Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Cloudy Understanding

Full text of "Cloud Shimmerings"One of the most exciting aspects of our collections is the way that Dartmouth students interpret primary sources to create new ideas within the context of the classroom. On Tuesdays this summer, we will publish posts that were originally written by students in Michael Chaney's Literary History survey course during the Winter 2021 term. Each student essay comparatively examines two poems, one from the Dartmouth student newspaper and the other by a canonical American or British author.

Today's post examines the poems “Cloud Shimmerings,” from Volume One of The Dartmouth, and Percy Shelley’s “The Cloud” and argues that these poems qualify the impact that nature can have upon humanity since the truth of humanity is its mortality, which is a state to which nature can never relate.

The second stanza of “Cloud Shimmerings” identifies within nature “A truthful beauty” which is encapsulated so fully within each natural entity that “e’en the mists earth’s bosom gives to air,/… May give to stooping thoughts a loftier flight/... To glean the choicest gems that truth’s high throne bedight.” (J. 10, 12, 16, 18). The human speaker thus claims that the natural beauty embedded within a cloud, when witnessed by a human, allows the cloud to elevate the otherwise subservient human introspections to the extent that the human might be allowed to witness real truth (“stooping, v.1”). The idealistic pastoral tone of the poem insinuates that such an evolution in knowledge “Tis joy” to experience, as it is a separation from “the din of human toil and strife” to the extent that understanding natural truth serves to sever the speaker from the limitations of human existence (J. 1, 2).

The truth that the human is granted understanding of can be contemplated through the application of “The Cloud.” The semi-omniscient speaker of the cloud grants readers first-hand access to the truths inherent in nature which appear to be two-fold. Until the closing stanza, the poem emphasizes the myriad symbiotic relationships connecting the cloud to all other elements of nature. It is not until the last stanza that the speaker seems to allude to any interaction it might have with humanity. The cloud defines itself in the last stanza, emphasizing its state of immortality through lines 74 and 80 : “I change, but I cannot die/… I silently laugh at my own cenotaph”(Shelley). The cloud’s laughter at the cenotaph, intended to serve as a physical memorial to the dead, emphasizes the futility of human monuments attempting to be compared to the truth of natural immortality (“cenotaph, n.”).

This truth may be viewed as a characteristic transitively shared by all the elements in nature but noticeably absent in humanity, as is insinuated through the lack of connection to humanity within the poem itself. As such, “The Cloud” posits that the truths of natural beauty are natural immorality, and in turn, human mortality. The divine sensation of illumination that the speaker in “Cloud Shimmerings” claims to experience is thus qualified by the essence of the truths they come to bear witness to; as while the human is enabled to comprehend that they are mortal and nature is not, this cognizance does not truly separate them from the rest of humanity, as both they and their attempted literary memorializations are laughable in the eyes of nature.

Written by Zoe Marzi '22

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