The poem begins with the first line reading "This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign" (Holmes 1). At first glance, the word "feign" was not a word I was familiar with, but upon further research, I realized that it means "to invent fictitiously." The first stanza of the poem basically says that a story that poets create about the Nautilus takes place where Sirens, from Greek mythology, sing and coral reef maids dry their hair in the sun (Holmes 1-5). One major characteristic of Romanticism writing was the fascination with strange, unknown, far away places. The location of this story could be considered a far away place, which shows it is an example of Romanticism writing. In the next stanza of the poem, the author goes on to describe this Nautilus, which is a type of sea creature that is kind of like a cross between a snail and a squid (Holmes 8-14). Nature is also a huge part of Romanticism writing, so the fact that this poem was written about a sea creature points to it being an example of Romanticism writing. In Randall Huff's literary criticism over the poem, he states that Holmes is making all of these assumptions about the creature from the empty shell that he has in his hands, such as the "webs of living gauze" that it would use to "sail" around the waters of the strange place (Huff 2). Holmes describes in the next stanza how the creature built up its home through out the years, creating that "shining archway" of its shell, which was his "last found home" (Holmes 15-21). The fourth stanza is where the poem begins to have a greater meaning than just simply praising an old shell from a sea creature. Huff compared the life of the nautilus to the life of a human. He compared that all of the years that the nautilus spent developing its shell equates to all of the time that a person should spend developing themselves spiritually, so they can move on to a better life after their death (6). The final line of the poem helps to sum up Huff's interpretation of the poem, and provides great support to back up his ideas. "Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!" (Holmes 35). This line says that just like the nautilus left its shell after its death, if we continue to grow spiritually, we will be able to leave our physical bodies after our death (Huff 6). More specifically, Romantic writing has a characteristic about not only nature, but a love for nature. This poem is based around what the character in the poem learned from a simple shell left behind by a sea creature, and how he applied it into his life. The character shared a love for the sea creature like he loved himself, and he learned from the integrity of the sea creature. That characteristic of loving nature is very prominent in Romanticism writing, which is why this poem is a great example of a Romantic literary period poem.
Holmes, Oliver Wendel. English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman. Vol. XLII. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com, 2001. http://www.bartleby.com/42/801.html. Dec. 8 2011.
Huff, Randall. "'The Chambered Nautilus'." The Facts On File Companion to American Poetry, vol. 1. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2007. Bloom's Literary Reference Online.
Facts On File, Inc.
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