The World's Great Age Begins Anew: Summary & Analysis

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The world's great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
From waves serener far;
A new Peneus rolls his fountains
Against the morning star.
Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.

A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
Fraught with a later prize;
Another Arpheus sings again,
And loves, and weeps, and dies.
A new Ulysses leaves once more
Calypso for his native shore.

Oh, write no more the tale of Troy,
If earth Death's scroll must be!
Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
Which dawns upon the free:
Although a subtler Sphinx renew
Riddles of death Thebes never knew.

Another Athens shall arise,
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendour of its prime;
And leave, if nought so bright may live,
All earth can take or Heaven can give.

Saturn and Love their long repose
Shall burst, more bright and good
Than all who fell, than one who rose,
Than many unsubdued:
Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
But votive tears and symbol flowers.

Oh, cease must hate and death return? Cease! must men kill and die?
Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
Of bitter prophecy.
The world is weary of the past
Oh, might it die or rest at last!

Summary & Analysis


      The great chorus from Shelley's drama Hellas which was composed at Pisa in 1821, in which Shelley makes an attempt to fit in a contemporary revolution with his millennial dreams of perfection. The actual happenings in Greece are to Shelley things of little importance in the drama; they are merely materials caught up in the fiery furnace of the poet's imagination, set to the tune of the eternal music and undergo a sort of apocalyptic transformation. Greece merely supplies the jumping board for the ideal vision of the poet and loses itself in the process.


      The poet sees in vision a great age for the world, which is to be another golden age. The earth is discarding her outworn past, like a snake changing its skin. Ancient faiths and empires are about to vanish so as to make room for the new. A brighter Greece will emerge in this new age in which all the past glories of that country will be reenacted on a loftier scale. The rivers will flow with fresh waters; the valleys will put on new beauty and even the islands of Greece will sleep on a calmer and brighter sea. The Argonauts of the new age will bring home a newer prize; the new Orpheus will sing mote enchanting songs, and the modern Ulysses will perform greater feats than the Homeric hero. The tale of Troy is a record of deaths and the past history of Greece is marred by the cruel anger of men like King Laius. In the new age, no such terror will be perpetrated even though a more cunning Sphinx should put baffling questions to every passersby. A more glorious Athens will appear and leave behind a rich heritage of wisdom and philosophy. The world will be ruled by Saturn and the god of love, so that war and hate will be no more. The achievements of martyrs and other heroic spirits will be repeated. The god's will be worshipped not by gold and blood but by the tender feelings of the heart. The poet, however, has his doubts and he feels that the world may not profit from the past. It is quite likely that men will hate and kill as in ancient times. In that case, the world had better cease to exist.

Critical Appreciation & Analysis

      Shelley is pre-eminently a lyric poet and the lines quoted here bring out the qualities of his lyric poetry. "The imagery is distinct and majestic; the prophecy such as poets love to dwell upon, the Regeneration of Mankind—that regeneration reflecting splendor on the forgone times, from which it inliers so much of intellectual wealth, and memory of past virtuous deeds, as much render the possession of happiness and peace of tenfold value." According to one annotator, however, "Prophecies of wrars, and rumors of wars, etc., may safely be made by a poet or prophet in any age, but to anticipate, however darkly, a period of regeneration and happiness is a more hazardous exercise of the faculty which bards possess or feign." But this is exactly what Shelley does in many of his poems. Not infrequently, he takes up the role of a prophet and proclaims in trumpet tongue the regeneration of the world:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

      The prophetic passion is one of the chief features of Shelley's poetry. The lines here are full of melody and burn with the fervor of enthusiasm. They have a sweep, a soar and unearthly vitality. At the same time the characteristic melancholy of Shelley is given a poignant expression in the despondent lines of the last Stanza. The strain of rapturous exultation is suddenly broken in upon by the returning tide of pessimism. This sudden change of tone is in keeping with the volatile temperament of Shelley as a poet. This Ode is a general prophecy of 'the regeneration of mankind', as Mrs. Shelley says in her note on the poem. But from Semichorus n, in Hellas, we infer that it has a special reference to the re-birth of freedom, after its extinction in Greece, in the 'kingless continents', that is, the republics of America. There she will shine brighter than she ever did in ancient Greece. If one epoch with its ideal dies, another rises, still brighter, from its ashes. As Shelley puts it, "The earth doth like a snake renew/Her winter weeds outworn". Faiths and empires vanish like the dissolving patterns traced by the setting sun on the clouds that curtain it, but more glorious patterns take their place, unlike those on the evening clouds:

Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.

Line By Line Explanation With Critical Comments

      Ll. 13-18. A loftier Argocleaves.....for his native shore. The poet sings with rapturous joy of the birth of a new world. In Greece all the ancient glories are reviving but in a loftier way. The ship Argo set out for Colchis from where Jason brought the golden fleece. But in the Greece of today a more wonderful prize will be brought home by a greater Argo. In the same way, Greece will now witness a better singer than Orpheus. This ancient musician went down into Hades to fetch his wife. But when he lost her for the second time, his grief brought about his own death. But the modern Orpheus will be an even greater musician. Again, Ulysses spent several years in the island of Calypso. But the love for his home at last persuaded him to go back to Ithaca. A nobler hero than Ulysses is sure to be born in modern Greece.

      LI. 31-36. Saturn and Love....and symbol flowers. The poet sees in a vision the dawn of a new age. In this age Greece will have a revival of her past in a more glorious form. The world too will enjoy peace and happiness. Saturn, the god of plenty, peace and civilization, will again rule on earth. So the world will enjoy another golden age. The god of love also will break his slumber and help man. As a result, hate and warfare will disappear, and men will love one another. Those who suffered martyrdom and fell for others in the past, will again appear on earth. Christ, who rose from the grave, will pay another visit. All dauntless and defiant spirits will be seen again. But they will all be grander and nobler: their deeds will be on a loftier scale. Lastly, Saturn and Love will not accept gold or the blood of animal sacrifice. They must be worshipped with pity and other tender feelings of the heart.

      LI. 37-42. Oh, cease! must at last! This is the last stanza of Shelley's Chorus from Hellas. The poet has prophesied a great age for the world. Greece will revive with all her past glories multiplied a hundred-fold. But doubt and despair fill the mind of the poet in the end. He is not sure that the world will enjoy another golden age. Rather he feels that men will hate and kill one another as in the past. Too many horrible things will happen and these are too bitter to relate. So he does not want to hear the last word of the gloomy prophecy. Let the vessel not be drained to its last drop, let not the last word be spoken. We heard enough, and there is little hope for the future. If the world is going to commit all its past blimders over again, it had better cease to exist. If death and hate again dominate human life, the earth had better been destroyed.


      L. 2. golden years', the golden age, when Truth, Virtue and Innocence reigned supreme. L. 4. weeds: clothes. L. 5. faiths and empires: religious faiths and political empires, both equally subject to adverse reflection from Shelley L. 7. Hellas: Greece. L. 8. serener: implied comparison with the present. L. 9. Peneus: the principal river in Thessaly, Greece. L. 11. Tempes: a valley in eastern Thessaly, Greece, deeply cleft between Olympus on the north and Ossa on the south. It has been celebrated from ancient times for its beauty. L. 12. Cyclads: a name given to certain islands of the the Eugean Sea. Sunnier deep: sea lighted, by the sun. L. 13. Argo: in Greek legend, the ship that conveyed the Argonauts to Colchis to carry off the Golden Fleece. The expedition took place not long after the Trojan Wan L. 15. Arpheus: in Greek legend, a son of Apollo or the Thracian river god, and the husband of Eurydice, whom he won back from the King of Hades (Hell) with his sweet lyre, which had the power of charming animate and inanimate things. L. 17. Ulysses: (Greek, Odysseus); in Greek legend a king of Ithaca, one of the chief heroes of the Trojan War. L. 18. Calypso: a nymph living in the island of Ogygia who fascinated Ulysses, and detained him for seven years. She promised him perpetual youth and immortality if he would remain with her. L. 19. the tale of Troy: Homer's Iliad deals with the war of Troy between the Greeks and the Trojans. L. 20. Death's scroll: if bloodshed and murder cause widespread violence on earth. 21. Laians rage: the rage of Laius, father of Oedipus. He was told by an oracle that he was destined to perish at the hands of his own son. Accordingly, at the birth of his son, they pierced his feet, bound them together, and exposed the child on Mount Cithaeron. L. 23. Sphinx: a winged monster of Thebes. L. 24. Theban: belonging or pertaining to Thebes, a province of Greece. L. 25. Athens: capital of Greece; the seat of ancient learning, philosophy and culture. L. 29. if nought so bright may live: allusion to the evanescence of beauty; And leave: to remoter times a legacy of the best the world can have, or heaven grant. L. 35. their altar dowers: Sacrifices in gold or of animals will no longer be offered at their altars: instead, only prayer and flowers, as a symbol of the dedication of the spirit to the worship of God.

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