The Chambered Nautilus

The Chambered Nautilus

by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

Summary of The Chambered Nautilus

  • Popularity of “The Chambered Nautilus”: This poem was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., a great American poet and physician. ‘The Chambered Nautilus’ is a wonderful poem about natural beauty. It was first published in 1858. The poem speaks about the beauty and struggle of a small sea creature that lives inside a spiral shell. It also illustrates how the speaker’s contemplation leads him to account for the lesson this tiny creature teaches him. The poem also deals with the struggle and its positive impacts on our lives.
  • “The Chambered Nautilus” As a Representative of Life: This poem is an expression of wonder. It begins with the description of a tiny nautilus which means a pelagic marine mollusk found in the sea. The speaker says that we should adopt the struggling attitude of the nautilus throughout the expanse of our life. Unlike this creature, we should not afraid of taking chances in life. He attempts to describe how nautilus makes the best out of this world and nothing hinders its way. He adds that when it dies, its beauty and creativity shines in its broken shell.
    After admiring the beauty of its art, the speaker talks about its struggling life how the nautilus builds on, adding, and polishing its previous efforts. As soon as the one better environment is completed, it starts creating the bigger and better one, leaving the previous one behind. He adds we should learn lessons from this sea creature whose life is subjected to intense labor and even after its death, its shell teaches us a valuable lesson. Therefore, we should try to make our lives better with every passing day so that our name will be used as an example for the coming generations. The constant efforts of the nautilus must be remembered as it spends its whole life to create a difference.
  • Major Themes in “The Chambered Nautilus”: Nature, struggle, and passion are the major themes underlined in this poem. It is through the example of the tiny nautilus; the speaker discovers the best way to live. The poem begins with the metaphorical description of this tiny creature and ends with the ultimate lesson it teaches us. The speaker reflects upon the various stages of its development and growth as well as its eventual decay. At first, he comments on the wonderful adventures it undertakes in a mighty sea and later laments its death. He says that nautilus does not die in vain; its art and lifelong struggle shine in its broken shell. It speaks about the mastery of its ultimate resolution that it spends its whole life in the expansion of its shell. As soon as it makes a new quarter, it abandons the previous home. Examining the artistic life of the nautilus, the speaker suggests that we should also put a lot of effort to make our lives better.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “The Chambered Nautilus”

literary devices are very important elements of a literary text. Their use not only brings richness to the text but also makes the reader understand the hidden meanings. Oliver Wendell Holmes has also made this poem superb by using figurative language. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of the poetry in quick succession. For example, the /s/ sound in On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings” and the sound of /d/ in “Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell”.
  2. Assonance: An assonance is the repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sounds of /o/ come in quick succession in “Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.”
  3. Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody or something from afar. Here the poet has used an apostrophe to call the Nautilus a thing of wonder. For example, “Build thee more stately mansions”, “O my soul, / As the swift seasons roll! / Leave thy low-vaulted past! / Let each new temple, nobler than the last,”
  4. Allusion: Allusion is an indirect reference of a person, place, thing or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. There are a few words from Greek mythology, for example, “Than ever Triton blew from wreathed horn; / While on mine ear it rings,” and “In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers feel things through their five senses. For example, “While on mine ear it rings” and “Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings.”
  6. Personification: Oliver has used personification that means to use emotions for inanimate objects. Here, the Nautilus is personified at several places in the poem. For example, “dreaming life,” its description as a “tenant,” its stealing with “soft step,” its ability to stretch out in a home, and the notion that it is a “child” with “lips.”
  7. Metaphor: A comparison between two, unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences in a paragraph or lines in a poem. There is an extended metaphor of the Nautilus in the poem to talk about the growth and spiritual development of human beings.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “The Chambered Nautilus”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. The poet has used end rhyme in the poem. For example, “roll/soul”, “toil/coil”, “wings/sings” and “bare/hair.”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows the AABBBCC rhyme scheme and this pattern continues till the end.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem with each having an equal number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful in religious speeches to help people regain their lost spirits and hope.

“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past.”