“Mont Blanc” and Greater Powers

In the footnotes of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” the editors explain the “awful doubt, or faith so mild” (77) as a “scepticism about the existence of a benevolent creative deity, or trust in the existence of a ‘Power’ that differs from the Christian God by being indifferent to human existence” (p722). The mention of indifference reminded me of Hardy’s “Hap,” where the speaker prays for a vengeful god and purpose instead of “Crass Casualty” and chance. A similar indifference to the human condition also appears in “Mont Blanc,” when the destructive rivers flood down the mountain and “the race / Of man flies far in dread” (118). The destruction is not just limited to man; the dwellings of “insects, beasts, and birds” are also subject to the ruinous flood (115).

Power in “Mont Blanc” is located in nature, but it’s a strange kind of power. Mont Blanc sits “still, snowy, and serene – / Its subject mountains their unearthly forms / Pile around it” (61-3). Given its possible destructiveness, it seems odd to describe nature’s power as tranquil or “serene”. The association between power and tranquility continues with the speaker’s declaration that “Mont Blanc yet gleams on high … The still and solemn power of many sights” (127-8). In contrast to the mountain’s stillness, humans and all living things “move and breathe with toil and sound” while “Power dwells apart in its tranquility” (94-6). Humans are separated from this power by sound, or perhaps by the “mysterious tongue” that the wilderness uses to teach a “faith so mild”.

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