Monday, October 29, 2007

Poem of the Week 10/22/2007: Mutability


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:

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.

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:

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 Mutablilty.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley wavered throughout his life between skepticism and deep faith; interested in the philosophy of David Hume, he often treated human experience as closed from anything higher, closed from progression. Though I have read little Hume, Shelley treats life with a poet's sensitivity, noticing the difficulty of living purely.

This idea of change--Plato calls it Becoming, Blake, generation--is something that, I think, modernity does not teach us to believe in. For us, there is always more: more food, more fun, more parties, more advertisements, more songs (for me, more coffee). But is that true? Or is that more just more ending? More death?

Some might ask whether we ought to be disturbed by this, as Shelley, using words like "poisons" and "pollutes," clearly is. And it is a question--maybe that luminosity of clouds covering the moon is enough. Or maybe it is disturbing. It is certainly easy to feel what Shelley articulates in this poem.

Next week I will add to this theme from Rilke.

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