Prometheus Unbound

by

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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The Earth is personified in Prometheus Unbound as a mother grieving for her child, Prometheus, and for her inhabitants, humanity. At the beginning of the poem, the Earth is fearful about what will become of her and the inhabitants of the planet if they further offend Jupiter. She fears being tortured further (describing her route around the sun as a “wheel of pain” which Jupiter has “linked” her to). When Prometheus asks to hear the curse that he’d uttered against Jupiter but that he has now forgotten, the Earth calls up the Phantasm of Jupiter from the shadow realm so that Jupiter’s rage will “sweep through” the realm of phantoms rather than affect those who are alive on the Earth. The Earth’s grief over the treatment of Prometheus is described as the “poisoned breath” of a mother grieving her child and, as a result of the Earth’s pain, humanity too has suffered. “Poisonous weeds” have sprung up alongside nutritious plants and humans have struggled to live in harmony with nature since Jupiter imprisoned Prometheus. As Jupiter’s reign has stripped humanity of their ability to use the knowledge that Prometheus gave them, human beings have damaged the Earth in their attempts to control their environment; the Earth suffers under the violence that man does to each other and that they do to the environment through industry and the building of cities. The personification of the Earth in Shelley’s poem has its roots in Greek mythology, in which the Earth was symbolized by a goddess called Gaia. It also highlights Shelley’s belief in pantheism, or nature worship, as well as the importance of respecting and maintaining a harmonious balance with nature rather than stripping the Earth of resources for the sake of industrialization.

The Earth Quotes in Prometheus Unbound

The Prometheus Unbound quotes below are all either spoken by The Earth or refer to The Earth. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of Prometheus Unbound published in 2002.
Act 1 Quotes

When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!
And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted
Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust
And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread
Grew pale—until his thunder chained thee here.—
Then—see those million worlds which burn and roll
Around us: their inhabitants beheld
My sphered light wane in wide Heaven; the sea
Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire
From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow
Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven’s frown;
Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains;
Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads
Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled;
When Plague had fallen on man and beast and worm,
And Famine,—and black blight on herb and tree,
And in the corn and vines and meadow-grass
Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds
Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry
With grief,—and the thin air, my breath, was stained
With the contagion of a mother’s hate
Breathed on her child’s destroyer […]

Related Characters: The Earth (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter
Page Number: 1.157-179
Explanation and Analysis:

Aye, do thy worst. Thou art Omnipotent.
O’er all things but thyself I gave thee power,
And my own will. Be thy swift mischiefs sent
To blast mankind, from yon etherial tower.
Let thy malignant spirit move
In darkness over those I love:
On me and mine I imprecate
The utmost torture of thy hate
And thus devote to sleepless agony
This undeclining head while thou must reign on high.
[…]

I curse thee! let a sufferer’s curse
Clasp thee, his torturer, like remorse,
Till thine Infinity shall be
A robe of envenomed agony;
And thine Omnipotence a crown of pain
To cling like burning gold round thy dissolving brain.

Related Characters: The Phantasm of Jupiter (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter, The Earth
Page Number: 1.272-281, 286-291
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Ruin now Love’s shadow be,
Following him destroyingly
On Death's white and winged steed,
Which the fleetest cannot flee—
Trampling down both flower and weed,
Man and beast and foul and fair,
Like a tempest through the air;
Thou shalt quell this Horseman grim,
Woundless though in heart or limb.—

Related Characters: Good Spirits (speaker), Prometheus, Jupiter, The Earth, The Furies
Related Symbols: The Spirit of Love
Page Number: 1.780-788
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Prometheus Unbound LitChart as a printable PDF.
Prometheus Unbound PDF

The Earth Character Timeline in Prometheus Unbound

The timeline below shows where the character The Earth appears in Prometheus Unbound. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
...that they fell silent when they heard it, “though silence is a hell” to them. The Earth then states that the hills and the oceans cried “Misery!” when the curse was spoken... (full context)
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
...and their “else all-conquering foe” who would have trampled the world like a “fiend-drawn charioteer.” The Earth tells him that the elements “dare not” speak up, and Prometheus begins to hear a... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
Prometheus asks the Earth , whose voice he does not recognize, who she is, and the Earth explains that... (full context)
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Prometheus begs to hear the curse. The Earth calls up the Phantasm of Jupiter from the shadow world to repeat it so that... (full context)
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...once wished pain upon Jupiter, as he no longer wishes any “living thing to suffer.” The Earth cries out that Prometheus is vanquished, but Ione contradicts her and says that it is... (full context)
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...the visions with which the Furies tortured him have only increased his determination to endure. The Earth sends good spirits to comfort Prometheus, and they tell him of a prophecy of love... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
Next Prometheus addresses the Earth . She is so delighted by his words that joy runs through her “icy frame”... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
The Earth calls up a childlike messenger, the Spirit of the Earth, to lead Prometheus, Asia, Panthea,... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 4
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...Panthea, and Ione are gathered at their cave in the forest with the Spirit of the Earth . Panthea tells Ione how the Spirit of the Earth used to visit Asia often... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
 The Spirit of the Earth runs to Asia and expresses her love for her. The Spirit of the Earth then... (full context)
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
Asia returns the Spirit of the Earth ’s affection and tells her that they will not separate until the “frozen and inconstant... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
...round the sphered world.” The Spirit of the Hour tells them how he has wandered the Earth and seen that “thrones” are now “kingless,” and that men no longer lie or flatter... (full context)
Act 4
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
...and Ione see a small, floating islet, around which a sleeping infant, the Spirit of the Earth , is being borne in a basket. They see a vision of all the emblems... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
The Earth is frenzied with joy over the change that has come over her. The Moon, conversing... (full context)
Knowledge and Freedom Theme Icon
Authority and Resistance Theme Icon
Christianity and Forgiveness  Theme Icon
Nature, Imagination, and the Sublime Theme Icon
Panthea and Ione rise when they hear the voice of the Demogorgon addressing the world. The Earth and the Moon, voices from nature, humanity, and the spirits of the living and the... (full context)