Contents Index


The third and fourth stanzas of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem, "Mutability," published in the Alastor volume in March 1816.

The fairly conventional notions of her husband's poem seem at first to have little direct linkage with the circumstances into which Mary Shelley has thrust Victor at this juncture. But if one looks back over the landscape of the first volume, the operations of mutability as a force of destruction are everywhere evident -- from the fearsome movements of sea and ice in Walton's letters, to the sudden deaths in the Frankenstein and Moritz households, to the unmerited reversal of Justine's fortunes. But mutability is also the very stuff of life. Perhaps then, most of all, the subject of the poem applies to the scientific paradigms that govern the development of the volume -- in ancient alchemy (from the various transmutations it would apply to base metals to its search for a means of suspending mutability itself in the elixir of life); or in modern chemistry, which increasingly saw organic changes in terms of chemical transformations; or in contemporary electrical theory, where dialectical tensions between opposing poles were held responsible for the essential energy of life. A later poem of Percy Bysshe Shelley confronts these ambivalences more subtly and more directly, embedding them in a single symbolic force that is at one and same time both "Creator and Destroyer," the "Ode to the West Wind," written in 1819.