‘The Indian Serenade’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a three-stanza poem with a consistent rhyme scheme. Shelley also makes use of slant rhymes in which the end words come close to rhyming but don’t, such as “thee” and “Sweet.” He also uses head rhymes, or alliteration, to give the poem a forward movement. One instance comes in the second line with the phrase, “the first sweet sleep of night.”
Summary of The Indian Serenade
The poem begins with the speaker waking from a dream and feeling the peace of the moment in which he is in. He has been dreaming of his “Sweet,” who the reader will come to discover later in the poem, may not return his feelings. He jumps to his feet and a spirit leads him to “thy chamber window, Sweet!”
He now stands before the window of her bedroom and describes how all the beauty that the world has to offer, “The wandering airs,” the “silent streams,” and the “Champak” magnolia trees cannot satisfy him. He believes it is his fate, if she does not give in to him, to die upon her heart.
The final stanza of the piece brings the speaker closer to such a death. He has collapsed on the grass and is begging his “belovèd” to let him in and rain down “kisses” upon his “pale…cold” cheeks. He needs an infusion of life.
“Alas,” he states, this does not happen and makes one last plea for her affection as he asks for her to once more place her heart upon his. If she does not, he fears that it will finally break.
Analysis of The Indian Serenade
I arise from dreams of thee
In the first sweet sleep of night,
When the winds are breathing low,
And the stars are shining bright:
I arise from dreams of thee,
And a spirit in my feet
Hath led me—who knows how?
To thy chamber window, Sweet!
Shelley’s poem, “The Indian Serenade” begins with his speaker, presumably an Indian man, awakening from dreams in which “thee,” his lover, is the subject. The whole poem is spoken, or directed, towards this unnamed object of affection. It is possible and important to consider while reading, that Shelley’s speaker is still within a dream as he speaks to his lover. If nothing else, he is maintaining a dream-like attitude towards events and actions he might take.
The speaker has awoken, not in the morning, but “from..the first sweet sleep of the night.” He has dreamed for a time and woken up while it is still night. While still in bed, presumably hazy and tired he can hear “the winds…breathing low” and see the “stars…shining bright.”
Shelley is projecting an image of peaceful contemplation from within the bedroom of the speaker. This does not last long though as the speaker is roused by “a spirit in [his] feet” that leads him to his “Sweet’s,” “chamber window.”
The wandering airs they faint
On the dark, the silent stream—
The Champak odours fail
Like sweet thoughts in a dream;
The Nightingale’s complaint,
It dies upon her heart;—
As I must on thine,
Oh, belovèd as thou art!
In the second stanza, the speaker continues serenading his beloved. The speaker describes how the world is falling apart around him, it is as desperate as he is to have their love resolved and made incarnate.
The “wandering airs” of the verdant setting “faint,” unable to support themselves on the “dark” and “silent” stream. This darkness is the antipathy of what the speaker is hoping for. He needs light and happiness and hope for his love. He must be with her.
The next line solidifies the poem’s setting as being Oriental in nature. The speaker describes the “Champack” and how it’s “odours” are failing and falling apart like “Sweet thoughts” that dissolve after a dream is over. The champak tree is a type of magnolia that can be found in Asia. It is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists. Through this background information, the reader can infer that religion and spirituality have failed to fulfill the narrator. The only thing that will satisfy him is the love of his “Sweet.”
The speaker also describes how the “Nightingale’s complaint,” or mournful love song does not reach his lover’s heart. It dies before it gets there. Shelley’s narrator can relate to this death as he too believes it is his fate to die “upon her heart.” She is just so “belovèd” to him that he has no choice.
Oh lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I fail!
Let thy love in kisses rain
On my lips and eyelids pale.
My cheek is cold and white, alas!
My heart beats loud and fast;—
Oh! press it to thine own again,
Where it will break at last.
In the third stanza of ‘The Indian Serenade’, it appears that the speaker has fainted in his worship of his beloved. He pleads with her to “lift [him] from the grass” as he is in the throes of passion. His emotions are so strong it is as if he is dying, his body is “fail[ing]” him.
He continues to beg her. He is desperate for affection and attention. He wishes for her to “let” her “love in kisses rain” down on him. It is easy to imagine the speaker on the ground in front of his lover’s window, looking up at where he hopes she will appear and imagining kisses, falling like rain on his face. He hopes they will rejuvenate him, bring some life back into his “lips and eyelids” which he describes as “pale.” His cheeks are especially drained, they look “cold and white.”
The poem concludes in the next three lines as the speaker does not seem to be getting a response from his target of affection. This brings to mind the possibility that these two characters are not lovers, but the speaker only hopes a relationship will form.
The last lines are used to display once more the depth and strength of the speaker’s affections. “Alas!” He says he does not seem to believe she will come to him. His heart is beating “loud and fast” as if he is dying. Shelley describes it as if without the much-desired lover pressing her heart to his own “again” that it will break apart for good.
About Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792 in Broadbridge Heath, England. He was raised in the countryside and was educated at University College Oxford. While in school Shelley was well known for his liberal views and was once chastised for writing a pamphlet titled, The Necessity of Atheism. His parents were severely disappointed in him and demanded that he forsake all of his beliefs. Soon after this, he eloped with a 16-year-old woman, Harriet Westbrook, of whom he soon tired. It was at this time that Shelley began writing his long-form poetry for which he is best known.
Shelley had two children with Harriet but before their second was born he left her for the future author of Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus, Mary Godwin. Mary became pregnant with her and Shelley’s first child soon after and Harriet sued Shelley for divorce. Soon after this Mary and Percy met Lord Byron, or George Gordon, it was through one of their meetings that Mary was inspired to write Frankenstein.
In 1816 Shelley’s first wife Harriet committed suicide and Mary and Percy were officially wed. During their time together Mary Shelley’s only child to live into adulthood was Percy Florence. In early 1818 he and his wife left England and Shelley produced the majority of his most well-known works including, ‘Prometheus Unbound’. In 1822, not long before he was meant to turn 30, Shelley was drowned in a storm while sailing in his schooner on the way to La Spezia, Italy. Mary was only 24 at the time and would live to the age of 53, dying of brain cancer in London in 1851.