Tag Archives: torture

“Prometheus Unbound” by Percy Bysshe Shelley: Part 2 – Opening Soliloquy

Painting by Christian Griepenkerl

Painting by Christian Griepenkerl

The play begins with a soliloquy in which Prometheus, bound to the rock, speaks out against God as the oppressor of humanity.

Monarch of Gods and Dæmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,
O’er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair, — these are mine empire: —
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

(Act I: Lines 1 – 24)

Prometheus is immediately established as the archetype of rebellion, defiant and opposing the force of tyranny which is represented by God. What I find most interesting about this passage is how Prometheus compares and contrasts with Christ. Both figures are bound: Christ to the cross and Prometheus to the rock. The difference is in how each figure reacts. Christ, while questioning God’s motivation, is accepting of his fate. This is not the case with Prometheus. Prometheus, like Satan, refuses to accept God’s will. He is filled with self-righteous indignation and believes that he is justified in his actions.

The next part of this soliloquy which is worth pointing out is Prometheus’ description of his imprisonment and torture.

The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
Of their moon-freezing crystals, the bright chains
Eat with their burning cold into my bones.
Heaven’s wingèd hound, polluting from thy lips
His beak in poison not his own, tears up [1.35]
My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
When the rocks split and close again behind: [1.40]
While from their loud abysses howling throng
The genii of the storm, urging the rage
Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.

(Act I: Lines 31 – 43)

Here we have images of captivity connected with ice. I see the ice as representing a several things. First, it symbolizes the cold, harsh judgment of God. Secondly, it symbolizes memory, clear, yet hard and painful. The coldness of the ice burns, implying that memory as well as God’s judgment both cause internal pain and turmoil. Finally, the imagery connects the text to Dante. In The Inferno, the 9th circle of Hell is the area in which sinners are imprisoned within an icy lake. It is worth noting that Judas is trapped in the 9th ring.

Toward the end of his soliloquy, Prometheus, ever defiant, emphasizes that his wisdom stems from his rejection of God and the suffering which he endured as a result.

How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
Not exultation, for I hate no more,
As then ere misery made me wise.

(Act I: Lines 55 – 58)

This for me embodies the romantic ideal. Emotion is what makes us human and divine. And pain and suffering are powerful emotions which are often fuel for creative and artistic expression. Hence, Prometheus serves as a symbol for humanity’s creative and artistic spirit, which is often contradictory to the tyrannical forces of social mores which seek to instill conformity and compliance.

Thanks for stopping by, and I will post more on this great dramatic work soon.

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“A Little Boy Lost” by William Blake

ALittleBoyLost

Nought loves another as itself,
Nor venerates another so,
Nor is it possible to Thought
A greater than itself to know:

And Father, how can I love you
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.

The Priest sat by and heard the child;
In trembling zeal he seiz’d his hair,
He led him by his little coat,
And all admired the Priestly care.

And standing on the altar high,
Lo what a fiend is here! said he:
One who sets reason up for judge
Of our most holy Mystery.

The weeping child could not be heard,
The weeping parents wept in vain:
They strip’d him to his little shirt,
And bound him in an iron chain,

And burn’d him in a holy place
Where many had been burn’d before;
The weeping parents wept in vain.
Are such thing done on Albion’s shore?

In this poem, Blake presents us with an image of a boy who is martyred for heretical beliefs. During the first stanza, the boy expresses love for the divine spirit within. He venerates himself because he feels God is inside of him. He also acknowledges that he can never fully understand the essence of God, since God is ineffable and exists beyond the grasp of human thought.

The beginning of the second stanza almost sounds like Cordelia speaking to Lear, but then in the last two lines of that stanza, the boy likens himself to a bird picking up crumbs. I see this as a metaphor for people who follow around priests and pick up only the scraps of wisdom that are doled out to them. I suspect that this is what angers the priest.

The boy is then accused of being “One who sets reason up for judge / Of our most holy Mystery.” On one level, this could be representative of the conflict between scientific inquiry and faith-based church doctrine. But it could also be a reference to Blake’s mythological creation, Urizen. In Blake’s mythology, Urizen is the embodiment of conventional reason and law, and correlates to Satan as expressed by Milton.

The boy is then stripped and bound before being burnt, a punishment too often inflicted upon heretics. In the image accompanying the poem, we see the parents weeping before the flames that engulf their child. Blake also includes an image of ivy vines climbing the side of the page. Ivy has a few symbolic interpretations. It can represent the intertwining between humans and the divine; it can symbolize the indestructible aspect of the human soul and consciousness; and finally, because ivy is poisonous, it could be a symbol of either vengeance or the toxic aspect of organized religion.

Blake ends his poem with a question, which I believe he is posing to the reader: “Are such thing done on Albion’s shore?” He is questioning whether such things are still done in England. I think it is a question that is still valid today. Are such things done in any country? Sadly, yes. People are still persecuted, tortured, and killed in some countries based upon their spiritual beliefs. Hopefully we will evolve as a species, and like the boy in this poem, learn to recognize the spark of divine spirit in all human beings.

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