“Mont Blanc”

I found two aspects of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” really interesting. First, I thought that the use of the word ‘daedal’ in the poem was significant. This word is defined as “intricately formed” in the footnotes, but I looked it up in the OED and it can also be used (and was used at the time Shelley wrote) to refer to things that were maze-like or cunningly invented. It’s probably safe to assume that Shelley was quite careful about his word choice, and I wonder whether he meant to imply that the Earth is like the labyrinth that the Daedalus of Greek mythology built. The lines that convinced me of this were, “All things that move and breathe with toil and sound / Are born and die; revolve, susbside and swell” (94-5). These lines seem to paint the Earth/life in general almost as a trap or an inescapable thing; people are born and die and this is a part of human nature that, obviously, no one can control. 

Second, I thought it was interesting to consider this poem in contrast to the portion of “The 1805 Prelude” wherein Wordsworth describes his experience with the Alps. One line, in particular, of “Mont Blanc” struck me; Shelley writes, “And this, the naked countenance of earth, / On which I gaze, even these primaeval mountains / Teach the adverting mind” (98-100). Shelley is obviously awestruck by the Alps, stating that simply seeing them will teach a person something about the beauty of nature and the nature of life and death. In “The 1805 Prelude”, Wordsworth describes his feelings after seeing the Alps in this way: “Yet still in me, mingling with these delights, / Was something of stern mood, an under-thirst / Of vigour, never utterly asleep” (488-90). The fact that Shelley states that any person with an observant mind will learn something from even viewing the Alps seems to reflect poorly on Wordsworth. Wordsworth sees Mount Blanc and, to be fair, is amazed by the sight; but he is also left with a sense of longing for something more. I think that Wordsworth’s poem is a bit more realistic in relation to the human experience. As we discussed in class, Wordsworth didn’t realize that he had already crossed the Alps and was disappointed that he didn’t have some sort of cinematic moment upon reaching the top. Not everything can live up to our expectations. Often, when we’ve built something up in our minds to an extreme degree, we might not experience it as we think that we should. On the other hand, Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” is similar to a lot of Wordsworth’s poetry about his boyhood in nature and how he learned many lessons from his natural surroundings.

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