The poem, ‘A Lament’, was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lament means to grieve about something. It’s unclear exactly what he is grieving. Is he grieving a death or something he had done? “On whose last steps I climb” would suggest that he is grieving the death of someone? However, he also states, “Where I had stood before”. ‘A Lament’ is a poem consisting of two stanzas of five lines in each. The poem is rhymed as AABAB. The poem is written in the iambic foot.
The poem, ‘A Lament’, by Shelley is another great short lyric, which consists of ten lines only. The poem gives expression to a feeling of deep melancholy. Addressing the world, life, and time, the poet asks when the glory of their prime will return, and he himself supplies the answer which is: “No more – Oh, never more.” There is no joy left in this world, says the poet. The changing seasons move his heart with grief but not with delight as they used to do in the past. All joy seems to have departed from the world. Nor is there any hope that joy will return.
Analysis A Lament
O world! O life! O time!
On whose last steps I climb,
Trembling at that where I had stood before;
When will return the glory of your prime?
No more—Oh, never more!
‘A Lament’ is a deeply pessimistic poem, like many others by Shelley. There is not the least touch of hope in the poem. It is a poem of unadulterated sadness which has a depressing effect upon the reader also. While optimistic readers will revolt against the sentiment of this poem, those who are naturally pessimistic will certainly respond to its mood and will even derive consolation from the fact that they are reading the sentiments of a kindred spirit.
‘A Lament’ may be regarded as a brief specimen of Shelley’s lyrical gift. It is simple in language and sentiment, and has a musical appeal. It also comes with the quality of spontaneity. It is an expression of Shelley‘s habitual mood of gloom and sadness, although in many other poems Shelley, while lamenting the existence of misfortune and evil in the world, strikes a hopeful note about the future, which is not the case here. It is a bitter poem of real despair.
When the poet says: “When will return the glory of your prime?” he asks if the world, life, and time will ever again get back the beauty and joy which once belonged to them. Thus, the poet, by implication, refers to the ancient past glorious period. The present of mankind is, according to him, a period of sadness and evil. The ancient glory of the world will never return. Elsewhere in his poetry, of course, Shelley utters bright prophecies about the future of mankind. Here he sees no ray of hope.
Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight;
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar,
Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight
No more—Oh, never more!
In the second stanza of ‘A Lament’, when the poet says “Out of the day and night, A joy has taken flight,” he talks about the joy which used to brighten the night as well as the day, but now seems to have departed. Neither the day nor the night brings with it any joy for the poet.
Through the last three lines, when the poet says: Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar, Move my faint heart with grief, but with delight, No more—Oh, never more!”, he means that the changing seasons have lost their charm for the poet. Spring, with its beautiful fresh flowers, summer, and winter with its snowfalls merely arouse feelings of sorrow in his heart. They do not give rise to the feelings of delight, which he once used to experience.
Nevermore will those feelings of delight visit his heart which now throbs only faintly. The poet feels utterly dispirited, dejected and disappointed with life. A great change seems to him to have taken place in the world. And it seems he does not want to go with that great change. This is the reason why he grieves over the past time he spent, and wishes that the gone moments come again. But he might know that time and tide never comes again. Change is the rule of nature. Everything on this earth is subject to change. The born thing is destined to decay.
Lyricism in Shelley Poetry
Shelley’s lyricism is incomparable. In no other do we find the perfect sureness, the triumphant rapidity of this upward flight, this soaring height, the superterrestrial quality as well as the poignant intensity of the sounds which fall from these aerial reigns. Truly, never was the soul of a poet so spontaneously lyrical. Everything with Shelley is the occasion for a musical stir, since his powers of feeling are the keenest attuned and most delicate of the age (1798-1832); sensation, like emotion, with him, oversteps the normal diapason, moving in a higher scale.
Shelley’s lyrics represent the highest achievement of romantic poetry. The beauty and charm of his lyrics are hardly surpassed by the poems of any other English writer. Some of his most outstanding lyrics are: Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, The Cloud, Lines Written in the Euganeam Hills, To Night, Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples, O World! O Life! O Time! Song. “Rarely, rarely, comest thou”, Lines; ‘When the lamp is shattered’, “Music, when soft voices die”, and With a Guitar; To Jane, In addition to these, we have a number of exquisite lyrics in Prometheus Unbound and Hellas. And then, of course, there is the lyrical elegy, Adonais. Spontaneity is one of the most striking features of Shelley’s lyrics. His lyrics are pure effusions. They seem to have been written without the least effort.
In the poem, ‘A Lament’, the poet is shown grieving over the past glory. In the entire poem, there is no mention of anybody, but the past glory that has in today’s world lost its charm. Lamenting over the lost glory, the poet says that gone are the days when Nature used to delight him with its varied seasons. Today all these seasons are just spreading sadness. They too have changed with time.
There is a mood of longing and sadness in Lament. Shelley’s lyrics are surpassingly sweet and musical. Indeed, his cries of pain are transformed into beauty and loveliness by the sweet music which accompanies them. Even the most pessimistic of his lyrics produce in our minds joy and delight because of their exquisite melody.
As a matter of fact, it is the sadness of these lyrics which makes them so sweetly melodious. Many of his lyrics are ethereal. In other words, they have an abstract quality. They seem to have been written by a man living not on earth but in the aerial regions above. There is very little concreteness in his lyrics.
In all Shelley’s depths and heights of inner and outer music are as divine as Nature’s, and not sooner exhaustible. He was well-regarded as the perfect singing-god.