The 'Mental Traveller' indicаtes an explorer of mental phænomena. The mental phænomenon here symbolized seems to be the career of any great Idea or intellectual movement—as, for instance, Christianity, chivalry, art, &c.—represented as going through the stages of—1. birth, 2. adversity and persecution, 3. triumph and maturity, 4. decadence through over-ripeness, 5. gradual transformation, under new conditions, into another renovated Idea, which again has to pass through all the same stages. In other words, the poem represents the action and re-action of Ideas upon society, and of society upon Ideas.
Argument of the stanzas: 2. The Idea, conceived with pain, is born amid enthusiasm. 3. If of masculine, enduring nature, it falls under the control and ban of the already existing state of society (the woman old). 5. As the Idea develops, the old society becomes moulded into a new society (the old woman grows young). 6. The Idea, now free and dominant, is united to society, as it were in wedlock. 8. It gradually grows old and effete, living now only upon the spiritual treasures laid up in the days of its early energy. 10. These still subserve many purposes of practical good, and outwardly the Idea is in its most flourishing estate, even when sapped at its roots. 11. The halo of authority and tradition, or prestige, gathering round the Idea, is symbolized in the resplendent babe born on his hearth. 13. This prestige deserts the Idea itself, and attaches to some individual, who usurps the honour due only to the Idea (as we may see in the case of papacy, royalty, &c.); and the Idea is eclipsed by its own very prestige, and assumed living representative. 14. The Idea wanders homeless till it can find a new community to mould ('until he can a maiden win'). 15 to 17. Finding whom, the Idea finds itself also living under strangely different conditions. 18. The Idea is now "beguiled to infancy"—becomes a new Idea, in working upon a fresh community, and under altered conditions. 20. Nor are they yet thoroughly at one; she flees away while he pursues. 22. Here we return to the first state of the case. The Idea starts upon a new course—is a babe; the society it works upon has become an old society—no longer a fair virgin, but an aged woman. 24. The Idea seems so new and unwonted that, the nearer it is seen, the more consternation it excites. 26. None can deal with the Idea so as to develop it to the full, except the old society with which it comes into contact; and this can deal with it only by misusing it at first, whereby (as in the previous stage, at the opening of the poem) it is to be again disciplined into ultimate triumph.
I travelled through a land of men,