In his sonnet “Lift Not the Painted Veil…”, Percy Bysshe Shelley examines life as no more than an illusion. He believes most people are content living behind the opaque curtain provided for them, even though it creates a distorted view of life. Fear and hope are ever present, and truth seems disappointingly absent. We are then introduced to someone who attempts to bring the light of truth to a darkened world, but the effort to permanently pierce through the murky gloom with light seems futile under the smothering veil. The light serves to affirm the shadowed duplicity of the world.
Sonnet: Lift Not the Painted Veil Which Those Who Live
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o’er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
Try It: A Poetic Response to the Veil
Is ignorance bliss? What do you think would result in exposing the bleak aspects of life to those unaware? How does truth benefit the world in which we live? What place does innocence have within the veil? Write a poem in response to Shelley’s point of view.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s poetry prompt. Here is a limerick from Monica that made us smile:
One spoiled yellow lab was astute.
She begged at the table for loot.
Dog owner says, “Wait.
People, pick up your plates.”
The humans got booted. Shoot.
How to Write a Poem uses images like the buzz, the switch, the wave—from the Billy Collins poem “Introduction to Poetry”—to guide writers into new ways of writing poems. Excellent teaching tool. Anthology and prompts included.
“How to Write a Poem is a classroom must-have.”
—Callie Feyen, English Teacher, Maryland