"The Desire Of The Moth For The Star"

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 186

Context: Addressing Jane Williams, a married woman with whom he formed a close friendship in Italy, the poet tries to express the unique value of his "platonic" love for her. The musical, balanced poem uses negatives and opposites to describe the freshness and the purity of the poet's passion. Human love is all too often corrupted and despised, and both Shelley and the beloved have a duty toward their love: he must not profane it, and she must not disdain it. His love for the lady is close to despair and thus cannot be stifled by mere prudence. In the second stanza, Shelley admits that the "love" he feels is not merely human passion; it is actually worship, the universal worship of things beyond one's reach. He wants the woman to realize the true nature of his affection for her:

I can give not what men call love,
But wilt thou accept not
The worship the heart lifts above
And the Heavens reject not–
The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow?

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