Contrast in Percy Bysshe Shelley's To Me This World's a Dreary Blank

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Shelley’s poem is a melancholy meditation on the transience of youth and life’s happiness. This central idea is explicitly made obvious through different stylistic devices. To begin with, the theme is mainly built on contrast. The speaker’s sense of loss is in fact reinforced by a central thematic opposition between past happiness and present sadness. The vanished pleasures of the speaker’s youth are indeed contrasted to the difficulties and sadness of his present as an old man. Stanzas, too, are constructed on a structural opposition between past and present. This is evidenced by the obvious alternation between the simple present and simple past tenses. On the level of the lexis, this opposition is also demonstrated by the use of opposite semantic registers. The past is in fact associated with positive images of “endless bliss and joy,” and of “jocund” and “gay” moments. The gloominess of the present, on the other hand, is underlined by negative images of blankness, “sorrow,” “tear,” “sigh,” and “death.” Numerous figures of speech are also used to elaborate the theme. Among these we can mention personification. The speaker’s world is depicted as a treacherous entity whose “smiling” aspect is only illusive, as it turns to be deceitful and “ungrateful”. The metaphor “this world’s dreary blank” also reinforces the speaker’s deep sense of meaninglessness. Once his joyful youth is gone, life has become for him a frightful emptiness. The pattern of opposition between past and present is also reinforced by similes. Thus, for the speaker, the “pleasures” of life tend to fade “as dropping flower”. This simile evokes the fleeting nature of beauty, as well as the transience of life. The speaker’s comparing his thought to “blackening clouds in a stormy sky” also confirms his pessimistic vision of life. This deep sense of void and despair is also expressed by means of synecdoches. In this respect, the sorrowful old man is relegated to a heavy “heart that bears deep sorrow’s...
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