Mutability (poem)

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Mutability is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley which appeared in the 1816 collection Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude: And Other Poems. Half of the poem is quoted in his wife Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein although his authorship is not acknowledged.

The eight lines from the poem "Mutability" which are quoted in Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) occur in the scene in Chapter 10 when Victor Frankenstein climbs Glacier Montanvert in the Swiss Alps and encounters the Being:

"We rest. A dream has power to poison sleep;

We rise. One wandering thought pollutes the day;

We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:

It is the same! For, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free:

Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but Mutablilty."

Mutability[edit]

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;

How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,

Streaking the darkness radiantly!—yet soon

Night closes round, and they are lost forever:


Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings

Give various response to each varying blast,

To whose frail frame no second motion brings

One mood or modulation like the last.


We rest.—A dream has power to poison sleep;

We rise.—One wandering thought pollutes the day;

We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;

Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:


It is the same!—For, be it joy or sorrow,

The path of its departure still is free:

Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;

Nought may endure but mutability!

Themes[edit]

The poem consists of four quatrains in abab iambic pentameter. A series of symbols, clouds, wind harps, describe the permanence in impermanence. The themes of transformation and metamorphosis and the transitory and ephemeral nature of human life and the works of mankind were also addressed in "Ozymandias" (1818) and "The Cloud" (1820).

The first two stanzas concern the bustle and hurry of life which only conceals its inherent transience. Human lives are as vaporous as clouds or untuned lyres that, discarded, have become like an Aeolian harp that is susceptible to every passing wind gust.

The last two stanzas concern the theme of the lack of freedom. In sleep, the mind cannot control the unconscious which poisons sleep. Human life and actions are subject to uncontrollable internal or autonomic reactions and to external forces. The path of departure of sorrow or joy "still is free", that is, it is not under our control. The conclusion is that the only constant is change.

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