‘Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a five stanza poem which is separated into sets of nine lines. Shelley has chosen to utilize the verse structure made popular by Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queen.
The stanzas are known as “Spensarian stanzas,” and have been altered slightly for the poet’s purpose. He chose not to use iambic pentameter as Spenser did, but instead use iambic tetrameter. A reader should also take note of the final line of each stanza and the fact that it is longer, containing twelve syllables and iambic hexameter. This is known as an “alexandrine.”
Summary of Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is observing a beautiful day. The landscape around him contains both the sea and mountains and he is able to take in both. He observes everything, listening to its voice which sounds like “Solitude’s.” In the next section, he looks deeper into the sea and sees the bottom of the deep. It is untouched by any human presence. Once more the elements of the scene come together and show off the true beauty of the landscape. He is there at a pristine moment in time.
The next sections go into the emotional state of the narrator. He is not enlivened by the sights he sees. Instead, he meditates on his own depression. He lists all the things he does not have but wishes he did. This has led him into a dark place in his mind he cannot get out of. He feels as if the world does not care for him— he is a man alone.
The final section sees the speaker attempt to improve his own mood by enjoying the moment he is living in. He understands how time passes and that this moment, if not enjoyed will go to waste just like all the others he took for granted.
Analysis of Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples
The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon’s transparent might,
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City’s voice itself, is soft like Solitude’s.
In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing a particular moment in time and the setting in which it takes place in. A reader can assume from the title of the poem that the scene is somewhere “near Naples.” This is the only specific descriptor given to the scene, otherwise, the landscape in which the speaker is composing these lines could be anywhere.
He begins by stating that the day is beautiful. The sun is out and the “sky is clear” of clouds. The next lines reveal the speaker to be sitting near both the ocean and the mountains. He can see and hear the waves and look out over the “Blue isles and snowy mountains.” These two elements of the landscape “wear” the might of the “transparent” noon. The day is at its most beautiful, a fact which can be seen through the land.
The following lines describe how the earth is fertile, ready to bud as soon as the season comes. All of these elements combine together to form what the speaker calls a “voice of one delight.” He can hear the wind, birds, ocean, and city all at once. They make a sound which is “soft like Solitude’s.”
One might notice that the speaker has failed to mention the presence of anyone else in the scene. This fact coupled with his use of the word “Solitude,” and the title, lend the poem a feeling of sadness rather than peace.
I see the Deep’s untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.
In the second stanza, the speaker describes other elements of the landscape that he claims to be able to see. He speaks first of looking down at “the Deep’s untrampled floor.” This is a reference to the bottom of the ocean on which no one steps. It is “untrampled” and covered in “green and purple seaweeds.” He mentions again in these lines the waves touching the shore. All of these elements come together, as those in the previous stanza did. This time they form the light “dissolved in star-showers.” They reflect the lights of the sky and throw them out for all to enjoy.
In amongst the beauty of this landscape “near Naples,” the speaker “sits upon the sands alone.” He is feeling depressed and downtrodden, so much so that the beauty of the land cannot cheer him up.
The following lines describe how the speaker is almost engulfed in the elements. The lightning is “flashing round” and the sound of the waves is rising up from before him. His current emotional state is making each part of the landscape seem grander and more important. They come to represent the bombardment of his own life. In the last line of this section, he feels as if there is something out there that shares in his “emotion.”
Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned—
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.
In the third stanza, he states that he does not have “hope,” “health” or any kind of peace within him. Throughout his life, he has been unable to find his way to any sort of contentment which he thinks could be found in “meditation.” His mind is constantly moving. It is unable to settle and allow him to find peace. On top of the lack of hope and health in his life he has also not found “fame” or “power.” These are still out of his reach along with “love” and “leisure.”
These depressing lines make clear the true extent of the speaker’s dejection. It is expanded by his realization that others around him have found happiness. There are many, he says, who live pleasurable “Smiling” lives. He has not had this chance. For him, “that cup” has been devoted to another type of emotion, the depression he is currently in. Nothing seems to be working out for him in his life and he is attempting to come to terms with it in these lines.
Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have borne and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.
In the fourth stanza, the poem takes a turn. The speaker is looking at his own situation from the perspective of an outsider and sees that things really aren’t as bad as they could be. He sees his own depression as being “itself…mild.” It is as passing and formless as the “winds and waters are.” Additionally, he acknowledges the fact that he could “lie down” and weep like a “tired child.” This is one way he could spend the rest of his life. His care might be able to be taken away once “death like sleep” comes for him.
After dying, the speaker thinks he might feel “in the warm air” his cheek “grow cold.” He knows he would experience his own last breath and the roar of the sea for the final time and move on from the world.
Some might lament that I were cold,
As I, when this sweet day is gone,
Which my lost heart, too soon grown old,
Insults with this untimely moan;
They might lament—for I am one
Whom men love not,—and yet regret,
Unlike this day, which, when the sun
Shall on its stainless glory set,
Will linger, though enjoyed, like joy in memory yet.
The last section brings the speaker to a more optimistic outlook. He removes himself further from his own situation and considers how others might see him. The speaker thinks they would “lament” his coldness and the loss of his days, as he would lament losing this beautiful day to his own sadness. He knows they would see him and understand that he is one “Whom men love not.”
In the final lines he describes the current moment of his life, and the day he has lived amongst the beautiful landscape near Naples, as something he will not regret. It will become a memory in his mind in the same way the sun will set on the day. He is able to gain some pleasure from the surrounding nature, after all, his every moment does not need to be weighed down with his cares.