Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 22 March 2015





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

‘The Cloud’ whispers to Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers.

From the seas and the streams:

I bear light shade for the leaces when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one.

So lyrical; so very passionate about nature that P.B. Shelley went to extremes only to be criticised for its didacticism and reckless emotionalism. But that was in his era. It is different today where poetry laden with emotion and feelings dominates lyrical lines to bring out the passion of humankind towards others. It can erupt from love or hatred but the passion that lay between is Shelley's signature.

He was essentially a poet of ideas in search for the truth but never found it.

The truth I searched I never found like in these four lines:

‘Our hearts are endless
And our souls infinite
I close my eyes to open my heart
On time remaining upon my soul’ (Page 26)

May be when I wrote From A Distance I was subconsciously influenced by his search for truth which both of us never found and I still keep looking for it knowing it is there in someone who means the world to me. There are many like me who at the end have given up the search for hope.

Shelley who was inspired by Greek poets and philosophers along with the radicalism of his own age turned to Plato. In his art, if not in his life, Shelley was able to soar into expressions and dreams that his vision held. Yet, they were continually tarnished by reality in the inextinguishable human spirit.

His greatest asset was his lyricism which made his verse comes to music and song. His approach was akin to Byron. Intense, idealistic and inpetuous and like Byron in his days drove to great controversy. They both lived and shared lives outside their poetry.

And from the high heavens and across the expanse ‘The Cloud’ spoke to Shelley and condoned his frustration:-

‘In the depths of the purple sea,
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills
Over the lakes and the plains
Whatever the dreams under the mountain or stream
The spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile
Whilst he is dissolving in rain’

Shelley's detractors never left him alone whether in life or death. He became the subject of much ridicule and his poetic reputation contrary to the expectations of his critics stayed put lustily.

The hateful passion wrought by them aroused personal virulence upon the innocent Shelley. Even after his death, he still raises antagonism but with complex ideologies. The poet continues to live outside his work and attract or repel the criticism as he did when he was alive.

No English poet suffered this dilemma not even his inseparable Byron; and no English poet was able to live through hell like this and rise unscathed. Amidst the criticism hurled at him at various points of his life by the literati and critics, Byron wrote about him, ‘You were all brutally mistaken about Shelley who was without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew.’

And The Cloud told him:-

‘I wield the flail of the lashing hail
And whiten the green plains under
And then again I dissolve it in rain
And laugh as I pass in thunder’

In these verses Shelley found consolation though they were a form of symbolism from which he drew inspiration. He found it easy to communicate with Cloud that hung in heaven performing its daily routine which to Shelley appeared to be a miracle. The cloud could get lost and appear after dissolving in rain and the spirit in it awakened the poet's ardour when in solitude he gazed. This type of attitude irked poets of his time as relentlessly he searched the truth, may be even in the Cloud.

Shelley's spirit in The Cloud

Seeped in philosophy and uncertainties of life, the deep-thinking poet found solace in simple uncomplicated virtues of life that many failed to understand. What he saw in others, they knew not; how he looked at nature appeared differently so much so that he was considered eccentric when he addressed the mountain, valley or ocean. His spirit rose above all to captivate an aura and the lushness of life and perhaps beyond it. In the Cloud, he can read what's behind it or in the tasks it performs.

‘I bind the Sun's throne with a burning zone
And the Moon's with a girdle of pearl
The volcanoes are dim and the stars reel and swim
When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl’

What did The Cloud mean? Or what did it tell Shelley? Perhaps while the poet is reduced to ashes and dust, the cloud would dissolve into water and fall upon his grave. In time, the water would be absorbed into another cloud while from the ashes would rise another Shelley. The process will repeat in many ways and to put it across philosophically, it is the cycle of life that Shelley tried to explain. Shelley's relations with women too were unique. While he failed in his adoration to pen his ardour, he remained extremely attractive to them because of his idealism and his inability to see what went under his nose which was unperceptive in his search for the intellectual woman.

Of the two women he marries, one committed suicide. The other failed and between them he had a few children; not what the most essentially romantic of the poets of his age, he discovered and found no intellectuality in them.

‘I'm the daughter of Earth and Water
And the nursling of the Sky
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores
I change but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare
And the winds and the sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain
Like child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb
I arise and unbuild it again.


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