Percy Shelley: Mutability

A rare two poem day! But, seeing as it’s National Poetry Month, I thought I’d throw caution to the wind and go a bit wild.

I first came to Percy Shelley’s “Mutability” through Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. She quotes only a few lines with no real introduction or context, [Side Note: This is only one of many weird moments in the book. Perhaps a collection of them might make a later post…] but they were enough to lead me to hunt down the original. It’s certainly not one of his best and doesn’t really say anything groundbreaking or new (the Greek philosopher Heraclitus was dropping mind bombs like “everything changes and nothing stands still” way back in the 500 BCs), but does have elements of the striking language that Shelley is known for.

To be fair to Shelley, the idea of change is one that dominates a lot of our waking moments; from adapting to fearing to seeking, we all face it on a daily basis. In my own neighborhood, in fact, I been watching some radical change happen just up the road, as an older house has gone from ripped up to torn down. And while I’m sad to see another huge infill take over, it’s important to keep in mind that “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow.”

Mutability

                     I.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
   How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
 Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soon
   Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:—
                    II.
Or like forgotten lyres whose dissonant strings
   Give various response to each varying blast,
 To whose frail frame no second motion brings
   One mood or modulation like the last.
                   III.
We rest—a dream  has power to poison sleep;
   We rise—one wandering thought pollutes the day;
 We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep,
   Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:—
                    IV.
It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
   The path of its departure still is free;
 Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
   Nought may endure but Mutability.

 

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