Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni

Original Text: 
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, History of a Six Weeks' Tour (London: T. Hookham, June 1817). Facsimile of first edition (Oxford: Woodstock, 1989). PR 5431 A3 1989 ROBA.
2Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
3Now dark--now glittering--now reflecting gloom--
4Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
5The source of human thought its tribute brings
6Of waters--with a sound but half its own,
7Such as a feeble brook will oft assume,
8In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
9Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
10Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
11Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.
12Thus thou, Ravine of Arve--dark, deep Ravine--
13Thou many-colour'd, many-voiced vale,
14Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail
15Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams: awful scene,
16Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down
17From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne,
18Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame
19Of lightning through the tempest;--thou dost lie,
20Thy giant brood of pines around thee clinging,
21Children of elder time, in whose devotion
22The chainless winds still come and ever came
23To drink their odours, and their mighty swinging
24To hear--an old and solemn harmony;
25Thine earthly rainbows stretch'd across the sweep
26Of the aethereal waterfall, whose veil
27Robes some unsculptur'd image; the strange sleep
28Which when the voices of the desert fail
29Wraps all in its own deep eternity;
30Thy caverns echoing to the Arve's commotion,
31A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame;
32Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion,
33Thou art the path of that unresting sound--
34Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
35I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
36To muse on my own separate fantasy,
37My own, my human mind, which passively
38Now renders and receives fast influencings,
39Holding an unremitting interchange
40With the clear universe of things around;
41One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings
42Now float above thy darkness, and now rest
43Where that or thou art no unbidden guest,
44In the still cave of the witch Poesy,
45Seeking among the shadows that pass by
46Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,
47Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
48From which they fled recalls them, thou art there!
49Some say that gleams of a remoter world
50Visit the soul in sleep, that death is slumber,
51And that its shapes the busy thoughts outnumber
52Of those who wake and live.--I look on high;
54The veil of life and death? or do I lie
55In dream, and does the mightier world of sleep
56Spread far around and inaccessibly
57Its circles? For the very spirit fails,
58Driven like a homeless cloud from steep to steep
59That vanishes among the viewless gales!
60Far, far above, piercing the infinite sky,
61Mont Blanc appears--still, snowy, and serene;
62Its subject mountains their unearthly forms
63Pile around it, ice and rock; broad vales between
64Of frozen floods, unfathomable deeps,
65Blue as the overhanging heaven, that spread
66And wind among the accumulated steeps;
67A desert peopled by the storms alone,
68Save when the eagle brings some hunter's bone,
69And the wolf tracks her there--how hideously
70Its shapes are heap'd around! rude, bare, and high,
71Ghastly, and scarr'd, and riven.--Is this the scene
72Where the old Earthquake-daemon taught her young
73Ruin? Were these their toys? or did a sea
74Of fire envelop once this silent snow?
75None can reply--all seems eternal now.
77Which teaches awful doubt, or faith so mild,
78So solemn, so serene, that man may be,
80Thou hast a voice, great Mountain, to repeal
81Large codes of fraud and woe; not understood
82By all, but which the wise, and great, and good
83Interpret, or make felt, or deeply feel.
84The fields, the lakes, the forests, and the streams,
85Ocean, and all the living things that dwell
86Within the daedal earth; lightning, and rain,
87Earthquake, and fiery flood, and hurricane,
88The torpor of the year when feeble dreams
89Visit the hidden buds, or dreamless sleep
90Holds every future leaf and flower; the bound
91With which from that detested trance they leap;
92The works and ways of man, their death and birth,
93And that of him and all that his may be;
94All things that move and breathe with toil and sound
95Are born and die; revolve, subside, and swell.
96Power dwells apart in its tranquillity,
97Remote, serene, and inaccessible:
98And this, the naked countenance of earth,
99On which I gaze, even these primeval mountains
100Teach the adverting mind. The glaciers creep
101Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,
102Slow rolling on; there, many a precipice
103Frost and the Sun in scorn of mortal power
104Have pil'd: dome, pyramid, and pinnacle,
105A city of death, distinct with many a tower
106And wall impregnable of beaming ice.
107Yet not a city, but a flood of ruin
108Is there, that from the boundaries of the sky
109Rolls its perpetual stream; vast pines are strewing
110Its destin'd path, or in the mangled soil
111Branchless and shatter'd stand; the rocks, drawn down
112From yon remotest waste, have overthrown
113The limits of the dead and living world,
114Never to be reclaim'd. The dwelling-place
115Of insects, beasts, and birds, becomes its spoil;
116Their food and their retreat for ever gone,
117So much of life and joy is lost. The race
118Of man flies far in dread; his work and dwelling
119Vanish, like smoke before the tempest's stream,
120And their place is not known. Below, vast caves
121Shine in the rushing torrents' restless gleam,
122Which from those secret chasms in tumult welling
123Meet in the vale, and one majestic River,
124The breath and blood of distant lands, for ever
125Rolls its loud waters to the ocean-waves,
126Breathes its swift vapours to the circling air.
127Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:--the power is there,
128The still and solemn power of many sights,
129And many sounds, and much of life and death.
130In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
131In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
132Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
133Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
134Or the star-beams dart through them. Winds contend
135Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
136Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
137The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
138Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
139Over the snow. The secret Strength of things
140Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
141Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
142And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
143If to the human mind's imaginings
144Silence and solitude were vacancy?


1] In the preface of Mary Shelley's History of a Six Weeks Tour (1817), Shelley writes: "the poem was composed under the immediate impression of the deep and powerful feelings excited by the objects which it attempts to describe; and, as an undisciplined overflowing of the soul, rests its claim to approbation on an attempt to imitate the untamable wildness and inaccessible solemnity from which those feelings sprang." Shelley's prose account of his reaction to the first sight of Mont Blanc is in a letter written on July 24 to T. L. Peacock.
1-2.: For a prose exposition of what Shelley calls "the intellectual philosophy," see his essay On Life: "I confess that I am one of those who am unable to refuse my assent to the conclusions of those philosophers who assert that nothing exists but as it is perceived .... The difference is merely nominal between those two classes of thought which are vulgarly distinguished by the names of ideas and of external objects. ... The existence of distinct individual minds ... is likewise found to be a delusion. The words, I, you, they, are ... merely marks employed to denote the different modifications of the one mind. ... By the word things is to be understood any object of thought. ... The relations of things remain unchanged [in the intellectual philosophy]; and such is the material of our knowledge." Back to Line
53] Unfurl'd. "Rolled back" or merely "furled" is the meaning required by the sense of the passage. "Upfurled" has been suggested as the word Shelley intended. Back to Line
76] For a related argument see Queen Mab, VI, 197-219. Back to Line
79] But for such faith. A surviving pencil draft of the poem reads "in such a faith," which confirms the likelihood that this phrase is intended to mean "even with such faith alone," rather than "except for such faith." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
M. T. Wilson
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.557.