Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Recollection by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The poem, ‘The Recollection’ by Shelley, is addressed to Jane Williams and is a sequel to The Invitation. In fact, ‘The Invitation’ and ‘The Recollection’ originally appeared as one composition under the title of The Pine Forest of the Cascine Near Pisa. That composition was subsequently divided into two poems with separate titles. As the title of this poem shows, the poet recalls the lovely experience he had in the company of Jane Williams in the Pine Forest. In ‘The Invitation he had asked her to accompany him to the wild woods, and she had accepted the invitation. This poem describes the soothing effect that the company of Nature and of Jane Williams had upon him in the Pine Forest.

The Recollection by Percy Bysshe Shelley


The Recollection Analysis

Now the last day of many days,

All beautiful and bright as thou,

The loveliest and the last, is dead,

Rise, Memory, and write its praise!

Shelley’s deep sentiment for Jane Williams and his deep love of Nature are intermingled in this poem. Shelley recalls the experience he had when he went into the Pine Forest in Jane’s company. Shelley’s admiration for Jane is expressed in several lines in this poem. He compares the beauty and brightness of the days he spent in her company to her beauty and brightness. In the above lines, Shelley says the many days that he spent in the company of Jane, visiting the Pine Forest, are now over. Even the last of these days, which was as beautiful and bright as Jane herself, and which was the best of all these days, has ended. Shelley calls upon his memory (which he personifies) to become active and to write a poem in praise of this last day.

Up,–to thy wonted work! come, trace

The epitaph of glory fled,–

For now the Earth has changed its face,

A frown is on the Heaven’s brow.

In the above lines of ‘The Recollection’, Shelley asks his Memory to become active and to do its accustomed work of recalling the past and writing about it. He would like to recall the glory that is now over, and to write a poem mourning the loss of that glory. By ‘glory’, Shelley here means the joy and radiance which the company of Jane lent to the time that he spent with her. The last day being over, the earth no longer looks as beautiful as before, and the sky seems to wear a frown or a look of displeasure.

We wandered to the Pine Forest

That skirts the Ocean’s foam,

From lines 9 to 10, Shelley recalls the day when he and Jane wandered into the Pine Forest which is situated on the sea-shore against which the waves strike and produce foam.

The lightest wind was in its nest,

The tempest in its home.

The whispering waves were half asleep,

The clouds were gone to play,

And on the bosom of the deep

The smile of Heaven lay;

It seemed as if the hour were one

Sent from beyond the skies,

Which scattered from above the sun

A light of Paradise.

In lines 11 to 20 of ‘The Recollection‘, Shelley describes the calm and serenity that prevailed everywhere on that day. It seemed that it was a divine hour scattering the light of heaven upon the earth. This light came from somewhere beyond the sun.

We paused amid the pines that stood

The giants of the waste,

Tortured by storms to shapes as rude

As serpents interlaced;

And, soothed by every azure breath,

And, soothed by every azure breath,

That under Heaven is blown,

To harmonies and hues beneath,

As tender as its own,

Now all the tree-tops lay asleep,

Like green waves on the sea,

The expression; The giants of the waste’ is used for the pine trees that grew in  the wilderness of the forest, while by the lines ‘tortured by storm to shapes as rude As serpents interlaced’, the poet means that the pine trees had been hit by storms which had twisted their branches. The branches of the various pine trees were now interwoven like a number of intertwining serpents. The meaning of Azure breath in the above lines means the light breeze blowing under the blue and sunny sky. Here Azure means the blueness of the sky.

As still as in the silent deep

The ocean woods may be.

The three-tops were as silent and still as the vegetation of growing at the bottom of the ocean during a spell of calm weather.

How calm it was!—the silence there

By such a chain was bound

That even the busy woodpecker

Made stiller by her sound

The inviolable quietness;

Here Shelley says that the quietness of the scene was perfect. Even the sounds produced by the woodpecker served merely to emphasis the prevailing calm. The quietness of the scene was so deep that nothing could violate it. Let me tell you here that the woodpecker is a kind of bird.

The breath of peace we drew

With its soft motion made not less

The calm that round us grew.

There seemed from the remotest seat

Of the white mountain waste,

To the soft flower beneath our feet,

A magic circle traced,–

A spirit interfused around

A thrilling, silent life,–

To momentary peace it bound

Our mortal nature’s strife;

And still I felt the centre of

The magic circle there

Was one fair form that filled with love

The lifeless atmosphere.

In these lines of ‘The Recollection’, Shelley says that even the breathing of the two visitors to the forest seemed to deepen the quietness that prevailed around them. All over the place, from the most distant, snow-covered, desolate mountain-peak to the soft flower growing at the spot where the two visitors stood, a magic influence seemed to be at work. The whole scene was pervaded by an invisible Spirit, and the presence of this Spirit calmed the agitation in the hearts of the two visitors.

And yet it was Shelley’s feeling that it was his companion Jane who filled the whole atmosphere with love. The atmosphere would have seemed lifeless without her (The two visitors are, of course, Shelley and Jane. “One fair form” in the above lines refers to Jane. The touch of pantheism here is combined with a tribute to Jane. There is ‘a spirit interfused around’, which has a calming effect on the hearts of the two persons, and there is the ‘fair form’ of Jane that fills the ‘lifeless atmosphere’ with love.

Each seemed as ’twere a little sky

Gulfed in a world below;

A firmament of purple light

Which in the dark earth lay,

More boundless than the depth of night,

And purer than the day–

In which the lovely forests grew,

As in the upper air,

More perfect both in shape and hue

Than any spreading there.

There lay the glade and neighbouring lawn,

And through the dark green wood

The white sun twinkling like the dawn

Out of a speckled cloud.

Sweet views which in our world above

Can never well be seen,

Were imaged by the water’s love

Of that fair forest green.

And all was interfused beneath

With an Elysian glow,

An atmosphere without a breath,

A softer day below.

These lines, which contain beautiful Nature-imagery, describe the reflections of the sky, the trees, the sun, etc., seen in the water of the pools by the side of which the two visitors paused. All these reflections seemed to be touched with a heavenly light.

Each pool reflected a small portion of the sky. Each pool, therefore, looked like a small sky seen in the depths of the lower world. The meaning ‘Elysian glow’ is heavenly luster or light.

Like one beloved the scene had lent

To the dark water’s breast,

Its every leaf and lineament

With more than truth expressed;

Until an envious wind crept by,

Like an unwelcome thought,

Which from the mind’s too faithful eye

Blots one dear image out.

These lines show that the two visitors enjoyed seeing the reflections in the water till a jealous wind began to blow, thus blotting out all the reflections. This wind was as unwelcome to the two visitors as an unpleasant thought  which drives out from the mind of a lover the image of the loved one.

Though thou art ever fair and kind,

The forests ever green,

Less oft is peace in Shelley’s mind,

Than calm in waters, seen.

In these last lines of ‘The Recollection, the poet says that although Jane is always beautiful and always kind, and although the forests are always green, Shelley’s mind is more often disturbed than is the water in the ocean. In spite of peace and calm than are experienced by an ocean. Please mind here that self-pity is rarely absent from the lyrics of Shelley.

Thus, the poem, ‘The Recollection’ by Shelley, is remarkable for its Nature-imagery. Not only are we provided with vivid images of the pine trees standing still and the waves of the ocean half-asleep, but we also get striking pictures of the reflections of the sky, the threes, the sun, etc., seen the pools by the side of which Shelley and Jane pause.

The imagery here is recognizably earthly; it is not abstract and ethereal as is the case with much of Shelley’s imagery in most of his poems. There is a pleasing concreteness about the Nature-pictures in the poem. The peace and serenity of the natural scene depicted in the poem are inevitably communicated to the reader also.

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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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