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Theme 10: Metaphysics, Folklore and Other Transformations
 < Poem 2: Ariel's song >
poem

<     William Shakespeare     > 


from The Tempest (1623, d7)
Act I, Scene ii

composed around 1611 (47)

Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands;
Curtsied when you have, and kiss'd
The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there;
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
Hark, hark! Bow-wow.
The watch-dogs bark.
Bow-wow. Hark, hark!
I hear the strain of chanticleer

Cry cock-a-didle-dow.

FULL fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Ding-dong.
Hark! now I hear themó 
Ding-dong, bell!

Commentary

One of Shakespeare's last plays, the Tempest, is, by common consent, a magical masterpiece. Hazlitt writes: 'The Tempest is one of the most original and perfect of Shakespeare's productions, and he has shown in it all the variety of his powers. It is full of grace and grandeur. The human and imaginary characters, the dramatic and the grotesque, are blended together with the greatest art and without any appearance of it. Though he has here given 'to airy nothing a local habitation and a name', yet that part which is only the fantastic creation of his mind, has the same palpable texture, and coheres 'semblably' with the rest.'

This stitching together of these disparate elements into a coherent whole, to produce a magical, theatrical experience, is fully apparent in this little excerpt from the play, a song sung by the airy spirit Ariel who inhabits the magical island on which Prospero, once Duke of Milan, has been stranded by his acqusitive and malevolent brother. The word play is rich: one has the impression of a fabric set with jewels, diamonds, rubies and emeralds of expressions which work not only on a conscious, but also n an subconscious level, with the rich alliteration, rhyming, assonances, suggestions, reversals, reverberations, resonances, and repetitions of words and concepts.

Particularly notable are 'wild waves whist', 'full fathom five' and 'sea change' which, despite the fact that most people are at a loss to say what the expressions mean, they are frequently used in many different contexts, because the words themselves, and the sound of the words, are so persuasive. At this level of poetic inspiration, the literal meaning of the words can be left behind: we are flying.

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