144 iambic pentameter lines in five sections. The lines are rhymed, but according to no obvious pattern.
1. We start with "the everlasting universe of things " rolling "through the mind. " This universe has waves and apparently (the syntax is murky) secret springs which are the source of human thought. These secret springs bring tribute (where and to whom?)čand then the rest of the first section describes a "feeble brook" in the woods. This is a very odd beginning, and one which seems to defeat logical paraphrase. Shelley seems to be inisisting that we make sense of his poem alogically. The universe and the human mind are connected by association, not by logical inference.
2. The 39 lines of section II are one long sentence continuously interrupted by asides. The verb ("lie") which ought to follow "thou" in line 12 does not appear until the end of line 19. In between, in parenthesis, we find a description of the awe-inspiring vale of the Arve river, where Power comes down looking like the river. Pay attention to what he's doing with the description of the landscape, and note the paradoxes of "earthly rainbows" and the "aethereal waterfall." Finally, at the end of the section, we get something that seems like a statement of what we are supposed to be doing:
Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantasy,
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around.
3. The third section seems a little more conventional. First we get a description of the scene and the poet's musing on what might have been there in ages past, and at the end, an almost forthright interpretation of what the wilderness is to teach us. According to the poet, the wise interpret Mont Blanc's voice, the great make us feel it, and the good deeply feel it themselves. Does this connection of natural beauty and power make you think of similar connections in the poems of the other Romantics?
4. In case we were getting too sure of the connection between the Power in nature and humankind, Section IV insists on the inhospitability of that awesome eternal power to any finite life, most especially the things of man. "Power dwells apart in its tranquility,/ Remote, serene, and inaccessible." The last, short section resolves the poem. The Power dwells inaccessibly apart from man, in Mont Blanc (the highest peak in the Alps). But "what were thou" if man were not able to look upon this landscape? What do you think of a philosophical poem which ends with a question like this? Is Shelley's answer obvious? Does yours agree with his?
Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000