The content of Shelley’s poem revolves around the fleeting nature of youth and the happiness it brings, involving various literary devices to emphasize this idea. Primarily, the theme is developed through contrasting elements. The speaker’s feelings of sorrow are intensified by a central thematic contrast between the joy experienced in the past and the current sadness endured. The vanished delights of the speaker’s younger years are juxtaposed against the hardships and melancholy of his aged present.
The text demonstrates that stanzas are structured by contrasting the past and present, as shown through alternating simple present and simple past tenses. This opposition is also apparent in the use of opposite semantic registers. The past is portrayed positively as “endless bliss and joy,” while the present is depicted with negative images of emptiness, sorrow, tears, sighs, and death. Various figures of speech, such as personification, are employed to develop the theme. The speaker’s world is described as misleadingly “smiling” yet ultimately treacherous and ungrateful. The metaphor “this world’s dreary blank” further emphasizes the speaker’s profound sense of meaninglessness. Once youthful happiness is lost, life becomes a terrifying void.
The use of similes in the text reinforces the opposition between past and present. The speaker describes the “pleasures” of life fading away “as dropping flower”, highlighting the transient nature of beauty and life. Additionally, the speaker compares his thoughts to “blackening clouds in a stormy sky”, further emphasizing his pessimistic view of life. These synecdoches contribute to the overall sense of void and despair expressed by the speaker.
The aged man is diminished to a burdened heart and slow gait, symbolic of deep sorrow. His physical appearance is also described as pale and weak with teary eyes. These figures of speech aim to depict the old man’s vulnerability. Consequently, death appears more desirable than a life filled with suffering and hardship. The phrase “friendly death” explicitly portrays death as a form of comfort, representing the speaker’s sole aspiration for a moment of rest.