The Triumph of Life by Percy Bysshe Shelley
REFERENCE TO CONTEXT
The chariot rolled a captive multitude
Was driven; althose who had grown old in power
Or misery,—all who have their age subdued, Lines 119-121
The given lines have been taken from P.B.Shelley's (1792-1822) The Triumph of Life (1822 , published 1824)
The triumph of life is Shelley’s last incomplete visionary poem in terza rima. He met his untimely death while writing this poem. The speaker appears to be a version of Shelley himself. Here, life himself (on a Triumphal chariot”) appears as the universal conqueror (one of the many tyrants in Shelley). He describes life as the “painted veil” which obscures and disguises the immortal spirit. Ultimately, natural life corrupts and triumphs over the spirit.
It is only in context that this passage of Shelley’s dream vision is to be understood. We can see that the four faced charioteer ("four faces of that charioteer") drove "a captive multitude" before the chariot. We are told of what sorts of people this multitude is comprised, such as aged rulers or aged sufferers (odd juxtaposition ...), those who suffer to the last moment of their lives, those with either fame or infamy, etc.
The poet divides this enormous mass of people in two groups – The weaker “captive multitude” and “mighty multitudes”. The weaker multitude is “chained to car” and is mere followers of the mighty multitudes. They are “all those who had grown old in power/or misery, - all who have their age subdued” (120-121). The poet terms them as “the ribald crowd”,(136). The narrator affirms that all and everyone are part of this rabble and hustle- bustle, except “the sacred few”. They are the ones whose spirits could not be tamed by the compulsions and constraints of Life. These were the people “who put aside the diadem/Of earthly thrones or gems.”
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