FathomOnline

 

 Fathom Jan. 1997

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Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Mary-Kate Arnold
Jamie Reynolds
Natalie Meisner

Prose

Trevor Rockwell
Rachel Melis
Mark Anderson

Articles

Jamie Reynolds
Andy Murdoch
Andre Narbonne
Andy Murdoch and
Jennifer Reynolds

Artwork

James Matthews
Mitchell Weibe

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Andre Narbonne

 

 

The Shell Game

The first time reader of Romantic poetry, particularly the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, is often handicapped by the esoteric language in the texts, the state of the metaphor is not the purple princedom it once was, and stu­dents of today may find themselves travellers in an antique land. The following game should help new or aspiring readers of Roman­ticism to get their feet wet and their spirits dampened.
     We will begin with a common sight – the moon. To the Della Cruscans it was the ‘‘pale cheeked virgin of the night.” Let us con­sider the same satellite when viewed through the eyes of “that one Frail Form, / a phantom among men,” Shelley. Is the moon:
     a) “the lamp of love;”
     b) “an albatross asleep, / balanced on her wings of light;”
     c) “the unpastured dragon in his den;”
     d) “that high Capital, where kingly Death / keeps his pale court in beauty amid decay”
The correct answer is b, but if you picked a, you were close. The lamp of love is the morning star, as is “that silver sphere, / Whose intense lamp narrows / In the dawn clear.” The “unpastured dragon” is an anonymous critic (Shelley thought this “unnamed worm” was Robert Southey, but he was John Wilson Croker). D is Rome.

     That was easy enough, but what happens when we phrase the question in a different way? We’ll start with a pair of metaphors and try to match them to the appropriate pair of objects. Which are “bloodless food” and “chariots of the ocean”?
     a) Vegetarianism and boats
     b) The Prelude by William Wordsworth and whitecaps
     c) The Corn Laws and clouds over Mont Blanc
     d) Alcohol and whales
The first answer is correct. If you picked b, you are on the right track. Much of Shelley’s (and Byron’s) writing refers to Wordsworth - “ thou leavest me to grieve, / Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be.” Furthermore, don’t be disappointed if you did not connect chariots with boats. Only one of these objects floats (as witnessed by the Israelites in Exod. 14: 23-32).
     If Shelley is a man of many images, he is also a man of many words. What does he mean by “cearedest my memory” and “amphisbaenic snake”?
     a) Cauterized and lizard-headed.
     b) Wrapped in waxed cloth and with a head at either end
     c) Pulverized to a fine powder and able to change its colours
     d) Cut in thin slices then boiled and unable to shed its skin
     The correct answer is b.

     And that, in all its simplicity, is the “Shell Game.” The game may be played in teams with captains and substitutes, or solitaire, and is not limited to the works of Percy Shelley. Almost any Romantic poet with a dozen publications or more is a suitable subject, although I would not recommend trying this with William Wordsworth who wrote in plain Eng­lish on principle. I will conclude with a final question.

     To what does Shelley refer when he writes of “the spirit in the stone”?
     a) Mount Vesuvius
     b) The Nelson Monument in Trafalgar Square
     c) Magnetism
     d) Gravity
     The correct answer is c.

 

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