28 pages 56 minutes read

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1813

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Book IChapter Summaries & Analyses

Book I Summary

The poem’s third-person speaker compares sleep and death to siblings, though death has “lips of lurid blue” (Line 1.9), while sleep is a blush over the world each morning. He worries that Ianthe, who is sleeping so deeply, might be dead. Her beauty is “peerless” (Line 1.12) like “breathing marble” (Line 1.17), while her voice is like music that can calm “a tiger’s rage” or warm the heart of a “conqueror” (Lines 1.35-36).

Suddenly the sound of a chariot interrupts the scene. It is Queen Mab, a powerful fairy invented by Shakespeare and adopted by various writers since, who resembles a cloud with a graceful outline that creates a halo. When she descends from her chariot, Queen Mab waves her wand three times and tells Ianthe that because Ianthe is “good” and “sincere,” her soul has been deemed deserving of “the envied boon” (Line 1.122). Ianthe’s soul then separates from her body. The Queen speaks to Ianthe’s spirit and tells her to ascend with her.

The spirit joins Queen Mab in her chariot, and the earth and its ocean, mountains, and clouds become smaller and smaller as they ascend. They surpass even the constellations and a meteor belt.