Mont Blanc (poem) - Poem


"Mont Blanc" is a 144-line natural ode divided into five stanzas and written in irregular rhyme. It serves as Shelley's response to William Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey and as a "defiant reaction" against the "religious certainties" of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni", which "credits God for the sublime wonders of the landscape".

When the narrator of the poem looks upon Mont Blanc, he is unable to agree with Wordsworth that nature is benevolent and gentle. Instead, the narrator contends that nature is a powerful force:

The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters... (Lines 1–5)

However, this force only seems to have power in relation to the human mind.

In the second stanza, the narrator turns to the Arve River as a representation of consciousness in nature. The Arve River and the ravine surrounding the river increase the beauty of the other:

...awful scene,
Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down
From the ice gulphs that gird his secret throne,
Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame
Of lightning through the tempest... (Lines 15–19)

When the narrator witnesses the power of the Arve River, he claims:

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 influencing,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around; (Lines 35–40)

He realizes that knowledge is a combination of sensory perceptions and the ideas of the mind. The river can then serve as a symbol of a conscious power and a source for imaginative thought when he finishes the stanza, "thou art there!"

The third stanza introduces the connections between Mont Blanc and a higher power:

Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
Mont Blanc appears,—still, snowy, and serene—
Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread
And wind among the accumulated steeps; (Lines 60–66)

Although the power may seem removed from mankind, it can still serve as a teacher. By listening to the mountain, one can learn that nature can be both benevolent and malevolent; good and evil emerge from conscious choice and one's relationship to nature:

The wilderness has a mysterious tongue
Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,
So solemn, so serene, that man may be
But for such faith with nature reconciled;
Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood
By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.(Lines 76–83)

The fourth stanza discusses the greater power behind the mountain:

Power dwells apart in its tranquility
Remote, serene, and inaccessible:
And this, the naked countenance of earth,
On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains
Teach the adverting mind.... (Lines 96–100)

The power of the mountain, which encompasses both creation and destruction, parallels the power of the imagination.

Although nature can teach one about the imagination and offer truths about the universe, the poem denies the existence of natural religion. The power of the universe is symbolized by Mont Blanc, but for that power to have any meaning, one must exercise the imagination:

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death....
...The secret strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind's imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?(Lines 127–129, 139–144)

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