Hymn to the Spirit of Nature

Explanatory Notes

Life of Life: essence of life.

they thy lips enkindle… between them: There is such love in Asia’s lips that it lights up the breath which passes through her lips. (This is poetical language, and the words here are not to be taken literally).

And thy smiles….cold are fire: There is such heat in her smiles that, before fading away, they warm the cold air. The cold air becomes warm in the fire of Asia’s smiles.

Then screen them…in their mazes: Asia’s smiles are so bright and lovely that nobody can endure their brightness and loveliness. Therefore, she is asked to screen or conceal her smiles in her eyes. Her eyes are like intricate and bewildering paths. By looking into her eyes, a man would get lost and feel dazed. (maze labyrinth).

Child of Light : Asia is now called the Child of Light because she is so bright and shining.

Thy limbs are burning … thou shinest (Lines 7-12): Asia is so bright that rays of light seem to be emanating from her body. Her body seems to be burning. Even her clothes cannot hide the radiance of her body which appears to be on fire. The brightness of her body is visible through her clothes just as the brightness of dawn becomes visible through clouds before the clouds are parted by the sun. Wherever bright Asia may go, she is surrounded by this heavenly atmosphere. In other words, she is a divine Spirit enveloped in heavenly light.

Fair are other….. lost forever (Lines 13-18): There are other fair spirits in the universe, but Asia surpasses them all in beauty. Nobody can see Asia, because her splendour is dazzling to the eyes. Her voice is sweet, soft and gentle like the voice of the fairest of spirits. The glorious melody of her voice seems to be screening her from the sight of others. Everybody becomes dimly aware of her presence but nobody can actually see her, just as the speaker (Prometheus) feels aware of her presence and is forever completely lost in her glory, splendour and divine beauty.

Lamp of Earth ……… Unbewailing (Lines 19-24): Asia is now regarded as the lamp that sheds its light on the earth. Wherever she goes, her beauty and brightness illumine the dark objects on the earth. Those whom Asia loves are very fortunate. Because of the power of her love, their souls are enabled to walk lightly upon the breezes. Those souls can walk upon the breezes till, in the end, they collapse just as the speaker (Prometheus) is about to collapse. The speaker is feeling giddy or confused because of the dazzling beauty of Aisa and because of the intoxication of his love for her. In spite of that, to be in love with Asia is in itself a matter of pride, and that, though the lover is lost owing to his profound love for her, he does not complain or grumble.

You will be disappointed if you look minutely for the meaning of words and lines in this poem. It is the music of the poem that you must be able to feel. Therefore, the poem should be read for its sound, not for its sense; for its melody and sweetness, not for its meaning.

Summary/ Analysis of Hymn to the Spirit of Nature

Much of Shelley’s poetry is divorced from real human life. It lacks substance. It is airy or ethereal. It is vain to look for definite meaning in much of his poetry. The song here is an example of the abstract or ethereal or insubstantial quality of Shelley’s poetry. The four stanzas before us have no logical or clear-cut thought. The meaning is vague and hazy, not clear and definite. These stanzas have a dream-like quality about them. But this song is regarded as one of Shelley’s supreme efforts. J.A. Symonds for instance, says about it: “If a critic is so dull as to ask what ‘Life of Life! thy lips enkindle’ means, or to whom it is addressed, none can help him any more than one can help a man whose sense of hearing is too gross for the tenuity of a bats’ cry”. That is all very well, but it ought to be admitted that this lyric, for all its impassioned imagery, is lacking in clear cut thought. It stirs a vague, transcendent emotion, but the last line (“Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing!”) aptly describes ‘the feelings of the reader when he has finished the poem. So far as the sense or meaning is concerned, it is a confusing poem, and our feelings are best described in the last line.

Apart from the meaning, however, this is one of the finest lyrics of Shelley. Its melody and music are enchanting. The sweetness of its verse is delicious. As we read through the poem, we feel delighted by its singing quality. Especially noteworthy is the abundance of the liquid consonants which always enrich and sweeten verse. For instance :

Life of Life! thy lips enkindle
With their love the breath between them;————
Till they fail, as I am failing, Dizzy, lost, yet unbewailing

The poem is also remarkable for the richness of its imagery, and its similes and metaphors. The pictures of the breath of Asia being lighted up, her smiles warming the cold air, her body seeming to burn through her garments, her brightness illumining the dim shapes of the earth – these are all wonderful. The beauty of Asia’s eyes is most fancifully depicted by saying that whoever looks into them faints, “entangled in their mazes”. Asia’s eyes are compared to labyrinthine, bewildering paths in which a man would lose his way, while the intoxication of her yes would completely overpower and overwhelm him. We have a beautiful simile when Asia’s body seeming to burn through her garments is compared to the brightness of the morning which appears through the clouds in the east. A wonderful metaphor is employed when the voice of Asia is called a “liquid splendour”. Another metaphor is used when Asia is addressed as the “Lamp of Earth”.

This song or hymn has all the spontaneity for which Shelley’s lyrics are known. As we read it, we feel that it must have come from the poet’s imagination naturally and effortlessly, just as a nightingale’s song comes naturally from her throat. The mood of the poem is rapturous because of the fascinating and dazzling beauty, charm and radiance of Asia. The two closing lines, however, are tinged with sadness because there the speaker describes himself as “failing dizzy, lost”.

Assessment Questions

(i) What does Asia represent in ‘Hymn to the Spirit of Nature’?

A. It represents Intellectual Beauty, Soul of the World or the Spirit of Nature.

(ii) Why is it not possible to look at Asia?
A. It is not possible to look at Asia because her beauty is dazzling and unbearable.

(iii) What does the union of Prometheus and Asia symbolize?
A. The union of Prometheus and Asia symbolize the union of the spirit of love in man with the spirit of love in Nature.

(iv) What is the voice of Asia called?
A. The voice of Asia is Liquid splendour.

(v) Where has the song ‘Hymn to the Spirit of Nature’ been extracted from?
A. The song has been extracted from Shelley’s poetic drama Prometheus Unbound.

(b) Critically appreciate the poem Hymn to the Spirit of Nature.

A. See Critical Appreciation.

Review Questions

1. Discuss the use of images in ‘To The Night’.

2. Elucidate the poem ‘Hymn to The Spirit of Nature’ as a remarkable example of Shelley’s lyrical richness.


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