The Cloud by Shelley: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Introduction to 'The Cloud'
  • 0:50 Stanzas One and Two
  • 2:55 Stanzas Three and Four
  • 3:51 Stanzas Five and Six
  • 5:56 Analysis
  • 6:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Percy Bysshe Shelley was a writer from the Romantic era who lived from 1792-1822. Romanticists glorified nature, and in this lesson, we will see the world from a cloud's point of view.

Introduction to ''The Cloud''

One unusual characteristic of ''The Cloud'', a poem by Shelley, is that it's written in first person from a cloud's perspective. The cloud is actually speaking throughout the poem. This catches our attention right away, as we are used to examining clouds but are not used to hearing from them. There is a rhyme scheme in each stanza - referring to an end rhyme pattern - but it is not consistent throughout the poem. The meter also varies, beginning in dactyl, which is one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables, as in the first words 'I bring fresh', but varying from line to line, as well. This makes sense, as Romantics were apt to break free from strict established forms. The poem has six stanzas and 84 lines. Instead of analyzing every line, we will spotlight several key parts, looking at both meaning and form.

Stanzas One and Two

The first four lines of the poem read:

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams;

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid

In their noon-day dreams.

Right away, we see that the cloud is speaking, taking credit for watering the earth and providing shade for the trees. Again, we are struck with a new perspective, as it is the clouds that give shade in this case and not the trees. Also, we immediately experience the effect of Shelley's imagery. We can see the clouds, thirsty flowers, sea and streams, to name a few. Stanza one continues on to demonstrate the power of the cloud who can pelt the world with hail and then choose to melt it with rain. Thunder, says the cloud, is its laughter.

We really must look at all of stanza two:

I sift the snow on the mountains below,

And their great pines groan aghast;

And all the night 'tis my pillow white,

While I sleep in the arms of the blast.

Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,

Lightning my pilot sits;

In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,

It struggles and howls at fits;

Over Earth and Ocean, with gentle motion,

This pilot is guiding me,

Lured by the love of the genii that move

In the depths of the purple sea;

Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,

Over the lakes and the plains,

Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,

The Spirit he loves remains;

And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile,

Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

We notice an almost joyful tone in this poem. The cloud, free and powerful, boasts of all the wonderful things she can do. In this case, the cloud sends the snow, calling it her ''pillow.'' Shelley continues to call lightning the cloud's guiding pilot. However, the cloud remains, even when the lightning fades. Once again, we see Shelley's use of personification. Lightning ''guides'' and ''dreams.''

Stanzas Three and Four

Now let's go over stanzas three and four.

The sanguine Sunrise, with his meteor eyes,

And his burning plumes outspread,

Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,

When the morning star shines dead;

As on the jag of a mountain crag,

Which an earthquake rocks and swings,

An eagle alit one moment may sit

In the light of its golden wings.

In stanza three, Shelley calls the sunrise ''sanguine,'' depicting an outgoing personality and a reddish color. The sunrise leaps onto the cloud's back, again providing us with strong visual imagery. The sunrise is flying with lighted wings.

Stanza four begins:

That orbed maiden with white fire laden

Whom mortals call the Moon,

Glides glimmering o'er my fleece-like floor

By the midnight breezes strewn;

In this stanza, we are given a lovely picture of the moon as a maiden dancing lightly on the cloud's fleecy floor. As the stanza continues, Shelley compares the stars to a ''swarm of golden bees.''

Stanzas Five and Six

Stanza five continues to show the power of the cloud as she states:

I bind the Sun's throne with a burning zone

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