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“The Cloud” personifies a cloud, the narrator who explains her moods and abilities which correspond to weather patterns and the time of day and these also correspond to its life cycle. Since it is told from the cloud’s perspective, the cloud treats other natural elements like the sun, moon, wind, earth and flowers as if they were living beings like itself.
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
The effect is not just to humanize nature but to show how it is teeming with life and interaction perhaps in Spinoza’s sense that God is nature (pantheism), or Blake’s sense that nature is alive with divine or conscious presence. Because the cloud eventually dissipates, its existence is temporary and this is an analogy or metaphor of human life. The Cloud laughs at its own cenotaph. Cenotaph means an empty tomb which is a symbol of death, but it also refers to an empty womb, which is the place of rebirth.
Like a child from a womb, like a ghost from a tomb.
The Cloud laughs because it knows its absence is temporary or illusory; the cloud will return. Nature is eternal in its very creativity. A tomb is a womb; destruction is creation. The Cloud laughs three times in the poem and Shelley does this to symbolize that the Cloud, despite storms and violent weather, genuinely enjoys and appreciates existence. Since the Cloud’s very existence shifts from formation to dissipation, not much more than dew and vapor, this image suggests the essentially creative function of nature and the immortality of that creativity.
I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,
I change, but I cannot die.
This is also a reference to the creativity of writing which was Shelley’s (and many of the Romantics) approach to poetry in contemplation of nature.
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