What Purpose Do the Letters Serve in Frankenstein?

Shelley begins her novel with letters from a man named Robert Walton.  The purpose of the letters was, at first, unknown to me, as I have not previously read Frankenstein.  There was no apparent connection between the travels of Walton and Victor Frankenstein’s experiment.  I assumed that all would reveal itself as I read.  At the end of Volume 1, I realized that the stranger that climbed aboard in Walton’s letters is none other than Victor Frankenstein himself.  Walton tells of the stranger’s mysteriousness and that he presented himself like “a calm, settled grief” (62).  In the last letter, the stranger finally tells Walton, “You will hear of powers and occurrences, such as you have been accustomed to believe impossible” (62).  I can only speculate that the stranger is an older, subdued Frankenstein and Frankenstein is referring to his doomed experiment.  Therefore, the introductory letters addressed from Walton serve as a framework for Frankenstein’s story.

In Chapter V, we are introduced to a new set of letters; this time, correspondence is between Elizabeth and Frankenstein, and Frankenstein and his father.  Letters are also mentioned throughout the fourth chapter.  These letters serve as a social connection during a time when Frankenstein isolates himself due to his experimentation with immortality.  I understood these letters to be representative of the dream-like state Frankenstein seems to always be in versus the reality Elizabeth and Alphonse exist in.

Frankenstein has created his own world with the creation of his monster.  He lives and breathes his experiments, and he neglects his physical state only focusing on his monster.  After fleeing the awakening of his monster, Frankenstein returns to his empty apartment and enters into a wild, delirious state.  “I was unable to remain for a single instant in the same place.. Wildness in my eyes for which [Clerval] could not account” (87).  Frankenstein then becomes sick and continues in his “imaginary” world until the letter from his father, telling of his younger brother’s murder, arrives.  Frankenstein then snaps out of his madness and isolation, and he returns to his family.

These letters from his family serve as a connection with the real world For Frankenstein, away from the delirium that Frankenstein has been consumed by.  I can imagine that as the novel goes on, Frankenstein will continue to find himself in between this deranged, imaginary world, and the realistic world that his family lives in.

What is Frankenstein afraid of?

Is Frankenstein afraid of his monster? Or, is he afraid of the result of his curiosity that leads his life into the destruction?

Is Frankenstein afraid of the monster? Yes. Frankenstein’s description of his monster is scary. Eight feet tall, gigantic creature with black lips, yellow dull eye, breathing hard, and a convulsive motion of its limbs gradually builds up a feeling of horror (83). Frankenstein, in his narrative, uses nature as a Gothic device to design a perfect Gothic background for an appearance of the monster—rainy weather and darkening surrounding: “the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out…half extinguished light” (83). This is a scene when he first encounters his creature, “the miserable monster” or “the demoniacal corps” (84). Besides, the second scene when Frankenstein sees his gigantic monster and questions whether it is the murderer of William, the sky is clouded and dark. Large drops of rain begin to fall. Thunder and lightning bombards the place where Frankenstein is at. In a sense of Gothic environment, the existence of a monster is enough to scare someone into death, even its creator. The monster’s “jaws opened…I escaped, and rushed down stairs” (84). Because Frankenstein is afraid, he runs away from his creature.

Then, what about this question: Is he afraid of the result of his curiosity that leads his life into the destruction? Yes. The result of his curiosity causes him to suffer from illness. His destruction begins. Because he is deeply engrossed in his occupation—creating his monster—every night he is “oppressed by a slow fever, and becomes nervous to a most painful degree…a disease that he regretted…”(83). Also, creating this monster for two years puts him in a place of disconnection with his family until his best friend arrives with a letter from his family. Continuously, his little brother is murdered by someone in whom he believes is the monster that he created due to his curiosity. And, unfortunately, innocent Justine Moritz, a guiltless amiable girl who dearly takes care of Frankenstein’s mother during a tedious illness, is pointed as a murderer of William due to her false confession. Frankenstein admits that his curiosity led his life into the destruction by saying, “I almost began to think that I was the monster…” (107). He is agonizing. He is having a sense of fear that the monster would be the source of the destruction in his life again: “…my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (100).

So, is Frankenstein afraid of the monster itself, or the results of his curiosity?

 

How is knowledge like cheesecake?

Cheesecake is rich, creamy, awesome and delicious. But if you eat too much of it, you’re probably going to get a nasty head and stomach ache combination that ain’t nobody got time for.

Victor grew up loving to learn (or eat cheesecake). He read books by the minute, his favorite pastime, with his cousin. Eventually, he was sent to a University to study, where he pursued knowledge more and more. He excelled in sciences, and wanted to know about the secret of life. At this point, we see that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Upon cracking the code to the secret of life, he refers to knowledge as a light: “from the midst of darkness a sudden light broke in upon me– a light so brilliant and wondrous…”

We watch as Victor sinks into madness, himself becoming a monster, described with bulging eyes, locked away in a dark chamber of his scientific secrets, constructing his own human. When the monster flutters his eyes and comes to life, however, Victor is horrified at what he’s done. He somehow realizes that he’s overstepped an invisible line (his stomach has surpassed full capacity of cheesecake and has exploded) and runs away, at one point calling the monster “a thing such as even Dante could not have conceived.”

So where is this boundary of knowledge? We see a strong case for the good in knowledge– the building of ancient civilizations, the growth of technology, the very page on which I am writing this exceedingly pivotal blog post. Did Victor play god? And what does that say for today’s issues of stem cell research and cloning? I realize that I’m spinning this into a spectator sport on current-events, but where did Victor go wrong? Knowledge is supposed to be power, as they say, but I feel as though the weight of Victor’s situation suggests that ignorance is bliss, especially when (in the beginning of the story), he tells Walton “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge.” Perhaps the “light” that I referred to earlier is what is true darkness for Victor, and possibly humanity as a whole. Though they have brought great enlightenment and possibilities, all of the new technologies of the day (cellphones, computers, etc), it’s easy to lose sight of what is important, what true necessity is, and what humanity is all about.

Getting A Grip On Science; Has Science Gone Too Far?

In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley delves into some of the darkest places of the human imagination. Early on we get to witness the creation of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion shook its limbs (Volume 1 Chapter IV 2nd paragraph).” I think that his creation is not the original monster. Could Shelley be pointing at natural philosophy, or as we call it today science, as the real monster? After all it is by his studying of science that ultimately leads to the monster’s creation.

Before their trip of pleasure to the baths near Thonon, Victor led a rather normal childhood. He had loving parents and good friends. He was living the dream, yet by chance he gets his hands on a tome by one Cornelius Agrippa. Well pardon the pun but this book really gets a grip on Victor’s imagination. Such knowledge and ideas presented in such books, as the philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life, are taken into his imagination. This leads to an obsession with outdated scientists and their practices. In the novel when Victor shows his father what he has found, his father simply quickly dismisses it without discouraging Victor to pursue modern ideas. By allowing these ideas to fester in his head he makes the goals of Agrippa his own and this drives him to create the monster.

Once he is at college he does seem to break away from his old masters through a character named M. Waldman. Waldman appreciates the Agrippas of the world but helps Victor accept modern natural philosophy. Through Waldman’s guidance Victor gains a wide grasp on the scientific community of his school, yet one night his mind wanders back to the natural philosophers and “from the midst of this darkness a sudden light broke in upon me — a light so brilliant and wondrous (page 79)”. Like lightning to his monster this light awoke in him a different kind of monster. He gained knowledge that no man should know. Following this incident we see Victor fall into a state of decay. He becomes paranoid and his friend Henry has to keep a constant watch over him. He does not write to his family who once brought him great joy. Waldman and anything that reminds him of his sin, including all of the scientific tools that once held his imagination, cause him great discomfort. His life has been transformed for the worse due to natural philosophy.

Science is a great tool and I do not think that Shelley was trying to say all science is bad. Victor does not know the proper boundaries that Shelley may believe should be placed on science. Today similar issues are still around such as the altering of genes. When do scientists stop playing the role of the scientist and begin playing with powers reserved for God? This may be what Shelley is trying to express in a world so obsessed with moving forward and conquering everything in its path.

What is the correlation between Prometheus and Victor Frankenstein?

Mary Shelley had subtitled her book, Frankenstein, as The Modern Prometheus. To understand this allusion we need to step back and look Prometheus’s story.

In classical mythology, Prometheus is attributed as the creator of mankind. He formed the first men out of clay from the earth, which Athena then breathed life into. As the father of mankind, Prometheus cared for them and taught them the arts necessary to survive, like plowing and harvesting a field, hunting, and building homes. The story continues to Prometheus’s theft of fire, for which Zeus punished him. He steals fire from the gods to give to man to encourage and enable them to prosper, learn, and discover new things.

The subtitle functions as an appositive to the primary title; Shelley likens Frankenstein to the classical father of mankind. The most obvious correlation is that both figures forms a living being out of lifeless material. Frankenstein’s ambitions are aimed towards “a new species [that] would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me. No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve of theirs” (80-82).

In the Romantic era, Prometheus came to be regarded as a symbol for civilization and intelligence, as well as scientific knowledge. Victor himself, in his early studies, felt as though “the world was to me was a secret, which I desired to discover” (66). His longing to learn the secrets of the world led him to look beyond what was natural for man to achieve. He longed to go deeper into scientific knowledge and expand the possibilities of human civilization. But like with Prometheus, going beyond the natural limits of man results in consequences. Prometheus was punished for loving his creation too well by giving him the necessities for progress. Frankenstein, on the other hand, is disgusted by his work, and his work will eventually turn on him.

By likening Frankenstein to a “Modern Prometheus”, is Shelley doing more than just drawing a comparison, or is she commenting on the nature of man’s pursuits of knowledge? Is the “Modern” state of man’s creation beneficial or detrimental to a healthy civilization?

How does the theme of isolation work within Frankenstein?

As like many of the other authors/poets we have reviewed thus far, the theme of isolation and solitude remains an important factor in the analysis of the novel.  Robert Walton begins this theory: “I have no friend, Margaret: when I am glowing with the enthusiasm of success, there will be none to participate my joy; if I am assailed by disappointment, no one will endeavor to sustain me in dejection.”  This want for a social connection leads the reader in a direction toward the goodness of society.

The initial problem comes from Frankenstein’s intentional, chosen isolation, though he is surrounded by a happy family, a good friend, and a lover.  Frankenstein loses connection from society and family, becoming obsessed with his research, in turn losing sight of the consequences of his reactions along with his responsibility to society.

Where does his responsibility with society actually lie? The reason for the monster’s creation supposedly stems from Frankenstein’s claim to better mankind.  Is it not conflicting that he proposes to help mankind, which he has lost his moral and social connection with? Ironically, this is pointed out in the third chapter: “‘The labors of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind'” (43).  With this in mind, Frankenstein’s efforts lose their weight, making his efforts self-fulfilling instead.

The monster emphasizes that this problem of isolation is universal, coming from ostracism and not just a choice.  His isolation, obviously involuntary, comes from his grotesque features and inhuman appearance, turning him vengeful.  This loss of connection with humanity lies, in contrast, on the other side of the spectrum, with constructed society itself and the rules and conforming mentality that it has set up.  Such descriptions as “more hideous than belongs to humanity” implies this sense of total disconnection (60).

Now contrasting Frankenstein against Henry Clerval, the archetypal character, gives the reader insight into the goodness of social interaction.  He nurses the sick Frankenstein back to health.  This sickness comes from after his success in bringing the monster to life, though its origins are not specified.  It could very well be deduced that this sickness could spur from his clear disengagement with society and its moral and social values.  Therefore, Henry’s presence helps nurse Frankenstein back to moral and social health.  His goal to be famous for being a “gallant and adventurous benefactor of our species” emphasizes this different approach from Frankenstein’s, making him the moral and social compass to abide by (33).  Henry keeps Frankenstein from becoming a monster himself.  If the “monster” inside the creature is created from isolation, is Henry the social factor that breaks this path of evil?

So as for this matter of isolation, is it a choice? Is it an inherent fault? Is it imposed upon those who are innocent victims?  What does Shelley think about the importance of society?  What do the failings of society say about it’s importance?

Is Ignorance Bliss?

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein during a time of great scientific innovation.  During this time, knowledge was power.  Knowledge allowed you to climb up the social latter and make a name for yourself.  Today’s society is practically the same in that the more knowledge you can acquire, the higher status you gain.

This novel is not only a creepy, monster story, but it is also a commentary on societal issues such as family, knowledge, science, companionship, etc. Does Shelley feel that ignorance is bliss? She portrays knowledge and science in a dark light by causing Frankenstein to become a recluse when first entranced by the world of science.   He forgets to eat, drink, and communicate with his family during his studies.  He becomes totally enveloped in his experiment.  So, would Shelley argue that Frankenstein’s life would have been happier if he had never read Cornelius Agrippa?

Frankenstein seems to think so when reflecting back on his life.  He warns Robert Walton by telling him “how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge” (Shelley 80).  He goes on to add that man would be much happier if he believed his native town was the world.

I don’t believe that Shelley is advocating for the total annihilation of knowledge or complete ignorance, but I think she is telling a cautionary tale.  Frankenstein lived a happy childhood with his family.  He had friends, but when he became fascinated with knowledge, he neglected his family and friends.  He became completely entranced and ultimately built a creature that killed his brother.

Shelley is not saying that all science is evil, but she is warning future scientists who yearn to play God.  We have this in our culture now.  With the advancement of science and technology, prolonged life and cloning is in the foreseeable future.  I don’t think Shelley could have ever imagined scientific advancements like the ones we have today, but her novel is a warning for us not to meddle in God’s realm.

Who is the real monster?

While Victor Frankenstein’s creation typifies the nightmarish image of a monster, Frankenstein’s behavior and demeanor becomes monster-like at times. The reader is inclined to feel sympathy for Frankenstein, whose life turns upside down when he suspects his creation has murdered his brother, William. Frankenstein’s guilt consumes him; when he compares his creation “nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave, and forced to destroy all that was dear to me” (100). He becomes aware of some similarities between himself and the monster. Is Shelley suggesting that the real monster is Frankenstein? Is this where modern culture has received the notion of the cartoonish “Frankenstein” being the big, scary monster?
In telling his story, Frankenstein describes his reaction to hearing of Justine’s trial outcome in a ghoulish, eerie manner: “ I gnashed my teeth, and ground them together, uttering a groan that came from my inmost soul” (108-09). This description evokes images of monster that is more animal-like than human. Is Frankenstein’s monster’s power suppressing Frankenstein’s free-will and squashing his humanity?
Yet, while Frankenstein begins to show signs of monster-like behavior, he is subject to an equally macabre force. He admits, “the fangs of remorse tore my bosom, and would not forego their hold” (106). Through Frankenstein’s sorrow, does Shelley imply that uncontrollable emotions can be a type of monster? Frankenstein’s remorse sucks the life out of him, comparable to the way in which Frankenstein’s monster takes away William’s life and Frankenstein indirectly denies Justine life because of his cowardice to tell the truth. When Shelley blurs the definition of a monster, she opens up the possibility of anyone or anything having monster capabilities and the power to cause destruction.
In a typical Romantic fashion, Shelley reveals that humans and nature have a complex relationship. Considering the monster in light of creation and thus nature against Frankenstein representing humanity, the reader can see how abusing nature can be harmful to humans. Frankenstein makes perverse the natural method of creation. He plays creator in bringing life via chemical formulas, and in return, his creation comes back to haunt him.
Seclusion, another Romantic and Gothic notion, surfaces in Volume I. Slaving away in his laboratory, Frankenstein severs ties with his support group, with community, from all things human. Because Frankenstein’s isolation is self-inflicted, I have to question the reasoning behind my previous belief that some people are isolated because they are “monsters.” Instead, do some people become “monsters” when they isolate themselves for too long? Is community necessary for sanity?

Shelly to Wordsworth: “We observe nature too.”

Last class we discussed the criticism of the Cockney school as compared to the Lakes poets like Wordsworth. The Cockney school’s poetry was called artificial and studied opposed to the natural aspect of the Lakes poets who immersed themselves in nature to be inspired. “Mont Blanc” can be seen as a response to that charge of artificial accounts of nature. In “Mont Blanc,” Shelly seems to attempt to bridge the study of nature that the Cockney School expressed, and the complete exposed to nature that the Lakes poets were known for.

If we base out knowledge of the Cockney school on what we have read on Keats so far, then how does Shelly compare? Many of Keats’ poems featured references to classical ideas or other concepts acquired through education. “Mont Blanc” unfortunately did not feature those hints of knowledge. One notable feature found in Shelly’s poem that can be found in Keats poem is the idea that being immersed in nature sends the observer, in the case of “Mont Blanc” the speaker, into a dreamlike state. “I look on high; Has some unknown omnipotence unfurled the veil of life and death? or do I lie in dream, and does the mightier world of sleep spread far around and inaccessibly its circle?” In these lines Shelly and the lines around them, Shelly wonders if whether or not what he is see in his real. Keats did the same thing in his poem “Ode to a Nightingale” in the last two lines “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled  is the music – Do I wake or sleep?” Is this the only connection between the Cockney school and Shelly’s poem?

Shelly also tries to connect to the older poets of the Lakes district. “Mont Blanc” was also said to be a response to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” Similar to Wordsworth, Shelly uses Nature as an entity that could teach or influence man. Take the opening lines “The everlasting universe of things flows through the mind, rolls its rapid waters… where from secret springs the source of human thought its tribute brings of water…” If we take the everlasting universe of things as Nature, then Shelly is saying that human thought and human understanding comes from Nature and is most stimulated by nature. Is this a stretch? Does the ending of the poem negate the claims of the beginning? Is Shelly trying to connect the two circles?

Is Shelly envying the power of the Arve river?

Percy Bysshe Shelley composes his poem “Mont Blanc” when standing on a bridge gazing on the Arve river flowing rapidly and strongly in the Chamonix Valley. Since he is on a bridge observing the nature of the river, he is making connection with his “wild thoughts” with the bursting flow of the Arve. Is Shelley’s speaker comparing his “wild thoughts” with the mighty rushing river? Is he envying that the river is “bursting through these dark mountains like the flame,” but his wandering wings of “one legion of wild thoughts” are just floating above the river’s darkness and not flowing with it (18, 41)? Is he wishing that his thoughts would flow like that mighty rushing river?

Shelly’s speaker confesses that “My own, my human mind, which passively / Now renders and receives fast influencing, / Holding an unremitting interchange / With the clear universe of things around;” (37-40). Since his mind receives fast influencing with the clear universe of thing around, is he desiring to get influenced by the power of the river in Mont Blanc, so that his can flow with it? In stanza 5, it says that the power is in Mont Blanc. Assuming that his thoughts are feeble than the power of the river, the wings on his thoughts are wandering above the river instead of flowing strongly with the river according to lines 41 and 42, “one legion of wild thought, whose wandering wings / now float above thy darkness,…”

In stanza 5, Shelley’s speaker says that the secret strength of things govern the thought (139-140). Therefore, he is now admitting the secret strength in the Arve River instead of envying its bursting flow. I think he is wishing that his mind would be governed by the river’s secret strength so that his wild thoughts would flow away with the strong flow of the Arve River.

Why is Keats Immortal?

 

Shelley’s pastoral elegy Adonais celebrates the recently deceased Keats. While the poem makes it clear that Keats has attained immortality, I still wonder how one becomes immortal.

It wasn’t Keat’s technical skill in writing poetry that made him eternal. Urania, the mother figure in this poem, asks of her son, “Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men / Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty hearty / Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?” Keats seemingly had ample room to grow as a poet. Nevertheless, Keats’ transcendence means his poetry is now beyond worldly reproach. Shelley urges Keats to “Live thou, who infamy is not thy fame! Live! Fear no heavier chastitement from me.” Criticism of Keats form seems to be the antagonist to life, not the provider.

If it’s not one’s technical skill that makes one a great poet, should it not be the essence if one’s writing? Yet a case can be made from Adonais that the content of one’s work is secondary to that which immortalizes. Shelley imagines that “All he [Keats] had loved, and moulded into thought, / from shape, and hue, and odour, and sweet sound, / Lamented Adonais.” Even so, the grief of Keats’ subject matter hardly constitutes immortalization for “grief itself be mortal”. Stanza 39 reads:

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep –

He hath awakened from the dream of life –

‘Tis we who lost in stormy visions keep

With phantom an unprofitable strife,

And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife

Invulnerable nothings. We decay

Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief

Convulse us and consume us day by day,

And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living

clay.

 

Keats reached immortality in spite of grief, not because of it.  This passage doesn’t disprove the notion that Keats’ poetic themes caused immortality, but it does throw them into doubt. At the very least, we can no longer point to the content of his poetry to emphatically state, ‘This is the source of his immortality.’

So wherein can we find the cause of Keats’ immortality? It could still be in the content of his poems, but it could just as easily be in the fact that he is dead, a fact Shelley believes symbolic in its own right. Adonais leaves the question unanswered; the reader must take it for granted that Keats has been effectively immortalized.

Is there a change in how we view the solitary genuis?

Daisy Hay, in her Preface in Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation compares and contrasts Shelly, Keats, and Byron to Wordsworth. She also addresses this shift that starts to occur which later Romantic writers. She mentions the historical context of the French Revolution and the fall of Napoleon. She also addresses how poetry was taking on a new meaning in terms of moving away from nature and going out into isolation in order to create great poetry. She explores the idea of how the idea of the solitary genius is starting to change with poets like Shelly and Keats. Hay uses the idea addressed by Jeffrey Cox on how we, the reader, should view the Romantic poet, ‘we no longer necessarily view the romantic poet as the solitary singer declaiming alone on the mountain-top or sitting in isolation, pondering a bird’s song’ (xvii). This gives raise to the question, how does this change how we view the solitary genius and why does historical events force such a powerful change in writing to occur among poets like Shelly and Keats?

The major historical events that were occurring at the time of Keats and Shelly reflected a time of reform and a fear of revolution. Literary Journals, occurring to Day, were quick to condemn works that did not reflect their own viewpoint. This time reflected a time in which poetry and writings began to be used for a more political means rather then for the individual self.

Hay also mentions in her preface that the web of networking became important during this time period. Leigh Hunt’s influence brought Byron, Shelly, and Keats together. Isolation also seems to become key, because as Keats states that isolation that it corrupts community along. Shelly addresses this in his poem, “Adonais” in the character of the critic is described as “the herded wolves, bold only to pursue;/ the obscene ravens, clamorous o’er the dead;” (ln. 244-245). The critic throughout the poem seems to be denied fame and the critic also seems to be described as destroying community through language.

This relates back to the idea of the solitary genius, because we have looked at poets such as Wordsworth that go out into nature and write poetry. The later Romantics seem to view this term as a bad thing, because isolation and judgment destroys a community. At the same time, Shelly seems offer two solutions to for the poet in this corrupt community that the poet must remain silent or sell himself for fame.  Through his relationship with Keats he has found a group that mediates the idea of the isolated author and the abstract audience in terms of building a community. There also seems to be a building of community rather then the isolated poet going out away from society in order to produce great works.

Power in the silence?

When the speaker of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Mount Blanc describes his view of the mountainous landscape around him, he also comments on the sounds that accompany the sights. In his initial observation, he notes how “children of elder time…still come and ever came…to hear—an old and solemn harmony” (20-24) in this “many-voiced vale” (13).

As the poem progresses, the speaker describes the sounds of the different parts of the mountains in such a way that each part corresponds with some kind of greater, unique power. So how do these sounds and powers measure up to each other? Are certain sounds (and their corresponding mountain anatomy) more powerful than others?

In stanza two, he describes a loud and rushing waterfall that bursts over the ice gulfs of a Ravine, on a “path of that unresting sound” (33). The caverns (made by the waterfall) echo “the Arve [River’s] commotion,/a loud, lone sound no other sound can tame” (30-31). Here, these wild and powerful sounds put him in a “trance sublime” and allow him to look introspectively at the “fast influencings” “of his “separate fancy” and mind (35-38). While at first this seems like it could be beneficial for our forlorn speaker, we learn that he eventually finds himself in a situation mirroring Plato’s Republic–trapped in a cave, seeing only shadows of reality and truth (44-48). The speaker appears to be deluded until he comes to Mount Blanc.

 

Unlike the waterfall in the Ravine, Mont Blanc is “still, snowy, and serene” (61), and the “winds contend/Silently there” (135). The “silent snow” provokes the speaker to imagine the origin of these mountains, leading him to ponder nature’s limitless power (72-75). Rather than trapping the speaker in a metaphorical cave, the “voiceless lighting” of Mont Blanc becomes a teacher of the “secret strength of things/which govern thought” (139-140). The mountain has the “voice” and power to repeal the  “large codes of fraud and woe” that the speaker seems to be experiencing (80-82). This superior silence and tranquility of Mont Blanc freed the speaker’s imagination and assuaged his woes—a seemingly impossible feat by any other means.  His use of rhetorical question in the final lines of the poem suggests that silence and solitude were not vacant entities, but actually the powers that saved him. I’m not sure why Shelley chose to contrast these different parts of the mountain landscape with their sounds throughout the poem, but in these last lines, he challenges us to revaluate our perceptions of the power of silence so that we may be able to fully embrace more phenomena like Mount Blanc.

 

The Darker Side of Nature

In his poem “Mont Blanc”, Percy Shelley takes the sublime to a whole new level. In the other poems we see the sublime used to glorify nature and belittle man. In this poem nature is glorified but we also see the dark side of nature. Here Shelley portrays nature ass a force of unbiased destruction. Why does Shelley feel the need to express such dark views of nature, a subject we normally look to for beauty?

One possible explanation is that if we are not prepared for the worst, then the worst will rock our world. In lines 108-110 Shelley writes “Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky / Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing / Its destined path”. Unlike these old pines we can move out of the way especially when the danger comes from a slow and creeping glacier. Yet if we ignore the possibility of nature’s destructive powers and let our roots of ignorance deep into our previously held beliefs we are as doomed as the pines.

Maybe he sees yet a source of inspiration in the destructive power of nature. In lines 71-73 Shelley writes “Is this the scene / Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young / Ruin?” These lines to me hold a very artistic feel, as if an artist was teaching her apprentice. The world is a canvas and some of the natural landmarks that we today find so attractive are in fact the direct result of some kind of violent act of nature like an earthquake. In line 75 Shelley writes “None can reply – all seems eternal now.” Nature’s displays of destruction are seen long after the first occurred. The Grand Canyon today is the direct result of a strong river slowly breaking down rock. Mountain chains are caused by earthquakes and often house several volcanoes.

In this destructive nature Shelley stills sees a vision. In the last stanza he mentions that the “secret strength of things / Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome / of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee (139-141)!” What does this strength inhabit? Well it inhabits the “voiceless lightning”. Lightning is yet another very dangerous aspect of nature yet the chances of it actually hurting you are slim. So in this fleeting and almost harmless, as in chances are you will not get hit by lightning, we can find truth. I do not think that Shelley is telling his audience to run into the next lightning storm holding long metal bars but rather that sometimes even in the destructive nature of Nature we can get glimpses of truth not present in calm, peaceful, and pretty nature.

Ultimately Shelley shines a new light on Nature. Whereas Wordsworth and Coleridge saw nature as bigger than themselves they seemed enthralled by nature’s presence. Shelley by contrasting the loving nature with this destructive nature has shed new light on a subject that has been written on for centuries.

The Idea of Immortality in Adonais

When reading the opening stanza of Adonais I immediately thought that Shelley must have been extremely sarcastic; the dramatic calls for the reader to “weep for Adonais!” sounded too dramatic to be sincere. I wondered what Keats had done to Shelley to make him have such strong negative feelings towards him, and why Shelley had felt the need to immortalize these feelings in poetry.

 

I quickly found out, however, that this was not at all Shelley’s intention; Adonais was actually written as a defense of Keats to his critics, and although Keats and Shelley were not the best of friends and Shelley “even opens his preface to Adonais with a typically divided assessment of Keats,” Shelley meant for the poem to pay homage to his fallen fellow poet (“Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School,” Cox 10).

 

Still, why did Shelley feel the need to portray such a strong sense of emotion in the poem? For a man that Shelley barely knew, he sure goes through some pretty incredible lengths to put the man on a pedestal (literally a pedestal; likening Keats to Adonis, the god of beauty and desire, is a pretty heavy compliment) and seems determined to make sure that Keats is immortalized in his words.

 

Is, perhaps, being immortal what Shelley is truly concerned about in the poem? After all, immortality is a constant theme in Keats’ poems, such as in Ode to a Grecian Urn, and the fact that this poet who seemed to have such a strong grasp on the idea of immortality and art was dead must have been somewhat unsettling to Shelley.

 

Although another possible interpretation of Shelley’s strong, emotional reaction to Keats’ death could be that he just had strong feelings towards his critics, in my opinion, it also may have been being faced with the very real prospect of mortality that caused such a strong reaction. Art may have been immortal, but clearly the artist was not.

 

The poem Adonais, therefore, is an attempt to immortalize the artist. By writing a long, passionate poem about someone who died may be the effort by Shelley, in his own way, to conquer a rising fear and to control the uncontrollable.