There May Be Chaos Still Around The World by George Santayana

There May Be Chaos Still Around The World is a fourteen line poem that can be considered a Shakespearean sonnet. It contains the correct number of lines, rhymes in the correct order and has ten syllables per line. The poem has three sets of quatrains that rhyme, ABAB, CDCD, EFEF and then ends with one couplet rhyming, GG. You can read the full poem here.


Summary of There May Be Chaos Still Around The World

There May Be Chaos Still Around The World by George Santayana describes a speaker who has escaped the world at large and is only existing within his own mind. The poem begins with the narrator clearly stating that even if there is chaos in the world, his own “little world” is where he focuses. His “thinking lies” there. Within this world he has created, he has a paradise where all of his dreams are realized. 

The speaker continues to describe how he lives within a shell and can escape there, like a turtle or hermit crab, when he is in danger. Even if regimes rose, fell, and rose again, he would not notice.  Nothing phases him or takes away from his peace. 

Additionally, he states that even if deities singled him out, haunting him in the night, he would just close his eyes and go back into his mind. The poem concludes with the speaker once more reiterating that none of the things previously mentioned can harm him, and comparing himself to a snow-flake that is unmoved and unafraid of the “whirlwind” around him. 


Analysis of There May Be Chaos Still Around The World

Lines 1-4 

Santayana begins this piece by introducing a speaker consumed by his own inner world. This speaker states from the outset that no matter what is going on around him, his “little world” is where his thoughts lie. He says, “There may be chaos” happening all around the world, but he is not bothered by it. 

The speaker has no need of the world because everything he could ever want, his “paradise,” is “unfurled” within his mind. The speaker is taking the concept of dreaming a step further, perhaps farther than is healthy. From these first lines the reader might come to the conclusion that this person is very withdrawn and unwilling to communicate with those that reside in the larger world. But Santayana does not take this literary path, it is up to the reader to determine whether this speaker has a healthy mental life or not. 


Lines 5-8

The second four lines give further description as to how far this speaker is willing to take himself outside of what is physically happening around him.

This section begins with a mental description of how to speaker sees himself living in his own mind. In his own “nature’s shell,” the body which nature created for him, he is slumbering. He casts himself as a type of crustacean or turtle that can recede back into it’s own body or shell for safety. 

Within his shell he is “Unmindful” of the “outer skies” and how they might change. The next two lines reference Greek mythology, mentioning both Eros and Cronos. Santayana uses these deities to emphasize the amount of change that this speaker is willing to ignore. He says that a “new-born Eros,” more commonly known as Cupid, could fly, or “some old Cronos,” fall, and he would not be moved. The speaker is referencing the turning of political and social tides. Regimes could fall and rise again and he would not notice. 


Lines 9-13

The final four lines continue like the previous. The speaker begins by reiterating that all these things he mentioned above, he “heed[s]…not,” or more simply, he does not pay attention to them. 

The rest of this section is devoted to one last instance that would not bother the speaker. He describes “deities [he] never saw” coming to haunt him in the night. Even this terrifying prospect, in which the narrator himself is targeted by gods, does not bother him. In fact, he states that this would only serve to send him once more off to sleep and into his own “little world.” Even if he did not want to go there, he would, just to “hide their myriad faces from [his] sight.” 


Lines 14-15 

The poem concludes with two lines that sum up everything that the speaker has gone over and presents clearly his state of mind, or at least how he sees it. 

All of these forces, the deities, society, and the world at large, “threat in vain.” Their threats are useless and do not influence him. In the last line he compares himself to a “snow-flake” that the “whirlwind cannot awe.” Even though he is one small part that should be terrified by this coming storm, he is at peace. It cannot scare him. 

The reader must come to their own conclusion as to whether this speaker has a healthy state of mind, his solitude giving him strength, or is unhealthily withdrawn from the world. 


About George Santayana 

George Santayana was a Spanish poet born in Madrid in December of 1863. Santayana grew up speaking Spanish and did not learn English until he moved to live with his mother in Boston. It was here that he attended Boston Latin School and later, Harvard College, where he graduated summa cum laude in 1886. Santayana completed his doctoral thesis and became faculty member in 1889.

It was at Harvard that Santayana began to write seriously. There he would write his first book, The Sense of Beauty, published in 1896, which was concerned with the judgement of beauty. His second book, Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, was published in 1900 and his five volume theoretical work, The Life of Reason, was published between 1905 and 1906.

In 1912 Santayana’s mother died and he left America to spend the rest of his life in Europe. Santayana spent the remainder of his life in Oxford, and then in Rome where he wrote three new books. Santayana died in Rome in 1952 at the age of 88 with a lasting reputation as a philosopher and man of letters. 

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