Thursday’s Poem 4/16/09

Percy Bysshe Shelley – “To the Moon”

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven, and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,—
And ever-changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Commentary
I figured I would follow up the Williams poem with another concise, tightly constructed poem, but one of a very different flavor.

There’s a playfulness here, even if the images are filled with sorrow, loneliness, and melancholy. As many writers do, I find the moon a compelling object, symbol, and force of nature. And this depiction is perhaps one of the most touching, sympathetic descriptions of the moon I’ve seen. The question of the first line alone startles me; I’m also struck by the recognition that stars are of a “different birth” than the moon, and by the comparison to a “joyless eye” that does not find anything good enough for its devotion.

It’s very easy for me to see how the moon can work as a metaphor for a person – perhaps a woman the poet was enamored with? For me, the moon has always had a strong connection with the feminine. Or, it could be the poet himself. I’ve also always connected the moon to creativity, especially writing. And though, as writers, we may labor over an image or word, we’re always moving on to new subjects, new ideas, because our curiosity is inexhaustible.

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One Response to Thursday’s Poem 4/16/09

  1. Angele says:

    A sad poem, in which Shelley sounds as jaded as his friend Byron (whose aristocratic appetites, I recently learned, were the inspiration for John Polidori’s The Vampyre).

    I think that the moon represents both the disillusioned speaker and the woman (or women) whose “joyless eye” and “pale..weariness” have led him to conclude with her/them that “no object [is] worth its constancy.”

    In looking at this poem on various sites, I found a version that contains a fragment of a Part II, as follows:

    II
    “Thou chosen sister of the Spirit,
    That gazes on thee till in thee it pities ..”

    Here, the moon is female, the “chosen sister of the Spirit” (male? female? neither?), under whose gaze the ever-gazing moon becomes an object of pity–because of its inability to love? Or because of its inability to inspire love?

    An interesting fusion of subject and object, spirit and matter, lover and formerly beloved.

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