The material world and imagination, while
sounding like two completely different beings, are able to exist on the same
plain and are closely linked together in most poetry regarding the subject.
Poet Percy Shelly would use objects in nature and personify them to get a
better understanding of how the world works, what role does he himself have in
this world, what purpose may other people find by imagining. Shelley’s work is a radical critique of the
presuppositions of empiricism, he believes in a single spirit not present
through observation alone, and he clearly believes in the ability of imagination
to transform the purely material. Yet Shelley is also widely read in
materialism and accepts most of its tenets. Shelly targets Mont Blanc,  the highest peak in the Swiss Alps near the
French/Italy border , and in five stanzas, he writes from a first-person persona
that addresses the mountain in its sublime majesty.

 

The
first stanza is movement, more accurately, how your mind can move and in what
type of ways depending on feeling and thought. It’s never consistent, never
really content with just saying one thing is only one thing it is, “Now
dark, now glittering, now reflecting gloom”. (Source) Your thoughts are
not just stoic words and bland sentences or bleak images, they take life by
being darker in nature, glittering with passion, reflecting pain which leads to
gloomy days. This is the affect that the material world can have on your
imagination, they are closely linked where they can feed off one another, in
fact,  “Mont Blanc” is similar
to a poem written by an earlier Romantic poet; Wordsworth’s “Tintern
Abbey”. Whilst reading “Mont Blanc”, it is clear that
Wordsworth’s poem was a central influence to Shelly, especially when writing
this piece. The two poems share the same topic of imagination and the material
world. Shelly’s opinion is different to Wordsworth’s in that, the speaker in
the poem is in awe of the mountain and has to personify the mountain and the
surroundings whilst “Tintern Abbey” is a completely made up from
imagination. The idea of movement continues onwards into the second paragraph
and manifests itself as a river.

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The
beginning of the second stanza is the speaker telling us of a river and its
path as it travels “down” from its guarded, and gilded, throne high
in the “clouds” of the mountain to the “dizzying” ravine.
It creates a scene of a destructive, declining journey, “bursting”
with great force, a force so powerful that it cannot be “tamed” and
the speaker is stood in awe, metaphorically wondering what is lost in the path
from the unexpected moment of spiritual thought to its articulation.(Source) The
speaker wishes his thoughts could be as the river: “to muse on my own separate
fantasy, my own, my human mind … With the clear universe of things around.”
(Source) This stanza heavily implies a sense of loss, which feels like a loss
of one’s self, being lost in imagination. It conveys the message that
imagination is a slippery slope and that materialism is healthy for you in contained
amounts. You do not actually achieve anything by being stuck imagining things,
it’s an overwhelming “force” that cannot be “tamed”. But,
it is also crucial to life, being materialistic and guarded make you miss out
on the vastness of what you experience, Mont Blanc is not just a mountain, you
could not possibly begin to wrap your mind around it’s magnificence by just
looking at it from a distance, imagination leads to avenues of higher self
enlightenment and tranquillity, but as aforementioned, it can also lead to a
sense of loss if you’re engulfed by it and lose sight of the material world, a
balance of the two is crucial. Stanza three is the questioning of this very
idea, if I am to be lost in imagination and denounce the material world, is it
worth living? “Or do I lie in dream, and does the mightier world of sleep
spread far around and inaccessibly Its circles?” This is further
reiteration of the balance that must exist between materialism and imagination.
Whilst being fundamentally different, they are stuck together. Too much
materialism and you will crash down like the river, too much imagination and
you’re stationary and are in a slumber which may as well be death.

 

By
the fourth stanza, the speaker describes the complex creation and relationships
between all forms of nature and humans are only but a small, mortal part in the
cycle. The river flows down the mountain from high above, cementing its
importance to give life but, the river has the power to end and destroy, it can
carry everything in its path downwards in a forceful manner, everything humans
have built will all be gone like it never existed in the first place. “The  race Of man flies far in dread; his work and
dwelling Vanish like smoke before the tempest’s stream.” The speaker
reminds everyone that nature is the most powerful factor here on earth, with
the ability to blossom life and give nourishment to its creations as well tear
away from you everything you have created and stand for in terms of your beliefs.
The last stanza is praise for the power of the mountain. Like nature in
general, the mountain is so large and sublime that it cannot be comprehended
all at once. It is a mystery, a secret, which commands nature’s power. The
speaker finally asks, however, what nature could be without the human mind to
perceive it, even if only to stand in silent awe of its greatness. “Mont Blanc”
thus compares the majestic power of wild nature with the miniature size of man.