Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Please discuss Shelley's poem "Evening: Ponte al Mare, Pisa" at length, including meter and what type of poem it is.

Shelley's "Evening: Ponte Al Mare, Pisa" is a poem celebrating the beauty, tranquility, and constancy of nature. It is a lyrical poem because of its musical rhythm, and it is also a hymn in the sense that it is poem written to praise its subject. The meter of the poem is iambic pentameter.

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In the four stanzas of "Evening: Ponte Al Mare," the speaker praises the beauty, tranquility, and constancy of nature. In the first stanza, he describes the "evening's breath, wandering … Over the quivering surface of the stream." He also says that the ripples on the surface of the water are each in their own "summer dream." The personification of nature in these lines suggests that nature is at peace with itself, like a person enjoying a pleasant dream, gently breathing in and out.

In the third stanza of the poem, the speaker ponders the reflection of the city in the rippling surface of the water. The speaker then invites the reader to leave and return on another day, and the speaker says that when the reader returns they will find the image of city, reflected in the surface of the water, to be the same as it was on the day that they left. The implication here is that this peaceful scene will remain constant, just as nature is constant irrespective of the changing world of man.

The poem is written, for the most part, in iambic pentameter, meaning that each line is made up of five iambs. An iamb is a pair of syllables in which the second syllable is stressed, or emphasized. For example, in the first line of the poem the first two words, "There is," form one iamb, and the next two words, "no dew," form another. There are five iambs in the line in total, which means that the meter is iambic pentameter. The word pent, from the Greek, means five. Overall then the first line of the poem, if we annotate it to mark out the iambs, will look like this: "There is / no dew / on the / dry grass / to-night." This meter is repeated in most of the the lines in the rest of the poem. There is also an alternating rhyme pattern in the the first four lines of each stanza in the poem, and the last two lines of each stanza form a rhyming couplet. The regular iambic pentameter, in combination with this repetitive rhyme scheme, lend a dependable, lyrical rhythm to the poem, reflecting the constancy and lyrical beauty of nature.

The poem is written as a celebration of nature, and thus might be considered a hymn. A hymn is a poem written to praise its subject. The poem might also be considered a lyrical poem because of the aforementioned rhythmic qualities.

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This poem is written in iambic tetrameter: four feet/iambs and a rhyme scheme of ababcc. Written in 1820 or 1821, this was composed in one of the last years of Shelley's life. The poem discusses an evening at Pisa where/when the scene is totally tranquil. One major theme is the dichotomy of change and permanence, perhaps most clearly stated in the line, "You, being changed, will find it then as now." 

Shelley uses alliteration to convey the unity of nature and its organized tranquility; just as the different parts of...

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nature are on the same schedule of settling down in silence in evening, the sounds of his words are also in sync: 

The sun is set; the swallows are asleep

The bats are flitting fast in the gray air; 

The slow soft toads out of damp corners creep

In the second stanza, the speaker adds that the air and land are dry. This suggests a distinction, perhaps coincidental or trivial, that there is something different between the stream/river and the land. The one aspect that makes this distinction significant is the description in the third stanza. 

Within the surface of the fleeting river

The wrinkled image of the city lay,

Immovably unquiet, and forever 

It trembles but it never fades away; 

Similar to Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," where the images of people are forever frozen in time, the reflection of the city is permanent on the surface of the water. Because the river is moving ("fleeting"), the image also moves and "trembles." This shows the immortality of the image/reflection/poem as opposed to the movement and mutability of life. The image of the city is "immovably unquiet" - not moving but making some noise; the noise could be the actual noise of the city or more likely it is the sound of the ripples in the water. 

The fifth line of the third stanza reads "Go to the . . ." It is considered to be unfinished, with some suggestions as to how the line might have concluded: "Go to the Indies" or "Go to the East." In any case, it is somewhat fitting that there is no specific destination to conclude the line because this lack of a destination could suggest that one could go anywhere and find the same truths: things change but we can find moments and images in nature and poetry in which things are, or seem to be, permanent/immortalized. 

In the final stanza, the sun has set behind "cinereous" (ashen, gray) clouds. One light, the sun, is disappearing while another, the evening star (Venus or a bright star in the night sky), appears to take its place. Here again is the dichotomy of change and permanence (together showing the cyclical aspect of nature). One light is leaving (change) but another is arriving - almost as if they've switched places so that one light is always (permanence) "shining through." 

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