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The Two Spirits: An Allegory
O thou, who plumed with strong desire
Wouldst float above the earth, beware!
A shadow tracks thy flight of fire—
Night is coming!
Bright are the regions of the air,
And among the winds and beams
I were delight to wander there—
Night is coming!
The deathless stars are bright above;
If I would cross the shade of night,
Within my heart is the lamp of love,
And that is day!
And the moon will smile with gentle light
On my golden plumes where’er they move;
The meteors will linger round my flight,
And make night day.
But if the whirlwinds of darkness waken
Hail, and lightning, and stormy rain;
See, the bounds of the air are shaken—
Night is coming!
The red swift clouds of the hurricane
Yon declining sun have overtaken,
The clash of the hail sweeps over the plain—
Night is coming!
I see the light, and I hear the sound;
I’ll sail on the flood of the tempest dark,
With the calm within and the light around
Which makes night day:
And thou, when the gloom is deep and stark,
Look from thy dull earth, slumber-bound,
My moon-like flight thou then mayst mark
On high, far away.
Some say there is a precipice
Where one vast pine is frozen to ruin
O’er piles of snow and chasms of ice
Mid Alpine mountains;
And that the languid storm pursuing
The wingèd shape, forever flies
Round those hoar branches, aye renewing
Its aery fountains.
Some say when nights are dry and clear,
And the death-dews sleep on the morass,
Sweet whispers are heard by the traveller,
Which make night day:
And a silver shape like his early love doth pass
Upborne by her wild and glittering hair,
And when he awakes on the fragrant grass,
He finds night day.
By: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824)
Two voices are arguing about their perspectives on life, which turns out to be the voices in a traveller’s head.
Major Themes and Motifs:
- Perspectives on Life
Literary Terms Applicable to “The Two Spirits: An Allegory”:
- Auditory Imagery
- Figurative Language
- Literal Language
- Point of View
- Visual Imagery
(in order of appearance)
The Being with “strong desire” / Traveller-
His mind is a debate between two voices, the First and Second Spirit. While he dreams, he hears sweet whispers and sees an Angel. When he wakes up, he finds night day.
A frantic voice that worries about what will happen to the sky when night arrives. The voice tries to warn the Traveller of the dangers, and how extreme whether conditions might happen if night comes. The First Spirit’s predicted weather patterns comes true with the rumours of a lingering storm. The First Spirit is associated with day.
A calmer voice whose heart is a “lamp of love.” The voice thrives in the night because of the moonlight as he harmoniously soars through the sky. Unlike the First Spirit, the Second Spirit wants the two of them to unite and make “night day.” The Second Spirit is associated with night.
A creature that flies in the storm around the Alpine mountains. She appears in the Traveller’s dreams as a silver shape with glittering hair.
Detailed Description of the Events within the Poem:
- The First Spirit warns a being with “strong desire” that while he might soar in the sky for now, night is coming.
- Night is here.
- The Second Spirit thrives in the moonlight.
- The First Spirit argues that if darkness awakens then the sky would be torn apart in pain as shown through the weather.
- The Second Spirit can sail through the storm as night becomes day, and he would fly in the moon lit sky.
- A storm is brewing by a cliff near the Alpine mountains.
- A winged creature, presumably an angel, flies there.
- The nights are dry, and Traveller doses while he hears whispers.
- He dreams of the angel.
- The Traveller wakes to find night has become day.
- Precipice- A very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one.
- Languid- Displaying or having a disinclination for physical exertion or effort.
- Aery- Lofty, insubstantial, or visionary.
- Morass- An area of muddy or boggy ground.
(Definitions from: Oxford Dictionary of English)
Significance of the Text:
This allegory is an internal debate of the voices within everyone’s mind. The Traveller has two distinct voices, known as the Spirits, who are so starkly different that one is associated with night and the other with day. The resolution of the poems shows the two sides becoming one (“making night day”) as the Traveller wakes up. Shelley is encouraging his readers to explore all of the places within their own minds in order to achieve a unified voice that is you.
Percy Shelley’s radical views are shown through his poems, which made him unpopular during his lifetime. After his death, he became steadily famous. When Shelley was 29 (1822), he drowned on the Gulf of Spezia. The ship that sunk was called “Don Juan” by his friend Lord Byron, but he had renamed it to Ariel after the character from The Tempest. There are speculations if it was an accident.
Where more of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Work can be Found:
Bloom, Harold. The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer through Frost. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Print.