"The Chambered Nautilus" by Oliver Wendell Holmes (Analysis)

Essay by omedHigh School, 11th gradeA, November 2007

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“The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, is one of the famous American Renaissance poems. Like most American Renaissance poets, Holmes tries to decipher the mysteries and meanings of life. As a doctor and a poet, Holmes uses a creature from nature-the nautilus-to try to explain the meanings of life. By using extended metaphor while using the nautilus, in “ The Chambered Nautilus” Holmes unravels the mystery that is life.

In the first two stanzas, Holmes describes the anatomy and structure of the chambered nautilus. Holmes describes the anatomy of nautilus using a variety of metaphors. “The ship of pearl” as he calls the nautilus for its pearly shell. As part of his description, Holmes tells the sailor’s legend of the chambered nautilus. He begins describing the legend with the “purpled wings” used for sailing the seas. Next, he alludes to Greek mythology when telling the legend, by saying “sirens” and “sea-maidens” swim in the same bay where the chambered nautilus is found sailing.

The second stanza one can imagine Holmes finding a cracked nautilus “sunless crypt unsealed” on a sandy beach, holding it in his hand, and talking about life. This same method is found in the scene in Hamlet, where Hamlet holds a skull in the light and talks bout life and destiny. Holmes starts speaking of how the chambered nautilus worked so hard to build its shell, pointing out that after all this work it ended up like most organism’s: dead.

In the third stanza, Holmes continues to describe the cycle of the nautilus as well as the time and effort the chambered nautilus put forth to build. According to Holmes “Year by year…spiral grew” the chambered nautilus adds a chamber each year and seals it to increase its buoyancy above water. In the last...