Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cloud and the Romantic Theme of Deity in Nature
Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792, the eldest of seven children. Shelley was very hostile to organized religion, declaring religion must perish. Moroever, Shelley read widely, including the Bible, and thus knew his opponents. "The Cloud," written in 1820 is a short poem written in abcb (as opposed to the heroic couplets of previous generations) rhyme scheme but this feature is the least of its norm breaking properties. In "The Cloud," Shelley expresses the Romantic theme of man finding deity in nature.
In the first stanza, Shelley reveals the cloud's deity by expressing the multiple functions of the cloud. In the same way the Christian God has multiple functions like Creator, Redeemer, and Comforter, the cloud has many functions. First, Shelley portrays the cloud as a gardener. He brings water to the thirsty flowers. This is a picture of a nurturer. Second, Shelley personifies the leaves as Mother Nature's children. The cloud is a shade bearer for the leaves who take a noonday nap. In addition, Shelley personifies the buds as Mother Nature's children. Each night Mother Nature rocks the buds to rest at her breast, a symbol of nurture. Moreover, Shelley gives Mother Nature human characteristics by saying she dances around the moon. This is simply Shelley's symbolism for the rotation of the Earth. In addition, the wind showers forth hail as a sign of judgement. Then he shows his power over the hail by dissolving it in rain. Finally, Shelley gives the cloud the ability to laugh like a human being. The cloud's laughing is his thunder. This is the laughing of a boastful arrogant deity as he shows his power. Shelley believes nature to be a more benevolent deity than the Christian God but the fact the cloud is a deity is a detriment to its character. All deities are imperfect to Shelley because they fall prey to pride. The cloud is no exception to this rule.
The second stanza portrays the theme of a deity who does as it pleases to do. He sifts snow onto the mountains. Shelley personifies the pine trees below by making them groan because of the snow. Yet the Cloud takes comfort in their suffering because the snow is its pillow.
Moreover, Shelley utilizes the imagery of an immortal that chases in love after another immortal to explain lightning. Shelley explains science, which says asserts lightning is formed in droplets of vapor, in a different manner. He acknowledges science by saying lightning is the pilot of the cloud, but he says the cloud loves a Spirit, or genii, which it chases after. The cloud's immense love for the Spirit compels the cloud to follow the Spirit wherever it travels. The Spirit journeys over across the sea, over hills and mountains, over lakes and plains, and under mountains and streams. Shelley probably means the genii to metaphorically present the theory of atmospheric electricity (MacEachen 62). Thus, when an...