Nineteenth-Century Poetry – 5 (Mutability -2)

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Allen Ginsberg on Shelley continues from here

AG: He (Shelley) has another “Mutability” poem.  Let’s see if I can find that.  The first one is 1821.

“1 – The flower that smiles today/Tomorrow dies;/All that we wish to stay,/Tempts and then flies./All that we wish to stick with, to stay./ What is this world’s delight?/Lightning that mocks the night,/Brief even as bright – 2 – “Virtue, how frail it is!/Friendship how rare!/ Love, how it sells poor bliss/For proud despair!/ But we, though soon they fall,/ Survive their joy and all/ Which ours we call.” – (Which we call our own) – “3 – Whilst skies are blue and bright,/ Whilst flowers are gay,/ Whilst eyes that change ere night/ Make glad the day,/ Whilst yet the calm hours creep,/ Dream thou – and from thy sleep/Then wake to weep.

So he’s saying anything we want we can’t get forever, basically.  It’s also called “Mutability.”
So it’s more of a psychological mutability – of despair and not being able to hang onto beauty or not being able to… I guess a young man’s idea of mutability, of suddenly realizing that everything is transitory and that becomes a disappointment rather than a liberation.

Because he’s got the idea, also, at the end of “Adonais” that the things that we really want finally are not so good –  “and what still is dear/Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.” – ( What still is dear repels you finally, to wither away at it) – “and what still is dear/Attracts to crush.”

Student:  What’s the title of that poem?

AG:  Well, the “Attracts to crush” comes from the end of Adonais.”  That phrase:  “and what still is dear/Attracts to crush.”  Everybody has that experience, I guess, of getting what they want and then getting it as just a piece of meat, or (it) withers, or stales, or becomes uninteresting, or changes its charms, say.  It might become a little more every day acceptable and workable, but nonetheless isn’t what you thought it was.

Well, it’s kind of a young man’s psychological disappointment, because he was young.  But it’s also sharp in that when he was very young he realized how fast things wither and how little there is to hang onto.  A young man’s disappointment in the sense that he’s disappointed by the situation that he can’t step in the same river twice, rather than overjoyed that it’s not going to be sticking around and hanging on around his neck like an albatross for the rest of eternity.

The Buddhist view is that it’s a good thing that everything changes, otherwise we’d be stuck in a morgue, so to speak.  Or stuck in an eternal springtime, or stuck in an unfading, ever changing delightful landscape full of idiots, like stuck in a Garden of Eden that after a billion years would get boring, and disgusting in fact – with everybody simpering around like in a dream.  Which is a point Blake made thirty years earlier in a prophetic book.  The second prophetic book he wrote – Tiriel – which is an account of visiting a Garden of Eden where nobody ever grows old and where the flowers always smell good and the people are all idiots, because they never learn anything because nothing changes, and they live forever but they just go to bed in the morning, get up at night, and smell the flowers and go to bed in the morning and get up at night.  And it was his idea what would have happened if Adam and Eve had stayed in the Garden of Eden.  I guess maybe we ought to look at that Tiriel when we get around to Blake.

to be continued

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately thirty-two-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes in

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