Poetry Friday: Mutability

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“Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject, and in the power of molding and fashioning ideas suggested to it.”

~ Mary Shelly ~

My book group is reading Frankenstein this month in honor of Halloween. I read Mary Shelley’s classic gothic tale as an undergraduate many years ago, but don’t think I truly appreciated what a remarkable achievement this novel was for a twenty-year old woman.

In her introduction to the 1831 edition, Shelley explains that she came to write Frankenstein during the “wet, ungenial summer” she and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley spent in Switzerland. Their neighbor, Lord Byron, decided they should write ghost stories to occupy themselves while they were “confined…for days to the house.” (I was fascinated to read that scientists now think that the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora caused that rainy summer in Europe the following year.) She describes in detail how the idea for the story came to her after listening to discussions between Byron and Shelley about “the nature of the principle of life.”

About halfway through the novel, just before Victor confronts his creation high in the Alps outside Geneva, Shelley quotes this poem by her husband, a bittersweet reminder about the fleeting nature of our joys and sorrows.

Mutability
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
                                         I.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
    How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:—
                                         II.
Or like forgotten lyres whose dissonant strings
    Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
    One mood or modulation like the last.
                                        III.
We rest—a dream  has power to poison sleep;
    We rise—one wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep,
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:—
                                       IV.
It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,
    The path of its departure still is free;
Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
    Nought may endure but Mutability.

 Be sure to visit Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

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6 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Mutability

  1. Catherine this is beautiful. Mutations such a powerful force in the growth and development of our world. I haven’t read Frankenstein yet but this seems a good time to pick it up! You’ve got me thinking about connections between the theme of mutations and the work we do. Sometimes it seems we approximate some new thing and it grows and thrives despite our lack of experience – and sometimes we tweak something we’ve done forever and find a wonderful clarity which had previously escaped us – when this happens I always am amazed and find myself wondering how could I not have seen this sooner? A stretch? Maybe but i love that this post has created a new thought channel!

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  2. Mutability. Love that word. Have you ever read any David (Cloud Atlas) Mitchell? His newest book is an incredible meditation on mortality and immortality. (The Bone Clocks)

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    • I read most of Cloud Atlas and would love to go back to it someday. Now that you mention it, mutability describes what’ going on in that book very well. I’ll have to add The Bone Clocks to my (never-ending) TBR list. Thanks for the recommendation!

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