The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk: AHSEC Class 12 Alternative English notes

The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk
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Get summaries, questions, answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF and guide of Class 12 (second year) Alternative English textbook, chapter/poem 1, The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, which is part of the syllabus of students studying under AHSEC/ASSEB (Assam Board). These solutions, however, should only be treated as references and can be modified/changed. 

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“The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk” by William Cowper is a reflection on the themes of isolation and human connection. The poem is inspired by the true story of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who spent over four years marooned on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific in the early 18th century. The poem captures Selkirk’s emotional journey during his time of solitude.

At the beginning of the poem, Selkirk is portrayed as the master of the island, claiming dominion over all he surveys. He describes himself as the lord of all the animals around him, asserting his control in the absence of other humans. However, despite this initial assertion of power and freedom, he quickly reveals a deep sense of despair. The solitude that seemed liberating soon becomes a source of torment. Selkirk realizes that living in constant alarm and danger would be preferable to reigning in such isolation.

Selkirk’s isolation is highlighted by his longing for human interaction. He laments the absence of the “sweet music of speech” and is startled by the sound of his own voice, underscoring his deep loneliness. The animals on the island, indifferent to his presence, only deepen his sense of isolation. Their tameness, born out of unfamiliarity with humans, becomes “shocking” to him, emphasizing his complete disconnection from society.

The poem vividly illustrates Selkirk’s yearning for the basic human connections of society, friendship, and love, which he refers to as divinely bestowed upon mankind. He imagines having the wings of a dove to escape his solitude and reunite with society. His thoughts of friends and the comfort of human companionship become a distant, unreachable dream. The winds, which have played with him, become his only hope of receiving news from the world he left behind.

Selkirk’s mental escape is contrasted with the physical reality of his situation. His thoughts of his native land are fleeting, as he is quickly pulled back to the harsh reality of his desolate surroundings. Despite this, he finds some solace in nature’s rhythms, noting that even in his bleak situation, there is a season of rest.

Religion and the concept of mercy play a crucial role in providing Selkirk with emotional support. He acknowledges that mercy exists everywhere, even in his state of affliction. This recognition helps him reconcile with his fate, finding grace and a sense of peace despite his suffering.

Cowper employs various poetic devices throughout the poem. The use of imagery paints a vivid picture of the island and Selkirk’s solitary life. Metaphors such as the “wings of a dove” symbolize his desire for freedom and connection. The ballad form, with its regular rhyme scheme and rhythmic quality, enhances the narrative’s melancholic and reflective tone.

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Line-by-line explanation

I am monarch of all I survey, / My right there is none to dispute, / From the centre all round to the sea, / I am lord of the fowl and the brute.

Alexander Selkirk declares that he is the ruler of everything he can see. There is no one to challenge his authority over the land, from its center to the surrounding sea. He is the master of all the birds and animals in this area.

O Solitude! where are the charms / That sages have seen in thy face? / Better dwell in the midst of alarms / Than reign in this horrible place.

Selkirk questions the appeal of solitude that wise men have praised. He finds it better to live amid constant danger and noise than to rule over this dreadful, isolated place.

I am out of humanity’s reach, / I must finish my journey alone, / Never hear the sweet music of speech,— / I start at the sound of my own.

Selkirk feels completely cut off from human contact and knows he must endure this journey by himself. He will never hear another person’s voice again and is startled even by the sound of his own voice.

The beasts that roam over the plain / My form with indifference see; / They are so unacquainted with man, / Their tameness is shocking to me.

The animals on the island pay no attention to Selkirk, as they are not familiar with humans. Their lack of fear and tameness is surprising to him.

Society, Friendship, and Love, / Divinely bestow’d upon man, / Oh, had I the wings of a dove, / How soon would I taste you again!

Selkirk longs for the companionship and affection that are divine gifts to humanity. If he had the wings of a dove, he would quickly return to experience these joys again.

My sorrows I then might assuage / In the ways of religion and truth, / Might learn from the wisdom of age, / And be cheer’d by the sallies of youth.

He believes that he could ease his sorrows through religion and truth, learn from the wisdom of older people, and be uplifted by the lively spirits of the young.

Ye winds that have made me your sport, / Convey to this desolate shore / Some cordial endearing report / Of a land I shall visit no more!

Selkirk addresses the winds that have played with him and asks them to bring some comforting news to this barren shore about a land he will never visit again.

My friends—do they now and then send / A wish or a thought after me? / Oh, tell me I yet have a friend, / Though a friend I am never to see.

He wonders if his friends ever think of him or wish him well. He desires to know that he still has a friend, even if he will never see them again.

How fleet is a glance of the mind! / Compared with the speed of its flight, / The tempest itself lags behind, / And the swift-wingéd arrows of light.

Selkirk marvels at how quickly thoughts travel. They are faster than a storm and even quicker than arrows of light.

When I think of my own native land, / In a moment I seem to be there; / But alas! recollection at hand / Soon hurries me back to despair.

When Selkirk thinks of his homeland, he feels as if he is there instantly. However, the reality of his situation quickly brings him back to his despair.

But the seafowl is gone to her nest, / The beast is laid down in his lair, / Even here is a season of rest, / And I to my cabin repair.

Even though he is in solitude, nature follows its rhythms. The seafowl return to their nests, and the beasts lie down in their lairs. There is a time of rest, and Selkirk heads back to his cabin.

There’s mercy in every place, / And mercy, encouraging thought! / Gives even affliction a grace, / And reconciles man to his lot.

Selkirk reflects that mercy exists everywhere, which is a comforting thought. Mercy can make suffering more bearable and help people accept their fate.

Textbook solutions

Answer these questions in one or two words

1. Who was Alexander Selkirk?

Answer: Scottish sailor

2. What kind of an island was Selkirk marooned on?

Answer: Uninhabited

3. Does Selkirk regret his decision of living in solitude?

Answer: Yes

4. For how many years was Selkirk stranded on the island?

Answer: Four

5. Name one poetic device used in the poem.

Answer: Imagery

Answer these questions in a few words each

1. What is the significance of the island in the poem?

Answer: Symbol of isolation

2. What is the emotional state of Alexander Selkirk in the poem?

Answer: Desperate and lonely

3. What do you understand by the words ‘sweet music of speech’?

Answer: Human conversation

4. What elements of nature does the speaker think of using while trying to connect with civilisation?

Answer: Winds and birds

Answer these questions briefly in your own words

1. What message did Selkirk want to convey to his friends?

Answer: He wanted to convey that he still had friends and wished to hear from them, expressing a longing for their thoughts and wishes.

2. How does Selkirk reflect upon the flight of the mind?

Answer: Selkirk reflects that the mind can travel quickly and far, faster than any physical movement, but such thoughts only bring him back to despair.

3. What is Selkirk’s view about solitude?

Answer: Selkirk views solitude negatively, preferring the company of others and considering the island’s isolation as horrible and distressing.

4. How is mercy seen by Selkirk?

Answer: Selkirk sees mercy in every place, believing it brings grace to affliction and helps him reconcile with his lot.

Answer these questions in detail

1. Discuss the significance of the title ‘The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk’ in relation to the poem’s themes and content.

Answer: The title ‘The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk’ is significant as it encapsulates the central theme of the poem, which is the exploration of isolation and loneliness. The word ‘solitude’ directly refers to Selkirk’s state of being alone on an uninhabited island, separated from human society. This solitude is not merely physical but also emotional and psychological, highlighting the profound impact of isolation on the human spirit. The poem delves into Selkirk’s experiences and emotions during his time on the island, illustrating how solitude shapes his thoughts and actions. His initial feeling of being the ‘monarch’ of the island soon turns into despair as he longs for human company, showcasing the inherent human need for social connection. Thus, the title reflects both the literal and metaphorical aspects of Selkirk’s isolation and the profound effects it has on him.

2. How does the poem explore the theme of isolation and loneliness? Give examples from the poem to support your answer.

Answer: The poem explores the theme of isolation and loneliness through the depiction of Alexander Selkirk’s experiences on the deserted island. In the opening lines, Selkirk declares himself the “monarch of all I survey,” indicating a sense of control and dominion over his surroundings. However, this sense of power quickly fades as the reality of his isolation sets in. The line “Better dwell in the midst of alarms than reign in this horrible place” reveals his preference for a life filled with dangers over the oppressive solitude he faces. The absence of human contact is starkly highlighted when Selkirk laments, “I am out of humanity’s reach, I must finish my journey alone,” emphasizing his complete detachment from society. The longing for human interaction is poignantly expressed in the lines “Oh, tell me I yet have a friend, though a friend I am never to see.” The poem also uses nature as a mirror to Selkirk’s loneliness, as seen in “The beasts that roam over the plain my form with indifference see,” showing that even animals do not provide the companionship he craves. These examples underscore the deep sense of isolation and loneliness that permeates the poem, illustrating the profound impact of solitude on Selkirk’s mental and emotional state.

Extra questions and answers

1. “I am monarch of all I survey, / My right there is none to dispute, / From the centre all round to the sea, / I am lord of the fowl and the brute.”

(i) Who claims to be the monarch of all he surveys?

Answer: Alexander Selkirk

(ii) What does the speaker claim to be the lord of?

Answer: The fowl and the brute

(iii) What is the extent of the speaker’s domain according to these lines?

Answer: From the centre all round to the sea

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25. What message did Selkirk want to convey to his friends, and how does it reflect his state of mind?

Answer: Selkirk wanted to convey to his friends that he still cherished their friendship and longed for a connection despite his profound loneliness. He asks the winds to deliver a message, hoping his friends still think of him. This reflects his deep yearning for human connection and his desperation to know that he is not entirely forgotten. Selkirk’s plea underscores the emotional toll of his isolation, revealing his inner turmoil and the comfort he seeks in the thought of having friends who care about him, despite being physically separated.

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