'When The Lamp Is Shattered' by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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When the lamp is shattered,
The light in the dust lies dead;
When the cloud is scattered,
The rainbow's glory is shed;
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remembered not;
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot.

As music and splendor
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart's echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute:--
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through a ruined cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman's knell.

When hearts have once mingled,
Love first leaves the well-built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possessed.
O Love! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier?

Its passions will rock thee,
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.

Editor 1 Interpretation

When the Lamp is Shattered: A Critical Analysis

Author: Percy Bysshe Shelley

Date Published: 1824

Genre: Poetry

Length: 50 lines

When The Lamp Is Shattered is a beautiful creation of the great romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is a poem that speaks to the soul, stirs up emotions, and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deep into the meaning, themes, and symbolism of the poem, and explore the brilliance of Shelley's writing.

Summary of the Poem

When the Lamp is Shattered is a poem about the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. The poem begins with a description of a shattered lamp, which serves as a metaphor for a life that has come to an end. The speaker then goes on to describe the beauty and wonder of life, and how it is all too brief. He speaks of the joys of love and the pain of loss, and how they are all part of the cycle of life and death.

The poem is divided into three stanzas of varying lengths. The first stanza sets the stage, describing the shattered lamp and its significance. The second stanza is a reflection on the transience of life, and the third stanza brings the poem to a close with a message of hope and an affirmation of the beauty of life, despite its impermanence.

Analysis of the Poem


The central theme of the poem is the transient nature of life. Shelley uses the imagery of the shattered lamp to convey this idea, highlighting the fragility and impermanence of life. The poem also explores the themes of love, loss, and the inevitability of death.

Imagery and Symbols

Shelley employs vivid and powerful imagery throughout the poem, using the broken lamp as a metaphor for the fragility of life. The image of the shattered glass and the spilled oil is a powerful symbol of the inevitability of death, and the fact that life can be extinguished at any moment.

The poem also makes use of other symbols, such as the rose and the lute. The rose is a symbol of love, beauty, and fragility, while the lute represents the joy and beauty of music.

Structure and Form

The poem is written in free verse, with no formal rhyme scheme or meter. The lack of a set form allows Shelley to use language in a more flexible and creative way, and to create a more natural and flowing rhythm.

The poem is also divided into three stanzas of varying lengths. This structure allows Shelley to explore different aspects of the theme, and to create a sense of progression and development throughout the poem.

Language and Tone

The language of the poem is rich and evocative, with Shelley using a range of literary devices to create a vivid and powerful image of life and death. He makes use of metaphor, imagery, and symbolism to convey his message, and his use of language is both beautiful and haunting.

The tone of the poem is melancholic and reflective, with Shelley exploring the sadness and beauty of life in equal measure. There is a sense of resignation and acceptance in the poem, as the speaker comes to terms with the inevitability of death.


When the Lamp is Shattered is a deeply philosophical poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. It speaks to the universal human experience of love, loss, and mortality, and offers a powerful reflection on the meaning of life.

At its heart, the poem is a meditation on the transience of life, and the fact that all things must pass. The image of the shattered lamp is a powerful symbol of this idea, representing the fragility and impermanence of human life.

However, the poem is not simply a lament for the brevity of life. Instead, Shelley offers a more complex and nuanced perspective, suggesting that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the fleeting nature of existence.

The poem is also a celebration of love, and the power that it holds to bring joy and meaning to life. Despite the inevitability of loss and death, the speaker affirms the importance of love, and the way that it can transcend the limitations of time and mortality.


When the Lamp is Shattered is a masterpiece of English poetry, and a testament to the enduring power of Shelley's writing. Through its lyrical language, vivid imagery, and powerful symbolism, the poem offers a profound meditation on the meaning of life, love, and mortality.

In its celebration of the beauty and wonder of human existence, despite its impermanence, the poem offers a message of hope and affirmation that resonates with readers across time and culture. It is a poem that speaks to the heart and soul, and offers a vision of the human experience that is both profound and timeless.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

When it comes to poetry, few names are as revered as Percy Bysshe Shelley. The English Romantic poet is known for his lyrical and emotional works, which often explore themes of love, nature, and the human condition. One of his most famous poems, "When the Lamp is Shattered," is a haunting and beautiful exploration of the fleeting nature of life and the power of memory.

The poem begins with a powerful image: "When the lamp is shattered / The light in the dust lies dead." This opening line immediately sets the tone for the rest of the poem, suggesting that something has been lost or destroyed. The image of a shattered lamp is a powerful one, evoking feelings of fragility and impermanence. The fact that the light "lies dead" in the dust only reinforces this sense of loss.

As the poem continues, Shelley explores the idea of memory and its power to keep the past alive. He writes, "In the silent halls of death / Let us breathe the balmy breath / Of the morning air." Here, Shelley suggests that even in death, memories can live on. The "balmy breath" of the morning air is a metaphor for the memories that we carry with us, even after the people and things we love have passed away.

The poem then takes a darker turn, as Shelley explores the idea of death and the inevitability of our own mortality. He writes, "And, round the bright and silver lamp, / The harps and crowns of the angels lay." This image of angels surrounding a lamp suggests that death is not something to be feared, but rather a natural part of life. The harps and crowns of the angels suggest that there is something beautiful and transcendent about death, even as it is also a reminder of our own mortality.

Throughout the poem, Shelley uses vivid and powerful imagery to convey his ideas. He writes of "the lightning's fiery wing" and "the starry night" to evoke a sense of wonder and awe. He also uses repetition and alliteration to create a musical and rhythmic quality to the poem. For example, the repeated use of the word "breath" in the second stanza creates a sense of continuity and connection between the living and the dead.

Ultimately, "When the Lamp is Shattered" is a powerful and moving poem that explores some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. Shelley's use of vivid imagery and musical language creates a sense of wonder and awe, even as he grapples with the darker aspects of life and death. Whether read as a meditation on memory, mortality, or the power of the human spirit, this poem remains a timeless and haunting masterpiece of English literature.

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