Shelley and the Moon

The moon is a feature in some of Shelley’s work … including his masterpiece ‘Prometheus Unbound’ … whether or not you know anything about Shelley and his poetry have a look at the imagery conjured by this beautiful little poem (these are two fragments that were put together after his death) …



And, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass.


Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

… and here are some ‘transformation lines’ from Prometheus Unbound (1 see below) showing a thankful Moon in discussion with Earth …


“How art thou sunk, withdrawn, cover’d drunk up
By thirsty nothing, as the brackish cup
Drained by a Desart-troop – a little drop for all;
And from beneath, around, within, above,
Filling thy void annihilation, Love
Bursts in like light on caves cloven by the thunderball”


The snow upon my lifeless mountains
Is loosened into living fountains,
My solid Oceans flow and sing and shine
A spirit from my heart bursts forth,
It clothes with unexpected birth
My cold bare bosom: Oh! it must be thine
On mine, on mine!

Gazing on thee, I feel, I know,
Green stalks burst forth, and bright flowers grow
And living shapes upon my bosom move:
Music is in the sea and air,
Winged clouds soar here and there,
Dark with the rain new buds are dreaming of:
“Tis Love, all Love!

Prometheus Unbound Act 4 (lines 350-369)

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Footnote …

1 Prometheus Unbound is based on the work of Aeschylus which dramatizes the sufferings of Prometheus, unrepentant champion of humanity, who, because he had stolen fire from Heaven, was condemned by Zeus to be chained to Mount Caucasus and to be tortured by a vulture feeding on his liver. Shelley continued the story but transformed it into a symbolic drama about the origin of evil and of overcoming it.

(Aeschylus (525-455BC) was an ancient Greek playwright … the father of tragedy … earliest of the three Greek playwrights Sophocles, Euripides.)

For those interested in Shelley’s background this is a link to an excellent bio

… and some relevant text from the above site …

During this 1818-1819 period Shelley wrote what many consider to be his masterpiece, Prometheus Unbound (1820), subtitled A Lyrical Drama, perhaps to suggest a hybrid genre in the way Wordsworth and Coleridge had signalled their pioneering efforts by titling their first volume of poetry Lyrical Ballads (1798). Shelley had been developing the symbolism, imagery, and ideas for the poem for several years. For example, he states in the preface that “the imagery which I have employed will be found … to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind,” a technique he had already used in Mont Blanc. Shelley had had a longstanding interest in and familiarity with Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, even translating it for Byron, but he could not accept the idea that Aeschylus had bound the champion of mankind for eternity, or even worse, that Prometheus would have been reconciled with Jupiter in Aeschylus’s lost drama, the sequel to Prometheus Bound. As Shelley avers in the preface, “I was averse from a catastrophe so feeble as that of reconciling the Champion with the Oppressor of mankind.” The choice of Prometheus as his hero is not surprising, given this mythological character’s association with rebellion and isolation from his act of giving fire to man against the gods’ wishes and his reputation as a “fore-thinker” or prophet. For Shelley he came to symbolize the mind or soul of man in its highest potential.

Shelley was willing to challenge ‘the establishment’, the conventions of his day, and of more importance ‘The Gods’ (God) to establish his own internal truth.

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