This being, made only for happiness, and heretofore so miserably failing to be happy . . . this poor, forlorn voyager from the Islands of the Blest, in a frail bark, on a tempestuous sea, had been flung, by the last mountain-wave of his shipwreck, into a quiet harbor. There, as he lay more than half-lifeless on the strand, the fragrance of an earthly rosebud had come to his nostrils, and, as odors will, had summoned up reminiscences or visions of all the living and breathing beauty, amid which he should have had his home.
Throughout the novel, Clifford is a difficult, sometimes unpleasant character, and this quotation from Chapter 9 conveys how his once beautiful mind has so thoroughly gone to waste. The quotation beautifully and tragically chronicles how thirty years in prison have caused his mind to degenerate. The image of Clifford “half-lifeless” on the sand, captivated by the scent of a rose, illustrates the terrible suffering that accompanies his return and his sense of having missed out on his youth. The tone is one of exhaustion, but it is also one of recovery, for the image does not end with Clifford’s drowning but with his slowly coming back to consciousness. As we have seen in other aspects of the novel, in the chickens returning to health and the garden’s restoration, decay and renewal are linked. Hawthorne’s poetic portrayal of Clifford’s degeneration makes us inclined to sympathize with Clifford and helps us to understand why his recovery moves at such a slow pace.
Hawthorne’s language makes Clifford’s incarceration seem like a violent, almost overwhelming struggle rather than merely an extended absence. His use of words like “forlorn,” “frail,” -“tempestuous,” and “miserably” helps to convey the severity of the tribulations that Clifford has endured. He has been delivered from a “shipwreck” to a “harbor.” The passage ends with words that conjure pleasure, comfort, and hope: “living,” “breathing,” and “beauty.”