Peace, Love, and Amphisbaenas?

The Spirit of the Hour’s vision is Shelley’s vision of the apocalypse. Rather than a negative and destructive apocalypse, however, Shelley’s apocalypse is one of love and internal transformation. The spirit says that the sunlight and the air were “transformed/ As if the sense of love dissolved in them” (Prometheus Unbound 101-102). “Dissolve” is an interesting word choice which seems to suggest that love and the sunlight and air, representative of all aspects of the earth, become one substance, a solution that infuses love into everything. It is as though love “Had folded itself round the sphered world” (103), as if in a loving embrace.

The spirit’s horses then take him to the sun, which seems to represent the light of enlightenment, of this newfound order of universal love that is in everything. The spirit also says that his “moonlike car” (111) stood in a temple, being “gazed upon by Phidian forms/ Of [Prometheus], and Asia, and the Earth, and [himself]” (112). Phidian forms means that they are statues. The fact that the “moonlike car” is no longer in use seems to suggest a never-ending day. The perpetual sunlight means that this universal love and its light will continue forever. This apocalyptic unveiling of the universal love in everything will not end. This revolution is eternal. The statues that look upon the “moonlike car” feel love “In memory of the tidings it has borne” (114). So after this apocalypse of love, even the darkness of the past can be looked at with love. The fact that they are statues suggests a timelessness about the characters. Through this universal love, they assume immortality.

The moon, here, is described as being “Poised on twelve columns of resplendent stone” (117). This is the ruination of the past, the ruins of the Pantheon that Shelley visited. The yoke of the chariot of the moon was an amphisbaena, or two-headed snake. The amphisbaena (seen above) gives us hints as to the poet’s feelings about history.The amphisbaena is sometimes depicted with one head biting the other, creating a circle. Such a circle suggests the cyclical nature of destruction and ruination. Yet the statues look on the moon with love. They can do this because they have seen the apocalypse and see “Into the mysteries of the universe” (105). They have seen the universal love and have become eternal in it.

When the spirit floats down to the Earth, it is “the pain of bliss/ To move, to breathe, to be” (125-126). This “pain of bliss” described is paradoxical. How can bliss cause pain? Perhaps it is only through living one’s life on Earth and experiencing the pains of this life that one can arrive at the bliss of universal love. The section ends with the spirit saying that he was “disappointed not to see/ Such mighty change as I had felt within/ Expressed in outward things” (128-130). This seems to suggest that the radical transformation that the spirit experienced of the world was entirely internal. This potent metamorphosis of everything into love is an internal transformation and that, for Shelley, is the apocalypse. The unveiling reveals a universal love within, in which one’s “vision […] gr[ows] clear” (104).


~ by rollingrock33 on November 1, 2012.

One Response to “Peace, Love, and Amphisbaenas?”

  1. Your analysis of this passage is strong, particularly in your very close readings of specific diction choices made by Shelley, like your interpretation of “dissolve” and the “moolike car.” Your incorporation of the image of the two-headed snake is a helpful addition to understanding the vision of Shelley’s apocalypse. At times the ideas feel a little disjointed and lack a cohesive flow, yet your thoughts presented here are surely original and creative.

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