Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The lexicon of the poem makes the reader aware of several thematic concerns: time and space, history and geography, languages, the arts, and the animal kingdom. The protagonist measures himself against historical or cultural heroes and their roles. He is by turns Manfred—a well-known Byronic solitary, roaming the Alps, torn by remorse and obsessed by suicide on account of an unnamable cardinal sin, presumably of an incestuous nature, committed in his youth. Other people and places, whose chief characteristics or features he briefly shares, succeed one another: He is by turns witnessing an invasion of Australians, of restless Arabs, of a Chinese climbing a mountain, of Greeks rebuffing Persians, or of Romans making copies. He actually feels like being a Hittite in love with a horse, an African prince, an American Indian asleep over his enemy’s scalp. He even knows what it feels like to be French, German, Norwegian, a man of the world, a sailor, a prisoner, a dictator, a painter, a physician, and a journalist. Consequently words in such languages as Italian, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Arabic are sprinkled all over the poem.

All sorts of ideologies and forms of government are hinted at: humanism and democracy, dictatorships and guerilla warfare, American Indian wars, and Arabian, Greek and French love of ideas. Also mentioned are such places as Borneo, Venice, Paris, and Chicago; a wedding (sposalizio); Lord Nelson’s death and its...

(The entire section is 446 words.)