Explain lines 295 to 305 in "The Triumph of Life" by P.B. Shelley.

Quick answer:

Lines 295 through 305 of “The Triumph of Life” are part of a conversation between the poem’s speaker and the spirit of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss philosopher who died in 1778. In reply to the speaker’s question about where he came from and where he is going, Rousseau says he has only partial knowledge and does not know the reasons. Rousseau invites the speaker to hear his story and then teach him what the speaker learned from it.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In lines 295 through 305, the poem’s speaker is continuing to converse with the spirit of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who is serving as his “leader” or guide. In the preceding lines, the speaker has identified numerous “conquerors” and holy men, such as the Catholic popes Gregory and John, and claimed they did more to obscure than to illuminate true spiritual understanding that he refers to as “the Sun.” In contrast to those men, who had destructive power, Rousseau’s spirit says that he had the power to create. However, this creation may be filled with pain, or “a world of agony" (Line 295).

In line 296, the speaker asks Rousseau about his origins and destination. Rousseau initially offers a vague reference to feeling “sick,” because he is constantly surrounded by people and saddened by a single thought. He says that he only knows “[w]hence [he]…came, partly” and has a good idea how and why he arrived at his current difficult situation; he uses the metaphor of traveling along paths to a “pass,” or route between mountains. This leader also thinks that the speaker can guess how this occurred. However, he cannot figure out the reasons behind these events, or where he is going next (lines 303–304):

Why this should be my mind can compass not;

"Whither the conqueror hurries me still less.

Rousseau urges the speaker to follow him and thus become either “an actor or a victim in this wretchedness….” Rousseau thinks that the speaker can then teach him what he has learned (lines 307 – 308). From this point, he tells a long story by way of answering the speaker’s question.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial