eyes meet the peopled labyrinth of the walls of Venice; the sight leads him to contemplate on its past and to forecast its future from its sad plight at the time.

      "Seen by noon from the Euganean heights, clothed as with the very visible glory of Italy", Venice seemed to be girdled with sunlight. Venice rose out of the sea, being built on the lagoons, and then she rose to power and wealth with the help of the sea, being a maritime and mercantile state; her annual marriage ceremony with the sea was performed by the Doge by dropping a ring into the ocean from the ship Bucentaur; but now she has fallen on evil days; she has been conquered by Napoleon, and handed over to the Austrians. In this miserable plight, the city would be abandoned by the inhabitants, and she would be left to be swallowed up by the sea; it would be fortunate for the city, if the sea kindly obliterated her shameful existence, by giving her such a holy grave.

      LI. 311-319. And my spirit, which so long....lone universe. The lines are an expression of the Pantheistic creed of Shelley. In his most impassioned inspiration, the poet felt the influence of a mysterious universal presence, permeating all objects—"that light whose smile kindles the universe, that beauty in which all things work and move".

      The plains, the leaves, the vines—all the visible inanimate objects as well as all living things—ven the soul of the poet himself, which is naturally gloomy and sad—are permeated through and through by the soft and purple noonday light, which is like the visible manifestation of the "light whose smile kindles the universe". The poet is at a loss to give a name to this influence that pervades all things in nature, including the human soul. "Call it if you like by a concrete name ’light’ or 'fragrance’, or if you prefer, by an abstract one such as 'love’ or 'harmony’, or if you wish to go a step higher, regard it either as "the universal soul' which descends from heaven and pervades all nature, or the 'Indivisible Thought-creating mind', which feeds with inspiration the poet's own soul, enabling it to fill the otherwise vacant universe."

      LI. 352-356. We may live so happy there.....multitude. Shelley concludes his lines, Written among the Euganean Hills with a note of optimistic idealism; he has the vision of a regenerated world; though at the close of the day on the Euganean Hills, he is seized with his characteristic gloom, yet he hopes to be piloted to some happy cove, far from passion, pain and guilt, where he will live with those he loves. The charm of the place and the pure joy of the inmates will be so great that the very spirits of the air, prompted by malice to see that earthly creatures enjoy so much, will seek to disturb the tranquility and the pure enjoyments by inducing the profane multitude to enter into the happy bower of bliss and thus mar its peace and beauty. But the very divine nature of the atmosphere will heal and cure the profane mob of its polluting tendencies.


L. 1. Green isle—stands metaphorically for brief respite from miseries in human lives which are generally very wretched. In the course of an actual voyage on the sea, a fertile island offers rest to a weary mariner. L. 2. Sea of misery—i.e., human life in this vzorld. L. 3. Wan—pale. L. 6. Drifting on—floating helplessly on. Our life is made miserable by some unknown force of evil. L. 7.—this describes the horrible journey of a ship in the dark—the ship of life on the dark ocean of misery. L. 8. Amphitrite—the sea queen, wife of Poseidon (the Latin 'Neptune' and daughter of Nereus). L. 13. riving—tearing apart. L. 14. Has almost drunk—the ship of human life had almost been overwhelmed by the rising waves of misery. L. 16. Like...sleep—the sinking of the ship of life in the ocean of misery will be somewhat like the experience of a man who dreams that he is sinking endlessly. L. 20. Distant shore—i.e., some region of hope and comfort.

L. 21. Recedes—as one sails down the coast the farthest visible point of land ahead is always changing and so, as it were, retiring as he advances. L. 24. The dome of gold—the temple at Delphi. L. 37. relenting love—relenting from its neglect of the dead man in his life-time. L. 59. fratricides—men, whom the king has employed to slay their own brethren: L. 68. to such a one—to the beautiful villa among the Euganean hills, where he had some moments of respite from misery. L. 69. my bark—the metaphor of the voyage is kept up; the poet's life. L. 70. mountains Euganean—between Padua and Verona. L. 71. paean— 'Hymn to Apollo", the Sun-god as well as the god of healing. L. 72. legion’d—arrayed in legions, or troops. L. 74. hoar—frosty., wings all hoar—the plumage of the rook is purplish black but the early morning light may make it look grey. L. 70. fleck'—spotted with bright and blue patches.

L. 80. grain—olour. Originally 'grain, meant a scarlet dye, or any fast colour produced by dyeing. Hence, it came to mean ’colour’. L. 91. Lombardy—the great northern province of Italy, formed by the Germanic tribe of the Langobardi. L. 93. islanded—studded with cities set in it, like islands in a sea. L. 94. Day's...eye—blue vault of the sky, lit up by the morning sun. L. 95. Ocean's nursling—the isles that compose the town of Venice on the head of the Adriatic were formed out of the ocean water, and hence they are like the children of the sea-god who once took care of them. L. 96. labyrinth of walls—an intricate mass of buildings full of a busy population. L. 97. Amphitrite's....halls— Amphitrite is the wife of Neptune, god of the ocean. The buildings of Venice are destined to be submerged under the ocean water and then in that state to be used as the halls of the ocean Queen. Shelley thinks that in their miserable subjected condition, the Venetians will leave the buildings and abandon their city. L. 98. Hoary sire—the husband of Amphitrite, i.e., Neptune, now paves—these words seem to indicate that the ocean was gradually gaining on the land.
L. 103. crystalline—the bright glassy waves of the Adriatic. L. 104. charm of light—a deep fiery mass of light of the shining sun. L. 105. furnace—the city of Venice gilded by the rich transparent sunlight looks like a blazing fire-place. L. 107. obelisks—tall, tapering pillars, like Cleopatra's Needle, towering up from the ocean to the sapphirehued sky. obelisks of fire—pointed columns of flame. L. 108. inconstant motion—quivering appearance, because of the distance, an illusion caused by the watery vapour in the air. L. 110. sapphire-tinted—blue coloured; 'saphire' is a blue transparent precious stone. L. 113. dome of gold—i.e., the ceiling of the high roimd tower in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. L. 114. Apollo spoke of old—the classical sun-god who was believed to give oracles. L. 115. sun-girt—surrounded wholly by the light of the sun. From a distance, this isle of Venice would appear to be so in the morning.

L. 116. Ocean's child—Venice was built on small isles formed out of the ocean water at the head of the Adriatic. Then his queen—In course of time Venice became prominent to be called the Queen of the ocean. L. 117. a darker day—In 1797, the Venetian republic became a part of the Holy Roman empire. In 1805, she was transferred to France by the Peace of Pressburg but after Napoleon’s fall and the dissolution of his Italian kingdom, she was restored to Austria, and remained Austrian until 1866. L. 118. his prey—Napoleon's. L. 120. hallow so— be pleased to do you so much honour. Watery bier—grave in the sea. L. 122. conquest branded brow—with the forehead (of Venice personified) branded or marked with the stamp of slavery. L. 123. slave of slaves— the Austrian governor as a slave to Napoleon: Venice was slave to that governor. The title 'slave of slaves' was assumed by the Pope signifying that he was the servant of all men in Spiritual matters. The Pope meant to point out his humble religious attitude by the title. But here the phrase is to be taken literally in its worst sense.

L. 127. Isles depopulate—the poet imagines the abandoned condition of the Venetian isles when they will be ruined by the ocean waves. L. 128. ancient state—the state in which it was before the foundation of the city. LL 129-132. Save, where...abandoned sea—the abandoned palacegates will be overgrown with sea-weeds and will look like the rocks of the ocean itself. L. 140. Lead death—the ghosts of the ancient Ventians will dance in a ring—this is the fear of the belated fishermen. L. 143. Aereal gold—the golden rays of the sun at early dawn. L. 146. sepulchres—graves. L. 152. Celtic Anarch—Emperor of Austria, who at tat time ruled Venetia and Lombardy. LI. 167-173. Perish—let....visage wan. "Let Venice perish, but with one memory to cover her fall—tat she afforded shelter to Byron, flying from England, and his enemies tare. This seems rather disproportionate in idea, after the mighty past of Venice; and it is believed tat the Byron episode here did not originally form part of the poem." L. 168. thy hearthless sea—the sea on which the hearths of Venice were founded, would in this case engulf her and leave no trace of her habitation.

L. 172. tattered pall of Time—the cloth of rich stuff covering the coffin. L. 174. A tempest-cleaving Swan—a proud haughty spirit like Byron. Byron had left England (’Albion’) in 1816 to escape the society scandal which he had provoked. ’Swan’ indicates Shelley's great admiration for Byron's poetry, and places him with Shakespeare, 'the swan of Avon'. L. 175. Allion—ancient (Celtic or pre-celtic) name of Great Britain (but not Ireland) L. 177. By the might of evil dreams—By his own passions or misfortunes on the odium following his separation from his wife. L. 180. That its joy grew his—Shelley probably alludes particularly to Childe Harold, Canto IV, the passage beginning with "Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean—roll." L. 195. Scamander— ne of the rivers of the plain of Troy. L. 200. Petrarch's urn—The Italian poet, Francesco Petrarca, who died and was buried at Arquadel Monto, in the Euganean hills.

L. 216. A peopled solitude— solitary city in the Vast expanse of plain wliich surrounds it. L. 225-26. And the sickle....sword—The sickle is still used peacefully in the corn-fields, not turned to sword for the destruction of tlie tyrant. L. 228. foison—abundance; plenty. L. 235. The slave's revenge—The unreasoning excess into which a nation, taking its, revenge on, its oppressors, is tempted, were illustrated vividly by the events of the French revolution. L. 238. Son and mother—Shelley was thinking of the speech of Sin to Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost. L. 244. Vice-Emperor—Sin is given the position under Austrian rule which belonged to Bccelino under the emperors of the house of Hohenstanfen. L. 261. Remotest nations—The students of Padua, in its most flourishing days, were divided into nations or associations of people from the same countries or neighbourhoods. L. 288. vaporous amethyst—the blue transparent precious stone reduced into vapour. L. 289. Air-dissolv'd star—a star dissolved in air.

L. 292. Heaven's profound—the zenith of the sky. L. 306. Olive sandalled—with their feet covered with olive woods. L. 312. Darken'—breathed a sense of melancholy into the poem, which was growing apace. L. 313. Interpenetrated—permeated through. L. 315. Love—the spirit of love, according to Shelley, is the sustaining principle of the universe. Light—the omnipresent spirit of Nature is the Light that illumines the visible universe. Harmony—the spirit of concord and order holding together creation and giving life and energy to it. Odour—the peculiar smell that arises like a mystery out of one's surroundings in the midst of nature. L. 316. Soul of all—a spirit that kindles and vivifies everything in nature. L. 318. Mind—the thought creating Universal Mind that is the source of all inspiration. L. 319. Peopling... Universe—enabling the poet to fill the universe with creatures and creations of his imagination..

L. 323. to her—to evening. That silent isle—Shelley gradually returns to the image from which he began the poem. LI. 325-326. Half the crimson...springs—The evening star is more brilliant than the crescent moon; Venus gets her light from the glory of the setting sun and lends some of its brilliance to the infantine moon. L. 331. The frail...being—The self pity which is so prominent in Alastor and Adonais recurs again in Shelley's poetry of a paradise aloof from earthly care and trouble is developed again in Epipsychidion. L. 335. Other...isles—other sources of happiness than already mentioned. Shelley here strikes a note of optimism; blessed spirits are being shaped, he hopes, in an ideal place of happiness for him.

      L. 344. A windless bower—his idea. L. 346. lawny hills—wooded hill with grassy lawns. L. 353. that—in that ideal region of peace and calm—a place invoked by the Imagination of the poet. Spirits of the air—tlie wicked spirits who move about and are glad to see the miseries of men. L. 356. polluting multitude—the common ignorant people of baser passions who by their association contaminate whatever is good and pure. L. 361. under which—the picture is of one standing on a hill and looking down through the tree-tops on to the sea. L. 363. their whisperings—the whisperings of the wind and leaves. L. 364. The—The inspired soul supplies each interval with its own melodies. L. 367. Circling—embracing. L. 370. They....not it—i.e., the "polluting multitude," not the "healing paradise". L. 371. spirit— spirit; intelligence.

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