This passage from the second section of "Mont Blanc" reveals line by line the themes and motifs of the entire poem:
Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate phantasy,
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings. — Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni," 1816.
With the first words, "Dizzy Ravine," Shelley addresses the mountain directly. His discourse is not directed to another person in the style of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," or Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode." The crux of the poem is the mountain, not a human in that setting, or a companion of Shelley.
The capitalization of the opening address reinforces the stature of the mountain as enormous, powerful and awe-inspiring. The word "Dizzy" implies the emotions of awe and dizzying power aroused in Shelley by the mountain. Shelley is struck by the immensity of power and potential for destruction held by this mountain.
. . . Is this the scene
Where the old Earthquake daemon taught her young
Ruin? Were these her toys?
His awesome power induces a meditation, "a trance sublime and strange" described in the next lines, a "separate phantasy," a musing. This musing produces Shelley's perception of a duality in nature. As Chris Drummond argues, "While appreciating nature's aesthetic majesty, Shelley warns man not to equate beauty with tranquility... [man must see] both sides of the coin...admiring its unapproachable synthesis of power and grace."
Despite how dwarfed he feels by this immense icy mountain, Shelley knows his own importance. The human mind "renders and receives," images of the mountains. Shelley receives the images through his senses: the view of the dizzying ravine, the furiously rushing sound of the river. As a poet, Shelley renders nature, making "Mont Blanc" exist in his lines of poetry: "thou [Mont Blanc] art there!"
Shelley's techniques, as illustrated in this poem, include the direct address of the mountain and the employment of words of meditation. The sporadic end rhyme found in these lines represents similar rhyme patterns throughout the rest of the poem. Although each line is written in iambic pentameter, enjambements break up the rhythmic regularity. The enjambements and unbalanced lines keep the poem rushing forward with energy. Exclamations such as "Dizzy Ravine!" show the narrator's emotional outbursts at the mountains power. Finally, this passage encapsulates the frightening inspiration of Mont Blanc, the meditation it induces, and the resulting poetry which asserts the power of nature
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000