Hymn to the Spirit of Nature by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The poem, Hymn to the Spirit of Nature by Percy Bysshe Shelley, is another lyric taken from Shelley’s poetic drama Prometheus Unbound. The lyric is being sung by a voice in the air and addressed to Asia who, in the play, represents Intellectual Beauty, or the Soul of the world, or as the title above indicates, the Spirit of Nature. Prometheus is the spirit of love in mankind, while Asia is the spirit of love in Nature. The union of Prometheus and Asia in Shelley’s play is the union of the spirit of love in man with the spirit of love in Nature. Their union marks the regeneration or redemption of the world of man and  the world of Nature, and signifies the end of evil  in the universe.


Hymn to the Spirit of Nature Analysis

Life of Life! Thy lips enkindle………..With their love the breath between them;

There is such love in Asia’s lips that it lights up the breath which passes through her lips. This is poetical language, and the words here are not to be taken literally.

And thy smiles before they dwindle……………………..Make the cold air fire;

There is such heat in her smiles that, before fading away, they warm the cold air. The cold air becomes warm in the fire of Asia’s smiles.

then screen them…….In those locks, where whoso gazes…Faints, entangled in their mazes (labyrinth).

Asia’s smiles are so bright and lovely that nobody can endure their brightness and loveliness. Therefore she is asked to screen or conceal her smiles in her eyes. Her eyes are like intricate and bewildering paths. By looking into her eyes, a man would get lost and feel dazed.

Child of Light…

Asia is now called the Child of Light because she is so bright and shining.

Thy limbs are burning……thou shinest…

Asia is so bright that rays of light seem to be emanating from her body. Her body seems to be burning. Even her clothes cannot hide the radiance of her body which appears to be on fire. The brightness of her body is visible through her clothes just as the brightness of dawn becomes visible through clouds before the clouds are parted by the sun. Whenever bright Asia may go, she is surrounded by this heavenly atmosphere. In other words, she is a divine Spirit    enveloped in heavenly light.

Fair are others; none beholds Thee;

But thy voice sounds low and tender

Like the fairest, for it folds thee

From the sight, that liquid splendour;

And all feel, yet see thee never,—

As I feel now, lost for ever!

There are other fair spirits in the universe, but Asia surpasses them all in beauty. Nobody can see Asia, because her splendour is dazzling to the eyes. Her voice is sweet, soft and gentle like the voice of the fairest of spirits. The glorious melody of her voice seems to be screening her from the sight of others. Everybody becomes dimly aware of her presence but nobody can actually see her, just as the speaker (Prometheus) feels aware of her presence and is for ever completely lost in her glory, her splendour, her divine beauty.

Lamp of Earth! Where’er thou movest

Its dim shapes are clad with brightness,

And the souls of whom thou lovest

Walk upon the winds with lightness

Till they fail, as I am failing,

Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!

Asia is now regarded as the lamp that sheds its light on the earth. Whenever she goes, her beauty and brightness illumine the dark objects on the earth. Those whom Asia loves are very fortunate. Because of the power of her love, their souls are enabled to walk lightly upon the breezes. Those souls can walk upon the breezes till in the end they collapse just as the speaker (Prometheus) is about to collapse. The speaker is feeling giddy or confused because of the dazzling beauty of Asia and because of the intoxication of his love for her. In spite of that, he has no regrets, and he has no complaint to make. The idea is that, to be in love with Asia is in itself a matter of pride, and that, though the lover is lost owing to his profound love for her, he does not complain or grumble.


Critical Appreciation

Much of Shelley’s poetry is divorced from real human life. It lacks substance. It is airy or ethereal. It is vain to look for definite meaning in much of his poetry. The song here is an example of the abstract or ethereal or insubstantial quality of Shelley’s poetry. The four stanza before us have no logical or clear-cut thought. The meaning is vogue and hazy, not clear and definite. These stanzas have a dream-like quality about them. But this song is regarded as one of Shelley’s supreme efforts. But it is to be noted that this lyric, for all its impassioned imagery, is lacking in clear-cut thought. It stirs a vague, transcendent emotions, but the last line (“Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!” aptly describes the feelings of the reader when he has finished the poem. So far as the sense or meaning is concerned, it is a confusing poem, and our feelings are best described in the last line.

Apart from the meaning, however, this is one of the finest lyrics of Shelley. Its melody and music are enchanting. The sweetness of its verse is delicious. As we read through the poem, we feel delighted by its singing quality. Especially noteworthy is the abundance of the liquid consonants (I, m and n) which always enrich and sweeten verse.

The poem is also remarkable for the richness of its imagery, and its similes and metaphors. The pictures of the breadth of Asia being lighted up, her smiles warning the cold air, her body seeming to burn through her wonderful, her brightness illumining the dim shapes of the earth – these are all wonderful. The beauty of Asia’s eyes is most fancifully depicted by saying that whoever looks into them faints, “entangled in their mazes.” Asia’s eyes are compared to labyrinthine, bewildering paths in which a man would lose his ways, while the intoxication of her eyes would completely over-power and overwhelm him. We have a beautiful smile when Asia’s body seeming to burn through her garments it compared to the brightness of the morning which appears through the clouds in the east. A wonderful metaphor is employed when the voice of Asia is called a “liquid splendour.” Another metaphor is used when Asia is addressed as the Lamp of Earth.

On the whole, this song of hymn has all spontaneity for which Shelley’s lyrics are known. As we read it, we feel that it must have come from the poet’s imagination naturally and effortlessly, just as a nightingale’s song comes naturally from her throat. The mood of the poem is rapturous because of the fascinating and dazzling beauty, charm, and radiance of Asia. The two closing lines, however, are tinged with sadness because there the speaker describes himself as “failing, dizzy, lost.”

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