Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Chambered Nautilus

The Chambered Nautilus is a really interesting poem with some really nice imagery in it. However, if anyone reading this has ever seen a nautilus before, they would have trouble understanding why in the world anyone would take the time out of their life to write a poem about such a horribly ugly creature.
The poem gives a few pretty interesting verses at the end to try to explain why the nautilus is so grand, and that the poem is not just an interesting attempt to romanticise a small monster of the deep. Holmes writes "Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, Till thou at length art free" (Holmes 33-34). So, while mourning the death of this disgusting creature, Holmes makes an allusion to one of the nautilus' more peculiar traits, that of constantly growing. The nautilus grows a new shell every time it outgrows its old one, but instead of disconnecting from the old one it grows the new shell attached to it. Over time these chambers form a rather lovely shell (if anything on such an ugly creature can be called lovely to begin with). The chambers fill with air and help the nautilus to swim.
Assuming the peculiar traits of the nautilus have something to do with the meaning of the poem, it is safe to assume that the poem praises the constant growth of the thing and at the same time jibes at religion when he writes the above quoted lines. Apparently, Holmes tried to live up to his own standard while writing the poem, and tried a new meter and rhyme with it (Love). I will admit, he really did manage to make the putrid, half-squid, tentacled mass sound rather pretty.
The poem also exemplifies some characteristics of Romanticism writing well. It personifies the sea as a mourning mother in one of the verses, as is often done in the Romanticism period (Holmes 23-24). I have also noticed the the Romantic writers tend to have a bit of disdain for religion about them. Holmes also shows this, when he encourages the spirit of the dead sea monster to continue growing even that heaven cannot hold him.
I think that this poem is really lovely, despite its slightly odd object. The way he describes the shell as a "ship of pearl" and how it "sails the unshadowed main . . . where the siren sings" (Holmes 1-5) You could almost imagine the seeming product of radioactive water as a thing of beauty, which is a little strange to tell the truth. My partiality to poems about the ocean could play a part in my enjoyment of the poem, but even so it must be admitted that it really is a wonderful poem. Even so I can not get the image of that horrible thing out of my head. I mean just look at it-
Holmes, Oliver. "801. The Chambered Nautilus. Oliver Wendell Holmes. 1909-14. English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman. The Harvard Classics." Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and Hundreds More. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. .
Love, C. "'The Chambered Nautilus'." In Barney, Brett, and Lisa Paddock, eds. Encyclopedia of American Literature: The Age of Romanticism and Realism, 1816–1895, vol. 2, Revised Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2008. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 07 Dec. 2011. EAmL0443&SingleRecord=True.

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