Mont Blanc has a voice full of power that Percy Shelley brings to light in one of his many poems about the egotistical sublime. Join me in analyzing what we gain by reading the poem, Mont Blanc by Percy Shelley.
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Like most writers of the romantic period Percy Shelley’s Mont Blanc is all about himself. Inspired by writers of the same period and a societal rejection of the industrial age the entire poem comes across rather egotistical and uneventful. It is merely the admired account of the tallest mountain in the Swiss Alps. In fact the only purpose it serves is as an inspiration to Shelley. Yet he makes the argument through language and symbolism that this idolization of man in nature gives beauty a reason to exist. Without the advanced mind to comprehend, appreciate and be inspired by, what is the purpose of beauty in nature? Beauty, like art and writing, is meant to be admired and if not talked about then silently appreciated in the mind.
It is important to note first how Shelley achieves this sense of vast glory the mountain has through language. “From the ice gulphs that gird his [the river Arve’s] secret throne/bursting through these dark mountains like the flame/of lightning through the tempest” (Shelley 17-19). There is an overabundance of elemental stimulation here that leaves the reader and the narrator astounded, in awe of the mighty power this mountain has. Not only is ice engulfing a part of the river, there is a power, presumably glaciers, that are large enough to burst through the mountain sides. They are then compared to the “flame of lightning through the tempest”, which is a line that holds the most imagery for this quote, including a contradiction of not only flame against a rain storm but a flame which acts like a lightning bolt as well.
How often are so many elemental forces presented by one object of study? Mont Blanc, Shelley writes, is displaying its power and beauty by being akin to fire, lightning, water, wind and ice all at the same time. It is this overstimulation that inspires the narrator. Again in lines 85-90 does Shelley describe this whirlwind of elements. He uses the terms; “lightning”, “rain”, “earthquakes” and “fiery floods”. Again telling us how Shelley views the mountain. Mont Blanc is a force nature so powerful it commands control of the earth, the sky and the waters around it all at the same time. Shelley also personifies the mountain throughout the poem, “thou hast a voice, great mountain” (Shelley 80). Personifying such a powerful being gives not only Shelley but also the reader a sense of admired apprehension. Mont Blanc is not to be trifled with, it is to be admired and almost worshipped. This mountain is so awe inspiring Shelley is immediately influenced by it, thus we see the reason for the creation of this poem, Mont Blanc. In this way Shelley is giving the mountain a purpose beyond simply being there. He is pushing human comprehension unto it in the most proficient use of the mountain’s beauty.
To create a work of art that is published, admired, then talked about and makes money is arguably the best use for the poetic muse a poet like Percy Shelley gains from nature. In the poem he argues that without the human mind to contemplate nature’s artistry, it cannot exist. “And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea/if to the human mind’s imaginings/silence and solitude were vacancy” (Shelley 142-4). Shelley is speaking directly to the mountain here, asking what would you be if humans did not give nature’s silent beauty meaning through their imagination. There is no purpose to beauty without anyone to appreciate it. The very idea of an aesthetic is to be appealing to the eye. If humans, and in Shelley’s case poets, did not write poems, sonnets, or fictions inspired from great mountains such as Mont Blanc it would merely exist as another part of the earth. Its aesthetic value would be wasted and lost to eyes that can’t create meaning out of beauty.
To further emphasize the through provoking aspect of Mont Blanc, Shelley writes; “And this, the naked countenance of earth/on which I gaze, even these primeval mountains/teach the averting mind” (Shelley 98-100). Because Shelley can comprehend the grandeur of the mountain he can learn from it lessons of life and death. In which he takes a few lines to describe how everything in the world is connected to, is born and dies within the same earth the mountain sits on.
Shelley’s handling of the sublime in these poems, a writing technique used often in romantic period England where man is influenced heavily by nature, reflects more on the author’s personal views than on anything else. Shelley is a man of nature, he admires it and like many other writers during his time, wishes to talk more of nature than of the increasing industrial age that was taking over. Given the time period it is no wonder Shelley and other poets wrote so much about the sublime, egotistical of not. The industrial age was a time of change for England, many feared that by becoming more urbanized England would lose its sense of admiration for natural beauty, ergo the reason for the value of aesthetics in the romantic period.
Shelley takes the sublime a step further however, he makes himself the narrator as the entirety of the poem is told through his point of view. Shelley paints a vibrant picture of the value he sees in this mighty mountain. This technique is referred to as the egotistical sublime and used by many romantic period writers, many of whom were inspired by William Wordsworth. Looking at the footnotes in the Norton Anthology of English literature we can even see that Shelley may have been influenced by Wordsworth’s ideals when it comes to poetry. Not only is the use of egotistical sublime similar to Wordsworth but in the first footnote regarding Shelley’s poem we see part of a preface written by Shelley which states; “It [the poem] was composed…as an indisciplined overflowing of the soul” (Norton Anthology 770). This sounds
conveniently similar to Wordsworth’s claim in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads that poetry should be a “spontaneous overflow of emotion” written when feelings are “recollected in tranquility”. Shelley would not be the first poet of this period to be inspired so by nature and by Wordsworth’s claims to how poetry should be written. Indeed Wordsworth represented, through his writing and essays on poets, an all encompassing ideal of the romantic poet in 18th century England.
Mont Blanc, revolving around egotistical sublime and the beauty of nature does the same, capturing easily the overall values that England held in the romantic period. It talks of everlasting beauty, nature as a force mightier than humankind and as something to be inspired by. Mont Blanc claims that beauty cannot exist without a human mind to comprehend it because if imagination does not give way to meaning there can be no purpose for vibrant trees and mighty mountains. Shelley, like most writers, is influenced by the intellectual works of those around him, namely William Wordsworth. Both of these writers at once teach readers through poetry how mother nature can inspire through grandeur displays of her beauty and power.
Shelley, Percy. “Mont Blanc”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.
Lamia, in addition to being the main character of John Keats’s poem, is also a creature of Greek myth. Her name means “large shark” in ancient Greek (Atsma). Originally a queen of Libya, she became one of Zeus’s lovers as she was very beautiful. Hera found out and murdered her children in a jealous rage (Atsma). In order to help her get revenge, Zeus turned Lamia into a sea monster with an appetite for human children (Atsma). In this original myth, Lamia is a victim to the goddess’s wrath and Zeus’s weird perception of getting revenge rather than a true perpetrator of evil. Read more about the Lamia of myth here!
When we first meet Lamia in Keats’s poem, she is a beautiful snake with a woman’s mouth rather than a sea monster. She is “dazzling”, “rainbow-sided”, and has fair eyes (Keats 937). These are pretty words, however, she is also described as “some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self” (Keats 937). Changing Lamia from a sea monster to a beautiful snake could be a reference to the treacherous serpent in the bible. She also has a “woman’s mouth, with all its pearls complete” (Keats 937). According to the Bible, Eve convinces Adam to eat the apple, so the woman’s mouth with perfect teeth would be a vision of temptation but dishonesty. The snake combined with a woman’s mouth is a deadly combination, treacherous but beautiful. The snake-woman is the forbidden fruit herself.
Although she claims to love Lycius, the man she covets and asked Hermes to turn her human for, she does not seem to show much care for his well-being. After explaining to him that she cannot live among humans, he faints.
The cruel lady, without any show/ of sorrow for her tender favorite’s woe/ but rather, if her eyes could brighter be/ With brighter eyes and slow amenity/Put her new lips to his, and gave afresh/The life she had so tangled in her mesh:/And as he from one trance was wakening/ Into another, she began to sing,/ Happy in beauty, life, and love, and every thing,/A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres,/While, like held breath, the stars drew in their panting fires/And then she whisper’d in such trembling tone,/As those who, safe together met alone/ For the first time through many anguish’d days,/ Use other speech than looks; bidding him raise/ His drooping head, and clear his soul of doubt,/ For that she was a woman, and without/ Any more subtle fluid in her veins/Than throbbing blood, and that the self-same pains/ Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his (Keats 942)
First of all, she is described as a “cruel lady”, another negative word. To be cruel is to mean to cause one harm, uncaring of the pain of others. These lines say explicitly she does not show any sign that she is concerned for her lover. On the contrary, her eyes could not possibly be any brighter once he faints. “Bright eyes” can be used as a euphemism for eagerness. As opposed to being concerned for his safety and well-being, she is excited to have him in such a vulnerable and easily corruptible state. His life is “so tangled in her mesh”, leaving him unable to escape her influence. Next, she sings so beautifully that she convinces him utterly that she is a normal woman and not a snake in disguise. This likens her to the Greek siren, whose lovely singing lures men to their death. The siren is also a water creature, which connects to the original Greek myth that she was transformed into some type of sea monster. Under the influence of her siren song, she also convinces him that “the self-same pains/Inhabited her frail-strung heart as his” (Keats, 941), implying that her heart is different from his and that she does not truly feel the same human love for him that he does for her. Lamia, although she protests that she was once human in the past, has proven here that she is a nefarious character.
Finally, Apollonius, Lycius’s old mentor, shows up unannounced to his and Lamia’s wedding. Apollonius is named after the Greek god Apollo, who is the god of music, poetry, archery, and light. However, he is also described as “the god who punishes and destroys the wicked and the overbearing” (Atsma). Lamia has already been described as cruel and demon-like, so it should not be surprising that a character with Apollo’s name, with his piercing, spear-like stare would be the one to ultimately destroy Lamia. Apollo is also the god of prophecies (Atsma). Right before Lamia and Lycius’s wedding, Apollonius is confirmed to be able to see the future as well. “His patient thought, had now begun to thaw/ and solve and melt:–‘twas just as he foresaw” (Keats 947). Since Apollonius is able to see the future, or at least guess correctly at what would happen next, we can draw further parallels between him and the god Apollo.
While in the original Greek myth Lamia may have been a victim of Hera’s wrath, in Keats’s poem Lamia is quite obviously depicted as a treacherous snake who keeps Lycius from his true calling—philosophy and rationality. Her siren spell traps him, and so when Apollonius the mentor reveals the truth, he dies along with her of a broken heart. According to Keats, Lamia was cruel for keeping Lycius underneath her spell and neglecting his studies. This poem is a warning to men. Beware of tempting women who will make you stray from the path of knowledge and truth, lest they turn out to betray you and take your life away. In short, beware of all-encompassing love.
Atsma, Aaron J. “APOLLO- Greek God of Music, Prophecy, & Healing.” Theoi Greek Mythology. 2001. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. <http://www.theoi.com/olympios/apollon.html>
Atsma, Aaron J. “LAMIA.” LAMIA – Demon & Sea-Monster of Greek Mythology. Theoi Greek Mythology, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2017. <http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Lamia.html>.
Keats, John. “Lamia.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012. 935-50. Print.
Waterhouse, John W. Lamia, Second Version. Digital Image. Wikipedia. Web. 30 Mar 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamia#/media/File:Lamia_Waterhouse.jpg>
Reflecting upon a day well spent,
Observing daffodils, and grand mountains, as I went,
I felt a strong sense of emotion, as I saw nature, in all of its glory,
Embodying Wordsworth’s rules, as depicted in this bedtime story.
The Romantic Period, as you soon will learn,
Saw numerous literary forms, concepts, and writers, including lots of poetry.
Lasting from 1789, with the French Revolution, until 1837, when Queen Victoria claimed the throne, one may discern,
The Romantic Period was a significant era in history.