The poem, ‘Invocation’ is one of the loveliest lyrics of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Like many other lyrics by him, this lyric contains a complaint. The poet feels that the Spirit of Delight has deserted him. He, therefore, appeals to it to come back to him and make him happy. An appeal of this kind is known as an invocation).
Rarely, rarely, comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!
Wherefore hast thou left me now
Many a day and night?
Many a weary night and day
‘Tis since thou art fled away.
The poet says that the Spirit of Delight now visits him rarely. Ever since the Spirit of Delight became indifferent to him, he has been feeling sick and weary. He wants to know how he can attract the Spirit of Delight towards himself. The Spirit of Delight scorns those who are in distress or in pain. It goes only to those who are happy and gay. It feels repelled by those who are sad and sorrowful.
How shall ever one like me
Win thee back again?
With the joyous and the free
Thou wilt scoff at pain.
Spirit false! thou hast forgot
All but those who need thee not.
In the second stanza, of ‘Invocation’ the poet asks how an unhappy man like himself can ever regain the Spirit of Delight. What should he do to attract this Spirit? It is the habit of this spirit to join hands with the happy and free people and to mock at those who are in trouble or in distress. Instead of sympathising with unfortunate persons, the Spirit of Delight treats them scornfully. It is a faithless Spirit. It completely ignores those who need it, and it goes to those who do not require its help. The Spirit of Delight favours those who are already happy.
As a lizard with the shade
Of a trembling leaf,
Thou with sorrow art dismay’d;
Even the sighs of grief
Reproach thee, that thou art not near,
And reproach thou wilt not hear.
A lizard is frightened away by the trembling shadow of a moving leaf. Similarly, the sight of sorrow frightens away the Spirit of Delight. In other words, the Spirit of Delight avoids a man who is sad and despondent in the same way as a lizard avoids the trembling shadow of a moving leap. Even the sighs of a sorrowful man produce no sympathy in the Spirit of Delight. His sighs are a kind of rebuke to the Spirit of Delight for not coming to him. When he sighs, he is making a complaint against the Spirit of Delight for not keeping him company. But rebukes and complaints have no effect upon the Spirit of Delight. (The idea is that the Spirit of Delight comes only to those who are rarely happy, not to those who are sad).
Let me set my mournful ditty
To a merry measure;
Thou wilt never come for pity,
Thou wilt come for pleasure:
Pity then will cut away
Those cruel wings, and thou wilt stay.
In this stanza, the poet decides to sing a happy song. So far he has been complaining and singing sadly. But the Spirit of Delight feels no pity for a sorrowful man and therefore avoids him. Accordingly, the poet, in order to attract the Spirit of Delight, makes up his mind to put himself into a joyful mood. Seeing him in that mood, the Spirit of Delight will surely come to him. Once it comes to him, it will see the deep misery in his heart. Its sympathy for the poet may then be excited and it may decide to stay on with the poet in order to lighten his misery.
I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight!
The fresh earth in new leaves drest
And the starry night;
Autumn evening, and the morn
When the golden mists are born.
I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
Which is Nature’s, and may be
Untainted by man’s misery.
I love tranquil solitude,
And such society
As is quiet, wise, and good;
Between thee and me
What diff’rence? but thou dost possess
The things I seek, not love them less.
In the above three stanzas of ‘Invocation’, the poet says that he loves all those things which are dear to the Spirit of Delight. He loves the earth in spring, the starry night, an autumn evening, and misty morning. H loves snow and frost and waves and winds and storms. He loves all the objects, forces, and processes of Nature. He loves peaceful solitude. He also loves the company of quiet, wise, and good people. The Spirit of Delight, too, loves all these things, while he does not possess them. In other words, even these things fail to bring him any happiness. Being a great lover of Nature, the poet says that he loves all objects of Nature because Nature does not bear any mark of human misery. He loves ‘everything almost, which is Nature’s, and may be untainted by man’s misery.” Thus, expressing his deep love of Nature, the poet has also given us beautiful Nature-pictures. The poet loves all aspects of Nature, which are untouched by human sufferings.
Human life is full of sorrow and grief. Nature is, however, free from all those misfortunes which afflict mankind. Since the poet is an ardent love Nature and its all aspects, there should therefore be no difference between him and the Spirit of Delight. But a difference does exit. The Spirit of Delight possesses those things while the poet does not possess any of them. The poet does not love those objects of Nature less than the Spirit of Delight loves them, but he has not been able to possess them. In other words, those objects of Nature have not provided him with the happiness that he seeks.
I love Love—though he has wings,
And like light can flee,
But above all other things,
Spirit, I love thee—
Thou art love and life! O come!
Make once more my heart thy home!
In this last stanza of the poem, the poet says that he loves the god of love. In other words, he is fond of love. Love is something which he desires. He loves Love even though Love is a winged being and flies away as fast as light can travel. The poet means that love is a winged being and flies away as fast as light can travel. The poet means that love is not something permanent. Love is no doubt something delightful and enjoyable, but it is inconstant and does not stay in the human heart for long. (The poet here refers to the transitory nature of human love. He has also expressed this idea of the transience of love in the third and fourth stanzas of the poem which begins with the line: “When the lamp is shattered……..”
‘Invocation’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of those beautiful lyrics that are still applauded by the lovers of poems and lyrics. Shelley is perhaps the greatest writer of lyrics in English, and this poem is an excellent specimen of his lyrical art.
Most of Shelley’s lyrics are personal. This too is a personal lyric in which the poet talks about himself all through the poem. It expresses Shelley’s feeling of sadness. The poem is in fact a complaint from one who has lost all joy. The Spirit of Delight, he says, deserted him a long time ago, and his life since then has been dreary. The poem is, like many other lyrics by Shelley, a cry of pain.
The poem is written in a very simple language and is very sweet. As we read the poem, we find that it possesses a fine singing quality. It is also a highly spontaneous poem. No effort seems to have gone into the writing of this. It is pure effusion. There is a realistic simile in the third stanza where the Spirit of Delight is depicted as avoiding people who are in pain in the same way as a lizard avoids the shade of a trembling leaf (because the lizard is afraid of the moving shade).