A Glimpse of a Post-Apocalyptic World

The Sprit of the Hour intimates his vision of Rome’s Pantheon in Act III, Scene IV in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound to both Prometheus and Asia. The spirit begins with a post-apocalyptic vision: “soon as the sound had ceased whose thunder filled / the abysses of the sky and the wide earth / there was a change.” By beginning his recollection by placing his audience in a world after its end, it nicely links the writers we have read so far and their respective fears and predictions of the final aftermath. However, this is the first instance in which we see the post-apocalypse that our other philosophers and poets do not dare actualize in their own writing. After he locates “his coursers” (line 108), his horses, inhabiting the sun, “their birthplace,” he situates us in “the mysteries of the universe” with a temple in which there are these “Phidian forms” (line 112). Here, we are introduced to paradigms of statues carved by the Greek sculptor Phidias, but what is more striking is what follows this phrase: “of thee, and Asia, and the Earth, and me / and you fair nymphs” (lines 113-114). The suggestion that these entities are belonging to Prometheus himself, as well as Asia and the Earth, among others, makes them more significant. The fact that they are not solely created for artistic splendor but rather to act as guardians for the preservation of mankind, burgeoning and hopeful civilization and the world itself, respectively. The spirit continues to retell his dream, much like Coleridge does in his Kubla Khan as well as Wordsworth’s vision of the Arab in his The Prelude.


He concludes with his disappointment in “returning” back to earth devoid of the changes he imagined in the opening of his speech. What I wish to explore in particular is the paradoxical phrase “pain of bliss” in the following lines

As I have said, I floated to the earth:

It was, as it is still, the pain of bliss

To move to breathe, to be; I wandering went

Among the haunts and dwellings of mankind,

And first was disappointed not to see

Such mighty change as I had felt within

Expressed in outward things. (lines 124-130)

The impossibility of simultaneously experiencing pain and bliss causes this assertion to lose a certain amount of clarity. Nevertheless, it highlights the temporal sensations not felt while transcending earth’s realms. Returning from his vision, the Spirit of the Hour feels both a loss of hope in the possibility of change as well as a reluctance to leave his dream trance. In conjunction to this, the presence of the Phidian forms in the spirit’s vision of Rome’s Pantheon serves to highlight the benevolence and to a certain degree, omnipotence of the statues that also act as guardians and foreseers of history’s future. Despite the cruelty of time and its ability to erode the statues, they remain intact and almost alive in this passage, thus confirming their continued significance.


~ by apocalypse122112 on November 8, 2012.

One Response to “A Glimpse of a Post-Apocalyptic World”

  1. It is apparent that you understand the concept of the Spirit of the Hour in Percy Shelley’s Prometheus unbound and that is good. You make multiple reference to the, “temple in which there are these “Phidian forms” and I thought you were going to connect that with Evadne however you didn’t. I realize that this contains a decent close reading of some lines in Prometheus unbound but it is more of a summary of your interpretation than a comparison between the two females figures. I’m not sure Evadne is even directly mention in the post. Fortunately, this makes the revision of the post a relatively simple matter. You would just have to find some evidence in the text of “The Last Man” that characterizes Evadne as a Phidian form if that is what you were going for. If it is what you’re going for than I think that it’s a very smart move. But, You would then also have to state what in your close reading lead you to believe this. I must applaud because most of the others were hesitant to attempt to compare Asia and Evadne however, I feel like your revision will help shed more light on the role of the female figures in the Romantic apocalypse.

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