Short Analysis of Shelley’s Hymn to the Spirit of Nature

Hymn to the Spirit of Nature is a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley.


Much of Shelley’s poetry is divorced from real human life. It lacks substance. It is airy or ethereal. It is vain to look for definite meaning in much of his poetry. The song here is an example of the abstract or ethereal or insubstantial quality of Shelley’s poetry. The four stanzas before us have no logical or clear-cut thought. The meaning is vague and hazy, not clear and definite. These stanzas have a dream-like quality. But this song is regarded as one of Shelley’s supreme efforts. J.A. Symonds for instance, says about it : “If a critic is so dull as to ask what ‘Life of Life ! thy lips enkindle’ means, or to whom it is addressed, none can help him any more than one can help a man whose sense of hearing is too gross for the tenuity of a bats’ cry”. That is all very well, but it ought to be admitted that this lyric, for all its impassioned imagery, is lacking in clear cut thought. It stirs a vague, transcendent emotion, but the last line(“Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!”) aptly describes ‘the feelings of the reader when he has finished the poem. So far as the sense or meaning is concerned, it is a confusing poem, and our feelings are best described in the last line.

Apart from the meaning, however, this is one of the finest lyrics of Shelley. Its melody and music are enchanting. The sweetness of its verse is delicious. As we read through the poem, we feel delighted by its singing quality. Especially noteworthy is the abundance of the liquid consonants (1, m and n) which always enrich and sweeten verse. For instance:

Life of Life ! thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;

Till they fail, as I am failing,
Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing

The poem is also remarkable for the richness of its imagery, and its similes and metaphors. The pictures of the breath of Asia being lighted up, her smiles warming the cold air, her body seeming to burn through her garments, her brightness illumining the dim shapes of the earth – these are all wonderful. The beauty of Asia’s eyes is most fancifully depicted by saying that whoever looks into them faints, “entangled in their mazes”. Asia’s eyes are compared to labyrinthine, bewildering paths in which a man would lose his way, while the intoxication of her yes would completely overpower and overwhelm him. We have a beautiful simile when Asia’s body seeming to burn through her garments is compared to the brightness of the morning which appears through the clouds in the east. A wonderful metaphor is employed when the voice of Asia is called a “liquid splendour”. Another metaphor is used when Asia is addressed as the “Lamp of Earth”.

This song or hymn has all the spontaneity for which Shelley’s lyrics are known. As we read it, we feel that it must have come from the poet’s imagination naturally and effortlessly, just as a nightingale’s song comes naturally from her throat. The mood of the poem is rapturous because of the fascinating and dazzling beauty, charm and radiance of Asia. The two closing lines, however, are tinged with sadness because there the speaker describes himself as “failing dizzy, lost”.

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