Text of the Poem

I.

And, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp'd in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass. 

II.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Footnotes

  1. This line paints an intriguing image of the moon. The idea is that the moon is an eye rolling in its socket, forever scanning the earth for some “object worth its constancy.” The metaphor is original in the way it harnesses the moon’s ever-rotating nature to create an eerie poetic effect.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The phrase “different birth” expresses the differences between the moon and stars while maintaining the poem’s personification. The moon and stars come from separate sources but they are all nonetheless “birth[ed],” a broadly humanizing touch typical of Shelley’s work.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Shelley sticks to a strict iambic pentameter for most of the poem, but turns to trimeter and tetrameter for several lines, including the first and third of this stanza. On one level, the shortened lines add rhythmic variety. On another level, the conspicuous space at the end of the shortened line encourages the reader to pause and reflect. After a line such as “Wandering companionless,” that pause evokes the moon’s solitude.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The word “lean” operates in a couple of different ways here. The clearest use of the word is in its adjectival form, “lean” meaning “slender.” The moon, which reveals itself to be the subject of this sentence, is similarly “lean” in its crescent shape. The word “lean” is also subtly used in its verb form. This use conveys a physical sense of the woman leaning precariously, an image underscored in the next line with the phrase “totters forth.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. Shelley begins the poem with “and” to produce an unsettling effect. The word suggests that the moonrise is following some other, unspoken event. “And” conveys a sense of repetition and continuity as well: the moonrise described here is, after all, a nightly occurrence.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The noun “veil” refers to a piece of cloth made of a sheer material that covers the head and shoulders. Generally, women wear them as brides or when they are in mourning. The deathly imagery and “gauzy” nature of this veil suggests that this woman is in mourning. However, the marital connotations of veil also suggest that this mourning may have something to do with a thwarted wedding.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. The noun “constancy” means the state or quality of being steadfast and unmoving. The speaker notices the revolving moon and characterizes the moon’s movement, presumably its orbit around the Earth, as a sign of fickleness: it does not stay in one place because it does not deem anything “worth” standing still. Since “worth” carries connotations of having high standards, this final line shows that the moon believes nothing is good enough for it. Ironically, these high standards cause it to be forever alone.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. The pronoun “thou” is an archaic form of address for “you.” It generally signified a close relationship between the speaker and the addressee. “Art” is an archaic form of the word “are.” In this way, the speaker directly addresses the moon asking it “are you” pale from weariness.” This address further personifies the moon.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Notice that the final line of this stanza breaks the rhyme scheme: “mass” does not resolves the rhyme of “east” in this couplet. This leaves the reader with an uneasy feeling going into the next stanza.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. In reality, the moon has a clearly defined circle or crescent shape. However, in this metaphor, the moon is compared to a feeble woman. Its shapelessness can therefore be interpreted through the woman’s shapelessness. As we will discover in the next stanza, she is undefined because she is unmarried and not concretely defined by her relationship to a man. This metaphor reveals Shelley’s 19th-century social mindset, which held that a woman’s role was to marry and rear children.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. The adjective “murky” means gloomy, dark, or cloudy. This adjective is mostly likely used to describe the stormy atmosphere of the night that accompanies the moon. This adjective emphasizes the melancholic tone of the poem.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. The word “insane” operates as both an adjective and a noun in this line because of enjambment. Enjambment is a poetic device in which a sentence continues beyond the end of a line and can be read meaningfully both to the end of the line and to the end of the sentence. When read to the end of the sentence, “insane” is an adjective that implies that the woman is not of sound mind. When read to the end of the line, “the insane” is a noun that refers to all people who are defined by their state of madness. In this meaning of the line, she is led by a group of people rather than her own madness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The adjective “gauzy” describes something as resembling gauze: a thin, transparent fabric generally made of silk or linen. In putting this tottering woman in a “gauzy” veil, the speaker creates an image of a frail, damaged woman in gossamer clothing and once again invokes the gothic.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. The verb “to totter” means to walk or move with unsteady steps, or to shake feebly. It was also used to describe the back and forth motion of a body swinging from the end of a rope when a person was hanged. These two meanings of the word communicate the woman’s instability while simultaneously conjuring images of death.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. The first stanza consists of heroic couplets, or pair of lines in iambic pentameter that have matching end rhymes. Heroic couplets create a smooth, flowing effect that carries the reader effortlessly through long sentences or phrases. When stacked on top of each other, heroic couplets create a lulling effect that may mask some of the bolder, or more shocking, claims or images within a poem. Readers are carried along with the speaker, rather than questioning or doubting the speaker.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  16. By invoking the image of a “dying lady,” Shelley alludes to gothic literature, a genre of writing that combines fiction, horror, death, and romance. This sets a dark tone for the poem and creates an ominous, almost supernatural resonance behind all of the images.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff