Percy Bysshe Shelley

Nationality: English

Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most important English poets.

He was born in 1792 and died in 1822 at twenty-nine.

‘The Cloud’ is one of the famous poems of Shelly. Shelly personifies the cloud. In other words, he gives it life and a personality. Furthermore, the poet makes the cloud tell its own life-story so that the poem becomes an autobiography of the cloud Shelly conceives of the cloud as a separate, living entity. His capacity to give a separate and independent life to the various objects of Nature and the forces of Nature is known as Shelley’s myth-making power. Not only the cloud, but thunder and lightning are also personified here. In a similar manner, Shelley has personified the West Wind and written a poem about this force of Nature. ‘The Cloud’ shows Shelley’s high imaginative power. It is Wonderful how Shelley describes natural and scientific facts in terms of imagination and fancy.

The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley


The Cloud Analysis

Stanza One

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams;

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid

In their noonday dreams.

From my wings are shaken the dews that waken

The sweet buds every one,

When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,

As she dances about the sun.

I wield the flail of the lashing hail,

And whiten the green plains under,

And then again I dissolve it in rain,

And laugh as I pass in thunder.

The clouds bring rain to refresh the fading flowers. It brings this rain from oceans and rivers. The cloud casts shade over the leaves at noon-tine when they seem to be asleep and dreaming. Drops of water fall from the cloud to awaken the sleeping buds which had gone to sleep on their mother’s breast. The cloud flings below on earth the hailstones which make the green fields look white. The loud sound of thunder is the laughter of the cloud. In these lines, several activities of the cloud are depicted in a series of pictures.


Stanza Two

I sift the snow on the mountains below,

And their great pines groan aghast;

And all the night ’tis my pillow white,

While I sleep in the arms of the blast.

Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,

Lightning my pilot sits;

In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,

It struggles and howls at fits;

Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,

This pilot is guiding me,

Lured by the love of the genii that move

In the depths of the purple sea;

Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,

Over the lakes and the plains,

Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,

The Spirit he loves remains;

And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile,

Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

Snowflakes fall from the cloud on mountains below. When the great pine trees growing on mountains are hit by snow-flakes, they are painfully surprised. The snow-covered top of a mountain serves as a white pillow for guides the cloud in the arms of a storm. Lighting sits the pilot that guides the cloud in the courses of its journey. Lighting sits on the high towers of the aerial dwelling of the cloud. Thunder is chained below it. The thunder struggles for release and its howls are heard at intervals. Lightning, which is a pilot for the cloud, guides it gently over the earth and ocean. Lightning is in love with the spirits who dwell in the depths of the ocean. Urged by that love, lightning flashes over streams and rocks, over hills and lakes, and over plains. All this time, the cloud enjoys the warmth of the blue sky. In these lines, some more pictures of Nature are given by the poet. Natural phenomena are depicted in a fanciful manner.


Stanza Three

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,

And his burning plumes outspread,

Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,

When the morning star shines dead;

As on the jag of a mountain crag,

Which an earthquake rocks and swings,

An eagle alit one moment may sit

In the light of its golden wings.

And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,

Its ardours of rest and of love,

And the crimson pall of eve may fall

From the depth of Heaven above,

With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,

As still as a brooding dove.

In the morning, the sun climbs up the sky, riding on the back of the cloud. It seems as if a bright-winged eagle had seated itself just for a moment on the edge of a rock. At sunset, when all things take rest and the crimson colours of the evening descend upon all things, the cloud stops its journey and becomes motionless like a dove that sits with its wings folded and appears to be lost in meditation. We get some more Nature-pictures in these lines. Indeed, we feel overwhelmed by the abundance and richness of natural imagery and by the imaginative interpretation of natural phenomena.


Stanza Four

That orbèd maiden with white fire laden,

Whom mortals call the Moon,

Glides glimmering o’er my fleece-like floor,

By the midnight breezes strewn;

And wherever the beat of her unseen feet,

Which only the angels hear,

May have broken the woof of my tent’s thin roof,

The stars peep behind her and peer;

And I laugh to see them whirl and flee,

Like a swarm of golden bees,

When I widen the rent in my wind-built tent,

Till calm the rivers, lakes, and seas,

Like strips of the sky fallen through me on high,

Are each paved with the moon and these.

The beautiful, white moon glides over the surface of the cloud. At certain places, there are openings or holes in the surface of the cloud. Through these gaps or openings, the stars peep below at earth. The cloud laughs to see the stars whirling and fleeing like a swarm of golden bees. Sometimes, these openings become wider and then the reflections of the moon and the stars are seen in the rivers and lakes below. These are some of the finest lines in the poem. The pictures of the moon (That orbed maiden with white fire laden) and of the stars which are compared to a swarm of golden bees are especially delightful.


Stanza Five

I bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone,

And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl;

The volcanoes are dim, and the stars reel and swim,

When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl.

From cape to cape, with a bridge-like shape,

Over a torrent sea,

Sunbeam-proof, I hang like a roof,

The mountains its columns be.

The triumphal arch through which I march

With hurricane, fire, and snow,

When the Powers of the air are chained to my chair,

Is the million-coloured bow;

The sphere-fire above its soft colours wove,

While the moist Earth was laughing below.

The cloud weaves a bright circle around the sun, as well as, around the moon. As it covers the sky, the cloud appears like a bridge across the ocean or like a roof over the ocean. Mountains may be regarded as the pillars of that roof. The many-colored rainbow in the sky is like a decorated arch under which the victorious cloud is to pass like a conqueror returning from his exploits. The picture of the rainbow and the comparison of the cloud with a victorious warrior bringing home a large number of prisoners are remarkable.


Stanza Six

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,

And the nursling of the Sky;

I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;

I change, but I cannot die.

For after the rain when with never a stain

The pavilion of Heaven is bare,

And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams

Build up the blue dome of air,

I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,

And out of the caverns of rain,

Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,

I arise and unbuild it again.

The cloud regards to water and earth as its parents, while the sky is its nurse. The cloud may undergo changes and take different shapes but it can never die. Sometimes, when the rain has stopped and the sky has become bare, the cloud silently laughs at its own death and emerges once again, as a child from the womb or like a ghost from the tomb, and covers the sky.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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