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The Shell by James Stephens
Transcript of The Shell by James Stephens
designed by Péter Puklus for Prezi
First poetry book published 1909
First novel published 1911
Active in Irish Nationalist movement
Moved to London in 1940
Made radio broadcasts until his death in 1950
A beach or seashell
Listening to seashell
Breaking out of something
A person gets entranced by the sounds of the ocean in a seashell and gets "lost at sea". The calm waves soon turn violent and he/she snaps back into reality.
The rhyme flow is symbolic of waves/water
"And in the hush of waters was the sound/Of pebbles, rolling round;/Forever rolling, with a hollow sound:".
There is irony in how the rhyme scheme shows more structure in the most chaotic sections of the poem.
Shifts in rhyme is symbolic of a change in tone and the turning of tides.
There is a strong use of imagery in "the Shell"
"There was no day;/Nor ever came a night/Setting the stars alight" (Stephens 25-27). These lines produce the image of an ocean without light, dark, or a perception of time.
"And bubbling sea weeds, as the waters go,/Swish to and fro/Their long, cold tentacles of slimy gray:" (Stephens 19-21). This adds a personality to the seaweed while bringing depth to the ocean by adding components of it.
A Presentation by Elizabeth and Josie
by James Stephens
And then I pressed the shell
Close to my ear,
And listened well.
And straightaway like a bell,
Came low and clear
The slow, sad, murmur of distant seas
Whipped by an icy breeze
Upon a shore
Wind-swept and desolate.
It was a sunless strand that never bore
The footprint of a man.
Nor felt the weight
Since time began
Of any human quality or stir,
Save what the dreary winds and waves incur.
The first tone expressed by the narrator in the poem was calm, with words and phrases like, "Slow ,sad, murmur"(Stephens 6) and "Wind swept and desolate" (Stephens 9).
The following tone is fear and chaos, shown using terms such as "Was the twilight only, and the frightened croon,/Smitten to whimpers, of the dreary wind" (Stephens 26-27).
Lastly, the narrator expresses relief through phrases like "And then I loosed my ear-Oh, it was sweet/ To hear a cart go jolting down the street" (Stephens 29-30).
There are two different shifts in "The Shell" expressed through three different tones. The tone shifts are highlighted by the two parts, the first expressing calm and loneliness, the second portraying chaos and relief. Also, part one is set above water as shown in line 8: "upon a shore" (Stephens). Part two takes place under water as shown in line 16 "And in the hush of waters was the sound" (Stephens), this displays a setting under water and reflects a loss of control (or drowning).
The title "The Shell" describes the main part of the poem, most importantly the setting in which the poem takes place,"And then I pressed the shell/Close to my ear,/And listened well" (Stephens 1-3)
Things don't always end as well as they began
This theme is prominent in the shifts of tone during the poem such a calm beginning and chaotic end.
Wording like "And straightaway like a bell,/came low and clear" (Stephens 4-5) during the calm beginning shifts to "Was twilight only, and the frightened croon,/Smitten to whimpers , of the dreary wind", by the end.
We imagine our own isolation
This is proved by subject actively listening to the shell, "And then I pressed the shell/Close to my ear, And listened well" (Stephens 1-3).
They also had the power to quit listening: " And then I loosed my ear-Oh it was sweet" (Stephens 29-30).
And in the hush of waters was the sound
Of pebbles, rolling round;
Forever rolling , with a hollow sound:
And bubbling sea weeds, as the waters go,
Swish to and fro
Their long, cold tentacles of slimy gray:
There was no day;
Nor ever came a night
Setting the stars alight
To wonder at the moon:
Was twilight only, and the frightened croon,
Smitten to whimpers, of the dreary wind
And waves that journeyed blind...
And then I loosed my ear-Oh it was sweet
To hear a cart go jolting down the street.
The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. "James Stephens."
Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Web.10 Mar. 2016