The Flight of Love by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The poem, The Flight of Love by Percy Bysshe Shelley, deals with the transience of love. Though it has a very common theme of Love, it finds a remarkable original expression here in this poem. The very first stanza of the poem consists of many analogies to illustrate the passing of love. The second stanza depicts the desolation of the heart when love has departed from it. The third stanza points to the frailty of the human heart where love takes its abode and where love also meets its end. The fourth stanza shows that love has no chance of survival against the heavy odds that it has to face. The poem contains a number of vivid pictures that grab instant attention of readers. Apart from the pictures of shattered lamp, the scattered cloud, the rainbow’s glory, the broken lute etc., we have the picture of Love, which has been personified taking up its abode in a frail home that is, the human heart, and of Love eventually leaving that home, “the well-built nest.”

The poem also has a number of appropriate similes. The melancholy songs, that a heart sings when love has departed from it, are compared to the sound of the wind blowing through a ruined cell, and to the mournful sound of the sea-waves when a sailor has got drowned beneath them. The passions of the heart will rock Love as the storms rock the ravens in the sky. Bright reason will mock love like the bright sun which mocks the wintery sky. Love resides in the human heart as if it were a well-built nest. The human heart is also called, in line  13, the  “eagle home” of love.


The Flight of Love Analysis

WHEN the lamp is shatter’d

The light in the dust lies dead—

When the cloud is scatter’d,

The rainbow’s glory is shed.

When the lute is broken,

Sweet tones are remember’d not;

When the lips have spoken,

Loved accents are soon forgot.

When the lamp is broken into pieces, its light gets totally extinguished. When the cloud is dissolved and no trace of it is left in the sky, the glorious rainbow also disappears. When the lute is broken, its sweet melodies are lost. When the end of love comes, the sweet words which the lovers have spoken to each other are forgotten.

As music and splendour

Survive not the lamp and the lute,

The heart’s echoes render

No song when the spirit is mute—

No song but sad dirges,

Like the wind through a ruin’d cell,

Or the mournful surges

That ring the dead seaman’s knell.

When the lamp and the lute are broken, neither the light of the lamp remains nor remains the musical notes of the lute. When love has departed from the human heart, the heart becomes silent and does not sing joyful songs. The only songs that it can sing then are sons of sadness and mourning. These songs are like the sounds of the wind passing through a ruined cell or like the sounds of the melancholy waves which seem to be announcing the death of the sailor who was drowned in the ocean.

When hearts have once mingled,

Love first leaves the well-built nest;

The weak one is singled

To endure what it once possesst.

O Love! who bewailest

The frailty of all things here,

Why choose you the frailest

For your cradle, your home, and your bier?

After two human beings have fallen in love, a time comes when their love for each other dies. Although they used to feel secure in each other’s love, their love proves to be short-lived. The stronger of the two partners may be able to overcome the feeling of misery resulting from the end of their love, but the weaker partner finds it difficult to endure the feelings of torment and torture at the loss of love. For the weaker of the two, this loss is almost unbearable. The poet then addresses Love and asks why it chooses the frail human heart as its dwelling-place. Why should Love take up its abode in the human heart and why should it grow there when ultimately that very heart is to be the burial-place of love? Love is in the habit of lamenting the fact that all things in this world are frail and short-lived. Why should then Love choose the frailest of all things, namely the human heart, as its abode? The idea is that all things in this world, including Love, are short-lived).

Its passions will rock thee

As the storms rock the ravens on high;

Bright reason will mock thee

Like the sun from a wintry sky.

From thy nest every rafter

Will rot, and thine eagle home

Leave thee naked to laughter,

When leaves fall and cold winds come.

This stanza, like lines 21-24, is again addressed to Love. Love takes its abode in the human heart, but that is not a safe place for Love. The passions of the human heart will give a rude shaking to Love just as storms give a rude shaking  to the ravens flying I the sky. Love will also be a target for the rational faculty of man. Human reason is intolerant of Love and will mock at Love in the same manner in which the bright sun appears to mock at the clouds in the sky during winter.

Love cannot feel secure in its nest (that is, the human heart) because whatever tends to support and strengthen Love will soon crumble. Love may perch itself in a high nest like the eagle, but soon it will be exposed to ridicule and mockery and soon it will be ousted from its nest when autumn comes followed by winter (that is, when feelings of satiety and disgust drive away Love). This is how a critic explains, and comments on, the fourth and last stanza of the poem:

“Reasoners mock a downcast lover as the falsely bright sun mocks the frozen on a wintry day; Shelley often calls reason and thought bright, so the image is unforced. The nest, once cemented by Love, decays with love’s departure, and cannot keep out hostile sneers (cold winds). Eagle home seems to be merely  an elegant variation of nest.”

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