Me only cruel immortality Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms, Here at the quiet limit of the world, A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream The ever-silent spaces of the East[.]
The eponymous narrator of “Tithonus” was given the gift of immortality so that he could remain the companion of the goddess of dawn, Aurora. However, as readers discover in these lines, with Tithonus’s immortality did not come eternal youth. Instead, he experiences the aging process and begins to wither away, but he does not die. Such a circumstance doesn’t please Tithonus. Here, he describes himself as a shadow roaming the “ever silent spaces,” explaining that although alive, he views himself as a ghost. He haunts the east, meaning he does not live there like a normal human anymore.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man— So glorious in his beauty and thy choice, Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d To his great heart none other than a God!
In “Tithonus,” the eponymous narrator mourns for himself, remembering what he once was. He regrets the loss of his young, beautiful body and expresses shame that he ever dared to think of himself as similar to a god. Aurora’s love may have caused him to feel so special that he readily accepted the gift of immortality, not realizing at the time that, not truly being a god, he would continue to age. Feeling so special, thanks to Aurora’s love, may have been what allowed him to accept immortality. His foolish heart didn’t realize at the time that because he really isn’t a god, trying to imitate one by living forever represents an act of hubris.
Let me go: take back thy gift: Why should a man desire in any way To vary from the kindly race of men, Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance Where all should pause, as is most meet for all?
In “Tithonus,” Tithonus asks Aurora to rescind his immortality. Readers learn that he originally felt that he was almost entitled to be made immortal, but now he understands that no human should live forever. He views a normal human life span as proper and even desirable. This realization allows him to firmly identify with humans, whom he calls “kindly,” perhaps in contrast to the fiercer nature of gods. Growing ever older while Aurora remains forever young, Tithonus can no longer pretend that they are the same.
[W]ith what another heart In days far off, and with what other eyes I used to watch (if I be he that watch’d) The lucid outline forming round thee . . . Changed with thy mystic change, and felt my blood Glow with the glow that slowly crimson’d all Thy presence and thy portals, while I lay, Mouth, forehead, eyelids, growing dewy-warm[.]
In his eponymous poem, Tithonus remembers how he used to respond to his lover, Aurora, the goddess of dawn. He claims that although he seems like a different person now, he can still vividly describe how Aurora made him feel long ago. Although he can remember his emotional reaction to her, he does so with regret and a recognition of a sharp contrast between how he felt then and what happens now, implying he no longer reacts at all or, at best, his emotional and physical reactions are dulled.
How can my nature longer mix with thine? Coldly thy rosy shadows bathe me, cold Are all thy lights, and cold my wrinkled feet Upon thy glimmering thresholds, when the steam Floats up from those fields about the homes Of happy men that have the power to die[.]
In these lines from “Tithonus,” Tithonus explains that as he has grown far older than any mortal man has ever lived, he feels closer to death than most. Like a dying person he feels cold: Even his beloved Aurora’s light no longer warms him. What once brought him joy no longer does, which must make the daily experience of living more unbearable than if he never felt that joy. Here, Tithonus admits that he envies normal humans who can die and cease longing for the past.
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