PERCY SHELLY SELECTED POEMS

Table of Contents

 PERCY BYSSHE SHELLY BIOGRAPHY


(A) Life And Works

Born: Field Place, Sussex, England,Date: August 4, 1792

Died: Off Viareggio, Italy, DateJuly 8, 1822

Principal Works
Poems
: Queen Mab, 1813; Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude,
1816; The Revolt of Islam, 1818; Rosalind and Helen, 1819;
Epipsychidion, 1821; Adonais, 1821; Hellas, 1822; Posthumous
Poems, 18-4; Poetical works, 1839.

Plays: The Cenci, 1820; Prometheus Unbound, 1820.

Tracts and Studies: The Necessity of Atheism, 1811; An Address to the Irish People, 1812; A Refutation of Deism, 1814; A Defence of Poetry, 1840

Biographical Sketch

His early life: Percy Bysshe Shelley, English poet, was born at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, August 4, 1792, the eldest son of a landed country squire. After some tutoring he was sent to Syon House Academy, where his shyness exposed him to brutal bullying. Entering Eton in. 18o4 , he lived as much apart as possible, a moody, sensitive, and precocious boy with the nickname of “mad Shelley.” Here he wrote Zastrozzi (1810), a wild Gothic romance, Original Poetry by Victory and Cazire (1811), and another inferior Gothic romance, St. Irvyne, or The Rosicrucian, published in 1811 Shelley matriculated at University College, Oxford, in 1810. He and Thomas Jefferson Hogg were expelled the following year for publishing and sending to bishops and heads of colleges their pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism. At this time Shelley fell in love with Harriet West-brook, daughter of a retired hotel-keeper. They eloped, and despite Shelley’s open break with the conventions of the Christian religion and particular scorn for the marriage ceremony, they were married in Edinburgh in August, 1811 Both fathers contributed to their support for the next three years, which they spent wandering in Southern England, Ireland, and Wales.

His second marriage: In 1813 their first child was born in London and Shelley’s first long poem, Queen Mab, was published. Meanwhile, marriage with Harriet was proving a failure. In may, 1814, Shelley met Mary, the daughter of William and Mary Wolls T one craft Godwin. Mary shared his belief that marriage was only a voluntary contract. Harriet left for her father’s home, and Shelley and seventeen-years-old Mary eloped to Switzerland, accompanied by Claire Clairmont, Mary’s half-sister. When they returned to England in September, Shelley proposed to Harriet that she come and live with Mary and him; however, there was no reconciliation.

Mary bore a son in 1816 (the year of Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude). They, with Claire, spent the summer in Switzerland and became close friends of Byron. Soon after they returned to England in the autumn, they heard that Harriet had drowned herself. Shelley was now free to Mary Godwin (December 30, 1816), but a court order denied him the custody of his two children by Harriet.

His visit abroad: After he had completed The Revolt of Islam, revised version of his earlier Loan and Cythna, the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont, with her child by Byron, went to Italy. There Shelley remained the rest of his life, wandering from Lake Como, Milan, Venice, Este, Rome, Florence, and Pisa to other cities and sections. Much time was spent with Byron. Julian and Maddalo (1818) is poem in the form of conversation between Shelley (Julian) and Byron (Maddalo). Next followed The Masque of Anarchy (1819), a revolutionary propaganda poem; The Cenci a realistic tragedy; and Prometheus Unbound, a lyric tragedy completed in 1819 and published in 1820. Earlier in the same year, at Pisa, he writes some of his most famous lyrics, “The Cloud”, “Ode to the West Wind”, and “Ode to a Skylark.”

The chief productions of 1821 were Epipsychidion, a result of his platonic relationship with Countess Emilia Viviani, an uncompleted prose work, A Defence of Poetry, published after his death, and Adonais, an elegy inspired by the death of John Keats. From his wide reading, he was most greatly influenced by Plato, Lucretius, Spinoza, Rousseau, Hume, and Southey. God-win’s influence lasted until Shelley’s death.

His final poem, The Triumph of Life, was incomplete at the time he was drowned, July 8, 1822, while sailing off Viareggio. His body was first buried in the sand, then cremated. The ashes were buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, January 21, 1823.

Influence of Shelley on the nineteenth century poetry: The nineteenth century notion of the sensitive poetic soul owes a great deal to the ideal young man (Alastor—”the brave, the beautiful— the child of grace and genius”) built up largely by Shelley of Shelley. Yet in the history of English literature, Shelley is not as important as Wordsworth or as influential as Byron (more popular as a poet), or Keats. The public was shocked at his defiance of the conventions of life. Today he has many admirers, but for those who dislike Romantic poetry in general, Shelley is a particularly vulnerable target. Unquestionably he could give a song-like character to his verse, for his was the light, lyrical tone. He was a lover of unusual colours, blurred outlines, and large effects. He was also a lover of startling and frank realism and had an obvious passion for the mysterious and far away. In technique he illustrated something more concrete by the less concrete. What Shelley starts to define often results in vague though pretty images. He offers emotion in itself, unattached, in the void.

His revolt against society: Because of his sensibility, perhaps, he was at war with the conventions of society from childhood. As a political dreamer he was filled with the hope of transforming the real world into an Arcadia through revolutionary reform. As a disciple of Godwin he directed Queen Mab against organized religion. The queen shows the human spirit that evil times, in the past and present, are due to the authority of Church and State. In the future, however, when love reigns supreme, the chains of the human spirit will dissolve; mankind will be boundlessly self-assertive and at the same time, temper this self-assertion by a boundless sympathy for others. Then a world will be realized in which there is neither inferior nor superior classes or beings. The end of Prometheus Unbound gives his vision of humanity released from all evil artificially imposed from without (one of Rousseau’s main tenets), a humanity “where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea,” and “whose nature is its own divine control”.
Shelley sets up a humanity glorified through love; he worships in the sanctuary left vacant by “the great absence of God” (His youthful atheism lacked warmth and in the end he turned to a type of (Pantheism). Love, as exemplified in his personal life, is a passionate kind of sensuality which becomes his simple moral code with no duty, blame, or obligation attached. The reign of love when no authority was necessary was his millennium.

His Works


Early Writings. Shelley
started writing very early, but his first major work came in i8ii. This was Queen Mab, a long poem. It is a revolutionary poem, but there is much confusion in the development of the story. The next great poem, Alastor came in 1815. In the same year he produced Mont Blanc and Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. These poems expressed the poet’s idealism. In the latter of the two poems, the poet expresses his feeling of the presence of a spirit in nature.

Revolt of Islam. These were followed by The Revolt of Islam in 1817. We have here again a story of love and adventure and of the desire, in the hero and the heroine, of changing the world.

Prometheus Unbound. In 1818-19 came the great drama, Promethus Unbound. This is a major poem. As a drama it is not much of a success, but both in theme and in its individual songs it achieves greatness. Shelley takes a theme form Ancient Greek Literature. Prometheus was a mythical Titan who benefited mankind by stealing the fire from the gods and giving it to men. For this, Jove, the chief of the gods, punishes him by chaining him to a rock where he is eternally tortured. Shelley takes up this theme and makes Prometheus into a symbol of revolt. Jove becomes the symbol of oppression and tyranny. In the end, Jove is overthrown and unmixed goodness rules the world.

The Cenci. In 1819 came another great play, The Cenci. This is a well knit play and is distinguished from his other works by this fact, This play portrays absolute evil as Prometheus Unbound portrays absolute goodness.

Later poems. This was followed by The Witch of Atlas, and Epipsychidion. In the same year was published Adonais, a lament on the death of the poet Keats.

Hellas. In the last year of his life (1822) Shelley wrote Hellas. This is the old name of Greece. Shelley left an unfinished, poem Triumph of Life.

Shorter Poems. In addition to these long poems, Shelley wrote a large number of lyrics. The most well-known of these are Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark and The Cloud. It is in these lyrics that we often find Shelley at his best. Ode to the West Wind is a great achievement — a poem in which great thought is combined with great art. Most of his lyrics are love poems. Many of them express the poet’s deep joy in life as well as his deep sorrow.

Shelley: The Man

The life of Shelley lies world’s apart from that of Byron. His treatment of Harriet apart, his private life was not vicious, but on the contrary in many respects exemplary. As far as the ideas, which he sang, were capable of application to life, he applied them in his own conduct. “He preached the equality of man and he proved that he was willing to practice it. He was generous and benevolent to fault.”

Nothing can surpass Shelley’s poetic description of himself in Adonais, as a ‘frail form,’ ‘a phantom among men,’ ‘companion-less’ as ‘the last cloud of an expiring storm,——

A pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift,—A love in desolation masked,— a Power
Girt round with weakness; it can scarce uplift
The weight of the superincumbent hour,
It is a dying lamp, a falling shower;
A breaking billow;

 

Main Characteristics Of His Poetry

(i) Shelley compared with some of his contemporaries: “As a poet,says J. A. Symonds, Shelley contributed a new quality to English literature— a quality of ideality, freedom, and audacity, which severe critics of other nations think we lack. Byron’s daring is a different region; his elemental worldliness and pungent satire do not liberate our energies or cheer us with a new hope and splendid vista. Wordsworth, the very antithesis to Shelley in his reverent accord with institutions, suits our meditative mood, sustains us with a sound philosophy and braces us by healthy contact with the Nature, he so dearly loved. But in Wordsworth there is none of Shelley’s magnetism. What remains of permanent value in Coleridge’s poetry— such works as Christabel, The Ancient Mariner or Kubla Khan– is a product of pure artistic fancy, tempered by the author’s mysticism Keats, true and sacred poet as he was, loved nature with a somewhat sensuous devotion; nor did he share the prophetic fire, which burnt in Shelley’s verse. In none of Shelley’s greatest contemporaries was the lyrical faculty so paramount, and when we consider his minor songs, his odes or his more complicated dramas, we acknowledge that he was the loftiest and most spontaneous singer of the language. In range of power, he was also Conspicuous above the rest. While his genius was so varied and its flight so unapproached in swiftness, it would be in vain to deny that Shelley as an artist had faults, from which the men, with whom I have compared him, were more free. The most important of these are haste, incoherence, verbal carelessness, incompleteness, a want of narrative force and a weak hold on objective realities.”

Shelley and Wordsworth as poets of nature: In his interpretation of Nature, Shelley suggests Wordsworth both by resemblance and by contrast. To both poets all natural objects are symbols of truth; both regard nature as permeated by the higher spiritual life, which animates all things; but while Wordsworth finds a spirit of thought and so of communion between nature and the soul of man, Shelley finds a spirit of love, which exists chiefly in its own delight. And so The Cloud, The Skylark and The West Wind, three of the most beautiful poems in the English language, have no definite message for humanity. In his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, Shelley is most like Wordsworth, but in his Sensitive Plant, with its fine symbolism and imagery he is like nobody in the world but himself. Comparison sometimes is an excellent thing and if we compare Shelley’s exquisite Lament, beginning

“0 World! 0 Life! 0 time!”

with Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality we shall perhaps understand both the poets better. Both poems recall many happy memories of youth, both express a very real mood of a moment; but while the beauty of one merely saddens and disheartens us, the beauty of the other inspires us with something of the poet’s own faith and hopefulness. In a word, Wordsworth found and Shelley lost himself in Nature.

Shelley and Byron: Shelley stands with Byron as a poet of revolt, but his devotion to liberty is purer, his love for man is readier to declare in deeds of hope and sympathy; his philosophy of life is ennobled by loftier and more selfless aims. Byron’s cry is, “I am unhappy”. Shelley’s “The world is unhappy and I hope to brighten it.” The two poets in their different ways represent two sides of the French Revolution: Byron its backward destructive side, Shelley, its forward reconstructive idealist side. Byron’s heroes are engrossed egotists at war with society, while Shelley’s typical hero is a noble- minded enthusiast, who willingly becomes a martyr for the cause of man. Shelley applied his noble ideas to his own conduct while Byron was very much like his own Don Juan. In Byron, the intellect is superior and the imagination is subordinate. Byron’s note is one of chaotic despondency, while Shelley is a prophet of hope, looking forward to the Golden Age, when love will save mankind.

(ii) Mysticism of Shelley: Shelley (like Browning) is a love- and-beauty mystic. He looks upon love as the solution of the mystery of life, as the link between God and man. To Shelley this was a glorious intuition, which reached him through his imagination, whereas the life of man, as he saw it, roused in him little but mad indignation, wild revolt and passionate protest.

Shelley believes in a soul of the universe, in which all things live and move and have their being; which, as one feels in the Prometheus, is un-nameable, inconceivable even to man, for “the deep truth is imageless. His most passionate desire was not, as was Browning’s, for an increased and ennobled individuality but for the mystical fusion of his own personality with this Spirit, this object of his worship and adoration. To Shelley death was the rending of a veil, which would admit us to the full vision of the ideal, which alone is true life. The sense of unity in all things is most strongly felt in Adonais, where Shelley’s maturest thoughts and philosophy are to be found; and indeed, the mystical sphere in this poem, especially towards the end, is greater than anywhere else in his writings. The hymn to Intellectual Beauty is, in some ways, Shelley’s clearest and most obvious expression of his devotion to the spirit of Ideal Beauty, its reality to him and his vow of dedication to its service.

Shelley, like Blake, regarded the human imagination as a divine creative force. In his Prometheus Unbound, the most deeply mystical of his poems, Prometheus stands for the human imagination or the genius of the world; and it is his union with Asia, the divine idea, the spirit of beauty and life, from which a new universe is born. It is this union, which consummates the aspiration of humanity, that Shelley celebrates in the marvellous love song Prometheus. To Shelley the form assumed by the divine in man, is love, which to Shelley is synonymous with beauty.

‘l’he three great English poets, who are also fundamentally mystical in thought, are Wordsworth, Browning and Blake. Their philosophy or mystical belief, one in essence, though so differently expressed, lies at the root, as it is also the flower of their life-work. In others, as in Shelley, Keats and Rossetti, although it is the inspiring force of their poetry, it is not a flame burning steadily and evenly but rather a light flashing out intermittently into brilliant and dazzling radiance. The man himself is not so permeated by it and hence results the unsatisfied desire, the almost painful yearning, the recurring disappointment and disillusionment, which we do not find in Browning, Wordsworth and Blake.

(iii) Shelley’s melancholy: It is this unsatisfied desire, this almost painful yearning with its recurring disappointment and disillusionment, that is at the root of Shelley’s melancholy. His poetry is the poetry of desire. He is always yearning, never pouring forth the strains of a thankful satisfaction; but it is either the craving of an expectant rapture or the aching of a severed nerve. This is the great distinction, which separates him from the other poetical mystics of his day. Wordsworth, for instance, is always exulting in the fullness of nature; Shelley always chasing its falling stars. Shelley follows with a wistful eye the flowing stream of beauty as it forever escapes him into the illimitable void. Hence it is that his sweetest songs are those which tell of the saddest thoughts. He wants to create a new earth and a new heaven, and so it fills him with a sense of longing and of loss. This thrill of pursuit of a fugitive ideal gives the keynote to every one of his finest poems. If we look at any of the lyrics, on which he has set the full stamp of his genius, we find that it images one of these two attitudes of intellect—the keen exquisite sense of want, gazing wildly forward or wildly backward (“looking before and after and pining for what is not”), but vainly striving to close on something, which eludes his grasp:

The desire of the moth for the star,
Or the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something after
From the sphere of our sorrow

that is the true burden of everything. Sometimes the gaze is fixed on the future and sometimes on the past; sometimes

Swiftly walk o’er the western wave
Spirit of night!
Out of the misty eastern cave,
Where all the long and lone day-light,

Thou wovest dreams of joy end dear, Which make thee terrible and fear,- Swift be thy flight!
and sometimes
When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead-
When the cloud is scattered
The rainbow’s glory is shed,
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tunes our lips have spoken,
Love’s accents are soon forgot.

This melancholy yearning is of the very essence of Shelley. He is the poet, not of all human yearning is general, but of the yearning for that youthful ecstasy, which sounds like fresh life through every nerve. He cannot be satisfied without a thrill of his whole soul. He knows nothing of serene joy. He thinks the whole universe should be ever thrilling in every fiber with mysterious tenderness.

His melancholy is thus vital to his poetry. It may be said that his music is the product of his genius and his melancholy, and that which is written in his greatest moods of melancholy, is what the world seems to like best, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts.”

(iv) His Lyricism: Shelley is one of the greatest lyric poets in English Literature. “His lyrics are the crown of his work. By his lyrics, above all, will he live. “They represent the highest achievement of the Romantic Movement. The Ode to The West Wind and The Hymn to the Spirit of Nature are examples of his incomparable lyricism. His lyrics are highly spontaneous (written without any apparent effort). They are marked by an ethereal quality: Ode to the West Wind, for example, is just wind and cloud and emotion. Then again his lyrics express an intensity of feeling or a deep passion. Sometimes, indeed, he loses control over himself and is completely carried away by his emotion as here: “0 lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!” Most of his lyrics, too, contain a note of yearning, desire and despair:

and

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

Oh cease, must hate and death return?

Above all, his lyrics are exquisitely musical. He lends to his lyrics “the sweetest and most liquid harmonies.” The Ode to the West Wind is nearer to music than any other poem in English literature. Shelley is, indeed, a master of rhythm, harmony and melody. Other lyrics remarkable for their beauty and music are Ode to a Skylark, The Cloud, The Indian Serenade, To the Night, and 0 World! 0 Time.
Shelley’s genius was fundamentally lyrical. Matthew Arnold speaks of his “lyric cry.” “There are two sides of Shelley’s lyric inspiration: (i) The personal lyrics which include those poems of ethereal loveliness, The Cloud, The Skylark, Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples, The Human to Intellectual Beauty, The Ode to the West Wind; and the longer poems, which are entirely lyrical in impulse and character like Adonais, where he most definitely challenges comparison with the greatest singers of all time.

(2) On the humanitarian side, the record is given in such works as Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam and Prometheus Unbound, which fulfill his enthusiasm for liberty, his love of man, and his passion for reforming the world.

The change of passion, which we note as we pass from the personal to the humanitarian poetry, is very significant. The personal poetry is often profoundly melancholy, but the melancholy disappears the moment Shelley ceases to think of his own little life and assumes the role of a leader of men and prophet of the Golden Age to come. His own attitude towards the political movement is definite. But it is well to lay stress upon the fact that alone among the English poets of the time he continued to preach the gospel of revolutionary faith and hope.

(v) As a Prophet: Shelley is not only an artist but also a prophet. He is a prophet in the sense that he diagnoses the evils of mankind as well as makes bold, daring prophecies regarding the ultimate triumph of good over evil and the advent of the Golden Age of man. The awareness of the evil in this world makes him unhappy and sick-hearted while his hope and faith in a Golden Age make him utter cheering prophecies. In other words, he is a pessimist as regards the present and an optimist as regards the future. While the note of despair arising from his survey of the present is apparent in his poems (Ode to the West Wind, W stanza), he has a clear and sublime vision of the hopes of mankind, and dreams of an epoch when Love and Beauty will reign. He is an idealist:

0 Wind
If, Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Works like The Revolt of Islam, Prometheus Unbound and Hellas arc also prophecies of the Golden Age.

(vi) His Love for Liberty: Like Byron, Shelley had a passionate love for freedom. He was profoundly influenced by the French Revolution. He was a sworn foe of tyrants and tyranny. Freedom for all mankind is one of the important features of the Golden Age which he anticipates. When Greece made a declaration of independence from the Turkish Yoke he wrote a play to celebrate the occasion. Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama, is the best work of his revolutionary enthusiasm. Shelley’s philosophy was that the existing tyranny of State, Church and Society keeps man from growth into perfect happiness. Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam, The Witch of Atlas are also revolutionary works.

(vii) The Ethereal Quality of His Poetry. There is a vagueness, an abstractness, an ethereal quality about the poetry of Shelley. It is the poetry of a man living not on earth, but in the aerial regions above. This ethereality in his poetry is due to the want in general, of “a sound subject-matter”. Even in Adonais which is a poem of grief on the death of Keats, he preserves a sense of unreality and calls in many shadowy allegorical figures.

He talks of metaphysical powers like Intellectual Beauty and of vague things like the Golden Age of mankind. His imagery, too, is abstract and divorced from human life as he takes delight in giving us pictures of the shifting and changeful phenomena of Nature like clouds, sunsets, winds, sky and ocean. Also he employs inverse similes which, instead of making his meaning concrete, render it vague. “Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.” “Like ghost from an enchanter fleeing,” “like the hues and harmonies of evening” are examples of his inverse similes.

(viii) His Platonism: Shelley was greatly influenced by Plato, the great Greek Philosopher. Plato thought that the supreme power in the universe was the Spirit of Beauty. Shelley borrowed this conception from Plato and developed it in his metaphysical poem: Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. Intellectual Beauty is omnipotent and man must worship it. Shelley tells us in this poem that early in his life he vowed that he would dedicate his life to its worship and asserts that he has kept the vow. There are Platonic touches elsewhere in Shelley’s poetry also. (Platonic metaphysics contributes to the ethereal quality of his poetry).

(ix) Attitude to Nature. Like all romantic poets Shelley loves Nature deeply. As to Wordsworth, Nature to him is a living reality capable of feeling and thinking. But he sees the spirit of Love in Nature. On the whole, therefore, he is a pantheist (one who sees a Divine Spirit behind the objects of Nature). But his attitude to Nature is also distinctive. In the first place, he has a preference for the dynamic aspects, and the shifting and changeful phenomena of Nature , like the cloud, the west wind, the ocean, the sunset, the storms, etc. He wrote a poem on the cloud, another on the west wind, while his poems contain scores of pictures of the changeful and shifting scenery of Nature. Again, he possesses the myth making power in regard to the forces of Nature. He regards the cloud, the west wind, the skylark, etc. as separate and distinct individualities. He personifies them and conceives of them as having lives of their own. But it must be remembered that he does not invest them with human qualities and passions. The wind remains a wind for him and the cloud remains a cloud. In this respect his attitude to natural forces is almost scientific. Even a scientist will endorse his pictures of the natural processes and phenomena as regards their truth.

(x) His Imagery or Pictorial Quality: Shelley’s imagery is kaleidoscopic, i.e. he does not give one or two pictures at a time, but a whole series of them. In the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty for instance, we have the pictures of summer winds creeping from flower to flower, moonbeams falling behind some piny mountain, hues and harmonies of evening, clouds in starlight widely spread, all these one after the other. No sooner do we visualize one image than another is presented to us. Again, as has been suggested above, many of his pictures are vague and abstract, not concrete. The dead leaves being driven away by the west wind are “like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.” Further, he prefers to depict the shifting and changeful phenomena of Nature like clouds, sunsets, sky, winds etc.

(xi) His Love for Greek Mythology. All the younger Romantics are lovers of Greek mythology. Shelley’s interest in the mythological stories of Greece finds expression in Hellas and Prometheus Unbound and in many other poems.

(xii) His Didacticism. There is a strong didactic tendency in Shelley. He often wishes to impress a moral upon us but his method of giving us a moral is different from that of the neo classical poets like Pope. He does not give us a moral directly that would be unromantic. He merely paints a picture and leaves us to draw the moral ourselves. In Ozymandias, for instance, Shelley does not directly tell this that human greatness and splendour are passing. He drives the moral home to us by a picture of the broken statue of a mighty king.

 

    SHELLEY’S PLACE IN LITERATURE

Two Schools of Criticism of Shelly’s Writings. To extreme schools of Shelley criticism are represented, on one side by Matthew Arnold and on the other side by Swinburne.

(1) Matthew Arnold in his somewhat laboured plea for the supremacy of Wordsworth and Byron in 19th century poetry describes Shelley as a “beautiful and ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.”

Sharp says “the real is the true world for a great, but it was not Shelley’s world.”
Ruskin and Carlyle are violently against him. Ruskin says: “Cast Shelley at once aside as shallow and verbose” and Carlyle classes Shelley along with Byron and Keats as a “poet of the satanic school”.

For one who makes ‘criticism of life’ the basis of his literary estimates, to place Byron in higher rank than Shelley can only be regarded as the eccentricity of genius. There are some who go elsewhere for their criticism of life (if life must be criticized) and turn to poetry for the delight, born of noble thought set to highest verbal music; and to them Shelley is a beautiful angel singing songs often to unearthly beauty and prompting to nobler ideals. Professor Quiller-Couch’s rejoinder is more effective:- “the only void, in which Shelley ever beat his luminous wings in vain, was a void in Mr. Arnold’s understanding.” The other extreme criticisms are similarly based on wrong views of the poet and poetry.

On the other hand, Swinburne says: “Shelley was alone the perfect singing god; his thought, words, deed all sang together; the master singer of the modern race and age; the poet beloved above all other poets, being beyond all other poets-in one word and the only proper word-divine”.

The difference is thus chiefly one of point of view; Arnold finds “in his poetry the incurable want, in general, of a sound subject matter and the incurable fault in consequence of unsubstantiality “hose, who extol him, as the poet of the clouds, the poet of Sunsets, are only saying that he did not, in fact, lay hold upon the poet’s right subject matter; and in honest truth with all his charm of soul and spirit and with all his gift of musical diction and method, he never or hardly ever did.” In a word, Arnold finds in him no criticism of life. On the other hand, Swinburne cares above all things for the melody and music of verse, and these he finds in Shelley’s divine lyric gift.

But there is a via media, a sane mean of criticism. Still better, there is a blessed faculty of going to each poet for the best that he can give us, with thankfulness and praise.

None of Shelley’s contemporaries lived from first to last so completely under the dominance of “soul-light”; his errors in conduct and weakness in art were alike rooted in this supreme quality. His boyish resolve had been:

“I will be wise,
And just, and free and mild, if in me lies,
Such Power: for I grow weary to behold,
The selfish and
the strong still tyrannise,
Without reproach or check”

and he carried it out. Shelley was a revolutionary but he was also a transcendental poet. If the one quality appeals to us, the other should equally attract. If he lived in an unpractical ethereal world, his poetry is drawing many souls upward to hold communion with him there. As Scott is the poet of the romantic past, Shelley is the poet of the glorious future. In Byron the intellect is supreme and the imagination subordinate; in Shelley the intellect is servant to the imagination. With eyes fixed on the splendid apparitions with which he peopled space he went through the world not seeing the high road, stumbling over the stones of the road side.

His Acknowledged Place: By the common consent of critics, Shelley’s place is with the greatest English poets. When we consider the brevity of Shelley’s life and the greatness of the problems, with which he struggled, we wonder that he achieved so much. In his 30 years of life, he sought to give the world a message of peace and hope. He wrote lyrics, such as a To a skylark, Ode to the West wind, The Indian Serenade, To Night, and The Hymn to Intellectual Beauty- which are unsurpassed in English poetry, and he composed two poetical dramas, Prometheus Unbound and Cenci which approach the dignity, maturity and dramatic intensity of the masterpieces of classic art. However immature or ineffective or non-conforming his opinions may seem, we must recognize the excellence and power of his imaginative faculty. As a creator of pure poetry, as one who could weave tissues of light and colour as delicate as those of a summer dawn, Shelley is an unrivalled master. His poetry, too, is inspired by a pure exalted passion. And we must remember that in the words of his own tribute to Keats, Shelley was one of “the inheritors of unfulfilled renown.” Byron, we feel, had burnt himself out; when he died, he had said all he could have said to the world. But Shelley was cut off before the perfect flower of his genius had bloomed.

Conclusion. Shelley belongs to the younger generation of Romantic poets. Like the other two poets of his generation, he died voting. His poetry divides itself into two distinct moods. In one he is the violent reformer seeking to overthrow the present institutions in order to bring about the Golden Age. Out of this mood come most of his longer poems, like Queen Mab, Revolt of Islam, Hellas, and The Witch of Atlas, which are somewhat violent denunciations of government priests, marriage, religion and even God as men opposed Him to be. In a different mood which finds expression in 1Iastor, Adonais, he is a wanderer following a vague, beautiful vision, forever sad and unsatisfied. His greatness as a poet resides principally in his incomparable lyricism.

 

                   INFLUENCES OF GODWIN, PLATO AND ROUSSEAU ON SHELLEY

Q.i. “Shelley was greatly influenced by Godwin, Plato and Rousseau”. Illustrate the idea citing examples from the prescribed poems.

Ans:
Shelley is much devoted to Godwin, Plato and Rousseau for his thought and poetry. Godwin’s book ‘Political Justice’ has profoundly influenced Shelley’s iconoclastic rationalism and his opinions on politics and morals.

Influence of Godwin: Godwin’s idea of man is that man is perfectible; that is, capable of moral improvement and the development of his character is subject more to nature’s environment than heredity. Godwin didn’t believe in the existence of Government and opposed the worship of wealth, religious tyranny and diseased law, but he believed in “free love” and advocated a universe where men could live happily together and in peace. Shelley too, influenced by his ideas, attacks wars, tyranny, commerce, wealth and religion- in short, all the existing vices of this present world-and describes a Utopian future in Queen Mab.

Tinges of Godwinian theory is seen in Prometheus Unbound too, where he celebrates the perfectibility of human nature and foretells a golden age which too is bound by guilt or pain, “nor yet exempt from chance, and death and mutability.”

Influence of Plato: Just as Shelley is devoted to Godwin for political and moral ideas, so also he is devoted to Plato for his Platonism of “one Spirit” the “supreme Power”. Just as Keats was a Hellenist without knowing any Greek so also Shelley was a Platonist even before he had read Plato. To Shelley Plato was not only a philosopher but a poet too. In his Defence of Poetry, he says, Plato was essentially a poet—the truth and splendour of his imagery and the melody of his language are the most intense that is possible to conceive”.

The ideas he borrowed from Plato falls under four groups- general religious and philosophic ideas, cosmic speculations, social and political ideas, and the theory of love.

(i) General Religious and Philosophic Ideas: Shelley’s religious system is more Greek and Platonic than Christian and Biblical. Like Plato, Shelley believes in a ‘Supreme power’ and is conscious of the unity of the world and of all life and the underlying spirit which he celebrates in most of his poems, especially in Adonais

“The one remains, the many change and pass”. The struggle between the powers of good and evil is the main theme of The Revolt of Islam, a concept of Plato.

(ii) Cosmic Speculations: Plato’s teachings that the entire Universe is the self-evolution of an absolute intelligence, is seen reflected in Shelley’s Hymn to Apollo where he considers the sun as the supreme source in the universe, not of light and force only, but also of intelligence. Even in Prometheus Unbound, he personifies Moon and Earth.

(iii) Social and Political Ideas The concept of dualism between Prometheus who stands for the soul of man and Jupiter who represents the baser side of man which we find in Prometheus (In bound is based on Plato’s conception of a constant duel in man’s nature between the good and evil forces.

(iv) Theory of Love: Plato’s teachings on theory of love have two aspects-his philosophy of beauty, and love, an inspiration in human life. Shelley’s idea of ‘Intellectual Beauty’ is the same as Plato’s ‘philosophy of beauty’ To Shelley, when Intellectual Beauty’ departs, this world becomes a ‘dim vast veil of tears vacant and desolate’. On the other hand if human heart is its temple, then man would become ‘immortal and potent”. Thus Platonism was a treasure-house from which he borrowed valuable ideas.

Influences of Rousseau. Rousseau too has influenced Shelley much, for Harold Bloom believes, “Without Rousseau, Shelley would not have written the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and perhaps not Mont Blanc either. Rousseau, more than even Wordsworth was the prophet of natural man, and the celebrator of the state of nature “ He not only fights against the natural man and religion but against his own desire in Prometheus Unbound. Shelley’s spirit and his temperament made Shelley more a disciple and heir of Rousseau than of Godwin or Wordsworth. Rousseau’s ideas are vividly seen in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind and even in his lyrical drama

 

 SHELLEY’S DEVELOPMENT AS A POET

 

 Trace Shelley’s development as a poet illustrating it
from the prescribed poems.

Introduction: J.C. Smith writing on Shelley, says: “No poet suffered severer re-probation in his life and none perhaps has evoked more ardent sympathy and admiration in later years than this Strange offshoot from an otherwise undistinguished aristocratic family.’ In such a poor state and circumstances, Shelley began writing both verse and prose at a very early stage. But his boyhood writings are of little importance for they are more of imitation than of originality.

Early stage: As Desmond king puts it “His skill in poetry was a gradual growth”. Shelley’s first poem Queen Mab (1812-13 has a considerable biographical and psychological interest as the starting- point of his later development. It is a strange poem, a confused yet eloquent record of a confused state of feeling through which a young poet who never quite understood either himself or other men, was passing. This poem is an exposition of Godwin’s doctrines and his trench atheistic and revolutionist teachings and in imitation of Robert Southey’s works. This piece of work foreshadows the two great themes of Shelley-belief in the existence of Heaven and development of man towards perfection. Thus from the beginning we we Shelley as a poet with the belief in the existence of goodness, a I leaven, and the possibility that the world can be transformed into the likeness of Heaven.

Queen Mob (1813) had foreshadowed faintly the subject matter of his mature poetry, but it has hardly any of its wonderful music. That music is heard for the first time in the first of his great works, Alastor (1815). Alastor is a poem of an idealized version of Shelley himself. It is about a tragic idealist who vainly pursues the perfect beauty until his death which is described at the conclusion of the poem in lines of solemn beauty. The value of Alastor lies not in its story but in its mood of ardent aspiration, its magnificent description of nature, and the noble music of its blank verse which owes much to Wordsworth. This is the beginning of Shelley’s apprenticeship to his art.

Mont Blanc and Hymn to Intellectual Beauty belong to the memorable period of Shelley’s friendship with Byron in 1816, and express the Shelleyan idealism.

Next comes The Revolt of Islam (1818) a still more ambitious, revolutionary, allegorical poem modeled on Spenser’s work. This piece is a combination of Shelley’s two invariable motives-a passionate philanthropy and an equally passionate eroticism. He feels the liberation of mankind is to be achieved by eloquent persuasion. It contains individual passages of very great beauty with the use of language in an entirely new and distinctive manner. The chief and sole beauty of the poem lies in the music of the blank verse and poetic imagery, where his characteristic style appears fully developed for the first time.

Prince Athanese is a fragment where the eternal warfare of the idealist seems to have been the theme and it pictures a philosophic converse between a young disciple and a ‘divine old man’. With The Revolt of Islam and this beautiful unfinished fragment of Prince Athanese Shelley’s apprenticeship may be said to end.

A Matured Poet: The first works of his maturity are the great lyrics tines Written in Euganean Hills and Julian and Maddalo, composed after his arrival in Italy. In Julian and Maddalo, he celebrates his friendship with Byron, a masterpiece of a kind rarely achieved. It is a perfect example of verse which is at once familiar and even colloquial and yet highly poetical. What is remarkable iii this mastery is that Shelley carries it over into his major achievement, the great lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound.

Prometheus Unbound (1818-1819) is the most ambitious and central attempt of the poet to render his reading of life, the mystery of good and evil and to give adequate embodiment to his own ambition as poet and reformer:

‘I have what a Scotch philosopher characteristically terms “a passion for reforming the world”.’

To Shelley Prometheus is the embodiment of the wisdom and heroism of humanity, while Jupiter of tyranny and superstition where he is the representative of the whole machinery of legalism and respectability which Shelley considered to be the burden under which the world was groaning, we portrays eternity overpowering tyranny and tyranny is removed by the spirit of love and beauty and thus a regeneration of the world. But in the Fourth Act he portrays a magnificent lyrical vision of a new heaven and a new earth, where time itself has been replaced by Eternity and man has become

One harmonious soul of many a soul
Whose nature is its own divine
control
Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the
sea.

The central theme of Prometheus Unbound is again that of Godwinism-an enslaved world of evils regenerated by their sudden overthrow. But here, the abstractions of Godwinism are not that of a political philosopher, but of a creator of mythology. Macaulay rightly comments on this:

“He turned atheism itself into a mythology, rich with visions as glorious as the gods that live in the marble of Phidias or the virgin saints that smile on us from the canvas of Murillo. The spirit of Beauty, the principle of good, the principle of evil when he treated of them, ceased to be abstractions. They took shape and colour. They were no longer mere words, but ‘intelligible forms, ‘fair humanities, of’ love, of adoration, or of fear,”

Most of the critics are tempted to consider the characters of Prometheus Unbound as inhuman. They are inhuman, because they represent mythical and elemental being and no men and women otherwise it can’t be judged as a drama. Shelley wrote to Peacock:

“It is a drama, with character and mechanism of a kind yet unattempted”

This poem is noted for its vast orchestrated lyricism representing a series of visions of an ideal world.

From this piece, it is understood, he has risen to the highest line and it is seen that his original ideas of a perfect world and of regeneration are now deepened and transformed by the study of Plato, of Spinoza, and of Dante and the existing power is no longer Reason but Love.

The Cenci (1819) is a work in a different manner where Shelley shows his skill in handling any subject and mastering an uncongenial style. It is a tragedy of the Italian life and displays his lack of knowledge of human nature, for a play on such a theme is seldom successful. Shelley’s treatment of the tragic horror as tragic dignity with a restraint and a delicacy, gives the play a unique place among tragic dramas of modern times. “He does not reproduce with modifications the style of Shakespeare, but does what Shakespeare did idealize without describing the language of contemporary speech” ,says A. C. Bradley.

Shelley, A Satirist

Shelley, A Satirist: To comment upon Shelley’s sarcasm, Peter Bell The Third is the apt example. It is a satire on Wordsworth, a “dull” poet and recalls the earlier Wordsworth, a man of false ideals who composed poems on ‘moor and glen and rocky Lake/And on the heart of man’. Shelley criticizes the reactionary politician who once welcomed revolution and the dull poet, Wordsworth himself, who was very famous.

Though Shelley had not much natural aptitude for satire, yet he was successful in his attempts. In Mask of Anarchy (1819) and Swellfoot (1820) he shows his skill in handling the theme of politics also.

The Letter to Maria Gisborne (1820) displays his ability to write an easy, natural, yet poetical conversation. The Witch of Ailas (1820) composed in the ottava rima like that of Byron’s best poems, is a contrast to his other works for it is a long poem of pure escape of fancy weaving a myth of deliverance from Shelley’s imagined troubles, personal and human, where he gives his imagination free play.

In The Sensitive Plant he finds out a new symbol for his own ‘love of love’. In Adonais (1821) the great elegy on Keats, he reincarnates the Greek pastoral lament and reveals his faith in the spiritual reality.
Shelley’s famous and short poems The Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud, The Skylark are written in verse forms of his own innovation, about the divinity of Nature and the Supreme Power.

The Letter to Maria Gisborne celebrates his intellectual friendship without any imitation and it is poetry of fun with human thought and common sense.

Epipsychidion (1821) is a poem inspired by his admiration for Emilia Viviani, an Italian girl who was imprisoned in a convent at Pisa. It is also an expression of that “high, sweet, mystic doctrine of love” taught by Plato in the Symposium and Dante in the Vita Nuovcz though marred, as Swinburne has justly pointed out, by “such mere personal allusions as can only perplex and irritate the patience and intelligence of a loyal student.” It’s a personal poem which demonstrates his weaknesses and strong points more than any other poem does.

Hellas (1821), the lyrical drama is described by Shelley as a sort of imitation of the Personae of Aeschylus. He wrote this to celebrate the outbreak of the Greek war of Independence. Though much slighter than Prometheus Unbound, it is marked for Shelley’s most beautiful and finished lyrical verse. The lyrical movement of the “Chorus”, marks the highest form of Shelley’s rhythmical invention.

In 1821, a slight change came over the tone of the shorter lyrics, but the achievements of 1821 were scarcely inferior to those of 1819.

In 1821, Peacock wrote The Four Ages of Poetry, attacking the poetry of his own age and to defend it, Shelley wrote his greatest prose A Defence of Poetry which ranges far beyond the scope of literature. It expresses a profound philosophy of art, and is equally valuable as a critical work of universal application, and as a revelation of Shelley’s own theory and practice of poetry. It reveals the extraordinary power and beauty of the language.

Last Achievement: His last achievement is The Triumph of Life (1821) which is a fragment as he died before completing it. Here he states his philosophy of life that “Life is what triumphs over Nature, triumphs over imagination. Life is death -in-life, cold, common hell in which we wake to weep”. It’s in the form of Italian ‘terza rima’, strongly influenced by Dante and Petrarch. Some are of the opinion that had this work been finished, it might have been one of the greatest English poems.

Conclusion. Some may claim that Shelley’s poetry stands less high in recent English estimation than it did even before the war. But to Saintsbury he is nevertheless the quintessential poet and to Herford as to A. C. Bradley and Gilbert Murray, he is still both poet and prophet.

 

                  SHELLEY AS A ROMANTIC POET


Q.i. Write a note on Shelley as a Romantic.

Introduction: Grierson did rightly say, “Classic and Romantic are terms no attempts to define which will ever seem entirely convincing to ourselves or others”. So everyone tries to attribute one’s own views to “Romanticism”. For, to Hem and Beers, Romanticism is synonymous with Mediaevalism; to Elton it is “thought confounding words”, to Victor Hugo, “Melancholy” is the distinguishing mark of romantic art; to Abercrombie “Romanticism is a withdrawal from outer experience to concentrate upon inner experience”; to Pater it is ‘an addition of strangeness to beauty’; to T.S. Eliot Romantic signifies, “The individual” and even ‘revolutionary’; to Herford ‘liberty or imagination’ So in short, we can say anything novel is romantic.

Romanticism against Classicism

For Pater, classic signifies measure, purity and temperance whereas romantic signifies an addition of strangeness to beauty. Abercrombie says Romanticism is an attitude of mind—an element of art. Classicism is not an element at all but a mode of combining elements in a just proportion. For him there is no antithesis between Romanticism and Classicism. Classicism includes the romantic element in its balance, for all good art is first romantic, then becomes classical.

Of all the Romantics, Shelley is the one who most obviously possessed the quality of genius-quickness, grasp of intellect, the capacity for learning languages rapidly, ability to assimilate and place scientific principles and discoveries. Yet he is more criticized for his ‘falsity’ and ‘lack of grasp.’

Love of Nature :

Like the other Romantic poets, Shelley too was an ardent lover of Nature. Like Wordsworth, Shelley conceives of Nature as one spirit, the Supreme Power working through all things. “The one spirit’s plastic stress/Sweeps through the dull dense world.” Again he personifies each object of nature as an individual life, a part of that Supreme Power, Nature. He celebrates nature in most of his poems as his main theme such as The Cloud, To a Skylark, To the Moon, Ode to the West Wind, A Dream of the Unknown.

In his treatment of nature, he describes the things in nature as they are and never colours it. It is true, he gives them human life through his personifications, but he does it unintentionally for he felt they are living beings capable of doing the work of human beings. His mythopoeic power had made him the best romanticist of his age. In Ode to the West Wind, he personifies Nature as the Destroyer and the Preserver, and in the The Cloud, the cloud is a possessor of mighty powers.

He also believed in the healing aspect of Nature and this is revealed in his Euganean Hills in which he is healed and soothed by the natural scene around him and also the imaginary island. In The Recollection we see the same idea of healing power of Nature.

Love, Beauty and Thought Love: The idea of Love and Beauty in Shelley is greatly influenced by Plato. Love to Shelley, as to Plato is the perfection of all that is good and noble in life. In Epipsychidion, he says that bye is not bound to one object at a time and when love fades away, we need not be faithful. He adds that love conquers death and beauty, and even goodness and truth originate in it:

True love differs in this from gold and clay That to divide is not to take away

In fact, Shelley was in love with love itself,

I love Love, though he has wings And like light can flee..

Beauty: Beauty, to Shelley, is an ideal in itself and a microcosm of the beauty of Nature and he calls it ‘Intellectual Beauty’. He celebrates Beauty as a mysterious power. In the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty he says, that when Intellectual Beauty departs, this world becomes a “dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate” and if human heart is its temple, then man would become immortal and omnipotent:

Man were immortal and omnipotent
Did’st thou, unknown and awful as thou art, Keep with thy glorious train firm state
within his heart.

Thought: Shelley not only believed in the eternity of love and beauty but in the eternity of thought too:

Thought
Above and its quick elements, Will, Passion,
Reason, Imagination cannot die

The form that Shelley gave to his thought was ideal and at times extremely visionary. Even Brooke admits that he is a poet of certain distinct human ideas and these ideas are not many. That world, “though its substance is grave and weighty, is often too idealized into a world of woven dreams. Substances are thinned out into a shadowy expression of them or seem to disappear in a multitude of fancies added to them”.

Imagination: ‘Facts’ said Shelley, ‘are not what we want to know in poetry, in history, in the lives of individual men, in satire or panegyric. They are the many diversions, the arbitrary points on which we hang and to which we refer those delicate and evanescent hues of mind, which language delights and instructs us in precise proportion as it expresses.’ Shelley calls poetry “the expression of Imagination,” because in it diverse things are brought together in harmony instead of being separated through analysis. In this he resembles Bacon and Locke, but differs from them in his idea of imagination as man’s highest faculty through which one realizes noblest powers.

Shelley made a bold expedition into the unknown and he felt reasons should be related to the imagination. His expedition was successful when he made the people understand that the task of the imagination is to create shapes by which reality can be revealed to the world and this is heralded as the best romantic note by his successors.

Shelley’s Idealism

. Shelley’s idealism falls under three subheadings Revolutionary, religious and Erotic.

(i) Revolutionary Idealis : His revolutionary idealism is mainly due to the French Revolution. Through his Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam, and Prometheus Unbound he inspired people to revolt against tyranny by scorning at the tyranny of state, church and society and hoping for a golden age which too is not immune from pain or death. His political idealism makes him a prophet.

(ii) Religious idealism : Though Shelly was rebel, he wasn’t an atheist. He believed in the super power of God, and he imagined ode as Supreme ‘Thought’ and infinite Love. His Platonic conception of Love was the base of his metaphysical idealism. He believed in the faith of one mind, one power and one all-pervasive spirit.

(iii) Erotic idealism: Just as he is a revolutionist and a pantheist, so also he is a theologist. He believed in the abstract quality of love and beauty-love as infinite and beauty as intellectual. lie celebrates love as a creator and preserver in his Symposium, and beauty as Supreme Spirit with which man becomes immortal in his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.

Melancholy. Though Shelley was a man of hope and expectation and spiritualistic about the future of mankind, yet he represents himself in his poems as a man of ill luck, subject to evil and suffering. He expresses this in his Ode to the West Wind:

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud.
I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bound
one too like thee.

He experienced these sufferings because being a man of Imagination, he was easily disappointed by any obstacle which stood in his way of a golden age. Again he always imagined himself as the target of critics and common people. So in Adonais, he explains his state as “a phantom among men, and a lonely man companionless.”

Poetic Style. and Music. Shelley’s poetic style is also romantic. The series of gorgeous similes in The Skylark show the romantic exuberance of Shelley. He never uses any ornamental word and every word fits in its place and carries its own weight. They express the diverse feelings of the poet with the notes of music which appeal to every human being’s ears.

Conclusion. In brief we can say every bit of Shelley’s poetry is romantic— in temper and style. Whether they are short or long, whether they are lyrical or odes, with Shelley’s element of imagination they rise to an expectation which is far beyond our reach. No wonder Shelley is heralded as the best Romantic poet of his age.

 


 SHELLEY’S PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE

Write a note on Shelley’s philosophy of life.

Introduction. Shelley is not only a successful Romanticist but also an inspiring philosopher. He was enough of a philosopher not merely to enjoy ideals for their own sake but to make them a starting-point for bold speculations in which he found the thrill of a wild adventure. Whether he derived his notions from Plato or from Godwin, he was equally enthralled by them and much of his inspiration came from them.

Revolutionary idealism

Shelley was as much a revolutionist as Byron. From his boyhood days he was a rebel and was inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution. He revolted against the authority at Eton school and was expelled from Oxford. Later on he revolted against the society itself regarding his marriage difficulty. Thereafter he become a true revolutionist and thereby a reformer through his poems. From Godwin he got the twin ideas that social Institutions and conventions were the sources of tyranny and corruption, and laws, customs and authority are the hindrances to man’s liberty and happiness. From Queen Mab onwards, his poems, were meant to express his concept of the future— a future which is free from war, tyranny and corruption. In Queen Mab, he asserts the ideas of revolution and prophesies a golden age in the end. In a note to Queen Mab he wrote “The state of Society in which we exist is a mixture of feudal savageness and imperfect civilization” In The Revolt of Islam, he has a vision of mankind which could be liberated from the present tyranny and corruption through the power of love, beauty and thought. In Rosalind and Helen, Shelley disagrees with a loveless marriage. It is in Prometheus Unbound that his revolutionary enthusiasm is best revealed. In this poem he shows how mankind is saved from the cruel hands of tyranny and corruption and attains Shelley’s ideal world through love and goodness in nature Shelley’s idea of the regeneration of mankind through suffering, endurance of all pain, and hope is well portrayed in this poem. His vision of the future world is a world with the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Religious idealism

Shelley is not only a revolutionist but a pantheist too. He believed in God, the supreme Power of the world. But to him Love and Beauty are the two means to attain that Supreme Power. Like Plato, he believed that the universe possessed a soul, and that the soul of man is pure in its nature, and though soiled by earth is capable of its original perfection.

Soul is not more polluted than the beams
Of Heaven’s pure orb, ere round their rapid lines
The taint of earth-born atmospheres arise.

Rabindranath Tagore,s comment on the genius and philosophy of Shelley strikes at the keynote of his philosophy of life: ‘In Shelley we clearly see the growth of his religion through periods of vagueness and doubt, struggle and searching. But he did at length come to a positive utterance of his faith though he died young. Its final expression is in his ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’. By the title of the poet evidently means a beauty that is not merely a passive quality of particular things, but a spirit that manifests itself through the apparent antagonist of the unintellectual life .. ..Religion in Shelley grew with his life. It was not given to him in fixed and ready-made doctrines; he rebelled against them. He had the creative mind which could only approach Truth through its joy in creative effort”.

Never joy illumined my brow
Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
This world from its dark slavery,
That thou, o awful loveliness
Wouldst give what’re these words cannot express.

Shelley was essentially a poet of love. His idealism was the Platonic conception of love—the love of the soul. From the lowest order it rises and reaches the supreme beauty which is the highest form of love that leads to virtue, wisdom, happiness, and is subject to its power only. He speaks of love as,

The desire of the moth for the star, Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar.

Erotic idealism

 He believed that love and beauty were no concrete things but ideal and abstract. He was in pursuit of love and beauty throughout his life and this became the sole aim of his life. He describes the vain search of Beauty in Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and meeting with that false image of pure beauty which awakens sensual love.

Like Plato, Shelley believed love leads to the highest wisdom, the lover proceeds by grades and stages until he achieves the supreme vision. In The Revolt of Islam, he says,

In me communion with this purest being
Kindled intense zeal and made me wise
In knowledge, which in hers mine own mind seeing,
Left in the human world few mysteries,

In Sensitive plant, Shelley celebrates platonic love; and shows love is evident in all parts of nature, and individualizes itself in the individual flowers:

………….the maid-like lily of the vale,
whole youth makes so fair and passion so pale,

Philosophy of Evil—conflict between Good and Evil: Shelley’s philosophy mainly deals with the problem of evil. To him this world is a combination of both evil and good, and a conflict exists between them. Shelly was interested in finding out the causes of the evil and wanted to eradicate them to bring in a regenerated golden world. In Shelley’s view the forces of evil always have the upper hand and hence he felt the good people suffered. A.G. Strong says though Shelley had such a view still he believed that evil, “if it is positive and deep-rooted, is also eradicable. it can be made to disappear from life and given the necessary condition of the changes, there need be little transformation of the present order”. Throughout his work we see Shelley’s portrayal of the conflict between Good and Evil. In The Revolt of Islam the fight between the snake and eagle depicts the fight between good and evil. Shelley speaks of the Eagle’s victory as temporary one:

The victor fiend
Omnipotent of yore, now quails, and fears
His triumph dearly won, which soon will lend
An impulse swift and sure to his approaching end.

In Prometheus Unbound the opposition of Prometheus (Good) and Jupiter (Evil) represents, “the fundamental antithesis of good and evil, liberty and despotism, love and hate.”

Philosophy of the One Mind

Like Plato, Shelley believed that the world possessed a soul. One mind, one power, one all pervasive and informing spirit—that is the cardinal principle of Shelley’s philosophy and faith. In Adonais he expresses this faith more passionately:

The one remains, the many change and pass
The one spirit’s plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
All new successions to the forms they wear
Torturing the unwilling dress that checks its fight
To its own likeness as such may beat.

Immortality of soul: Shelley had inextinguishable faith in the imperishable greatness of the human soul which warms and colours almost every line he wrote. In Adonais he says that the spirit of Adonais will return to the Eternal, from where it came and is immortal:

Dual to the dust ! but the pure spirit shall flow
Back to the burning fountain whence it came
A portion of the Eternal, which must glow
Through time and change, unquenchably the same.

But to Symonds, Shelley was no materialist and didn’t believe in the extinction of the spiritual element by death. For, he says, Shelley did not acknowledge a formal and precise belief in the immortality of the human soul: “We know nothing; we have no evidence; we cannot express our inmost thoughts; they are incomprehensible even to ourselves.” Symonds says that what Shelley believed was the absolute and imperishable existence of the universal as perceived by us in love, beauty and delight. Though the destiny of the self be unknown, these things exist permanently. The destiny of the self be unknown, these things exist permanently. The “conclusion” of The Sensitive plant expresses the quintessence of his hope upon this most baffling riddle.

For love, and beauty and delight
There is no death nor change; their might
Exceeds our organs, which endure
No light, being themselves obscure.

Idea of death: Shelley’s idea of death is seen throughout his works. In Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples, Ode to Liberty, and Alastor he expresses his wish to die. In Alastor, Shelley writes:

A restless impulse urged him to embark
And meet lone Death on the dear ocean’s waste
For well he knew that mighty shadow loves
The slimy caverns of the populous deep.

His Adonais can be considered as a prophecy of his own death by drowning,

The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near;                                                                                ‘This Adonais calls! Oh, hasten thither,                                                                                                     No more let Life divide what Death can join together.

Shelley’s optimism

 George M. Ridenour observer: “Shelley’s optimism is based on chances for extracting benefit from an order of things not obviously concerned with man. As he himself observers at the beginning of his ‘proposals for an Association of Philantropists’ Man cannot make occasions, but he may seize those that offer.” This is classical, as Shelley knew. He expended a cynical epigram of the palatine Anthology: Under the heaving High Cope/Fortune is God, all you endure and do /Depends on circumstances as much as you”. But it is possible to reverse the emphasis and point put that it depends on you as much as circumstance, and this is Shelley’s usual way. He assumes that while man’s mind and what it experiences concur only imperfectly the extent of disproportion can at least be reduced. Art, science and social organization can reshape the experienced world nearer to the heart’s desire. But as we have noticed, Shelley’s emphasis falls on what, for want of better terms, we must call the spiritual or psychological. He hopes it is possible to exercise the mind in such a way that, without deception the elements favourable to man may be strengthened the hostile reduced and man finds the good he seeks . The strategy is a delicate one involving a complex,interplay of active and passive, inner and outer, mind and experience, as in the intricate gearing of Alastor, intellectual Beauty or Mant Blanc. The movement upward of the mind often involves an imaginative projection of what ought to be, which is itself to some extent received- e.g., the vision in Alastor. The passive aspect involves an inner disposition that Shelley usually calls love, roughly the effective correlative to the more consciously shaping power. Together they make up man’s capacity for integrated experience, i. e., imagination. Shelley points out that even limited success is evidence that the non-human world is at least amenable to human purposes and he hopes that it may suggest an ultimate identity in Nature.

Conclusion: Many critics who consider Shelley’s poetry as wanting in substance refuse to take seriously the Philosophy it professes to preach, and do not regard him as a philosophic poet at all. But a systematic study of his poetry reveals the fact that Shelley was a truly philosophic poet and we cannot arrive at a proper appreciation of his poetry if we dismiss his philosophy as frivolous. Baker remarks: “Yes Shelley has not been taken seriously as a philosophical poet, and one often gathers from remarks of his critics, whether inimical or worshipful that his Philosophy does not matter. Yes it does matter and vitally so because it is always either the central matter of his poetry, or the frame of reference in terms of which his poetry has been written.”

 

SHELLEY: A PROPHET AND A REFORMER
Q.2. Consider Shelley as a prophet and Reformer in his poems

Introduction: Shelley is one of the subtlest and profoundest thinkers among English poets, a prophet with a penetrating of reality, whose words can only be  thoroughly understood after long and careful study. They are well described by Browning as, “a sublime fragmentary essay towards a presentment of the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to the spiritual and of the actual to the ideal”. Before he was a poet, he was a prophet and his poetry is largely the medium of his prophetic message. He not only a poet he is a prophet and a reformer.

Shelley never believed in the life as it is lived; so he made people realize and and condemned aspire for the absence of the necessities. He hated stand in the path a e tyranny of State, Religion and Society which stand in the path a heavenly blissful life. The calamities he refers to are not natural calamities but man made calamities, aspiration of man for Power pollutes the whole nation like a ‘devastating Pestilence’ So people suffer under such people’s tyranny. So he longs for a golden age which is free from such calamities yet immune to pain and death.

He prophesies world which is attainable. But he reveals the truth that it is not easy to attain such a virtuous world. Centuries will pass before the goal is attained and it is possible only through the efforts of wise virtuous and heroic human beings. But in his imagination, Shelley leaped over centuries. He sings in the ‘Ode to the West Wind’

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes
and sparks, my words among mankind.

Some critics are of the opinion that the world cannot understand his ideas. Even if the world fails to understand him, like a prophet he will lead them to his future world. For in Prometheus Unbound, he dramatizes the defeat of evil by the spirit of life He is not shy to deal with such an enormous subject and is ready with the solution for the problems which it raises. The answer is that evil is subdued by love. Shelley suggests that this reappearance of evil is a possibility in a remote future. To Shelley, the prophecy is to begin and end, and the prophecy is of love. He prophesies once human goodness is aware of love and touched by it marvellous things may happen, which is the main theme celebrated in his Prometheus Unbound.

Shelley is a poetical angel who saves us from the cruel hands of dejection and suffering and shows us the brighter way to success. For that, he says, what is important is ‘hope’; we should not lose our hope at any time, for destruction is to regeneration, night is to day, unhappiness is to happiness, slavery is to freedom, end is to beginning as he points out in Ode to the West Wind.

If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?

So the golden age, in Shelley’s view, lies not in the past but in the future.

Shelley’s devotion to liberty made him a violent reformer. Seeking to overthrow our present institutions and to hurry the millennium out of its slow walk into a gallop, to renovate the world, to bring about utopia-this was his constant aim.

Shelley was much influenced by Godwin’s revolutionary theories. He was in rebellion against the institution of marriage too, for which he proposed to substitute the doctrine of elective affinity. A few years later Shelley showed his belief in the revolutionary theories preached by Godwin by eloping with his daughter, Mary. This proves that he is not only a dreamer but a reformer too. He was a true revolutionary, perpetually at war with the present world. a martyr and exile. fighting and crying defiance to the end.

As a true reformer, he tries to deliver himself, as well as humanity from evil and darkness. He preaches that the solution is thr Universal spirit of love. Love within sheds its rays and Illuminates the whole universe.

One spirit’s plastic stress
Sweep through the dull dense world, compelling there
All
new successions to the forms they wear, Torturing the unwilling dress that checks
it’s fight
To its own
likeness.

He looked forward to that world when the ‘plastic stress’ of this Power shall have mastered the last resistance and have become all in all, and when both Nature and mankind shall have been fully redeemed. This is the faith of the prophet. This is the most striking quality of Shelley-to awaken public hope and to enlighten and Improve mankind.

Shelley as a prophet with penetrating vision of reality is evident In his own sentence on Dante in A Defence of Poetry

“His very words are instinct with spirit, each is as a spark, a burning atom of inextinguishable thought and many yet be covered In the ashes of their birth and pregnant with a lightning which has as yet found no conductor.”

 

                                           SHELLEY’S STYLE AND DICTION

 Give a brief account of Shelley’s style and diction.

Introduction: Among the Romantic poets, Shelley is marvelled for his inimitable abstract ideas, but he is less of an artist. He was aiming not at the poetry of art, but at the poetry of rapture. Keats advised him to be “more of an artist” and to” load every rift with ore”, but Shelley was aiming at a different effect from that of Keats’s richly decorated and highly finished poetry.

Imagination. It is imagination which makes Shelley’s poetry the best. His mind was abstract and imaginative, that he sometimes wondered if he were fitter for metaphysics or poetry. His natural mode of thinking was too abstract to isolate some element in Nature or man, and then being a poet, to body it forth in imagery. He gives life to every object in Nature through his imagination in current words, in new and striking manner and forms new compounds, always a fresh shoot in every living language.

Ordinary things are lifted to the higher plane by his imagination The Cloud is a wonderful example of Shelley’s imagination. He imagines the cloud as the fairy child that runs about everywhere and laughs at all things. He speaks of its immortality in these lines:

I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,

Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the
tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

He imagines the wind in Ode to The West Wind as the destroyer destroying useless and evil creeds:

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing

Also, the wind blowing through the forest and producing noise is a common thing, but Shelley imagines the forest as a lyre on which the West Wind plays different tunes:

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is.

Imagery. Shelley fuses intellectual idea with the images, and the result is that idea has new appeal. Shelley thought that the abstract ideas which meant so much to him could be presented only in symbols and images. In his Preface, he says,

“The imagery which I have employed will be found in many instances to have been drawn from the operations of human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed.”

Even in a philosophical poem he pours out all imagination and daring speculations. In Prometheus Unbound, in Act IV where lone and Panthea see bewildering forms in a forest, Shelley describes it as having white face, white feathers, a white body and white hair:

Yet its two eyes are heavens
Of liquid darkness, which the Deity
within seems pouring.

Shelley’s style abounds in personification and metaphor and other of those natural figures which we all use, as best we may, to describe vividly what we see and feel, or to express what passionately moves us. The metaphors he uses for the Skylark, “Like an embodied joy whose race is just begun” combine both the abstract and the concrete qualities, which is a characteristic of Shelley’s manner.

His act of comparing flowers to stars sounds ethereal
Like a star of heaven
In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen

Though Keats is prominent for the use of synaeasthetic imagery, Shelley has used it in different combinations. In Triumph of Life, he portrays sound as—

A silver music on the mossy lawn.

Symbolism. R.H. Fogle says: “Shelley’s imagery is symbolic to an unusual degree”. Most of his characters are symbolical.

 

 SHELLEY’S TREATMENT OF NATURE

 Write a note on Shelley’s treatment of Nature.

Attitude towards nature: Like other Romantic poets, Shelley is an ardent lover and worshipper of Nature. Nature is to Shelley, as it is to Wordsworth, a spiritual reality. Shelley looks upon Nature, as Wordsworth does, as a never -ending source of solace and inspiration. Like Wordsworth, he believes that there is in Nature a capability for communicating with the mind and emotions of man. Yet there is a fundamental difference between these two poets in their treatment of Nature. Wordsworth endows Nature with a spirit, Shelley goes much further to provide it with an intellect. He also lends a dynamic quality to the forces of Nature in a way that the other Romantics have never been able to do. J. A. Symonds remarks: “Shelley is one with the romantic temper of his age in ascribing to Nature a spiritual quality and significance and in regarding man’s life as dynamic and progressive. But he goes beyond romanticism in his idea of a vigorous dynamic life of Nature.” Shelley loves Nature and can extract joy in its company and rid himself of his sufferings and feelings of loneliness. His admiration for Nature, thus finds expression in his essay On love: “I’here is eloquence in the tongue less wind and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rumbling of the reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something within the soul awakens the spirit to a dance of breathless rapture and brings tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one’s beloved singing to you alone.”

Utilitarian aspects of Nature:

Shelley considers Nature to be a companion endowed with a power of ridding human beings of their pain and agonies. This view of Nature has its origin in Shelley’s personal experience. Whenever he is sad, he turns to Nature and succeeds in drawing comfort from it. During his days in Italy, the worst days in his life, he keeps trying to find joy in the beautiful Italian landscapes. In Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills Shelley displays a mystic involvement with Nature. He finds in Nature a never-ending source of delightful images. The sun is to him not just a nature phenomenon, but something, “broad, red, radiant, half-reclined on the level quivering line of the waters crystalline.” The surrounding scenic beauty of the Euganean Hills succeeds in soothing his melancholy for the moment and fills him with a radiant optimism heightened by his musings on the so-called islands of
Delight:

Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of Misery,
Or the mariner, worn and wan,
Never thus could voyage on-
Day and night and night and day,
Drifting on his dreary way

Shelley’s love for the dynamic in Nature.

 While Wordsworth is fond of the static and quiet aspects o( Nature, Shelley is fascinated by the dynamic. He himself has admitted: “I take great delight in watching the changes of the atmosphere.” This explains his great love for the sky and the resultant composition of his sky-lyrics- Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud, and To A Skylark. the West Wind never rests and it moves speedily and continuously to perform its functions over land and sea and in sky. The cloud and the skylark show an equally intense restlessness. Shelley is ever conscious of the changes in Nature and her periodic regeneration; these lines in Adonais may be quoted as an illustration:

Ah, Woe is me! Winter is come and gone,
But grief returns with the revolving year:
The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear.

Shelley, it may be said, loves to see Nature in all its forms; but there is no doubt that the doings of Nature are more important to him than merely those forms.

Symbolism drawn from Nature:

 Shelley frequently goes out doors to look for symbols to give concrete shapes to his abstract thought and emotions. Having a stronger insight into Nature than other poets, he finds in it an inexhaustible source of such symbols. His poetry becomes more meaningful and more vigorous whenever he finds in Nature a cymbal to suit his purpose. In the West Wind, Shelley finds various symbolic meanings. To him the wind is at once a destroyer and a preserver, and hence a symbol of change. He uses the wind as a symbol of his own personality-”tameless and swift, and proud “. Finally, the wind is made the symbol the forces that can help bring about the golden millennium in which the sufferings of mankind will be replaced by pure happiness. Similarly, the could which changes but never dies is regarded by Shelley as a symbol of his belief in immortality and his yearning for some kind of supernal status, and the skylark symbolizes his hopefulness of the liberation of mankind through the efforts of poet–prophets. In Adonais “pansies” have been used to symbolizes the fate of Shelley’s poetry while “violets” stand for his modesty and innocence. The sky, stars, sun, moon, wind and the river have frequently been used by Shelley as symbols of eternity. In Adonais, we find such a reference to the immortality of stars:

The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn;
He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered into death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.

Nature imagery:

 Images drawn from Nature are abundant in Shelley’s Poetry. His images often produce a pictorial quality not to be derived even form paintings. His portrait of the Cloud is more vivid, more picturesque than the cloudscapes painted by Constable or Turner. The image of the sunrise in The Cloud is unequalled in its splendour:

The sanguine sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes Outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead.

In To A Skylark, image after image has been piled up in quick succession to give an idea of the bird- a “cloud of fire”, an “unembodied joy”, a “poet hidden in the light of thought”, “a golden glow- worm”; a rose “embowered in green leaves” and yet “scattering” its scent. The changing aspects of the West Wind are also Illustrated through a series of images. In Adonais, the imagery is Particularly rich in the stanzas depicting the advent of spring:

The airs and streams renew their joyous tone; The ants, the bees, the swallow reappear; Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead seasons’ bier;
The amorous birds now pair in every brake; And build their mossy homes in field
and brere, And the green lizard, and the golden snake Like unimprisoned flames, out of their trance awake.

Shelley has a natural talent for binding such images at will. When Wordsworth comes across an image, he takes care to ponder upon it until the poetry flowing from it is exhausted; he is miserly in his use of images because he does not find many of them. Shelley, on the other hand, is often seen to use one image for moment and then to throw it away for another; unlike Wordsworth, he can afford to do so.

Myth making out of Nature:

 Another aspect of Shelly’s Nature poetry is his tendency to make myths out of Nature. His profound insight into Nature and his capacity to feel it intensely account for his unique myth-making power. In his poetry he Personifies the forces of nature and gives to each one of them an Individuality, feelings and capacity to act. In Adonais, for instance, morning, thunder, ocean, winds, echo, spring and others are all impersonated and made to participate in the mourning for Keats. Clutton -Brock writes: “His myths were not to him mere caprices of fancy. They expressed by the only means which human language Provides for the expression of such things, that sense, which he Possessed, of a more intense reality in nature than is felt by other men. To most of us, the forces of nature have but little reality But for Shelley these forces had as mush reality as human beings have for most of us There is this difference between Shelley and primitive myth makers- that they seem to have thought of the forces of nature as disguised beings more powerful than themselves but still in all essentials human, or else as manifestations of the power of such beings. But to Shelley, the West Wind was still a wind, and the cloud, a cloud, however intense a reality they might have for him. In his poetry, they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes, though their own qualities may be expressed in imagery taken from human beings.”

Scientific knowledge of Nature:

Shelley was a keen student of science during his youth. This is why most of his descriptions of Nature are based on the popular science of his day. The Cloud is the most finished illustration of Shelley’s knowledge of science. The poem almost seems to be written by meteorologist. His lines:

Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers, Lightning my pilot sits-

clearly shows his knowledge of the relationship between clouds and electricity. Another line;

I change, but I cannot die……….

is again based on a significant scientific truth- the undying circulation of the water particles which form the clouds. That image in the poem-’Sunbeams with their convex gleams’- can also be cited to show that Shelley knows all about the atmospheric refraction of sun rays. Desmond King- He writes: “Writers who figure in the history of science, like Bacon and Goethe, are rare; but Shelley’s gift of expressing in his verse a scientific outlook which ‘permeates it through and through’ is even rarer. It is difficult to define this special scientific flavour. Probably its most important component is a persistent analysis of Nature: being eager to delve beneath the surface of appearance, instead of seeing things whole like Keats and Shakespeare, searching out the causal chain between one facet of Nature and another, and linking those facets imaginatively or metaphorically to interpret the scene described. It is in his command of this last technique that Shelley scores,”.

 

 

                           PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM IN SHELLEY’S POETRY

*Is Shelley an optimist of a pessimist? Give reasons for your answer.

Ans. Attitude towards life. Shelley’s attitude towards life is on the one hand immensely pessimistic, and, on the other, extremely optimistic. He is pessimistic about the present and bears optimistic hopes for the future. Contemplation of the corruption, tyranny and social problems of the present fills him with despondency. But he believes in the imminent dawning of a new era- a golden millennium- when all evils will disappear giving place to a reign of love, beauty and happiness. He is, by nature, a hypersensitive person- reacting to all kinds of sentiments and passion with an extreme intensity of feeling. He is a man of many moods, and his poems, depending on the moods, are either expressions of ebullient ecstasy or revelations of an extreme despair.

A few poems of despair. Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples illustrates a mood of extreme despair on the part of Shelley. The poem was composed at a time when the poet had already faced a series of personal misfortunes and was left extremely lonely and sad. He had the feeling that he was one “whom men love not” The happy surroundings of the Bay of Naples are contrasted with his personal agonies making them sharper and more poignant. It is, therefore, natural that the poem becomes an expression of an intense pessimism on the part of the poet:

Alas! I have not hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around,
Nor that content surpassing wealth
The sage in meditation found,
And walked with inward glory crowned-
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.

A Lament (0 World! 0 Life! 0 Time!) is another poem depicting Shelley’s characteristic mood of genuine despair. The poet now finds joy in nothing:

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight,
Fresh spring, and summer, and winter hoar
Move my faint heart with
grief, but with delight
No more
0, never more!

His twice-repeated expression of hopelessness arising from his contemplation of the prospect of joy returning to him-”No more-O, never more”- reveals a genuine and deep-fell mood of dejection and despondency.

The Indian Serenade is one of Shelley’s most beautiful lyrics written in the white heat of passion. The tone underlying the poem is one of gloom and intense pessimism. The sadness of the love- poet in this poem borders on morbidity:

0 lift me from the grass!
I die!
I faint! fail!

The poet’s concept of love here arises from a sense of frustration and his personal agonies. He looks upon love not as a source of comfort but as a disease of the mind which slowly and steadily leads the victim to his ruin. The lines quoted from the poem remind us of a similar expression of the poet’s sufferings in his famous Ode to the West Wind:

Oh! lift me as wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A Widow Bird Sale Mourning is a short song also characterized by an intense feeling of pathos. The poet describes a widow bird in a scene of wintry desolation where the wind is frozen, the stream is freezing and there is no leaf or flower in the forest and upon the ground. There can be no doubt that the poem is inspired by Shelley’s own feeling of loneliness which he equates with that of I lie bird which, left lonely by the death of its mate, finds an echo of her feelings in the wintry scene. The picture of the desolation is only a concrete expression of the poet’s own melancholy. The appeal of the poems lines in the genuine emotion underlying it.

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty also is an expression of the poet’s melancholy. The poet is depressed because this Intellectual Beauty which gives joy to human hearts comes so rarely:

It visits with inconstant glance
Each human heart and countenance.

At the moment in which the poem is written the Spirit of Beauty is gone, leaving the poet in a mood of absolute despair. The world for him has now turned into a “dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate.” Despondency shines through the subsequent questions he asks:

Why fear and dream and death and birth
Cast on the daylight of this earth
Such gloom,-why man has such a scope
For love and hate, despondency and hope?

Adonais originates from Shelley’s intense feeling of sadness at the premature death of a fellow poet, John Keats. The sadness underlying the poem is greatly enhanced by the blending of the occasion with the poet’s own characteristic feeling of loneliness. This accounts for the subjective, pessimistic elements in the poem. His description of himself-

He came the last, neglected and apart:
A herd-abandoned deer, struck by the hunter’s
dart…..

comes straight from a wounded and agonized heart. He refers to himself as “companionless” and gives an extremely pathetic expression to his helplessness and insufficiency by calling his own spirit

A love in desolation masked; a Power
Girt round with weakness;-it can scarce uplift
The weight of the superincumbent hour;

It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
A breaking billow.

Shelley’s pessimism reaches its peak when in the last stanza of the elegy, he forecasts an early death for himself:

……my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore,
far from the trembling throng                                                                      Whose sails were never to the tempest given.

A few poems of joy: Most of Shelley’s poems are sad in tone and as such he is regarded as “the singer of endless sorrows.” But this is not true of all his poems. Whenever he writes of the future of mankind he turns ecstatically optimistic.

In Ode to the West Wind the poet begins his invocation in a buoyant mood. He looks upon the Wind as the destroyer of the present order and ushered of a new one. In the course of the poem he suddenly remembers his own plight.

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

and the tone turns pessimistic. But the subsequent thought of the future at once turns his melancholy into ecstatic rapture and he ends the poem with one of the most optimistic and memorable prophecies about the future of mankind:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

The ecstasy arises out of his ardent belief in the imminent regeneration of mankind and the end of all evils He hopes that all forms of tyranny and oppression will be replaced, in the millennium to come by all-round happiness.

In Hellas, Shelley has a clear and sublime vision of the future of mankind. His prophecy of the golden millennium, envisaged in Ode to the West Wind, finds a more elaborate and rapturous expression in his poetic drama, Hellas. In the poem he imagines an age of mental light with the law of love and beauty for its guiding principle. The joyous rapture at the end of the play is born of an intense feeling of optimism:

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew

Her winter weeds outworn,
Heaven smiles and faiths and empires gleam                                                                                    Like wrecks of a dissolving stream.

Conclusion. We can trace both intense despair and bright optimism in Shelley’s poetry. The growth of these two opposing views can be traced as more or less separate developments. The optimism resulting from the firm belief in the impending regeneration of mankind develops through Alastor, Prometheus Unbound and Hellas. His mood of despair spreads through hi first individual lyric to his last poem. These two opposing moods are, of course, seen together in a few poems, particularly in Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills. The poem opens in a morbid contemplation of death, but ends in the joyous dream of a land where music and moonlight and feeling are one He recognizes misery and happiness as two aspects of human life:

Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of Misery.

The poem is basically a sad poem, but an intense optimism, accepting the presence of islands of Delight in the sea of Misery, runs through the entire length of the poem. On this aspect of the poem, Elton comments: “The course of Shelley’s genius may be regarded as an effort to attain this coalescence, and to find a form that should express at once all he dreamed of for humanity and all he knew about himself. Cut-off at twenty nine, he hardly achieved this, but a sort of race between these competing impulses can be traced in his poetic progress.”

 

 

                                                 SYMBOLISM IN SHELLEY’S POETRY

* Write an essay on symbolism in Shelley’s poetry.

Abundance of Symbols in Shelley’s poetry. A symbol in a broad sense denotes an image used to signify an idea. Shelley, endowed with tremendous imagination and a deep insight into natural objects, finds symbols to express his idea almost at will. That is why his poetry abounds in symbols and requires from the reader quite an amount of insight to be able to appreciate it. R.H. Fogle observes: “Shelley’s poetic world is not a literal transcription of his perceptions of the natural world but a conscious arrangement and composition of these perceptions. Shelley is also abstract in his consistent use of symbolism”. This abstract natural of his symbolism has added to the difficulty in understanding his poems. Yes it has to be admitted that despite their vagueness, most of his symbols have a charm of their own and are generally accepted as evidence of Shelley’s great imaginative genius.

The Boat and the Stream Symbol. The theme of the frail boat adrift on stormy seas or streams appears again and again in Shelley’s poems. Boating appears as Shelley’s favourite pastime. He seems to relish the alternate senses of danger and domination as the boat survives the pull of the waves which seem to overwhelm it. In the boat he finds his own personality summed up while he proceeds along the stream of his life challenging bravely the hurdles it sets up for him . That is why he goes on to use a boat’s progress, across the ocean or down a river, as a symbol for a soul’s journey through life. Rough waters for him signify emotional crises faced by the souls. Shelley makes good use of this boat symbol in Alastor where the poet is seem setting sail in a shallop (a light open boat) that survives a furious storm and a hazardous journey along an underground stream into the bowels of the earth via an enormous whirlpool. It is also used in Prometheus Unbound where Asia sings:

My soul is an enchanted boat.
Which, like a sweeping swan, doth float
Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing.

Shelley uses the symbol with even greater significance in Adonais where, ensconced in his soul-boat, he zooms out of sight on his way to join Adonais:

The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given.

With such symbols Shelley obviously follows in the track of Coleridge who liked to represent the soul’s progress through life by a voyage in a boat, a device used on the grand scale in The Ancient mariner.

The Eagle and the Serpent. Eagle-serpent battles are quite frequent in literature. Shelley may have come across such battles in Iliad, Aeneid, Metamorphoses, or Faerie Queene. Of the use of this symbol of an eagle-snake encounter in the Revolt of Islam, Desmond King-Hele writes: “The life-long fight of Laon and Cythna against tyranny corresponds to the day-long aerial battle between eagle and serpent. The theme of romantic love comes in when the serpent, defeated. falls into the sea: for in myth, serpents and water often have sexual implications. And the name ‘Cythna’ with its hissing sound and its hint of a swan, serpent-necked, afloat on a still lake, again links serpents and water. Byron called Shelley ‘the snake’ because of the way he walked, but the nick-name really went deeper, for Shelley was always fascinated by snakes, perhaps because as a child he had heard the legends of dragons and serpents terrorizing the vastness of St. Leonard’s Forest, near Horsham. He was equally fascinated by eagles, but since it was his habit to stress their nobility and to use them to personify young nations throwing off the yoke of tyranny, it is odd that he should here choose the eagle to symbolize evil. Presumably he wished on this occasion to emphasize its cruelty, strength and apparent arrogance, which contrast with the serpent’s unassuming air.

Poison symbol. The word ‘poison’ often recurs in Shelley’s poetry to signify evil and corruption. In Lines Written Among the Euganear Hills the ‘poison’ symbol has been used to imply evil and exploitation:

And the sickle to the sword

Lies unchanged, though many a lord,

Like a weed whose shade is poison

Overgrows this region’s poison.

The symbol is used in The Revolt of Islam where the poet says that in the good time to come,

Avenging poison shall have ceased
To feed disease and fear and madness.

The frequency with which the symbol of poison has been employed in Shelley’s poetry is a glaring evidence of the poet’s deep concern about the evils in this world.

Symbolism in ‘Prometheus Unbound’. The poetic drama, Prometheus Unbound, abounds in symbolism. The persons in the play are not real; they only represent some ideas. Prometheus stands for something which Shelley himself describes in the preface as “the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and truest motives to the best and noblest ends”. His companions- Panthea, lone, and Asia-are in effect Faith, Hope, and Love. Pitted against them is Jupiter, who represents the brutal forces in human nature. Jupiter’s ultimate defeat symbolizes the defeat of evil by the spirit of life. The union of Prometheus and Asia similarly signifies the union of human mind with the spirit of love that pervades the universe, and marks the beginning of the much awaited reign of love. Thus in the play Shelley has symbolically represented a whole Greek legend to express his favourite idea of the imminent regeneration of mankind.

Symbolism in the Sky-Lyrics. Shelley’s Sky-Lyrics— Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud and To A Skylark-have all been interpreted as having symbolic significance. The West Wind drives away the old, pale, hectic-red leaves and scatters fresh seeds over the ground. Shelley thus looks upon the Wind as destroyer o tb old order and the usherer of a new one as a symbol of the forces that will end all evil and bring about the golden millennium in which there will be nothing but peace and happiness for mankind. in the poem The Cloud, the brief life of a cloud has been interpreted by many critics as Shelley’s intended symbol of man’s brief span of life. The cloud’s rebirth after death has also been construed by such critics as a symbol of the immortality of the soul. However, there is no doubt that his concept of the skylark is entirely symbolic. To Shelley the bird stands for the perfection that ever remains unattainable and unknown to man. So he tells the bird, “What thou art we know not” and then asks, “What is most like thee”? The bird is,

Like a poet hidden
In the light hymns unbidden,
Till the word is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not

and in this sense, it performs functions that the poet himself wishes to do. The skylark, by its very nature, also symbolizes Shelley’s own poetic spirit.

Conclusion. Desmond King-Hele has thus summed up the symbolism in Shelley’s poetry: “The main symbols can quickly be summarized. Water represents existence: streams or rivers are paths for existence. Boats floating on streams, or sometimes on the sea, are thus souls journeying through life. The water is calm if things are going smoothly, and rough if the soul is vexed. Whirlpools signify perils Caves stand for minds which receive impressions from the external world. either as shadows or, if the cave has water in front, as images in the water. Towers represent introspective minds, engaged in scientific or artistic creation or in philosophic thought. Veil usually refers to the veil between life and death, between the impermanent and the ideal. The statements above are dogmatic but only for the sake of brevity: different interpretations sometimes apply; and often the words are innocent of symbolic nuance. This is to be expected, for Shelley is not producing a neat set of artificial equations. lie is merely resorting to the same imagery, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps half-consciously, when faced with ideas and emotions which defy direct expressions.”

 

 

                                                      SHELLEY’S USE OF MYTH

Q.3. Write an essay on Shelley as a myth-marker.

Myth and poetry. By ‘myth’ we usually mean a purely fictitious narrative involving supernatural persons etc. and embodying popular ideas on natural phenomena or such other things. The origin of myths lies in the ancient days when people, unable to form abstract conceptions, described the phenomena of nature in terms applicable to their personal actions. The introduction of myths in poetry is, of course, a much later development. Mr. Henri Frankfort and Mrs. HA. Frankfort, in their book Myth and Reality have referred to the functions of myths in poetry: “Myth is a form of poetry which transcends poetry in that it proclaims a truth; a form of reasoning which transcends reasoning in that it wants to bring about the truth it proclaims, a form of action, of ritual behaviour, which does not find its fulfillment in the act but must proclaim and elaborate a poetic form of truth”. This definition is indeed true of Shelley’s poetic myths. Like Blake, Shelley is essentially mythopoetic. Of all the Romantic poets he is the greatest myth maker. No other poet has used the ancient myths to such advantage as he has done in his nature and philosophical poems.

Shelley and the Ancient Myth-Maker. In the ancient myths the actions of nature are impersonated and described as doing of men or animals. The dawn is, in such myths, regarded as a being flying before the rising sun. summer and winter are presented as powerful beings conquering each other by turn with a regularity. Such impersonations of the forces of nature still exist, but they no longer live in the faith of reason. Shelley’s greatness as a myth-maker lies in his ability to keep himself detached from the older implications of the myths and make new myths out of such forces of Nature. His myths are refreshing because they come in a Spontaneous, natural way, and not out of conscious and laborious effort on the part of the poet. Clutton Brock has paid a glowing tribute to Shelley’s myth-making faculty: “To most of us, the forces of nature have but little reality But for Shelley these forces had as much reality as human beings have for most of us, and he found the same kind of intense significance in their manifestations of beauty that we find in the beauty of human beings or of great works of art There is this difference between Shelley and the primitive myth- makers-that they seem to have thought of the forces of nature as disguised beings more powerful than themselves but still in all essentials human, or else as manifestations of the power of such beings. But to Shelley the west wind was still a wind, and the cloud a cloud, however intense a reality they might have for him. In his poetry they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes, thoughts their own qualities may be expressed in imagery taken from human beings. When he addresses the West Wind we are not wrought upon to feel anything human in the wind’s power; but, if we are susceptible to Shelley’s magic, we are filled with a new sense of the life and significance and reality of nature.

Use of myth in ‘The Cloud’. The Cloud is a wonderful illustration of Shelley’s myth-making power. In this poem, Shelley personifies the cloud which is a familiar sight to all of us and then goes on to give a new significance to all its changes. The autobiographical and scientific presentation of the myth has lent it immense credibility and has created a new romance of the sky:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the sky,
I pass through the pores of the ocean and
shores,
I change, but I cannot die.

S.A. Brooke regards this poem as the most astonishing example of Shelley’s myth-making power. Of this poem he says: “It is not only a myth of the cloud; the cloud is accompanied by a host of other impersonations of nature—the sanguine sunrise with his meteor eyes, the orbed maiden of the moon, the imprisoned giant of the thunder, the lightning which runs through the sky to find his love, — all are touched into life, and yet there is not one phrase, not one adjective which is contradictory of, or which does not illuminate, natural fact.”

Myth in ‘To Night’. To Night is another fine example of Shelley’s ability to create new myths. He does not pursue Greek legend in this poem, but himself creates “Forms more real than living men, Nurslings of immortality.” While admiring the mythical element in this poem, fowler has observed: “Personifications of Day, Night, Sleep and Death are common enough in the English poets in imitation of Classical poetry, but they are apt to be frigid. The remarkable thing about Shelley’s personifications is that they are more real to him than their ancient counterparts were to the great majority of the classical poets themselves. Perhaps the best help to the appreciation of the most delicate hues would be the study of some of the allegorical paintings of Burne Jones.” In the poem Shelley has strengthened his myths by lending life and feeling to some abstractions and by distributing relationships among them.

Myth in ‘Adonais’. Adonais illustrates Shelley’s capacity to feel Nature and its doings. The poem is full of myths, that is, impersonations of Nature. Nature, according to Shelley, is linked with mankind in an inseparable bond of love and sympathy. Thunder, ocean, winds, echo, spring and other natural phenomena have all been personified and made to participate in the mourning for Adonais. The myth of Morning, lamenting the death of Adonais, is but one example of such powerful, credible, and typically Shelleyan myths:

Morning sought
Her eastern watch-tower,. and her hair unbound
Wet with the tears should adorn the ground,
Dimmed the aerial
eyes that kindle day.

Myth of the moon. Shelley is unparalled in the sphere of making myths out of Nature mainly because he has a greater imaginative insight into Nature than any other poet. The natural phenomena occurring through a great volume of space have always attracted him. The moon, in particular, has always been an object of interest to Shelley. He has refered to the moon as a living and feeling object in many of his poems. In Prometheus Unbound the moon has been given a human shape. It is presented there as the lover of Earth, indulging in an erotic myth. The moon is imagined as a young maiden in another poem, The Could:

The orbed maiden with fire laden
Whom mortals call the Moon.

The personification of the moon becomes more credible and more realistic in the lyric To The Moon. In the poem the moon looks more human and commonplace. The Moon looks pale because, the poet explains, she is weary of “climbing heaven and gazing on the earth”. The “gazing on the earth” also implies a relationship of love between them. She is sad, like any human being, when she is lonely. She keeps changing her form because she is restless, like human beings, at finding none worthy of her unchanging love. Shelley’s myth of the moon may no agree with modern scientific explanations of the satellite, but is at once unique and appealing.

 

 

                                                         SHELLEY’S LYRICISM

Write an essay on the greatness of Shelley as a lyric poet.

Shelley’s position among lyric poets. Shelley has been universally accepted as one of the supreme lyrical geniuses in English poetry. He, according to Swinburne, “stands alone among singers, and he is the prefect singing god”. According to Cazamian, “Shelley’s lyricism is incomparable. In no other poet do we find the perfect sureness, the triumphant rapidity of his upward flight, the soaring height, the super-terrestrial quality as well as the poignant intensity of the sounds which fall from these aerial regions”. Ernest Rys in his Lyric Poetry has paid a similar tribute to Shelley’s lyrical genius Among the lyric poets, Shelley, who was a lyric poet before everything, needs no longer to have his claim reaffirmed. We judge him by the verdict of those English poets who, coming after him, have famously sustained his ideals.” Even the narrative poems of Shelley are stamped by his lyricism. Shelley combines his passion and simplicity with other remarkable qualities, namely, the quality of music and the art of combining the outward rhythm of the verse with an inner rhythm of though and imagery. No other English poet has so well succeeded in blending music with thought, in harmonizing rhythm with emotion.”

Intensity of Feeling. “The lyric proper” says Stopford Brooke, “is the product of swift, momentary and passionate impulse coining from without for the most part, suddenly awaking the poet into a vivid life, seizing upon him and setting him on fire. The duration of this fire is short in all poets, but it burns with different intensity in different poets.” In Shelley, it burns slowly for a time, then flares to heaven in a rush of flame, then sinks and dies as swiftly as it flamed. It is as momentary as a meteor in him, and its substance is vapourized by its own heat. A pure lyric arising out of such Circumstances has to be simple both in theme and form. Because the lyric fire is short-lived, the lyric gives forth only one emotion or one thought. In the creation of such a lyric there is no time for ornamentation. Shelley is the master of this swift, fiery and simple form of lyric. The Flight of Love can be quoted to illustrate this form:

When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead.
When the cloud is scattered,
The rainbow’s glory Is shed.

Spontaneity of Expression : Spontaneity is the most striking quality of Shelley’s lyrics. His lyrics move so flowingly because they come straight from his heart. His lyrics, as Stopford Brooke remarks, “have the rush and impetuosity of the south”. According to Compton Rickett, “Shelley exhaled verse as flower exhales fragrance. The essential point is that there was no effort or laborious artistry about it any time.”Shelly is swept forward by a rush of poetic energy and goes on producing image after image, all inspired by the original thought. The imagery in these lyrics, therefore, give the impression of being the product of no laborious thought but of a spontaneous growth of poetic impulse. The imagery in the West wind, for example, gives an instant impression of a spontaneous flow of thought. We pass in turn over earth, sky, and sea, the music growing fuller and more majestic as the poet moves on.

Music: Shelley’s lyrics are surprisingly musical and sweet. Swinburne was ecstatic in his tribute to this aspect of Shelley’s lyricism. Shelley out-sang all poets on record but some two or three throughout all time; his depths and heights of inner and outer music are as diverse as nature’s and not sooner exhaustible. He was a lone the perfect singing God; his thoughts, words and deeds all sang together. Arnold, one of the worst critics of Shelley, admired his music and remarked : ‘The right sphere of Shelley’s genius was the sphere of music.” Shelly’s careful handling of diction fitting into the sense of his lines enhance the musical quality keeping with the swift, of his lyrics. The rhythm of Ode to the West Wind is the exactly in gusty march of the wind itself:

0 wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being.

Similar artistry can be traced in To A Skylark which is not simply a poem but the bird’s song itself translated into stanzas. The stanza used in the poem indeed corresponds, in its first four lines, to the crescendo of the bird’s song, and, in the prolonged last line, to the ‘rain of melody’ which is its climax. The rhythm of the poem The Cloud beautifully ‘suggests the hurrying movement of the clouds before a tempestuous wind. Such blending of sense and versification is wonderful and unique, and it is this quality in particular which has made Shelley’s lyrics so musical. On his lyric poetry Charles Morgan remarks : “His instrument was unique. There is no poet, not even Shakespeare in his lyrics, who has Shelley’s effect of bird-song pouring and pouring out. His lyrics are not written; they burst from the hedgerow, the sunshine, the air; they give to the hearer the life of the heart, that sense of penetrating rapture which is given by Nature and by love.”

Note of Melancholy: Melancholy is found to be the dominant note in most of Shelley’s lyrics. He becomes sad and often despondent whenever he thinks of the evils of the present, or of personal sufferings. Some of his lyrics are entirely pessimistic in tone. His Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples reflects a mood of utter despondency. He feels that he is one “whom men love not” and then proceeds to narrate a profound sense of helplessness:

Alas ! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around.

The Indian Serenade is another of his lyrics written in a similar mood. Here he gives expression to his suffering and frustration with genuine passion:

o lift me from the grass!
I die!I faint!I fail!

This note of melancholy that pervades his poetry has added to the lyrical quality of his poems. Looking at them we cannot but agree with the famous poetic truth: “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought” . But Shelley’s melancholy is never depressing. Shelley never allows morbidity to overcome the enjoyment in his lyrics. Self-pity is no doubt his favourite theme. But in his lyrics he presents this self-pity, not as something to be feared, but as an essential part of life. Shelley’s readers are never depressed because they are constantly reminded that sufferings lie only in the present and that in future all sufferings will be replaced by pure happiness. In Ode to the West Wind the poet shows a mood of despondency:

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life ! I bleed.

His despondency is soon replaced by an ecstatic rapture of joy when he comes to think of the future happiness of mankind, of the millennium to come:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
This co- existence of pessimism and optimism-the swift replacement of one by the other -is a major attractive feature of Shelley’s lyric poetry.

 

 

                                                    SHELLEY’S VAGUENESS

                                                                        Or

                                         SHELLEY: AN INEFFECTUAL ANGEL?

Q.. Write an essay on the vagueness’ of Shelley’s poetry.

Arnold’s Criticism: Matthew Arnold finds Shelley’s poetry wanting in “Truth and seriousness”. While commenting upon the visionary aspect of his poetry Arnold remarks : “It is his poetry, above everything else, which for many people establishes that he is an angel. But of his poetry I have not space now to speak. But let no one suppose that a want of humour and self-delusion such as Shelley’s have no effect upon a man’s poetry. The man Shelley, very truth, is not entirely sane, and Shelley’s poetry is not entirely sane either. The Shelley of actual life is a vision of beauty and radiance, indeed, but a availing nothing, effecting nothing. And in poetry, no less than in life, he is a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.”

Controversy over Arnold’s Opinion. Arnold’s criticism of Shelley has led to much controversy. Many critics have taken an Unsympathetic attitude similar to Arnold’s towards Shelley. They have all alike dismissed Shelley’s poetry as unsubstantial, unreal and visionary. Hazlitt remarks : “Bubbles were to him the only realities, touch them and they vanish,” and that “nobody was ever wiser or better for reading Shelley.” According to Lamb, Shelley’s poetry is “thin sown with profit or delight.” Shelley’s creed,” says Leslie Stephen, “means only a vague longing.” Arthur Symons has criticized Shelley for “he teaches us nothing and leads us nowhere but cries and flies round us like a sea-bird.” Shelley is “a sentimentalist, pure and simple, incapable of anything like inductive reasoning” is the verdict of Kingsley. Prof, Griersons has thus abused him : Shelley can neither comprehend nor create.” T.S. Eliot too has dismissed Shelley’s poetry as absurd and has called it “an affair of adolescence.” The admirers of Shelley, on the other hand, have been equally vehement in their defence of his poetry. Oliver Elton has summarily dismissed Arnold’s criticism of Shelley; he says: “Arnold is wrong about Shelley, wrong beyond recovery, and without qualification.” Quiller-couch asserts, “Ineffectual is the falsest word that has been applied to Shelley.” Sir Walter Raleigh, George Ridenour, Carlos Baker and A.C. Bradley have found ample meaning and substance in Shelley’s poetry. S.A. Brook condemns Arnold for his criticism and points out that Arnold has proved to be a critic with wrong judgment by predicting that Shelley’s prose will outlive his poetry. Clutton-Brock is of the opinion that Shelley had an intense faith “in mankind and the future of the universe; but it remained always abstract, and he hated all facts that seemed to him to contradict it.”

Unsubstantiality in Shelley’s Poetry: Arnold’s charge against Shelley seems to be a mixture of truth and illogicality. There is no doubt that Shelley’s poetry, to a great extent, suffers from a lack of concreteness and a want of substance. His friend, Hogg, once remarked that Shelley’s feet were seldom planted on earth and that he “flew aloft to heaven with singing robes around him, or the mantle of the prophet on his shoulders”. Shelley had been haunted by visions since his boyhood. In his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty Shelley himself describes his boyhood when he looked for ghosts through “many a listening chamber, cage, and ruin, and “Musing deeply on the lot of life” would see ethereal visions. Referring to this characteristic of Shelley’s personality, Symons observes : “ At no period of his life was he wholly free from visions which had the reality of facts. Sometimes they occurred in sleep and were prolonged with painful vividness into his waking moments. Sometimes they seemed to grow out of his intense meditation, or to present themselves before his eyes as the projection of a powerful inner impression. All his sensations were abnormally acute, and his ever active imagination confused the borderlands of the actual and the visionary.” His visions fill him with aspirations that cannot be defined; they are like

The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of
our sorrow.

It is obvious that such abstract aspirations cannot be fulfilled in this matter of fact world inhabited by human beings. So Shelley is often found soaring like his skylark far into the ethereal world out of the reach of human beings. The Poetry composed in that ethereal sphere must inevitably be somewhat vague and lacking in human touch. His sky-lyrics Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud, To A Skylark— are beautiful poems, but they all deal with their subjects as far away from ordinary human experience.

Shelley shows no sense of history and cannot put forth the cause and remedies of the evils he finds in human society. He has an intense belief that regeneration of mankind is imminent but cannot tell us why and how it is coming. His West Wind is a symbol of the forces that will bring about this regeneration : it is nothing more. He has never told us what these forces symbolized by the win are in reality. Shelley’s idea of the Islands of Delight as expressed in Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills is merely a product of an unfounded optimism and has no logical bearing. Shelley’s faith is no doubt genuine and intense, but it comes from his abstract visions, not from sound logical reasoning.

Poetic Truth of Shelley’s Poetry: When we discuss the charge of “unsubstantiality” against Shelley we must recall to our mind ,a few facts about the art of poetic communication. The relationship between a poet and his poetry differs from that between a mechanic and his machine. A mechanic can run his machine only if he knows the technique of doing so. But mere poetic technique cannot produce poetry; poetic inspiration must accompany technique for doing so. The inspiration in Shelley’s case has ever been so intense and all-pervading that it has often swept him off the ground and taken him into an ethereal world to find images and objects for its expression. The inspirations of the poet, by its intensity and great range, becomes vague and incomprehensible to ordinary men, and this vagueness passes on to everything it touches. Clouds, skylarks, the moon, the stars are all familiar to as; they become vague only when Shelley’s superhuman genius touches them. Shelley belongs to the rare category of the men of vision who have that magnificence of perspective, that depth of experience, that poignant touch of the soul that escape one who lives on the surface. Shelley’s experience is, therefore larger and deeper than ours and his heart more capable of responding to the remotest murmurs of things. Poets like Shelley can find far-off truths, often called the poetic truths, not easily visible to the ordinary eyes. If we want to enjoy Shelley’s poetry we must not look for information in it; we must try to insinuate ourselves into his moods, feel with his heart and judge with his mind to get to the poetic truths that he has expressed in his poetry. If we look through the whirling obscurity of thought and fancy in his poetry we can find this remaining constant and steady throughout. It is the truth propounded by Plato twenty-five centuries earlier one that states that man is essentially good.

Shelley’s Teachings : It would be sheer injustice to pretend that Shelley’s poetry, unsubstantial and vague as it is, has taught us nothing. He has taught us the lessons of love, forgiveness and patient suffering through his poetry, In A Prometheus Unbound he has taught the world.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night,

To defy Power, which seems omnipotent,
To love, and bear.’

Edmunds remarks: “No man ever taught the triumph of the spiritual over the material more eloquently that he.” S.A. Brooke points out that Shelley’s poetry is an embodiment of youth-like vigour and that middle-aged men can regain their youth by going through it. Few poets have done more than Shelley to shake the foundations of injustice, superstition, cruelty and tyranny. His greatest contribution to mankind is, however, an unbounded optimism-an overwhelming hope for regeneration:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

 

SALIENT FEATURES OF SHELLEY’S POEMS:

What Shelleyan features do you come across while reading the poems by Shelley prescribed in your text?

Ans. Lyricism. Our reading of Shelley’s poems makes it clear to us why the poet is considered one of the greatest lyrical geniuses in English poetry. Shelley’s poems are marked by intensity of feeling and a spontaneity due to swift, momentary and passionate impulses. His lyrics therefore seem to be effortless compositions and are as sweet and melodious as the song of his skylark. The following lines from To A Skylark may be quoted to illustrate this smooth, flowing grace of Shelley’s lyrics:

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen to thee-as ! am listening
now.

About his lyricism, Charles Morgan has rightly observed: “His instrument was unique. There is no poet, not even Shakespeare in his lyrics, who has Shelley’s effect of bird-song pouring and pouring out. His lyrics are not written: they burst from the hedgerow, the sunshine, the air;.they give to the hearer, that sense of penetrating rapture, which Nature gives, and love, but contrivance never.” Shelley’s careful choice of words which convey the sense has also added to the musicality of his verse. The musical, cadences of his verse are swift and impetuous, grave and solemn, galloping and joyous, according to the nature of emotions expressed. The rolling music of the Ode to the West Wind thus appears to be in perfect harmony with the swift, gusty march of the wind:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being…..

His To A Skylark is not just a poem but the skylark’s song itself translated into stanzas. The stanza of the poem, indeed, corresponds in its first four lines to the crescendo of the bird’s song, and, in the prolonged last line to the ‘rain of melody’ which is its climax. In The Cloud, Shelley has skillfully created a rhythm that suggests the movement of clouds scudding across the sky before a tempestuous wind. Such blending of sense and versification accounts for the wonderful musical quality of Shelley’s poetry.

Note of Yearning. A profound note of yearning for the unattainable is another feature of Shelley’s poetry. He is ever haunted by the Eternal Mind. He constantly endeavours to look beyond the evil of life and chases the invisible and the impalpable. His desire is something like.

The desire of the moth for the star,
Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion to something afar
From the sphere of our sorrow.

He gives various names to this unattainable thing. In his Hymn To Intellectual Beauty he describes it as the spirit of Beauty pervading the universe. He thinks of this Beauty as the only truth and other things as its imperfect copies. He speaks of it as an “unseen power” that rarely visits human hearts, as an ‘awful Loveliness’ that can free this world from tyranny and oppression. Shelley’s Skylark is again not just a bird, but an embodiment of this ideal. The poet can hear its song but the bird ever remains invisible. According to Cazamian, “The tone of Shelley’s poetry is that of a keen aspiration, in which mystical desire, with its anguished pangs and spiritual raptures, transcends the joys and sufferings of ordinary mankind.

Platonism: Shelley had a deep interest in ancient Greeks. His enthusiasm for the wisdom of the Greek philosophers is implicit in many of his poems. Plato exercised the greatest influence on him and like him Shelley, in his poetry, treats natural objects and human life as bad copies of a remote ideal. This gives Shelley a sharper appreciation of natural forms and the theory that artists and poets must try to remove the worldly cover from object and expose the underlying ideal prototype. Platonism appeals to him most because the guiding power behind the ideal forms serves him in lieu of a religion. It begins in him in his early poetic career when he tries to define the “unseen power” behind the ideal forms in the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. This idea of a guiding power emerges in various forms, and often with a strong element of pantheism, in many of his later poems. In Adonais Shelley’s Platonism has found the most elaborate expression. The famous image in the poem.

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light for ever shines, Earth’s shadows fly,
Life like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments

has been described by critics as the best epigrammatic expression of Platonism in English poetry. Sometimes Shelley becomes pantheistic in his concept of nature when he seems to believe that every aspect of nature is a manifestation of only one and indivisible soul or spirit and that after the end of the earthly existence everything is reunited with that one soul. In Adonais, Keats, after his death, thus becomes.

……….a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear                                                                                 His dart, while the one Spirit’s plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling
there
All
new successions to the forms they wear.

Shelley’s concept of love, too, is borrowed from Plato, like Plato he looks upon love as a principle which extends through nature and rules over all things, divine as well as human. Shelley thus speaks of love in Adonais:

……….that sustaining love
Which through the web of being blindly wove                                                                                      By man and beast and earth and air and
sea.

Shelley’s concept of love, like Plato’s, has nothing to do with sexual passion. In the short poem, One Word is Too Often Profaned Shelley distinguishes is love from ordinary sexual love of others

I can give not what men call love.

This platonic concept of an ethereal, noble and sublime love pervades Shelley’s entire love poetry.

Vagueness: Matthew Arnold has brought a charge of unsubstantiality against Shelley’s poetry. There is some truth in Arnold’s criticism but it is not the whole truth. There is no doubt that Shelley’s poetry suffers from vagueness, but to say that it lacks any substance is to do injustice to a great poet. Shelley has been haunted by visions since childhood. In Hymn to Intellectual Beauty he refers to his boyhood when he looked for ghosts through ‘many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin” At no period of his life was he fully free from vision. It is natural that a hypersensitive person as Shelley is bound to see visions which are beyond the range of ordinary thinking. Shelley does not find words or images in this matter-of – fact world to give expression to his visions. So he soars, like his skylark, higher and higher into the ethereal world to find proper symbols for his purpose. His poetry, composed in that ethereal world looks vague to the ordinary human understanding. His West Wind, Cloud and Skylark are all familiar to us, but in his hands they have assumed a vague, ethereal character beyond ordinary comprehension. Without rising to Shelley’s heights it is difficult to appreciate his poetry.

Melancholy and Optimism: Pessimism and optimism run side by side through the entire length of his poetry. Whenever he thinks of the corruption and tyranny prevailing in this world and of his personal sufferings he becomes extremely pessimistic. His Stanzas Written in Dejection, 0 World! 0 life ! 0 Time, are poems of his personal despair and despondency. His cry of anguish in The Indian Serenade,

O lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I Fail!

arises from genuine frustration and personal agonies. In Adonais he describes himself thus:

He came the last, neglected and apart:
A herd-abandoned deer, struck by the hunter’s dart.

It is true that direst melancholy is the most dominant note in Shelley’s poetry. However, the poet is extremely optimistic about the future of mankind. He sincerely believes that a golden millennium ensuring happiness for all is coming to replace the present age of tyranny, slavery and corruption. Whenever he comes to talk of the future he becomes ecstatic with joy. What can be more optimistic than his prophecy with which the Ode to the West Wind ends—-

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

This co-existence of two opposing forces — pessimism and optimism is a unique feature of Shelley’s poetry.

 

 

 SYMPOSIUM OF CRITICS ON P. B. SHELLEY

1. Shelley’s Conception of Poetry. Shelley has explained his lofty view of poetry in a prose-essay, A Defence of Poetry. Poetry was to him what religion is to most people—an idealization of life. According to Shelley “a poem is the very image of life expressed in eternal truth/” He defines poetry as “the expression of the imagination” as contradistinguished from that of the reason, he conceives that “the functions or objects of poetical faculty are two fold : by one it creates new materials of knowledge, and power, and pleasure : by the other it engenders in the mind a desire to reproduce and arrange them according to a certain rhythm and order which may be called the beautiful and the good. “But these functions cannot be exercised at will even by the greatest poet. A great poem is not produced by reason, by study, or by hard work. The Poets are born not made. The poetical power “arises from within.” “Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moment of the best and happiest minds.” The poet embodies in his verse the evanescent visitations of a divine nature which has come into his own. “Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world. Poetry redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in man. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration. A poet participates in the eternal, the infinite and the One : as far as it relates to his conceptions, time and place and number or not. The distinction between poets and prose writers is a vulgar error.” Again, he says, “Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure. Poetry is indeed something divine; it is-at once the centre and circumference of all knowledge. Poetry turns all things to loveliness, it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed.”

2. Shelley’s Character and its Bearing on His Art. Here we are giving the views of Prof. Clutton-Brock and Prof. Elton. Shelley’s poetry is the expression of the man himself, springing from the heart rather than from the brain, and we must understand the man to understand his poetry. “In his poetry,” remarks Clutton Brock “his character interests us as much as the poetry itself, because he has, so unexpectedly, been able to exhibit the beauty of his conceptions in its native truth and splendour, and has not needed to temper his planetary music for mortal ears.”

His character and his story are more chequered and romantic than Wordsworth’s, purer and loftier than Byron’s. Byron is always,” says Professor Elton, “Called an egotist, and so he is. Shelley is often called a saint, and he had, or came to have, some of the qualities of the saint. Shelley’s frank friendliness and comradeship; his clear witty tact and good feeling in his intercourse with persons; his odd and fitful but genuine gaiety; his eager simplicity and naturalness— we must get all this into our minds if we are to see him right.” His life was itself a romance. He was fearless and bold. He was not very strong in morality. He eloped with Mary Godwin, and his first wife Harriet committed suicide through his bitter estrangement from her. He was, moreover, sceptical and revolutionary in his ideas from the very outset of his life. “Of a sensitive and highly strung nature, Shelley was stirred at an early age by the spirit of revolt.” Shelley was considerably influenced by Godwin and his political Justice, the book on Which he based his Queen Mab in which he has condemned all important institutions, such as king and governments, church. property, marriage and Christianity. But at the very heart of his eager enthusiasm for humanity was an abiding love of justice, and his intense sympathy for the oppressed, and his hatred of the oppressor.

3. Shelley’s Philosophy of Human Life. O. W. Campbell has elaborated Shelley’s concept of human life in contrast with Plato the renowned Greek philosopher. His Dialogues and his Republic are among the greatest works of the ancients and embody a philosophical system which has served for admiration and discussion in all succeeding ages. According to 0. W. Campbell, from his earliest youth Shelley was ambitious to improve the world : he tried to do this by reasoning against superstition and by actively supporting causes of political freedom. He was aware of the evils of the time in which he lived and he deliberately turned to poetry to expound his ideas on different aspects of life and society. Much of the romanticism of his contemporaries was a refuge from reality. Shelley sought poetry with the most serious purposes. His poetry reflects his outlook on life. Shelley’s real philosophy of life lay deep down in his imagination and though it developed as he learnt wisdom, its main tendency was never changed. The most important of his beliefs, the motive power of his life and work, was his immense faith in man. With Plato Shelley had far more in common than with Rousseau or Godwin and two of the ideas which recur most frequently in his prose and poetry are essentially platonic. “These were the belief that life, as man knows it, is only an unreal show or a dream, and the conception of some all pervading Spirit of Reality dwelling behind this painted veil of life.” To Shelley life is the great unreality, a painted veil, anti the triumphal procession of a pretender. There is profound resemblance between Shelley and Plato in their whole outlook on life. Both were inspired almost entirely by what Jowell calls “the passion of the idea.” Both seemed to see life not in its transient and imperfect form so much as in its eternal relation to the future and the ideal, and to value it for the unrealized (but not unrealizable) more than for the actual. Both not only taught, but vividly felt, that between the shadow life on earth and the immortal world of ideas there was only a mist of ignorance or error which any man might dispel at any time— if he had sufficient wisdom, according to Plato, and according to Shelley, sufficient love. For both, the possible was the foundation of the actual, and the abstract perfection of the human character a reflection from the actual perfection of the divine. Shelley himself wrote:

Man is a being of high aspirations, ‘looking both before and after, whose ‘thoughts wander through eternity.’ There is a spirit within him at enmity with nothingness and dissolution.

Moreover, as his faith in the possibility of a millennium and in the divine nature of man grew deeper and more spiritual, he ceased to use the word “God” as a pure term of abuse. Apparently he proclaimed himself as an atheist, but in actual fact he had never been an atheist. But, philosophically, he would never accept the idea of an all-powerful, self-sufficient, personal God. he felt that “where indefiniteness ends, idolatry and anthropomorphism begin.” Shelley’s estimate of the innate qualities of the human mind and heart were high. “The prominent feature of Shelley’s theory of the divinity of the human species,” Writes Mrs. Shelley, “was the evil is not inherent in the system of creation, but an accident that might be expelled.” He insisted that error and ignorance are the ultimate sources of man’s sorrow and degradation. He seriously believed in liberty, equality and fraternity. But Shelley had some queer nations. History is to him at best a black business, an orgy of fantastic and luxurious cruelty. Commerce is, according to him, “the venal interchange of all the human art and nature yield.”

As a poetical philosopher he believed in an all-prevading Benignant Principle, and in an immortal human soul—immortal by reason of a spark of divinity within it. Death, according to Shelley, is I)LIt an escape from the prison of the unreal into the unconfined life of the spirit, the permanent reality which is hidden by the delusive and ever-changing appearances of earth. This idea is summed up in the following lines of Adorzais

The One remains, the many change and pass:
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like dome of many coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

To Shelley, ‘life is but an empty dream.’ This world is only a show, an illusion. He bewails the frailty of human existence :—

O Love ! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here
Why
choose you the frailest
For your cradle; your home and your bier.
                                              (Lines: When the lemp is shattered)
; but in this life
Of error, ignorance,
and strife,
Where nothing is, but all things seem,
And we shadows of the dream.
                                              (The Sensitive Plant)
I fall upon the thorns of life.
                                               (Ode to the West Wind)
Art and eloquence,
And all the shows o’ the world are fail and vain.
                                             (Alastor)
O cease! must hate and death return?
Cease! must men kill and die.
                                            (Obedient to the light)

Shelley had an intense love of humanity. He writes in the introduction to Alastor: “Those who love not their fellow-beings live unfruitful lives, and prepare for their old age a miserable grave.”
Shelley wanted to have no concern with the past, because,

The world is weary of the past

4. Platonism in Shelly: The views here are based mainly on L. Winstanley essay on ‘Platonism in Shelley. Shelley was by nature one of the most studious of all English poets; from his Oxford days onwards Greek was his favourite reading and for Plato he had natural affinity of mind.

The ideas which Shelley borrows from Plato may be divided into four groups

(1) General religious and philosophic ideas Shelley’s religious system is, speaking generally, rather Greek and Platonic than Christian or Biblical. Shelley was one of those to whom the Hebraic ideal appears naturally repugnant, his antipathy to it being as innate as Milton’s sympathy. He disliked narrow mindedness and exclusiveness; he disliked all kinds of formalism; he had the Greek detestation of priest-craft; severity of all kinds he abhorred; and severity in morals appeared to him a contradiction in terms. He not only disliked Hebraism but he was bitterly opposed to Christianity.

It was in this sense no doubt—because he hated established religions—that Shelley called himself and atheist, but the whole structure of his mind was essentially religious. His religion was, however, Platonic both in its excellence and in its defects. Shelley like Plato believes in a supreme power; it is beyond and above the world but also within, at once immanent and transcendent; it works from within the world, struggling with the obstructions of matter, transforming matter and moulding it to its will. Like Plato Shelley is vividly conscious of the unity of the world and of all life, and the underlying spirit, though it reveals, itself in many forms, is everywhere and essentially the same:—

The One remains, the many change and pass! (Adonais)

It is immanent in the world and yet transcendent, it is that power
Which wields the world with never wearied love Sustains it from beneath and kindles it above.
(Adonais)
Shelley, like Plato, celebrates this spirit in many different ways sometimes as the supreme Love, sometimes as the supreme Beauty, sometimes as the supreme Wisdom, sometimes as the supreme Liberty.
As is the case with Plato, Shelley’s conception of the Supreme is much less anthropomorphic and personal than the God of the Bible. Again, both Plato and Shelley lay hold of the idea of Deity largely from the aesthetic side. (Vide Hymn to Intellectual Beauty).
Like Plato Shelley, too, believed in the immortality of the soul and its pre-existence and  reincarnation

(2) Cosmic Speculations. In the Timacus Plato teaches that the entire universe is the self-evolution of an absolute intelligence; thinking in accordance with the laws of its own perfections it creates and animates the universes. All parts of this universe are inspired by their own intelligence : the sun is the visible embodiment of the supreme spirit; the planets are all divine or under the guidance of divine spirits; (Plato speaks of the soul of the seven plants : the Earth also is a divine being. Shelley has embodied all these conceptions in his poetry. (Vide Hymn to Apollo and Prometheus Unbound; the latter is full of Platonic imagery concerning the soul of the Earth and the soul of the planets).

(3) Social and Political ideas. With regard to man’s nature and general position in society, Shelley again shows certain resemblances to Plato. Shelley, like Plato, is conscious of dualism. In his Prometheus Unbound it forms the leading idea. Prometheus is the soul of man, his mind, noble and suffering; in Jupiter is exemplified the baser side of man, his lusts and concupiscence, his errors of mind and his sins of body. Besides, Shelley’s general conception of society is essentially Greek; it consists of voluntary rule over voluntary subjects.

(4) The Theory of Love. Shelley’s conception of love is essentially Platonic. Plato’s distinctive teachings on this subject have depended mainly upon two circumstances: his philosophy of beauty and the extraordinarily high position which he ascribes to love as an inspiration in human life. Beauty has such an enormous power over men, because, according to Plato, they have previously beheld it in the heaven-world and, since sight is the keenest of the bodily senses, they are more powerfully stirred by beauty than by anything else; beholding it they are rapt beyond themselves and henceforward consumed with exalted desire. Such a vision is described many a time in Shelley. In Alastor the hero receives the revelation of an ideal beauty, like nothing upon earth; henceforth he pursues it through the world and perishes in the vain efforts to attain it.

Plato says that love is a principle which extends through all nature; it rules over all things, divine as well as human. This kind of cosmic love is described in Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, where it pervades all the elements, extending form the greatest of things to the least. The Sensitive Plant, again, is a poem full of Platonic ideas; a cosmic love is evident in all parts of nature, and individualizes itself in the individual flowers. In Epipsychidion, however, we have Shelley’s fullest expression of the Platonic theory of love; large portions of the poem are almost a paraphrase of the Phaedrus. Emilia is a winged soul soaring over the darkness of earth; she is an incarnation of a brighter beauty descending from a lovelier and more wonderful world. She is the mirror which reflects most brightly the glory of the unseen world. The beauty of her mind is far greater than the beauty of her body, which is only reflection; she is an image of the eternal beauty.

5. Shelley’s Idealism in His Poetry: Shelley was a magnificent idealist. “Shelley,” says Elton, “is more constantly a poet of the idealizing type than any other except possibly Spenser. If Byron is a great interpreter of revolutionary iconoclasm, Shelley on the contrary, is a great revolutionary idealist, and a poetic prophet of faith and hope in a world which for the moment had lost both. Byron and Shelley thus represent two sides of the French Revolution—Byron its destructive side and Shelley its constructive and idealistic side. Shelley took the more ideal side of human life. He is fond of painting a gold age of human happiness. Shelley was a reformer as well as a poet. He was a great inheritor and exponent of the ideas of the French Revolution. The ideas as well as the passion of the Revolution glitter and vibrate in Shelley’s poem.

“The devotion to the unseen and unattainable as the only true reality could not exist without a keen sensibility to the tangible and transitory forms in which Shelley’s ideals clothed themselves. His poetry always comes to face with ideas which to most men are unsubstantial and unreal, investing them with a reality which sets at naught the common estimates of life, is naturally of many of his readers a mist of beautiful music and colour in which sense is obscured.” The distinguishing note in Shelley,” says Edmunds, is ideality—the quality of raising every thought and action on to a higher plane, the imaginative faculty of taking into his mind the wisest reaches and loftiest visions.” Love, liberty and nature are treated in the same ideal way. His love soars and fades away into eternity. The territory of liberty he is impatient to make his own and all men’s. Nature is not only flowers and streams, mountains and seas; but the movement of an eternal spirit. And in religion, wherein he has been most misunderstood, what he could not endure with patience was the imperfection and the incompleteness, the unworthy littleness of what passed for Christianity. The effect of his poetry upon the mind is to keep awake our enthusiasms and our purest ideals, and this was what he most desired to do.

6. Shelley’s Marvellous Poetic Genius. Here Prof. Cazamian’s view have been summarized. Shelley’s poetic genius was marvellous, though his span of life was very short, and it was cut off at twenty-nine. Shelley’s poetry is suffused with a creative beauty of a purely poetical quality which has appeared in no other English poet with the exception of Spenser, and to a lesser degree, Keats. Its dazzling images, its rapid rhythms, its grace and delicacy of touch, its exquisite melodies and harmonies, win us to forget the vagaries of the reformer in the perfection of the artist. The beauty of his verse is incomparable. His diction is magnificent. His lyricism is marvellous. His verse, responsive to the influence of every mood, trembles and sighs with alternative despondency and hope. “In the old to the West Wind it moves to stately music, wrapped in a garment of splendid imagery. In the lines To a Skylark it takes wing with its subject ‘in profuse strains of unpremeditated art.’ Alone among modern poets, Swinburne has surpassed him in variety of metre and music, but Swinburne used .his forms with greater self-consciousness and was often too intent upon the perfection of his workmanship to remember the vital qualities which Shelley never forgot.”

“No poet, ancient or modern, has equalled Shelley in the power of accumulating successions of sublime images in flowing verses; no poet has ever exhibited such inexhaustible resounds as in finding words metrically suited to the subtle and intricate wanderings of spiritual thought.”

He is not an unequal poet like Wordsworth; he is much more constantly a poet than Wordsworth. Shelley’s poetical career was of a shorter span than that of Byron and was concentrated within some ten years only. “Shelley’s life,” says Prof. Cazamian, “was one of passionate devotion to intellect, and this ardour explains how his ideas were transmuted into poetry.” In Byron we find more power of the intellect than of the imagination. In Shelley, on the contrary, the imagination is first and the intellect second.

7. Shelley’s Lyricism. Shelley’s genius was essentially lyrical, and he reigns supreme in the vast domain of lyricism. The lyrical mood predominates in all his works. His moods, impressions, thoughts and emotions embodied themselves naturally in verse. In lyric, as E.W. Edmunds remarks, Shelley is among the greatest poets of the world because of the purity at once of his melody and of its inspiration. his lyrics we find and abundance of rich music of the most exquisite tone. “Shelley’s lyricism,” says Prof. Cazamian, “is incomparable. In no other do we find the perfect sureness, the triumphant rapidity of this upward flight, this soaring height, the super terrestrial quality as well as the poignant intensity of the sounds which fall from these aerial regions. Truly never was the soul of a poet so spontaneously lyrical “ Everything with Shelley is the occasion for a musical stir, since his powers of feeling are the keenest attuned and most delicate of his age. The susceptibility of his physical and moral organism is such that his work bears throughout the diffused traces of a kind of psychological morbidness. The tone of Shelley’s poetry is not that of a voluptuous sensuality, but of a keen aspiration, in which mystical desire, with its anguished pangs and spiritual raptures, transcends the joys and sufferings of ordinary mankind. “Shelley remains, above all, a lyrical poet, the greatest that England or perhaps modern Europe has produced.” His influence on the poets of the succeeding generation was very great. Browning and Tennyson came strongly under his spell. Alastor, Epipsychidion, and Adonais are the longest and most elaborate of Shelley’s personal poems. In them he utters his deepest and most personal feelings as lyrically as in the Ode to the West Wind or the Lines Written in Dejection at Naples.

Word music as well as the music of sound are noted characteristics of Shelley’s verse. The subjective note or personal element– a description of personal feelings and emotions, joys and sorrows—- enters largely into his poetry. Shelley either blends wails of personal despair with some aspect or phenomenon of Nature, or colours Nature with his own mood of joy or sorrow. A good example is the Ode to the West wind. His total identification of self with the thing he describes is a unique feature of his lyricism. Here also the Ode to the West Wind is a good example:-

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
Be thou, spirit fierce,
My spirit ! Be thou me. impetuous one!

As Stopford Brooke writes : “He passes from magnificent union of himself with nature and magnificent realisation of her storm and peace to equally great self-description, and he mingles all nature and all himself together, that he may sing of the restoration of mankind- Shelley’s love-lyrics portray a variety of moods and emotions. But running through them all is the note of ideality– the pain of unsatisfied and unsatisfiable desire, the craving for a relation that should satisfy the highest needs of human nature and a spirit of self- immersion and self-effacement. Unity of thought and emotion which is an essential condition of a good lyric is perfectly achieved by Shelley. Spontaneity of utterance marks all his verse. In none of his poems is there any sign of strain or effort. He sings ‘in profuse .strains of unpremeditated art,’ and this is why he is called the most poetical of poets.”

Shelley holds a very high place in lyric poetry. In lyric, he is among the greatest of the world, because of the purity at once of his melody and of its inspiration. Whatever art he brought to bear upon his poems, he never allowed it to descend into artifice; he sang the truth as he saw it and felt it, with a sincerity quite unsurpassed; and when the chaff has been winnowed from the grain in his works, there remains an abundance of rich music of the most exquisite tone, according to E.W. Edmunds.

“Lyrical poetry is, in the main, the expression of personal mood or feeling, and the essential qualities of mind of a writer of lyrical poetry are extreme sensitiveness, great emotional and imaginative power. Shelley possessed each of these qualities in an unusual degree,” says Newton.

Clutton-Brock has pointed out that movement is his chief means of expression and even of representation. No poet has succeeded so perfectly in welding music and thought- of
synchronizing, as it were, the vibrations of rhythm and emotion. His lyrics are also marked by spontaneity and ease. No praise would be excessive for the ecstasy of feeling, the lightness and grace, the felicity of phrase, the glorious melody, and the verbal magic of such poems, for example, as To a Skylark, The Cloud, The Sensitive Plant, the Ode to the West Wind, and Lament.

Stopford A. Brooke says that some of the lyrics are purely personal; some, as in the very finest, the Ode to the West Wind, mingle together personal feeling and prophetic hope for mankind. Some are lyrics of pure nature; some are dedicated to the rebuke of tyranny and the cause of liberty (Ode to Liberty); others are belong to the indefinite passion he called love, and others are written on visions of these “shapes that haunt Thought’s wildernesses.” They form together the most sensitive, the most imaginative, and the most musical, but the least tangible, lyrical poetry we possess. “Shelley’s love-lyrics are often of elusive kind, and are generally sad. ‘Rarely, rarely comest thou,’ and ‘Swifter far than summer’s flight, and’ O World ! 0 Life ! 0 Time !‘ are perhaps the extreme expressions of his temper.”

“By far the greater number of Shelley’s lyrics express some sadness : ‘Rarely, rarely comest thou Spirit of delight.’ ‘How am I changed my hopes were once like fire. The flowers that smiles today, tomorrow dies’ ‘Far, far away, 0 ye, ‘Halcyons of Memory” are typical poems. The poet sings his melancholy, making no attempt to discover why

Out of the day and night
A joy has taken flight.

Where so much is perfect expression, it is hard to choose, but perhaps the Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples are the most beautiful rendering of this mood. Nature brings no peace to him, as she did to Wordsworth. The bright skies, blue isles, and snowy mountains but remind him that he has neither hope nor health,” nor peace within” “nor calm around.” It is the same situation in his other lyrics; the wind “moans for the world’s wrong” the moan is a lady “sick and pale,” even the happy notes of the lark remind the poet that his own song cannot make the world listen. Love brings to him the bitterest disappointments. “Send the stars light, but send not love to me,” is his prayer.

I would not be a thing- enough
Of we it is to love;

he sings, and the thought of many poems is compressed in the lyric ‘When the lamp is shattered.’ The most ethereal of English poets, he loves to write of the heavens, of light in all its forms, and of the flowers. Shelley makes nature ghostly: it is a spirit that he seeks behind the cloud and the rain .The Skylark illustrates aptly this point; the poet’s spirit pours itself out in stanza after stanza all illustrating one idea; the bird is likened to a poet, a maiden in her bower, a glow worm, and a rose The Ode to the West Wind is perhaps the best of all his lyrics. Though his melancholy appears here also, the song ends in an unusually hopeful strain. “Exquisite in its imagery, emotional, and yet restrained to an unusual degree, this is one of the treasures of English literature.” The rhythmical structure of the West Wind should be studied as a typical example of Shelley’s power to make the moment of verse embody its mood. In this ode, the impetuous sweep and tireless overflow of the terzarima, ending after each twelfth line in a couplet, suggest with wonderful truth the streaming and volleying of the wind, interrupted now and then by a sudden full. Likewise in The Skylark, the fluttering lift of the bird’s movement, the airy ecstasy and rippling gush of its song, are mirrored in the rhythm in a thousand subtly varying effects. And such a poem as To Night (“Swiftly walk over the western wave”) marks perhaps the extreme limit of the romantic divergence from eighteenth century strictness of form; but it obeys higher law than that off regularity, and with all its way wardness it is as perfect in shape as a flower, as Dr. Reed points out.

George Saintsbury observes : “What the subject was mattered very little (to Shelley); extravagantly revolutionary ideas in politics religion, and morals, dramas, songs, and mystical adaptations of classical myths—all turn to a glorious effect of poetry, often indistinctly outlined, but always bathed in splendid hazes of light and colour…

“If there is any drawback to this characteristic (of unsubstantiality), which certainly makes Shelley, like Spenser, rather a poet’s poet and lover’s poet than one for the average person, it must necessarily show less in short lyrics, where solid substance is not expected, And few competent critics deny that, taking volume and quality together, Shelley is the greatest lyric poet in English, if not in the world’s literature, But even his wife complained of a certain want of human interest’ in some of his work.

Shairp avers: “Other lyric poet sing of what they feel Shelley in his lyrics sings of what he wants to feel. The thrills of desire, the gushes of emotion, are all straining after something seen after but unattained, something distant or future; or they are wails of passionate despair, utter despondency for something hopelessly gone. Yet it must be owned that those bursts of passionate desire after ideal beauty set our pulses a throbbing with a strange vibration, even when we do not really sympathize with them. Even his desolate wails make those for a moment seem to share his despair who do not really share it. Such is the charm of his impassioned eloquence, and the witchery of his music.”

8. Shelley as a Prophet. Shelley has his place, says Prof. Elton, apart and secure among the English prophets, in the great line from King Alfred to Carlyle. “He has a clear and sublime vision of the hops of mankind. He wishes to see the world freed from all the enslavements of the brain, and from the sloth that besets the heart and imagination. He imagines an age of mental light, with the law of love and beauty for its principle. To this vision of a regenerate earth he comes by many paths. He is an artist as well as a prophet. He is more constantly a poet than any Englishman of the idealizing type, except possibly Spenser; and his teaching is rarer and more inspiring than Spenser’s while his style is not less instinctively right and lovely.” Liberty, equality, and the brother hood of man were the ideals which presented themselves to him as objects capable d attainment, and he set himself with fervour to denounce the existing order of things and assail the barriers which checked the free development of the human spirit. Animated by theories of William Godwin, he attacked government and religion kings and priests. He seriously wished to reform the world by replacing tyranny with love. On this point he was a fanatic, for he was completely obsessed by this idea. Like all intensely emotional people, he was often in extremes either of rapture or of despair—rapture at the glory of his ideals, or despair at the evil and corruption of the world. He abhorred all dogmatic rules of belief and morals in as much as they, according to him, cramp and warp the spiritual liberty and progress of man, which, he affirms, can be obtained only in a universe controlled by love. He spent his life in the quest of a perfection which he sometimes called freedom, sometimes beauty, sometimes love. To Shelley the three were synonymous. Perfect liberty is, according to him, impossible without perfect love and perfect beauty is the outcome of these two.

The prophetic tendency of Shelley is apparent everywhere in his poems. He longed to reform the world in his own ideal way. This prophetic tendency is prominent in the last stanza of the

Ode to the West Wind:
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe,
Like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth,
And
by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words amog mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! 0, Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far
behind?

9. Love of Freedom, Love and Beauty. Freedom is the breath of Shelley’s works—freedom not only from the tyranny of earthly powers, but from the tyranny of religion, expressing itself in republicanism, in pseudo atheism, and in complete emancipation from the current moral code both in conduct and in writing.

Liberty, equality, and fraternity were ideals which presented themselves to him as objects capable of attainment, and he set himself with fervour to denounce the existing order of things and assail the barriers which checked the free development of the human spirit. Animated by the theories of William Godwin he attacked Government and religion, kings and priests, with an enthusiasm which inverted all traditional estimates of character and conduct. He regarded the dissemination of his theories as a sacred mission.

Shelley’s idea of love was Platonic. It did not ‘deal with flesh and blood’ “The doctrine of free love is inwrought by him with the other doctrine, adapted from Platonism, of ideal or intellectual love. His study of Dante’s Vita Nuova and Canzoniere, with their history of a rarefied and spiritualized love, also counted for much.” Shelley may be called a love-mystic, as Wordsworth may be called a nature- mystic. Shelley was always searching for ideal love. He conceives that love pervades the whole universe. The following lines illustrate his conception of love and beauty:

Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere, (The Sensitive Plant)

For love and beauty and delight, There is no death nor change :

(The Sensitive Plant)

And the love which heals all strife.
(Lines written among the Euganean Hills)
That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That Beauty in which
all things work and move,
That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse
Of
birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which through the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst ;
Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
With thine
own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form,-where art thou gone!
(Hymn to Intellectual Beauty)
And one sound beneath, ground
One sound beneath around, above, Was moving; ‘it was the soul of Love.’
(Prometheus Unbound)

Nothing in the world is single, All things by a law divine, In another’s being mingle.

(Love’s Philosophy)

The pursuit of the spirit of beauty and love dominates all his work. “He spent his life,” says Crump, “in the quest of a perfection which he sometimes called freedom, sometimes beauty, sometimes love– to Shelley the three were synonymous ; perfect liberty was impossible without perfect love, and perfect beauty was the outcome of these two. Liberty of man could be obtained only in a universe controlled by love.”

There are plenty of Shelley’s short lyrics, expressing the sentiment of love, tender, sometimes fanciful and sometimes full of unsatisfied craving, but always aspiring beyond the actual and sensual– always seeking for an ideal consummation of this sentiment. The different types and aspects of love contemplated by Shelley are summed up in the Epipsy chidion. He makes love the main principle in the universe, and pays his homage to it for its manifestation in beauty– and so love comes to be allied to beauty. Love is to Shelley a higher transcending principle, and so he often talks of self- effacement in connection with it, and of little direct personal relation with the object of love.

To Shelley the form assumed by the divine in man was love. He was always searching for love, Strains of delight in love and beauty, and of protest against a world where love and beauty are not fixed eternal forms, run through all the poetry of Shelley. The conception of love as the sole principle of freedom, joy, beauty, and harmony, in nature and in man appears in all Shelley’s poems. He is pre-eminently a poet of love.

Shelley’s devotion to liberty, and his whole-hearted belief in love as the prime factor in all human progress— these two dominate all his work. Liberty, in his eyes, was freedom from all external restraint. Love is to reign supreme, for only in an atmosphere of love can liberty efficiently work. Love is, with Shelley, a transcendental force, kindling all things into beauty. No poet felt more deeply the dynamic influence of love in moulding human destiny; none realized more utterly the insignificance of life devoid of love.

“Shelley and Keats were creators of beauty. Shelley’s vision is more metaphysical : beauty for him is ‘intellectual’, a spirit living and working through the universe and ultimately undistinguishable from the ‘love’ which ‘sustains’ it. The Keatsian vision of beauty, on the other hand, is predominantly a rapturous exaltation of the senses. Both the Shelleyan and the Keatsian visions of beauty are mirrored finally in the poetic instrument of expression, as Herford says.

“Shelley shared with Keats the perception of lovely form and colour and expressed it with magic utterance, but concrete beauty was not lovely to him, as it was to Keats, for its own sake. Where Keats gave a value to every detail of his landscapes, dwelling with particular emphasis upon each manifestation of earthly beauty which he saw, Shelley reduced his detail to a mere silhouette against a background of supernatural radiance or to indistinctness in a pervading atmosphere of dazzling light,” points out Hamilton Thompson.

10 Extraordinary Musical Gift. No poet has succeeded so perfectly in welding music and thought– of synchronizing, as it were the vibration of rhythm and emotion. “He changes the rhythm, not only from stanza to stanza and line to line, but from word to word, with every slightest variation of feeling.” “Shelley has the gift of lending poetry the sweetest and most liquid harmonies, not the most sonorous and sensual, but pure in their vehement intensity. The flowing ease with which the words merge into one another, at the same time as the ideas they call forth join up together, goes to prove that for Shelley, the most poetical of poets, the psychological melody and the cadence of syllables, as spontaneous the one as the other, naturally formed but one music. He has experimented with all rhythms: the suppleness and variety of his prosody are extraordinary; the Spenserian stanza of Adonais, the “terza rima” of the Triumph of Life, the metrical combinations of Prometheus, are the variations of a master upon accepted themes, or the inventions of an original genius, even when the form testifies to the poet’s
negligence, and as it were to his impatience. When it lacks the finish only to be acquired from an industrious art, it retains the felicity of inspired expression; and that language, like that measure, so individual, through their characteristic turn, their liquid but ever undulating flow, which is a continual creation, and not the forced adaptation of a rhythmic utterance to a preconceived framework, convey to us the poignant impression of contact with the innermost pulsations of the artist’s heart.” “In Shelley’s rhythm there is natural magic, and the Skylark poem is a very happy example of this.” The beauty and variety of his rhythm is remarkable (for example,’ Swifter far than summer’s flight’ the ‘Ode to the West Wind,’ ‘Rarely, rarely comest thou,’ the ‘snatches and fragments,’ The Sensitive Plant, etc) Word-music as well as the music of sound are noted characteristics of Shelley’s verse.

11. Varied imagery. Shelley deals less with actualities than does any other English poet. His imagery is that of a dream—world, peopled by ethereal forms. The world of spirits was more real to him than our world of hard facts. “So habitual and familiar, says Raleigh, “was Shelley’s converse with this spectral world that both in his thought and in his expression it held the place of what is commonly called the real world. The figures of his poetry illustrate what is strange by what is familiar, and it is the shadows and spirits that are familiar.” Even when he borrows imagery from Nature, it is from a nature heightened and rarefied by passage through his own temperament. The autumn leaves scurrying before the wind remind him of ‘ghosts from an enchanter fleeing’ (Ode to the West Wind.) The skylark in the heavens is ‘like a poet hidden in the light of thought.’ It is hard to imagine anything more remote than,

Shapes
Such as ghost dream dwell in the lampless deep.

All his imagery is thus dream-imagery. It is also a “dazzling shifting imagery.” He is at the other pole from Wordsworth’s homeliness and large acceptance of Nature as she is. Wordsworth’s imagery embodies; Shelley’s imagery disembodies, Hence an air of unreality rests over all of Shelley’s work, an unreality made more conspicuous by his unpractical theories of conduct and society.” No poet, ancient or modern,” says Courthope, “has equalled Shelley in the power of accumulating successions of sublime images in flowing verse ; no poet has ever exhibited such inexhaustible resources in finding words metrically suited to the subtle and intricate windings of spiritual thought.”

We find kaleidoscopic fertility of imagery in Shelley’s poetry. Some of the best examples of this quality are found in the first two stanzas of the Ode to the West Wind and the poem “When the lamp is shattered.” Shelley’s imagery is always shifting. Sometimes there are abrupt transitions. (vide The Flight of Love, stanza IV, and Ode to Night stanzas II and III, the transition of ‘her’ in line 11 to ‘his’ in line 19 with reference to ‘Day.’) This rapid transition of thought and imagery sometimes entails obscurity. Besides, his imagery, being mostly unreal, is vague. Many a time he is found describing a perfectly definite object or scene by a figure drawn from the most complex abstract conception. Thus he would speak of the ‘dead leaves of trees’ being ‘driven before the West Wind, under the similitude of ‘ghosts before an Enchanter flying’.

Shelley’s similes and metaphors are very charming. To a Skylark and Ode to the West Wind, for example, contain many fine similes and metaphors. Shelley usually illustrates the familiar and known by the unfamiliar and unknown. He has enriched English poetry with a new series of images and poetical expressions of thought. In this connection we many consider also what is known as the mythopoeic gift of Shelley. Shelley’s poetry is full of personifications, not the cold and frigid personifications of the eighteenth century poets, but personifications which are conceived with such intensity and power that they become a real spiritual presence inspiring awe and wonder. Such is the spirit of the West Wind and such are the spirits of the Hours in Prometheus.

“Shelley has created the wondrous myths and the cosmic scheme in which the elements, the planets, the clouds and the west wind, become quickened with their individual existence, and speak a language that we can understand.” This rnythopoeic faculty i.e. the faculty of making new myths means giving life, motion and human attributes to the forces of nature, or thinking of them in terms of human personalities. This faculty reveals Shelley’s Hellenism. Poems like The Cloud and Ode to the West Wind illustrate Shelley’s mythopoeic faculty. In them he personifies the forces of nature.

12. Vagueness and unreality. Shelley’s poetry has been much criticized and much condemned by Matthew Arnold and others, because of its vagueness, what Arnold called its “fatal lack of substantiality.” He described Shelley as a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain.” Beautiful he certainly is, but is he ineffectual? Because he is vague and unpractical because he regards history as a dirty record of crime and brutality, practical politics as a waste of time, and dogmatic religion as an unnecessary evil, and yet provides us with no moral political and religious code in their place, is that to say he is ineffectual ? It has been said. that his scheme was to reform the world, but that he demonstrates the impossibility of his ideas in his poetry where his ideals are pictured and his theories realized in another and an ideal world; and thus he leads us to the conclusion that love cannot, as he hoped, bring the millennium. But, even if it were granted that this too were true, it would not prove him ineffectual.

“The very vagueness of Shelley’s poetry is an essential part of its charm. He speaks the language of pure emotion, where definite perceptions are melted into the mood they generate. Possessed by the desire of escape, he gazes calmly and steadily on nothing of earthly build. Every visible object is merely another starting point for the cobwebs of dreams.” Like his own poet in Prometheus Unbound.

Nor seeks nor finds he mortal blisses,
But feeds on the aereal kisses
Of shapes that haunt thought’s wilderness:
He will watch from dawn to gloom                                                                                                         
The lake-reflected sun illume
The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom,
Nor hear nor see, what things they be;
But from these create he can
Forms more real than living man,
Nurslings of immortality.

‘His thoughts travel incessantly from what he sees to what he desires, and his goal is no more distinctly conceived than his starting-place. His devotion is to something afar from the sphere of our sorrow; the voices that he hears bear him vague massages and hints

Of some world far from ours
Where music and moonlight are one.

And this perfect lyrical vagueness produces some of the most ghostly and bodiless descriptions to be found in all poetry. His scenery is dream-scenery. The scene of his poem is laid among

Dim twilight lawns and stream-illumined caves,                                                                               And wild-enchanted shapes of wandering mist.

And the inhabitants are even less definite in outline as Sir Walter Raleigh observes; the spaces of his imagination are:

Peopled with unimaginable shapes
Such as ghosts dream dwell in the lampless deep.

13. Melancholic strain. Shelley was profoundly melancholy. His poems are permeated by “the still sad music of humanity.” This melancholic strain is present everywhere in Shelley’s poetry. He says in To a Skylark.

Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs
are those that tell of saddest
thought
Again he says:
Most wretched souls—
Are cradled into poetry by wrong
They learn in suffering what they teach in song.
Shelley says in the Ode to the West Wind:

I fall upon the thorns of life ! I bleed.

“Though Shelley is profoundly melancholy,” says Bradle, even his saddest poems, even the Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples and the lament, swifter far than summer’s flight, do not make me sad, and hardly make me pity him. In this sorrow, however forlorn and deep, there is not bitterness; and in the soul that feels it, and can so utter it that sorrow becomes more beautiful than beauty’s self, there is something above sorrow and beyond its reach.”

14. Romantic element. Romantic element is very strong in Shelley’s poetry. Among the Romantic poets Shelley held a distinctive place. His poetry is permeated by the very spirit of Romanticism. His poetic style and his imagery are essentially romantic. He was the idealist of the revolutionary moment. While Byron represented merely the destructive side of the revolution and Keats sang of beauty alone. Shelley played the role of a poetic prophet of faith and hope in a world which for the moment had lost both.

15. Shelley’s conception and treatment of Nature. Like all Romantic poets Shelley had a new attitude towards Nature. Shelley’s reading of Nature was transcendental, which to some readers may be vague and misty. But vague it assuredly is not, since Shelley’s philosophy of Nature is perfectly clear and consistent, and in his finest lyrics, such as The Cloud and The West Wind, there is a logical power development, and when the poet is so disposed, a scientific accuracy, that is too often overlooked by the slovenly reader.”

Shelley’s love of Nature was ardent. He conceived of Nature like Wordsworth as a conscious spirit, a living and breathing presence pervading the whole universe. But the spirit which informs Shelley’s Nature is ‘love. His nature poems revel his love of that which is indefinite and changeful. His soul seems to have been naturally attracted to the phenomena of the clouds and the sky. Their shifting colours, their changefulness, their dissolving views, he can best present in Lines of superb imaginative beauty and enchanting melody. Another notable feature of Shelley’s nature description is that he had the power of conceiving the life of separate things in nature with astonishing individuality. He had a great mythological faculty. In this respect he resembles the ancient Greek. But Shelley’s conceptions of the life of these Natural things are less human than even the Homeric Greek or early Indian poets would have made them Shelley!s spirits of earth moon are utterly apart from our would of thought and our life. “The same observation is true if we take a poem on a living thing in Nature like To a Skylark into which human sentiment is introduced. It is the archetype of the lark we seem to listen to and yet we cannot conceive it. The subjective element too is sufficiently present in Shelley’s description of nature. Sometimes he makes nature the mere image ol his own feelings, the creature of his mood.”

“As a poet of nature,” says Stopford A. Brooke, “Shelley had the same idea as Wordsworth, that nature was alive : but while Wordsworth made the active principle which filled and made nature to be Thought, Shelley made it Love. The Natural world was dear then to his soul as well as a to his eye, but he loved best its indefinite aspects. He wants the closeness of grasp of nature which Wordsworth and Keats had, but he had the power in a far greater degree than they of describing the cloud-scenery of the sky, the doings of the great sea, and vast realms of landscape, He is in this as well as in his eye for subtle colour, the Turner of Poetry.”

To Shelley Nature conveyed an impression of something deeper than mere sensuous beauty. Nature is to him, as to Wordsworth, the incarnation of an eternal spirit. His descriptions of sunset, dawn, cloud, and storm are very picturesque. But Shelley is hardly so close an observer of Nature as Wordsworth While Wordsworth spiritualizes the results of his observations, Shelley rather etherealizes his impressions. But at times, in hours of inspiration, Shelley rose to the position of a mystic; the finest example is towards the close of Adonais Stanza XLII:

He is made one with Nature: there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known

In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
Which wields the world with never-wearied love;
Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
Again he says in the Alastor:
Earth, ocean, air, beloved brotherhood!

Over and above, Shelley, like Tennyson, has a tendency to weave scientific facts of Nature into the texture of his poems. The Cloud is a brilliant example The following lines are specimens:

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the sky:
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores,
I change, but I cannot die.

“Almost the whole of Alastor is occupied with descriptions of wild and marvellous scenery-mostly amongst mountains and rivers. Shelley’s descriptions are rarely mere adornments—never when lii is writing well; they are in a sense dramatic. They contribute something essential to the subject matter of the poem. But Nature brings no peace to him, as she does to Wordsworth. The bright skies, blue isles, and snowy mountains (e.g., in the Stanzas Written in Dejection) but remind him that he has neither hope nor health, nor peace within, nor calm around.

Sometimes Shelley conceives of Nature as a purely elemental force, with which human thought or human association has nothing to do. The Cloud is notably such an example. Sometimes he makes Nature blend with his anguish of soul, and Nature is in fact a reflection of his own self in such a case. Grand descriptions of nature are abundant in Shelley’s poetry. Mont Blanc illustrates Shelley’s description of the sublime beauty and majesty of the mountains scenery. Alastor, The Sensitive Plan, Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples, Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills, also contain many superb passages of nature description. To Shelley, as to Wordsworth, everything in Nature is full of life and movement. His nature-descriptions reveal his conception of life, motion, and splendour in Nature. The senses of colour, musical sound, light and smell are predominant in Shelley’s nature-poetry. The following lines illustrate these qualities:—

Yellow, and black and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes!
(Ode to the West Wind)
Blue isles and snowy mountains were
The purple noon’s transparent might.
(Stanzas written in Dejection)
And the hyacinth purple and white and blue,
Which flung from its bells a sweet peal anew
Of music so delicate, soft, and intense,
It was felt like an odour within the sense.
(The Sensitive Plant)
and fill
With living hues and ordours plain and hill
(Ode to the West Wind)

Shelley’s weaving of scientific truths into his poetry may be illustrated from The Cloud and Ode to the West Wind arid To A Skylark. The following lines also illustrate this.

When the cloud is scattered, The rainbow’s glory is shed

(When the lamp is shattered)

Keen are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there. 
 (To a Skylark)

The influence of natural scenery on the mind of the poet is also revealed in his poems. Beautiful natural scenery soothes the agitated mind of the poet. (See Stanza W of the Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples.)

16. Mysticism. Shelley believed in soul of the Universe, a Spirit in which all things live and move and have their being. His most passionate desire was for the mystical fusion of his own personality with this Spirit.

17. Pantheism. “Shelley,” says Stopford A. Brooke, “was not an atheist or a materialist. If he may be said to have occupied any theoretical position, it was that of an Ideal Pantheist. Wordsworth, a plain Christian at home, wrote about Nature as a pantheist. The artist loves to conceive of the universe, not as dead but as alive. Into that belief Shelley in the hour of inspiration continually rose and his work is seldom more impassioned and beautiful than in the passages where he feels and believes in this manner. The finest example is towards the close of the Adonais. In his mind, however, the living spirit which in its living, made the Universe, was not conceived of as Thought, as Wordsworth conceived it, but as Love operating into Beauty.”

18. Shelley’s Style and Diction. Shelley’s poetry varies considerably in style. He was a more accomplished ‘man of letters’ than the other romantic poets; he could vary his manner successfully to suit the tone of his work, as in The Cenci, his stage play, or in familiar or humorous poems such as Julian and Maddalo and Peter Bell the Third. His style is unique and inimitable. His descriptions of natural scenes, for instance, are full of delightful suggestiveness for the imaginative reader,

Spontaneity and fluidity are the proof of his wealth of imagination. There is no effect of laborious artistry about Shelley’s style at any time. “The language is poetical through and through,” says Bradley, “not, as sometimes with Wordsworth, only half- poetical, and yet it seems to drop from Shelley’s lips. It is not wrought and kneaded; it flows. The spontaneity and fluidity Shelley’s writing are present almost equally in the narrative Spenserians of the revolt of Islam and the dramatic blank verse of The Cenci; and fully, though not constantly, in his highest flights; and they help to make the best of his quieter lyrics comparable with the best Elizabethan songs”

“Shelley, of all the great Romantic poets of the beginning of the nineteenth century, was the most spontaneous Byron was equally fluent; but Byron’s highest achievements do not reach Shelley’s level, and his fluency was attended by a self-consciousness from which Shelley was entirely free.” His poetry is rich in lyrics in which the emotion of the heart takes form in words without effort. Nor has any other poet sung to one clear harp in so many diverse tones. His verse, responsive to the influence of every mood, trembles and sighs with alternating despondency and hope. In the Ode to the West Wind it moves to stately music, wrapped in a garment of splendid imagery. In the lines To a Skylark it takes wing with its subject ‘in profuse Strains of unpremeditated art’. Alone among modern poets, Swinburne, his most ardent disciple, has surpassed him in variety of meter and music.

“The variety of Shelley’s poetic style,” says Professor Elton, “is great. In a poem like the Hymn of pan or To Question it can be called romantic, in the more special sense; it is rich, and joyous, and full of colours and odours and liquid bird notes, approaching in character to the style of Keats”. He could vary his style successfully to suit the tone of his work In his short lyrics his art of overture, development and close, and his choice of meter correspond with his mood and emotion. But his skill in poetic construction is fitful. In The revolt of Islam it is slight or null, but it is at its highest in The Cenci, and in his lyrics.

Shelley’s diction is marked by directness, clarity, purity, magnificence, and strength. In vocabulary and phrase his diction is almost unsurpassingly pure; it seldom aims at strangeness, and it shows none of that anxious testing and adoption of Elizabethan forms which Leigh Hunt taught to Keats. His gift of musical diction and movement is unique.

Shelley has also certain limitations as a poet. He is sometimes accused of unsubstantiality and vagueness. Though there may be some truth in Arnold’s criticism of Shelley as “ a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain, but it is certainly too hard. When we study his poetry for its own sake, we forget the man in our admiration of the poet for it is poetry such as the world has rarely seen, not philosophical like that of Wordsworth or Browning, or popular like that of Burns or Tennyson, but suffused with a creative beauty of a purely poetical quality which has appeared in no other English poet with the exception of Spenser, and, to a lesser degree, Keats. Its dazzling images, its rapid rhythms, its grad and delicacy of touch, its exquisite melodies and harmonies, win us to forget the vagaries of the reformer in the perfection of the artist.”

19. Shelley’s Position in English Poetry. Shelley does not belong to the same rank as Shakespeare or Milton. He has neither Shakespeare’s sweeping vision and intimate knowledge of human nature and his genial and sunshiny humour, nor Milton’s puissant and splendid imagination, workmanship and grand style. Like Shakespeare he has never explored the recesses of the human heart or the motive-springs of human will or sounded the whole gamut of human passion. Certainly Shakespeare’s range and variety and depth of knowledge and experience was beyond the reach of Shelley who died prematurely only at the age of 29. Shelley’s superiority lies not in drama or epic but in the domain of lyrical poetry in English literature. Here he reigns supreme. He has enriched English poetry with superb imagery and enchanting melodies. His spontaneity is marvellous. Shelley is regarded as the greatest lyric poet in English. In lyric he is among the greatest of the world. Saintsbury regards that “few competent critics deny that, taking volume and quality together, Shelley is the greatest lyric poet in English.” “As a lyrical poet Shelley is,’ says Prof Cazamian, “the greatest that England or perhaps modern Europe has produced.”

Says Bradley: “What he says is highly characteristics of his own practice in composition. He allowed the rush of his ideas to have its way, without pausing to complete a troublesome line or to find a word that did not come; and the next day (if ever) he filled up the gaps and smoothed the ragged edges. And the result answers to his theory. Keats was right in telling him that he might be more of an artist. His language, indeed, unlike Wordsworth’s or Byron’s, is, in his mature work, always that of a poet; we never hear his mere speaking voice; but he is frequently defuses and obscure, and even in fine passages his constructions are sometimes trailing and amorphous. The glowing metal rushes into the mould so veheniently that it overleaps the bounds and fails to find its way into all the litth’ crevices. But no poetry is more manifestly inspired, and even when it is plainly imperfect it is sometimes so inspired that it is impossible to wish it changed. It has the rapture of the mystic, and that is too rare to lose. Tennyson quaintly said of the hymn Life of Life: ‘He seems to go up into the air and burst. It is true: and, if we are to speak of poems as fireworks, I would not compare Life of Life with a great set piece of Homer or Shakespeare that illumines the whole sky; but, all the same, there is no more thrilling sight than the heavenward rush of rocket, and, it bursts at height no other fire can reach.

“He is haunted by the fancy that if he could only get at the One, the eternal Idea, in complete aloofness from the many, from life with all its change, decay, struggle, sorrow, and evil, he would have reached the true object of poetry, as if the whole finite world were a mere mistake of illusion, the sheer opposite of the infinite One, and in no way or degree its manifestation. Life, he says:

Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity;

but the other side, the fact that many colours are the white light broken, he tends to forget, by no means always, but in one and that not the least inspired, of his moods. This is the source of that thinness and shallowness of which his view of the world is justly accused, a view in which all imperfect being is apt to figure as absolutely gratuitous, and everything and everybody as pure white or pitch black. Hence also his ideals of good, whether as a character or as mode of life, resting as they do on abstraction from the mass of real existence, tend to lack body and individuality, and indeed, if the existence of many is a mere calamity, clearly the next best thing to their disappearance is that they should all be exactly alike and have as little character as possible. But we must remember that Shelley’s strength and weakness are closely allied, and it may be that the very abstractness of his ideal was a condition of that quivering intensity of aspiration towards it in which his poetry is unequalled.”

In the end we will give the views of some critics of the present century who have summed up the chief characteristics of Shelley’s poetry.

Yeats observes: From these scattered fragments and observations and from many passages read in their light, one some comes to understand that his liberty was so much more than the liberty of Political Justice that it was one with intellectual beauty, and that the regeneration he foresaw was so much more than the regeneration many political dreamers have foreseen, that it could not come in its perfection till the hours bore ‘Time to his grave in eternity.’

T.S. Eliot says: Shelley both had views about poetry and made use of poetry for expressing views. With Shelley we are struck from the beginning by the number of things poetry is expected to do; from poet who tells us in a note on vegetarianism, that ‘the orange-outang perfectly resembles man both in the order and the number of his teeth’, we shall not know what to expect. The notes to Queen Mab express, it is true, only the views of an intelligent and enthusiastic schoolboy, but a schoolboy who knows how to write; and throughout his work, which is of no small bulk for a short life, he does not, I think, let us forget that he took his ideas seriously. The ideas of Shelley seem to me always to be ideas of adolescence—as there is every reason why they should be. And an enthusiasm for Shelley seems to me also to be an affair of adolescence: for most of us, Shelley has marked an intense period before maturity, but for how many does. Shelley remain the companion of age? I confess that I never open the volume of his poems simply because I want to read poetry, but only with some special reason for reference. I find his ideas repellent; and the difficulty of separating Shelley from his ideas and beliefs is still greater than with Wordsworth. And the biographical interest which Shelley has always excited makes it difficult to read the poetry without remembering the man : and the man was humourless, pedantic, self-centred, and sometimes almost a blackguard.

Shelley seems to have had to a high degree the unusual faculty of passionate apprehension of abstract ideas. Whether he was not sometimes confused about his own feelings, as we may be tempted to believe when confounded by the philosophy of Epipsychidion, is another matter. I do not mean that Shelley had a metaphysical or philosophical mind; his mind was in some ways a very confused one:
he was able to be at once and with the same enthusiasm an eighteenth century rationalist and a cloudy Platonist. But abstractions could excite in him strong emotion. His views remained pretty fixed, though his poetic gift matured. It is open to us to guess whether his mind would have matured too; certainly, in his last, and to my mind his greatest though unfinished poem, The Triumph of Life, there is evidence not only of better writing than in any previous poem, but of greater wisdom.

Herbert Read feels that the whole tendency of Shelley is towards a clarification and abstraction of thought—away from the personal and particular towards the general and universal….
But the highest beauties of Shelley’s poetry are evanescent and imponderable_thought so tenuous and intuitive, that it has no visual equivalent; no positive impact….such poetry has no precision, and the process of its unfolding is not logical. It does not answer to the general definition of any kind. It is vain to apply to it that method of criticism which assumes that the ardour of a verse can be analyzed into separate vocals, and that poetry is a function of sound. Poetry is mainly a function of language— the exploitation of a medium, a vocal and mental material, in the interests of a personal mood or emotion, or of the thoughts evoked by such moods or emotions. I do not think we can say much more about it; according to our sensitivity we recognize its success. The rest of our reasoning about it is either mere prejudice, ethical anxiety, or academic pride.

20. Resume of the Symposium: Shelley was a man of lofty and generous character. He was filled with a passion for reforming the world. He idealized Love as the saving emotion of humanity; to him Love was what Beauty was to Keats, the guiding principle of life. He was no mean thinker though sometimes vague and misty. His poetry is vague because he was quasi-metaphysical: because he clings continually to his view of the abstract truth, and because the visible world and the world of thought mingle them selves inextricably in his contemplation of it. For him there is no boundary-line between the two worlds; the one is as real and actual as the other. It is a vague world but it is a beautiful world—a world where music and moonlight and feeling are one, a world, moreover, where Shelley reigns absolutely master. His verse is strong as well as beautiful. His genius was essentially lyrical; his lyrics express the complex and aspiring emotions and vibrate sweet music and verbal witchery. He influenced Browning and Swinburne. He was romantic in his vivid individuality, and was full of lofty aspirations and idealizations. “The countless beautiful forms and images in Shelley’s poetry, the radiant colour investing them, the spontaneity and freedom of his lyric utterance, and the matchless rhythm of his verse—all have their unique charm.”

 

 CRITICAL SUMMARY OF THOUGHT Ode to the West Wind

Introduction. The poem was written in the autumn of 1819 in the beautiful Cascine Gardens outside Florence, and was published with Prometheus Unbound in 1920. Shelley’s own note on the composition of the poem is important and must be quoted: “This poem was conceived and chiefly written in a wood that skirts the Arno, near Florence, and on a day when that tempestuous wind, whose temperature is at once wild and animating, was collecting the vapours which pour down the autumnal rains. They began, as I foresaw, at sunset with a violent tempest of hail and rain, attended by that magnificent thunder and lightning peculiar to the Cisalpine regions.” Ode to the West Wind is universally accepted as one of the best poems in English literature. The poem is remarkable for its theme, range of thought, spontaneity, poetic beauty, lyrical quality, and quick movement similar to that of the wind itself. This poem, along with The Cloud and The Skylark, mark an abiding monument to Shelley’s passion for the sky. Shelley himself writes : “I take great delight in watching the change in the atmosphere”.

The Wind Blows on the Land, Leaves and Seeds. The West Wind is the breath of Autumn. Dead Leaves, blue, yellow and red in colour, fly before the wind, as the ghosts fly before a magician. The West Wind scatters the flying seeds. The seeds lie under the ground and when Spring comes, they grow into flowers of different colours and fragrance. The West Wind destroys dead leaves and preserves (saves) useful seeds. (Stanza i)

The Wind Blows Clouds in the Sky; and Sings a Dirge of the Dying Year. The West Wind scatters the clouds in the sky. The clouds seem like leaves of the intertwined branches of the trees of Heaven and Ocean. The stormy sea and the sky seem to be meeting. The clouds flying with the storm look like the hair of fairies flying in the wind. These clouds are the signals of the coming storm and rain. The sound of the Wind is like the funeral song of the year. The year is dying (about to finish). The last night is like the dome (curved roof) of the grave of the dying year. The members of the funeral procession are vapour, hail, rain and lightning. (Stanza 2)

The Power of the Wind on Water: Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean. The calm Mediterranean was sleeping. The music of the glassy waves lulled the ocean to sleep. It was dreaming of towers and palaces reflected in its water. The West Wind creates furrows on the smooth waters of the Atlantic Ocean. At the bottom of the Atlantic grow plants and vegetation. These plants are dry, without sap though they live in water. When the West Wind blows in autumn, the plants on the land wither; the plants at the bottom of the ocean also fade and die. (Stanza 3)

Personal Reaction. The poet wishes he were a dead leaf or cloud flying with the wind or a wave feeling the power of the wind. Or he wishes he were a boy again, when he thought that he could heat the wind in running races. But these are not likely to happen. So he appeals to the storm to lift him.

Oh, lift me, a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

He is like the Wind; tameless and swift and proud. ( Stanza 4)

From Personal to Universal. The Wind blows through the jungle and produces music out to the dead leaves. Shelley requests it to create music out of his heart and to inspire him to write great poetry, which may create a revolution in the hearts of men. He wants the Wind to scatter his revolutionary message in the world, just as it scatters ashes and sparks from a burning fire. His thoughts may not be as fiery as they once were, but they still have the power to inspire men. He tells the Wind to take the message to the sleeping world, that if winter comes, spring cannot be far behind. After bad days come good days. (Stanza 5)

 

CRITICAL APPRECIATION AND INTERPRETATION

Symbolism. Most of Shelley’s poetry is symbolic. Shelley makes use of symbolism by means of his normal use of images including the personified forces of life and nature. He looks upon the West Wind as a personified force of nature and finds in it various symbolic meanings to suit the purpose of the poem. The West Wind drives the last signs of life from the trees, and also scatters the seeds which will come to life in spring. In this way the Wind appears to the poet as a destroyer of the old order and a preserver of the new, i.e., a symbol of change. The Wind also symbolizes Shelley’s own personality. When he was a boy he was one like the Wind: “tameless, and swift, and proud”. He still possesses these qualities but they lie suppressed under “ a heavy weight of hours”. The affinity of temper between them prompts the poet to appeal to the Wind to save him from his present plight:

At this hour of distress the poet can look upon the Wind as a competent saviour, a symbol of aid and relief. Finally, the West Wind is treated by the poet as representing the forces that can help bring about the golden millennium, when the miseries and agonies of mankind will be replaced by all round happiness.

Shelley as a Prophet and Reformer. Idealism is a part and parcel of Shelley’s temperament. He is a rebel, like Byron, against the age-old customs, traditions, conventions and institutions, sanctioned only by practice and not by reason. But, unlike Byron, he is not only a rebel but also a reformer. He wants to reconstitute society in keeping with his ideals of good, truth and beauty. According to Compton-Rickett, “To renovate the world, to bring about utopia, is his constant aim, and for this reason we may regard Shelley as emphatically the poet of eager, sensitive youth; not the animal youth of Byron, but the spiritual youth of the visionary and reformer.” The essential spirit of the West Wind represents this spirit of reformation in Shelley. As the West Wind scatters and destroys the dead leaves, the poet wants to expel useless customs and conventions; as the Wind helps the growth of new flowers in spring, the poet too wishes to bring about a new order beneficial to mankind. He wants the Wind to be his guiding spirit and to help in the propagation of his thoughts through the universe:

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth.

Shelley is pessimistic about the present, but optimistic about the future. He believes that regeneration always follows destruction and that a new and utopian order is certain to come when the present degenerate system is ended. His optimism about the imminent dawn of a golden age is genuine and firm and his prophecy of that millennium underlies most of his poems. In Ode to the West Wind also this prophetic note is present, and present with the greatest intensity of expression:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind!

Myth-making: Shelley holds a unique place in English literature by virtue of his power of making myths out of the objects and forces of Nature. Cluffon-Brock has discussed in detail. Shelley’s myth-making power as revealed in the Ode to the West Wind: “It has been said that Shelley was a myth-maker. His myths were not to him mere caprices of fancy. They expressed by the only means which human language provides for the expression of such things, that sense which he possessed, of a more intense reality in nature than is felt by other men. To most of us, the forces of nature have little meaning. But for Shelley these forces had as much reality as human beings have for most of us, and he found the same kind of intense significance in their manifestations of beauty that we find in the beauty of human beings or of great works of art. The nature of this significance he could not explain; but he could express it with enormous power in his art, and with a precision of statement which seems miraculous when the nature of the subject matter is considered There is this difference between Shelley and primitive myth-makers—that they seem to have thought of the forces of nature as disguised beings more powerful than themselves but still in all essentials human, or else as manifestations of the power of such beings. But to Shelley the West Wind was still a wind, and the cloud a cloud, however intense a reality they might have for him. In his poetry they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes, though their own qualities may be expressed in imagery taken from human being we are not wrought upon to feel anything human in the wind’s power: but if we are susceptible to Shelley’s magic, we are filled with a new sense of the life and significance and reality of nature.

Personal Note: Poetry is the expression of the poet’s mind. This is absolutely true of Shelley’s poetry. A study of Shelley’s poetry is the easiest and shortest way to his mind and personality. The fourth stanza of Ode to the West Wind is entirely personal and autobiographical. An analogy with the West Wind helps the poet describe his own spirit : “tameless, and swift, and proud”. The poet narrates the change he has undergone in the course of his life. He was full of energy, enthusiasm and speed in his boyhood. But the agonies and bitterness of life— “A heavy weight of hours”—has repressed his qualities and has put him in an unbearable state. The expression of his sufferings—”i fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” is intensely genuine, heart-rending, and possibly the most spontaneous of Shelley’s emotional outbursts through his poems.

Technical Excellence: Technically, this poem is one of the most perfect of Shelley’s lyrics. It is nearer to music than to painting, and yet it gives us a more vivid sense of experience than we could get from any pictorial description. The meter, which is terza rima divided into short periods, is managed with complete mastery. Shelley has made the heroic lines move swiftly so as to give the impression of the irresistible and fast movement of the wind. Desmond King-Hele remarks : “The verse technique and structure of the Ode to the West Wind could scarcely be improved : it is the most fully orchestrated of Shelley’s poems, and consequently the most difficult to read aloud. The ever fluctuating tempo and the artfully random pauses in the long lines reflect the lawless surging of the wind and its uneasy silences. This device is not overworked : the wonder is that Shelley could use it all when grappling with tin’ problems of the terza rima and operating within a rigid structural framework. In conformity with this framework, which seems to be in the style of Calderon, the first three stanzas are designed to show the wind’s power in three spheres of Nature, in preparation for the prayer to the Wind, as pseudo-god, in stanzas 4 and 5. The keynote of the first three stanzas is balanced. Their settings, land, sky and sea, give equal emphasis to the three states of matter, solid, gaseous and liquid. Each of the four seasons has its appointed place, and there is a full range of colours—red, yellow, blue, grey and black explicitly, white and green implicitly. Turmoil is balanced against calm, life against death, detail against generalization, cold against warmth, plain against hill, and so on. The varied evidence of stanzas 1-3 is assembled in support of the narrow, one-track theme in the last two stanzas : the plan is sound, but in points of detail it falls short of perfection. For Shelley harps on his prayer rather too long. His defeatism becomes a trifle depressing, unless when reading the poem we happen to be in the same mood as he was … the note of self-pity is overplayed in the last two stanzas ; and this must be counted a blemish in what is other wise a nearly faultless poem.”

 

INTRODUCTION AND CRITICAL SUMMARY ( To a Skylark)

Introduction: To A Skylark, perhaps the most famous of Shelley’s poems, was written in July 1820 and published with Prometheus Unbound in the same year. At the time of its composition the Shelley’s were staying in the Gisbornes house who were on a visit to England. Mrs. Shelley’s note is worth quoting here! “In the Spring (of 1820) we spent a week or two near Leghorn borrowing the house of some friends, who were absent on a journey to England. -It was a beautiful summer evening, while wandering among the lanes, whose myrtle hedges were the bowers of the fireflies, that we heard the carolling of the skylark, which inspired one of the most beautiful of his poems.” The idea of the skylark singing in the sky to represent a spiritual power that can spread its influence through the world may have come from Plato. Shelley is said to have translated Phaedrus where the soul is seen as growing real wings and mounting aloft on them

Critical Summary: The poet says that the skylark that pours forth from heaven a flood of spontaneous melody and soars higher and higher can never be a bird. It is for him a joyful spirit that begins its upward flight at sunrise, and becomes at evening an invisible song just like an invisible star in the day-light.

Its notes are compared to the keen beams of the moon which contracts by and by so that its presence is rather felt than seen. Its song resembles the flood of light which the moon pours forth from• behind a solitary cloud on a clear night.

The poet is at a loss to know what the bird really is. Its song may be compared to the bright rain drops falling from rainbowed clouds. The bird lost in the sunlight may be compared to a poet hidden in the light of thought, or to a high-born maiden making music to console her love-lorn heart, or to a glow-worm from which emanates its bluish light concealing itself in grass and flowers, or to rose blown completely by the wind so that its perfume is spread on all sides.

The poet says that skylarks song does not stand any comparison with things which we know. When compared with it, all gay; clear and fresh things pale into insignificance. Marriage and triumphal songs dwindle into nothingness in comparison with the skylark’s song.

The poet wonders what is the unknown source of inspiration of the bird’s song. Its ecstasy indicates that it does not know anything of the satiety that destroys all human happiness. It must be in the know of something more concerning death than we know, for, otherwise, its song could not be so merry and distinct. Sorrow is mingled with the very best of human joys. Even if men are free from hate, pride, fear and sorrow, they cannot think of attaining such joy as that of the skylark. The poet wants to experience half the gaiety of the bird and then he would sing with such excellent poetic ecstasy that the people of the world would listen to him.

 

 CRITICAL APPRECIATION AND INTERPRETATION

Theme: In To a Skylark Shelley records the thoughts evoked in him by a singing skylark. He finds a contrast between the skylark’s easy movements and fluent song, and man’s clumsiness in these spheres. The poet is led to feel that the skylark’s superiority over man lies in its superhuman talents. Despond King-Hele writes, “Tim theme is thus a conceit, not an eternal truth; but Shelley Contrives the faction so persuasively that we gladly suspend disbelief.” As regards the structure of the thought in this poem, it bears significant resemblance to that of the Ode to the West Wind. Both these poems open wilt a splendid description and a series of beautiful natural images. Just as the strength and speed of the West Wind are contrasted with the weakness to the poet, so the “clear keen joyance” of the skylark is contrasted with the pains and agonies of mankind. Like the Ode, this poem too ends on a note of yearning, this time not for energy and intellectual power, but for pure rapture and unbounded joy.

Spontaneity: To a skylark, like Shelley’s other lyrics, shows a spontaneity typical of the poet. The flow of the poem is as effort less as that of a stream. The emotion that has inspired the poem is genuine and has come from first-hand experience. The joyful singing of the skylark has indeed inspired in the poet’s mind an overflowing yearning for ecstasy. This intensity of passion has added considerably to the lyric splendour of the poem. The poem is a superb example of Shelley’s musical genius. “Just as in The Cloud” a critic observes, “Shelley gives life-like form to his subject following it through its manifold changes of fair weather and storm, so here, while recording the thoughts which the lark’s song awakens, he reproduces in words the melody itself, clothing it in a stanza which corresponds, in its first four lines, to the crescendo of the bird’s song and in prolonged last line to the ‘rain of melody’ which is its climax.” The poem is melodious because it is not just a poem but the skylark’s song itself translated by the poet into stanzas.

Images and Figures of Speech: The poem contains a series of images and figures of speech that have added to the beauty and charm of the poem. The skylark is described as a “blithe Spirit” that pours its heart “from heaven, or near it.” It is likened to “a cloud of fire” and it, “singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.” The skylark floats and runs “Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun”. It remains unseen “Like a star of Heaven. In the broad daylight.” The bird is then compared to a poet hidden in the light of thought, a high-born maiden in a palace tower, a golden glow-worm scattering its “aerial hue” unseen among the flowers and grass and an unseen rose giving out its sweet smell. Each figure of speech used in the poem is a picture in itself and contributes to the charming sensuousness of the poem.

A Happy Poem: To a Skylark is a happy poem. Despond King-Hele thus comments: “To a Skylark is very easy to read, apart from stanzas 4 and 5, which are a little obscure, and at the same time rich in undertones…. Shelley praises the lark in stanza after stanza, contrasting its carefree life with Man’s uneasy blundering. We unlike the lark, ‘look before and after’: Hamlet’s phrase is used in its strongest sense to distinguish men from creatures which are haunted by neither past nor future. The lark has no worries-no reviewers, slanderers or creditors trouble him-and men heed his song. Shelley, volatile in fancy as any bird, would gladly change places. The skylark, like The cloud is a fine invention. It is not so “unattached” not so pure a lyric as its predecessor; for whenever Shelley exaggerates the lark’s good luck he is obliquely emphasizing Man’s troubles and in particular his own. But since it is the lark, not Man, who is in the limelight the Skylark ranks as one of the happiest of escape-poems, a pleasant tonic after the seriousness of Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci.

 

Short Questions with Answers Ode to the West Wind

 Please justify the title of the poem “Ode to the West Wind”.

Ans.  Shelley’s celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” is a wonderful piece of romantic poetry. The title of the poem is fully justified because the poem is an impassioned address to the autumnal west wind. The whole poem is mainly about the west wind and its forces. The first three stanzas describe and reflect upon the operation of the west wind on the land, in the sky, and on the seas. Personal and subjective elements enter into the fourth stanza as the poet desires to be lifted out of his low, fallen state by the wind. In the fifth and final stanza, the note of romantic subjectivism takes on a revolutionary fervour. The poet appeals to the mighty wind to make him ‘thy lyre’ and cause a revolution in the world by revitalizing his spark- like thoughts and spreading them throughout the world. Thus, in the poem, Shelley subjectively treats the West Wind and makes a myth of as well as allegorizes it as a potent symbol of revolutionary change. It is presented both as a destroyer and a preserver, facilitating universal change after autumnal decay and wintry hibernation. Ostensibly as well as in its essence, the poem is about the West Wind. Hence, the title is quite justified.

 

 What commoiions/ effects/influences does the West
Wind bring on the earth and
in the Meditcrrane?

ANS. In the celebrated poem ‘Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley, by using a series of vivid images, gives graphic descriptions of the effects of the West Wind on the earth, in the key and over the ocean. Labeling the West Wind as both a ‘destroyer’ and a ‘preserver’ Shelley says about the effects of the wind on the earth. It drives away dry leaves of trees like “ghosts from an enchanter fleeing”. It also carries the winged seeds and deposits them in the “dark wintry bed”, where they remain buried throughout the winter. The same wind will also make them germinate in the spring. In the third stanza, Shelley presents the operation of the autumnal wind on the seas. The Wind arouses the Mediterranean from its slumber in which the sea dreams about the old palaces and towers submerged in its own blue deep. The Wild Wind then makes a lashing progress through the waters of the Atlantic, dividing the mighty Atlantic’s ‘level powers’ into two halves, Its impact reaching miles below to turn the submarine nature grey in fear. Thus, the mighty West Wind brings great changes both on the earth and over the seas.

 How does Shelley present the West Wind in the poem “Ode to the West Wind”?

Ans.  Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a wonderful romantic poem. In the poem, the poet subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. He underlines the forceful aspects of the autumnal wind and calls it both a ‘preserver’ and a ‘destroyer’. The poet describes the mighty powers of the West Wind both as a destroyer and preserver. As a destroyer the wind drives away the pale dry leaves of trees and preserves the seeds in the moist earth for germination in the coming spring-time. As the West Wind is a very powerful force, it causes great commotions on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean. Throughout the poem, the terrifying destructive powers of the wind as well as its gentle fostering influence have been underlined. More importantly, Shelley treats the West Wind allegoric ally. It is a symbol of unassailable power which can bring in revolutionary changes in the world and save mankind from misery and darkness. This is why in the concluding stanza he urges to wind to make him its ‘lyre’ in order to spread his messages of hope and regeneration throughout the world. The poet ends in a high optimistic note that the present desolate condition will pass away and good days
are ahead.

 

Write a short note on “Personal Elements in “Ode to the
West Wind”.

 

Ans. Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a celebrated romantic poem. Personal elements penetrate in the poem when in the fourth stanza Shelley makes a fervent appeal to the forceful wind to  liberate him from the slough of depression which has temporarily overwhelmed him. He addresses the Wind in the first person seeking its sympathy and support in order to redeem himself. He categorically mentions that he, like the West Wind, once was “uncontrollable” and “tameless, and swift, and proud”. He now bleeds as he falls on the “thorns of life” and has been chained and bowed down by the “heavy weight of hours”. In other words, he is depressed and weighed down by the cares and anxieties of life. He passionately appeals to the wind to lift him up just like the way it lifts up the leaves on the earth and the clouds on the sky and the waves on the sea. Shelley here treats the wind subjectively. He makes the myth of the autumnal West Wind as a great force which possesses redeeming power. He strongly feels that the West Wind can only regenerate him and give sparks to his creative energy.

 

 In “Ode to the West Wind”, why does Shelley call the West Wind “destroyer” and “preserver”?

Ans. Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a wonderful romantic poem. In the poem, the poet subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. He underlines the forceful aspects of the autumnal wind and calls it both a ‘preserver’ and a ‘destroyer’. The poet describes the mighty powers of the West Wind both as a destroyer and preserver. Shelley describes the West Wind as something that can be seen only through its force and power, like driving leaves before the wind or blowing seeds to a cold grave. Shelley then turns the topic of the first stanza and speaks of the West Wind’s sister, the Spring wind, that will blow and summon to life the sleeping seeds that will raise “sweet buds” to the air. It is in this context that Shelley calls the West Wind a Wild Spirit that is both a “Destroyer” and a “Preserver”: The West Wind destroys the peaceful landscape of autumn by driving dead, pestilence-stricken leaves, but it is a preserver because it buries, or plants, the seeds of next year’s life to be awakened by the Spring wind that blows.

 Write short note on: Symbolism in the poem “Ode to the West Wind”

Ans. The autumnal West Wind itself is the central piece of symbolism in the poem. A natural phenomenon has assumed the mythical dimension of a great transformational agency, a destroyer and a preserver, operating on earth, in the sky, and on the seas. Shelley’s revolutionary zeal and ethereal imagination symbolize the wind into an uncontrollable spirit governing the whole of the universe. The poet seeks the support of the wind to resurrect himself so that all the sparks of his thought might be fanned into new flames of fire to usher in a new springtime at the end of the winter decay and desolation.

For Shelley, the West Wind is more than a wind. It is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. It is an uncontrollable spirit who can rescue and elevate the poet, fallen among ‘the thorns of life’, to become the harbinger of the great agency of change. ‘Make me thy lyre’, Shelley implores the wind, and urges it to bring forth a new spring of life in the dead winter of man’s world.

 

 Shelley’s vision of poetry and life in “Ode to the West Wind”

Ans.  In “Ode to the West Wind” Shelley subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. For him, the West Wind is not only a natural phenorienon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. In the poem, he equates his poetry with the West Wind. As the wind is a transforming power in nature, so can his poetry be a transforming power intellectually and poetically.

The wind ushers great changes in the natural world. It brings in changes on the earth, in the sky and on the seas. A natural phenomen on has assumed the mythical dimension of a great transformational agency, a destroyer and a preserver, operating on earth, in the sky, and on the seas. Shelley pleads with the West Wind to let him do the same, figuratively, with his poetry:

Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thought over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,                                                                                                 Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth…”

Shelley’s vision is that his poetry will transform art, poetry, life, as the West Wind transforms nature.

 

*Shelley’s myth-making in “Ode to the West Wind”

Ans. Shelley holds a unique place in English literature by virtue of his power of making myths out of the objects and forces of Nature. To most of us, the forces of nature have little meaning. But for Shell ey these forces had as much reality as human being have for most of us. Shelley subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. For him, the West Wind is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. Shelley personifies the West Wind and gives it an independent life. He also personifies the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, giving each a separate existence. These forces of nature are so vitally imagined that they become present. This giving of individual life to different forces of nature is Shell ey’s myth-making quality. He gives conscious life to the West Wind, Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, but he does not attribute any other human qualities to them. He does not look upon nature or natural phenomenon as disguised beings. To Shelley, the West Wind is still a wind, and the cloud a cloud, however intense a reality they might be .

 

Explain with reference to the context:

(1) Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!

Ans. The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet speaks about the dual aspect of West Wind as destroyer and a preserver. The wind is a wild spirit, the power of destruction, blowing everywhere. The West Wind is called the destroyer as well as the preserver, because while it destroys the leaves, it preserves seeds to germinate later.

The West Wind destroys only the useless decayed things, dry, dead leaves, that are not green symbol of life but have sickly colours, “pale”, “black”, “yellow”, “hectic red”. The wind carries away the dead leaves and piles them on the ground where they will mould and become fertile soil for the new plants in spring. It carries the light seeds away fro the parent-plants to scatter them everywhere, so that in Spring they would start a life of their own. The seeds lie buried safely in the ground all through Winter until the warm Spring breeze, Azure sister of West Wind, will blow, thawing the hard soil so that the seeds could come out! sprout through the softened earth and Spring flowers quickly bloom every where to adorn the world with new and dazzling colour. Thus the West Wind is at the same time destroyer and preserver.

 

(2) there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aery surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm.

Ans (2) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. The poet here describes the effect of the wind on the sky. The quoted lines give a graphic description of how the West Wind brings about violent storm in the sky.

The wind breaks the clouds up “like earth’s decaying leaves” that are shaken “from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean”. The forceful wind breaks apart the clouds and scatters them just like leaves from trees. Shelley compares rain and lightning to angels, and says the wind spreads them both through the sky “like the bright hair uplifted from the head”. So, the rain and lighting are spread across the sky like someone’s hair that is lifted up and splayed in the wind. He then compares the wind to a crazy, intense, wild-woman (Maenad) to indicate a coming storm. The wind spreads the clouds in a way that the entire sky from the dim horizon up to the highest zenith becomes overcast with them.


(3) ……………Thou Dirge                                                                                                                                         Of the dying year, to which this closing night                                                                                             Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,                                                                                                          Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere                                                                                                           Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst:

Ans. (3) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. The poet here describes the fury of the storm caused by the West Wind in the sky.

In the sky, the West Wind brings about a violent storm. As the wind blows, it drives the loose masses of clouds across the sky. The sky gets overcast with black clouds. The clouds cover the sky from the verge of the horizon up to the highest point. As the wind blows violently bringing commotion in the sky, the poet is reminded of the death of the year. In Autumn, nature lies on deathbed and its actual death comes in Winter. As the poet listens to the tumult of the wind, it appears to him that the wind is singing the funeral song of the year. And the dark night sky, overcast with masses of black cloud, is likened to the vault of a vast grave in which the dead body of the year will be buried. Soon these black clouds will burst into thunder, rain and lightning. Thus the whole earth will experience the fury of the mighty West Wind.

 

(4) Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!                                                                                  I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed                                                            One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Ans.(4) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. These lines reveal Shelley’s sensitive nature, his feeling of sheer helplessness, his bitter sense of his own weakness and his own lack of strength and freedom in the face of the trials and tribulations of life.

Shelley was a rebel and a revolutionary. He had a restless temperament which was ever at war with something. In the West Wind Shelley finds a kindred spirit looking at it, he is remained of his youth when he too was free and uncontrollable At that time he did not think it an impossibility to vie with the West Wind in its speed. But the worries, ordeals, persecutions, tribulations and suffering, all these miseries of life have compelled him to become tame and weak. He had lost his old vigour and force; and in this bitterness, he cries out to the West Wind to render him some help as he yearns for freed om and happiness. He appeals to the wind to lift him as it lifts a cloud, a wave or a leaf. He confesses his weakness that now he falls upon the thorns of life, miseries and misfortunes of life; and they prick him to bleeding. The poet here envies the free and swift movement of the wind and most of all, its untamed, powerful and uncontrollable, wild force. With the passage of time, as his bright and rosy days are over, he finds himself chained and restricted in every possible way.


(5) Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:

What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness.

Ans (5) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet implores the West Wind to make him its instrument of music. He urges the wind to bring out the music latent in his heart.

The wild force of the West Wind fascinates Shelley. He is fallen on the ‘thorns of life’ and feels that his creative energy has been lost. He is badly in need of some energy that can raise and inspire him. Hence, he implores the West Wind to make him its instrument of music as it has made the forest through which it passes by making a rustling sound. It does not matter if his youthful vigour is gone. The forest is also without the leaves in the Autumn. So, let the West Wind blow through his heart and bring out the music that is latent there. But the poet is aware of the fact that the wild force of the wind will produce sad string like the music of the leafless forest in Autumn. But the sad music will also have its sweetness. In other words, the poet will probably sing sad songs, but they will be sweet and melodious.

 

(6) Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!

Ans (6) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet implores the West Wind to convey to him its own fierce and untamable energy, so that he can sing his songs freely and spontaneously.

In “Ode to the West Wind” Shelley subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. For him, the West Wind is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. In the poem, he equates his poetry with the West Wind. As the wind is a transforming power in nature, so can his poetry be a transforming power intellectually and poetically. Hence, lie urges the wind to be completely identified with him. Then it will do with his ideas what it does with the death leaves. He implores the wind to scatter his dead thoughts over the Universe and bring about welcoming change upon the earth. As the leaves and seeds driven by the West Wind burst into life in the Spring season, so let his thoughts bring a rebirth of the world and humanity. Shelley has a firm faith in his mission of bringing about the regeneration of mankind.


(7) And, by the incantation of this verse,

        Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth                                                                                               Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!                                                                                          Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy!

Ans. (7) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. The poet here urges the forceful West Wind to act as the trumpet of his prophecy to regenerate humanity.

In Shelley’s Opinion the earth is “Unawakened” because mankind is still ignorant and does not realize that it can built a better world of peace and happiness. The poet asks the wind to speak through his mouth to the human society which has so long defied him and has wallowed in the mire of degradation. He implores the West Wind to scatter his words to the earth which is still buried beneath old conventions, customs and ideas. Just as sparks and ashes from a burning hearth are carried away by the wind, so his words too would be conveyed to the world. For Shelley, the West Wind is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is his symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. In the poem, he equates his poetry with the West Wind. As the wind is a transforming power in nature, so can his poetry be a transforming power intellectually and poetically.

 

(8)…………………………….. O , Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Ans(8) The quoted lines occur in the celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. This is the prophetic utterance of the poet about regeneration. Shelley’s optimism about a brighter future is at the peak here.

Shelley is deeply shocked to see mankind in a miserable condition. But he is hopeful of better days. Presently the earth is experiencing winter season which is symbol of hardship and difficulties. But after winter comes spring; the earth becomes adorned with numerous flowers of different colours and the whole earth is pervaded by the sweet fragrance of the flowers. The Spring stands for the joy and re-birth in Nature. Shelley, a pure optimist, cherishes the desire that though the humanity now undergoes a period of darkness, winter period, Spring will soon set in. In the natural cycle of season, the Winter is always followed by the Spring. Hence, Shelley is overtly hopeful. Thus here comes the mighty prophecy of hope and faith in the triumph of love and the Spirit over tyranny and forces of darkness. This prophecy is the message to man of the rebirth of soul. Beyond the storm, beyond the Winter, beyond the decay and barrenness of a wintry age, there glimmers the Spring of a millennium. And Shelley visualizes the outburst of a Spring of humanity, expressed so optimistically in the last line of the poem: “If winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

Short Question With Answer

* What is the theme/ central idea of the poem “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

Ans.  Percy Bysshe Shelley’s celebrated poem “To a Skylark” is abut a skylark, a miniscule bird that is famous for its song. In the poem, Shelley idealizes the bird and presents it as a unique creature. To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. It is Shelley’s natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration. Thematically, the poem is about the power of nature to transform men’s lives, specifically through the medium of poetry.

In the broad daylight, the skylark, as it soars higher and higher, remains unseen, yet its song can still be heard, a song “unbodied joy” and “shrill delight”. Its song is “a flood of rapture so divine” that the poet cannot fully capture its essence. The joy expressed by the sky lark is beyond that which can be grasped by man, and the author speaks directly to the skylark in the latter stanzas, asking it to reveal to him the secret of its ethereal bliss so that he might then be able to share it with others through his words, and thus transform their lives.

*What figures of speech/ poetic devices are used in “To a Skylark” by Shelley?

Ans. In “To a Skylark”, Shelley uses a number of poetic devices with a view to bringing his idea home. The poem opens with the trope figure of speech called an apostrophe in which an object or a nonhuman entity–in this case, the skylark–is spoken to as though it were a living human: “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!” Personification occurs when the poet addresses the bird as if it were a human being. There follows in the fourth line of the opening stanza a synecdoche in “thy full heart”, wherein a physical object — “heart” is used to represent the whole, the skylark. A metonymy occurs in the fourth line of the second stanza: “The blue deep thou wingest”. The “blue deep” is a suggestive specific object that represents a larger whole or general concept: In this case the metonymy of “blue deep” is standing for the Earth’s physical atmosphere or sky. There are metaphors in the poem with the skylark being Shelley’s natural metaphor for poetic inspiration and expression. Shelley uses metaphors to describe the day’s light such as “arrows of the sun”. There are alliterations line express ions like “pale purple even”, “Of that silver sphere” or “Till the world is wrought”. The poem also abounds in Shelley’s use of similes to capture the joy and beauty of the bird and its song. There are similes in expression like “Like a cloud of fire”, “Like an unbodied joy”, “Like a glow-worm golden” or” Like a rose embower’d”.

What figurative language is mostly/ frequently used in “To a Skylark” by Shelley?
Ans: Shelley’s “To a Skylark” is a celebrated romantic poem exhibiting the poet’s intense lyricism. In addition to the imaginative idealism, succession of splendid images, subjective treatment of nature, the poem is remarkable for its spontaneity. Shelley uses a variety of poetic devices in order to bring his idea home. However, the most important poetic device apart from some alliteration used in the poem is simile. The entire poem is built around a series of similes striking comparisons between the skylark and a host of other things primarily focused on the motifs of light and heat. The bird has been compared to a ‘cloud of fire’ that melts the evening around itself. It has been variously compared to a poet, a maiden atop her palace, a glow-worm and a rose embowered in its own green leaves. The importance of all these similes is to set in motion the dialectic between secrecy and disclosure in the poem. This relates to the unseen presence of the bird. The most essential point about all the similes is to draw attention to the absolute incomparability of the skylark. Shelley idealizes the bird and through these similes presents it as a mysterious spirit.

* What is Shelley’s idea/ conception of a poet and his function as revealed in his poem “To a Skylark”?


Ans. To Shelley, the poet is not a mere artist. He is a divine harp through which the Cosmic Power makes music for mankind. He is a reformer as well as a prophet spreading messages with a view to bringing about revolutionary changes in human history. He coin- poses verse not directed by people but of his own accord. This idea a poet and his function has got revealed in the poem “To a Skylark”. The poet, according to Shelley, remains unknown behind the light of his own thought but always pours out his heart of his own accord. He composes his poems spontaneously without being ordered by the people of the world, and the time comes when those people of the world who had paid no attention to his lofty messages, ultimately understand the thoughts of the poet and begin to sympathize with him:

“Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:”

For Shelley, the poet is a reformer too. He is a prophet whose aim is to bring about revolutions through his poetic messages. This is why he implores the skylark, Shelley’s metaphor for poetic express ion, to inspire him with its joy and happiness so that the “harmonious madness” flows from his lips making the world listen to him with rapt attention.

* How does Shelley relate the skylark’s song to his
own
efforts to write poetry in “To a Skylark”?
Ans: In “To a Skylark”, the skylark is the symbol of eternal joy and beauty. It is Shelley’s metaphor for poetic expression. The poet idealizes the bird and describes the bird and its song through a series of similes. But he realizes the futility of capturing the bird’s superiority through comparisons because none of the images he devises, such as comparing the bird to a rainbow cloud or a glowworm is sufficient to convey the sheer, ecstatic joy that he feels when he listens to its song. It is this joy, the ‘sweet thoughts’ of the bird that Shelley wants to learn or internalize because the skylark’s joy is different from the joy felt by humans. -Learning how to capture such joy will enable him to incorporate such a feeling into his poetry and compose such melodious verses that the world around him would listen to him with rapt attention:

“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

Shelley thus recognizes what is special about the skylark’s song and speculates on what poetic success he would achieve if the ‘sweet thoughts’ of the bird are united with his poetic talent. He is of the idea that incorporating the power in nature into his poetry would make him write poetry as effective, as harmonious yet mad as the bird’s song.

*Why does Shelley call! address the skylark a& “blithe Spirit” in his poem “To a Skylark”?Ans. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s celebrated poem “To a Skylark” is about a skylark, a miniscule bird that is famous for its song. In the poem, Shelley idealizes the bird and presents it as a unique creature. To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. At the very outset of the poem, Shelley calls the bird a “blithe Spirit”.

The word “blithe” is an Old English word literally meaning ‘care free, happy and lighthearted’ and ‘Spirit’ means “incorporeal supernatural being”. Shelley calls the bird a ‘Spirit’ because it is rarely visible and only its melodious song is heard by the people. The sweet song of the skylark reveals to Shelley that unlike ordinary mortals it is absolutely carefree. The skylark symbolizes the free soul. It, according to Shelley’s vision, is ignorant of the sufferings and cares of this world. By saluting the skylark as ‘blithe Spirit’ Shelley is trying to represent the bird as an abstract quality of pure joy.

*How is the skylark presented in Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark”?

Ans: Shelley’s “To a Skylark” is about a miniscule bird whose melodious song s”ts off his poetic sensibilities. He calls the bird a “blithe Spirit” which sings in “profuse strains of unpremeditated art”. The bird is thus compared to an unearthly, heaven-connected event, not merely a physical bird. It is “Like a cloud of fire” and dwelling in “the golden lightning” the bird is free and unfettered, “an unbodied joy whose race is just begun”. The poet then indulges in a series of similes with a view to capturing the extraordinary nature of this singing bird. He brings in a series of similes striking comparisons between the skylark and a host of other things primarily focused on the motifs of light and heat. The bird has been compared to a ‘cloud of fire’ that melts the evening around itself. It has been variously compared to a poet, a maiden atop her palace, a glow-worm and a rose embowered in its own green leaves. But he soon realizes the futility of capturing the bird’s superiority through comparisons because none of the images is sufficient to convey the sheer, ecstatic joy that he feels when he listens to its song. Shelley idealizes the skylark and presents it as a unique creature. To him, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. It is Shelley’s natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration

*What are the various elements in the Skylark’s song in Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark”?
Ans. Shelley idealizes the bird and compares it to many different beautiful things to show that the skylark is far more superior to them. To Shelley, the skylark is a ‘blithe Spirit’ which sings ‘full throat” in “Profuse strains of unmediated art”. The bird is unseen in the dazzling daylight. The invisibility of the bird has invested it with an element of mystery in the eye of the poet. It is ‘Like a star of Heaven’ and is superior to Earth and unseen ‘In the broad daylight’. The skylark with its melodious song is a mystery to the poet. The mystery that surrounds the bird makes Shelley puts forward the question: “What thou art we know not;! What is most like thee?” An important aspect of the bird’s song is its purity and joyousness. The joy of the bird is pure and unmixed. The song of the bird is divine to the poet. The poet tells “I have never heard/ Praise of love or wine! That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.” Shelley is fascinated by the sweet and happy thoughts of the bird, which provide inspiration to its song. The poet wonders at the source of such unlimited ecstasy — “the fountains of thy happy strain”. Shelley also points out that more than the delightful music of the earthly people or the wisdom stored in the books the lark’s music is source of inspiration to the poet. The music of the skylark is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet.

*How does Shelley establish the superiority of the Sky lark’s song to the songs of man?

Ans: The melodious song of the skylark is superior to all songs of man. Sensuous enjoyment and ecstasy of love are the two powerful sources of inspiration to human poetry. Love songs and songs in praise of wine are the sweetest of human songs. But these are surpassed by the skylark’s song: “I have never heard/ Praise of love or wine /That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.” Again, wedding songs and songs in celebration of victory are nothing compared to the song of the skylark. In these earthly songs we always feel the absence of perfection. The song of the skylark is pierced with a keen sense of joyousness. It has no sense of languor and annoyance. It knows the mystery of life and death. Hence, the song of the bird is clear, fresh and melodious — “thy notes flow in such a crystal stream”. Human songs are also characterized by inherent sadness. Man’s sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts – “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” But the skylark is eternally joyous and its song is the expression of ideal joy and beauty. Shelley also points put that more than the delightful music of the earthly people or the wisdom stored in the books the lark’s music is source of inspiration to the poet:

“Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!”

The skill of singing enjoyed by the skylark is greater than and superior to that of the poet.

* How does Shelley idealize the bird in his poem “To a Skylark”?

Ans. Shelley’s “To a Skylark” is about a skylark, a miniscule bird that is famous for its song. To Shelley, the skylark is a ‘blithe Spirit’ which sings ‘full throat” in “Profuse strains of unmediated art’. Shelley presents the skylark as superior to every earthly object. It is ‘Like a star of Heaven’ and is superior to Earth and unseen ‘In the broad daylight’. The skylark with its melodious song is a mystery to the poet. The mystery that surrounds the bird makes Shelley puts forward the question: “What thou art we know not;/ What is most like thee?” The bird has been beautifully compared to a poet hidden in the light of thought, to a highborn maiden in a palace tower, to a glow-worm golden in a deli of dew, and to a rose embowered in its own green leaves. To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Shelley idealizes the skylark in the following lines:

“With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest: but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.”

Like Keats’s nightingale, Shelley’s skylark is free from ‘the weariness,the fever and the fret’ that plague human beings. The feelings of weariness never disturb the joy experienced by the skylark. The feelings of trouble and dissatisfaction do not touch the heart of the bird. Its joy is unflagging and undisturbed by troubles and anxieties.

*How does Shelley establish the superiority of the skylark over man in his poem “To a Skylark”?
Ans: The skylark in Shelley’s “To a Skylark” is a happy and joyful singing bird free from “the weariness, the fever and the fret” that are quite common in human life. In contrast to the joyful and happy life of the skylark, the life of human beings on the earth is sorrowful and miserable. Neither the past nor the future holds out any charm to human beings. The bird has no regret for the past, no longing for the future. Man is always unhappy because he is never satisfied with his lot. Man loves but his love brings bitterness when it is satisfied. But the bird does not know love’s satiety. Man is afraid of death. He has no clear idea of what is there after death. The bird has the knowledge of the mystery of life and death. The bird is a philosopher who has an insight into deeper things of life: “Waking or asleep,! Thou of death must deem/ Things more true and deep! Than we mortals dream,! Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?” Whereas the bird’s life is marked by “clear keen joyance”, the life of man is characterized by sorrow and misery. The miserable lot of human beings is given poignant expression in the following lines:

“We look before and’after,

And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

* What picture of human life do you get in Shelley’s poem “To a Skylark”?

Ans. (a) In Shelley’s celebrated poem “To a Skylark” we get a pessimistic picture of human life. The joyful and happy life of the skylark is contrasted with miserable human existence on earth. Man is always unhappy because he is never satisfied with his lot. Man loves but his love brings bitterness when it is satisfied. Again, man is afraid of death. He has no clear idea of what is there after death. The bird has the knowledge of the mystery of life and death. Whereas the bird’s life is marked by “clear keen joyance”, the life of man is characterized by sorrow and misery. The miserable lot of human beings is given poignant expression in the following lines:

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Neither the past nor the future holds out any charm to human beings. The remembrance of the past with its woeful looking makes human beings sorrowful. The future also does not hold out any hope of cheerfulness. Even in the sincerest laughter of man, there is the hidden feeling of pain. The sweetest songs are those which give utterance to saddest thought. Shelley gives a very pessimistic picture of human life.

*“The scorner of the ground” about whom is this said? Why does the poet describe it as the ‘scorner of the ground’?
Ans: In the celebrated poem “To a Skylark”, Shelley calls the skylark ‘the scorner of the ground’. He describes the singing bird as the scorner of the ground because it goes upward and sings there:
“Higher still and higher/ From the earth thou springest Like a cloud of fire;! The blue deep thou wingest,/ And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.” The skylark sings in the ‘golden lighting’ of the sunken sun and sings and soars throughout the whole sky. Its song is heard, but it remains invisible in the broad daylight. Shelley describes the bird through a series of images. It is compared to a poet hidden in the originality of thought, to an aristocratic lady sitting in the tower of a castle and singing. Then the skylark is compared to natural objects like the glow-worm which remains hidden in the grasses and to a rose concealed in a bower bit whose fragrance is enjoyed. Through all these unearthly and unfamiliar images, Shelley describes the bird. The skylark is a spirit — ‘blithe Spirit’; it is an ideal. It does not come down to the earth — it loves to soar in the sky. Hence, Shelley thinks that the skylark despises the ground.

 

Q.8. Explain with reference to the context:

(a) What thou art we know not;
What is most like thee?
From rainbow clouds there flow not
Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. With the help of a beautiful simile, here the poet makes an effort to bring home to the world the intense joyousness, ethereality, spontaneity and the intensity of the bird’s song.

The poet whose thoughts are flagged and who is constantly in a state of melancholy at the sight of suffering in the world is filled with amazement as to how any living thing can be so happy. The poet is puzzled to think that whether the skylark is a mere bird or a spirit of delight. To the poet the skylark stands for musical ecstasy. He is baffled by the spiritual quality of its music and the spontaneous profusion of its song, as it soars and sings and looses itself in the atmosphere of the upper air. In the lines quoted, Shelley wonders if the Skylark is a bird at all for nothing on the earth closely resembles the skylark. The melodious music flowing from the Skylark is so rich and spontaneous that it is much more pleasant and delightful even than the bright and lustrous rain drops falling from the clouds in the sun at the time of a rainbow in the sky. Shelley, by employing a series of beautiful images, conveys to the reader the idea that the music of the skylark is something bright, ethereal and ecstatic.

 

(b) Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

Ans: The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet touches upon the importance and the power of an imaginative poet in the life of distressed humanity.

The poet compares the Skylark hidden in the intense light of the sun to an inspired, sensitive poet; he sings sweet and melodious song spontaneously, living in the bright world of his own ideal and fills the sky like the poet who absorbed in his own great thoughts sings his poetry. And as a great poet’s songs are the spontaneous overflow of his thoughtful soul, in a similar way, the songs of the bird are too spontaneous as they are not sung at the command of somebody. These songs of the great poet, coming from his oppressed and distressed soul, are so stirring that they rouse the soul of mankind and move them to sympathies with those general hopes and fears of humanity which it had not formerly cared for. In this stanza, the poet too speaks of the power of poetry. Poetry can lift the veil from the hidden beauty of life and bind mankind in a beautiful chain of mutual sympathy and affection. This passage gives Shelley’s high conception of a poet.

(c)Teach us, Sprite or Bird,

What sweet thoughts are thine:
I have never heard
Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet gives vent to his feelings and thoughts roused in him by the bird’s joyous song.

The poet, living amidst the fever and fret, oppression in this distressed world cannot call the Skylark a bird, rather he identifies the bird as a spirit for he finds no other living thing that could resemble the bird mostly in its spontaneity, in its outpouring such joyous and all pervading song. So, as in the first stanza “a blithe spirit”, he calls the bird a spirit. Whatever the lark be, bird or spirit, the poet is eager to learn what his thoughts are, the thoughts that inspire the bird to sing such joyous songs. The music produced by the Skylark is full of rapturous joy which seems to have a divine quality. Love and wine are regarded as sources of inspiration to poets. But even these can not inspire him to sing like the lark. The poet says, never have songs sung in praise of love or wine spared a poet to such ethereal delight on the rapturous song of the Skylark. The bird’s harmony is “a flood of rapture divine”—it is pure, clear and spontaneous.

(d) Chorus Hymeneal,
Or triumphal chant,
Match’d with thine would be all
But an empty vaunt,
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. In these lines Shelley gives vent to his thought produced by the melodious song of the Skylark and also, at the same time, extols the bird’s song through a matchless comparison.

The Skylark for Shelley is not an earthly bird, but a spirit of joy and rapture. The poet listens to its song with rapt attention and say that he has never heard such a flood of “rapture divine”. Its song seems to be an endless outpouring of delight and the bird itself is an “unbodied joy”, a symbol of ideal beauty and pure joy. Shelley’s own search for ideal love and happiness is perfectly fulfilled by this bird of his poetic creation. Hence the wedding songs or chants of victory which could very well be expected to be full of unalloyed joy and delight are hollow and meaningless when compared with the song of the skylark. The poet says that even the sweetest earthly music is but an empty “vaunt” when compared to the joyous rapture of the Skylark. Earthly music, however sweet, is imperfect because there is some hidden want in it, while the Skylark’s song is perfect in its joyousness and leaves us completely satisfied.

(e) With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest: but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. Here the poet lauds and praises the pure, unmixed, ethereal song of the bird which never flags. The poet also draws a sharp contrast between human life and the bird’s life that comes out of his oppressed and distressed soul.

The bird feels exquisitely happy while it sings for no languor or fatigue can effect the lark; it is a tireless singer of joyousness. Nor does the Skylark ever experience a feeling of the faintest irritation or annoyance. The Skylark does not experience the disillusionment or disgust which human beings invariably experience after an excessive enjoyment of the pleasures of love, as on earth love undergoes, with the passage of time, insipidity and cloying. The Skylark does enjoy the pleasures of love, but in its case the feeling of disillusionment or disgust does not occur. The distinctive contrast between human love and that of the Skylark is evident here; while the Skylark, being free from the satiety or boredom of love, sips its pleasures fully, the miserable human being only enjoys for the time being and then is destined to have the bitter experience of its bitterness, its surfeit and its feeling of disgust.

(f) We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. This passage is the outcome of a distressed and much oppressed soul which has sucked boundless bitterness of the world. In these lines, the poet, in a vivid manner, describes the precarious condition of men on this earth and also their sad lot.

The life of human beings is full of disappointments and frustrations. Human beings aspire and long but those aspirations and longings remain unfulfilled. Man is a creature that looks “before and aft er” and his happiness is frequently marred by memories of past afflictions and sorrows, and the painful uncertainty of what is to come in the future. Man is subject to wariness and satiety and he can never enjoy happiness perennially. Human life is subject to recurrent spells of frustration and pain. Earthly joys are temporary and fade away into nothingness after sometime. There is an element of pain mingled even with our most genuine laughter. Even the sincerest of our delights has a touch of sadness in it and our most touching songs are those that unfold the tragedies of life. In contrast to miserable hum an life, the Skylark’s life is free from all sorts of fever, fret, bitterness, sorrow, pain, disgust of life on earth.


(g) Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,

Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Ans. The lines have been taken from the beautiful lyric “To a Skylark” by the great Romantic poet P. B. Shelley. In these lines the poet unfolds his intense desire and lofty aspiration to get inspiration from the heavenly melodies of the Skylark.

Hearing the pure ecstatic music of the Skylark the poet feels that he has never heard such a flood of “rapture divine”. Its song seems to the poet to be an endless outpouring of delight, and the bird itself is an “unbodied joy”. He wishes that if the bird could communicate to the heart of the poet half of its joy, the poet would have then a fine frenzy of inspiration and would pour forth rapturous songs of melody. Then such a maddening music, sweet and delightful, would flow from his lips that he would hold the world, which is now indifferent to his songs, turning a deaf ear to his idealism and thoughts of reform and emancipation, spell-bound, as he himself is listening to the bird’s song with rapt attention. What Shelley means to say is that his awareness of the tragedy of human life makes it impossible for him to write poems of rapturous joys that could easily draw the attention of people. All that Shelley needs is the feeling of ecstasy which the Skylark experiences.

 

 

Consider Shelley as a poet of nature.

Ans. Nature or love for nature is one of the dominant themes in the romantic poetry. The Romantic poets differed significantly from one another in their treatment of nature. Despite their profound love of nature, they looked at her from their own viewpoints. Like other Romantic poets, Shelley is also an ardent lover and worshipper of nature. Almost all his poems abound in nature imagery and some of his poems are poems purely of nature, such as “Ode to the West Wind”, “The Cloud”, and “To a Skylark”.

Whereas older Romantic poets looked at nature as a realm of communion with pure existence and with a truth preceding human experience, the later Romantics looked at nature primarily as a realm of overwhelming beauty and aesthetic pleasure. While Wordsworth and Coleridge often write about nature in itself, Shelley tends to invoke nature as a sort of supreme metaphor for beauty, creativity, and expression. This means that most of Shelley’s poems about art rely on metaphors of nature as their means of expression: the West Wind in “Ode to the West Wind” becomes a symbol of the poetic faculty spreading Shelley’s words like leaves among mankind, and the skylark in “To a Skylark” becomes a symbol of the purest, most joyful, and most inspired creative impulse. The skylark is not a bird, it is a “poet hidden.”

For Shelley, nature is not just a matter of presenting landscapes, scenes and creatures; it is a source of inspiration and emotion. Iii “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley is fascinated by the mighty force of the wind and gives graphic descriptions of the forceful aspects of (lie wind. He brings out the duality in the wind — a ‘destroyer’ and a preserver’ simultaneously. The power of the wind is a source of inspiration for the poet. It is a liberating force as well as a tool of bringing about revolutionary changes. He fervently appeals to the wind to liberate him from the present decrepit condition. He implores the wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change: “make me thy lyre” and “drive my dead thoughts over the universe”. In “To a Skylark” Shelley sees nature as something that goes beyond its outer appearance and instead sees it as a form of inspiration or emotion.

“To a Skylark” also shows an admiration of nature that goes deeper than observation. It is clear that Shelley is envious of the skylark’s happiness and lack of suffering. The Skylark is portrayed as a ‘blithe-spirit’ that knows no suffering, yet appears to know more than mankind. Shelley envies the Skylark, as it is innocent and happy in a world, which lacks both these things. By looking at this bird, the poet is inspired to look at himself- the Skylark is hidden, as he is so high up in the sky, whilst the poet is also ‘hidden’ behind his words. The skylark touches the essence of existence, it knows that ‘life’ and all its ‘pleasure’ and ‘beauty’ is achievable. The Skylark knows things that are truer and deeper than mortals could dream.
Another way Shelley stands apart from other Romantics is that he does not ascribe human attributes to nature. He does not establish any communion between nature and human beings. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley personifies the West Wind and renders it a mythical stature. Despite his subjective treatment of the natural object, Shelley does not attribute any human characteristics on it. In “To a Skylark”, despite the bird’s superiority, it is still a bird. To him, nature is a ceaseless source of inspiration and power.

Consider Shelley as a lyrical poet. 

What lyrical qualities do you find in the poetry of Shelley? Discuss with reference to the poems you have read.
Or,
Evaluate the lyrical qualities of Shelley’s poetry.

Ans. Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the great Romantic poets in English literature. His poetry is marked by excellence and power in several departments. In the first place, he possesses the lyrical gift or the power of embodying in musical language some transient but vivid emotion or some passing mood in such a way as to reproduce the feeling in the reader. Commonly acclaimed as one of the supreme lyrical geniuses in English poetry, Shelley’s poetry is always pleasant reading because of the lyrical qualities it embodies.

Shelley is an intense lyricist. He ‘stands alone among singers and he is the perfect singing bird’. His poems reveal intense lyricism. His lyrical temper finds expression in flashes of imagination, emotional exuberance, lilting melody, splendour of imagery and subjective note. His “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark” are two of his most outstanding lyrics. They exhibit Shelley’s genius as a lyric poet.

Spontaneity is one of the most striking features of Shelley’s lyrics. His lyrics are pure effusions, and they come directly from his heart, In “To a Skylark”, he sings as naturally as the bird. The poet’s spontaneous expression is notable in the following lines:

“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

Emotional exuberance is another lyrical quality. There is a great intensity of feeling in Shelley’s lyrics. There is also a note of desire and longing in most of his lyrics. He is always yearning for what is unattainable. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley gives vent to his intense desire to be united with the force of the wind. He expresses his ardent desire to accompany him in his mission of creating a new order of life but the agonies and bitterness of life — “heavy weight of hours” have repressed his qualities. He makes an ardent appeal to the wind to lift him like ‘a wave, a leaf, a cloud’. In the last section, he vehemently urges the West Wind to infuse its vigour and power into him, so that he can play the “trumpet of prophecy” and render his massage to mankind. In “To a Skylark”, we observe the poet’s emotional outpouring in the lines expressing human sadness:

“We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”

Subjectivity is a common feature of lyrical poetry. Idealization and abstraction are characteristic features of Shelley’s poetry. In “Ode to the West Wind”, he personifies the wind and treats it as an indomitable force that can liberate human beings from bout of despondency and bring about revolutionary changes. In “To a Skylark”, the bird is idealized and presented as “an image of that rapture which no man can ever reach”.

Musical quality is an integral part of all lyrics. Shelley’s lyrics are surprisingly musical and sweet. He has the gift of lending to his lyrics the sweetest and most liquid harmonies. “To a Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind” are both musical triumphs. In addition to the melodic effects, Shelley’s lyrics are highly embellished compositions replete with ornamental imagery. “To a Skylark” presents many glittering pictures. One such image is found in the following lines:

“Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.”

Shelley’s genius was essentially lyrical. He is one of the most musical poets in English literature. His poems embody all the qualities of lyric poems.

Q.. What connections does Shelley make between nature and art in his poems, and how does he illustrate those Connections?

Ans. Whereas older Romantic poets looked at nature as a realm of communion with pure existence and with a truth preceding human experience, the later Romantics looked at nature primarily as a realm of overwhelming beauty and aesthetic pleasure. While Wordsworth and Coleridge often write about nature in itself, Shelley tends to invoke nature as a sort of supreme metaphor for beauty, creativity, and expression. This means that most of Shelley’s poems about art rely on metaphors of nature as their means of expression: the West Wind in “Ode to the West Wind” becomes a symbol of the poetic faculty spreading Shelley’s words like leaves among mankind, and the Skylark in “To a Skylark” becomes a symbol of the purest, most joyful, and most inspired creative impulse. The Skylark is not a bird, it is a “poet hidden.”

For Shelley, nature is not just a matter of presenting landscapes, scenes and creatures; it is a source of inspiration and emotion. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley is fascinated by the mighty force of the wind. It is a source of inspiration for the poet. It is a liberating force as well as a tool of bringing about revolutionary changes. He makes an earnest plea to the West Wind to infuse him with its raw power and liberate him from the bout of depression which has temporarily overwhelmed him. Shelley looks upon the wind as a great force that can liberate him from the “thorns of life” on which he has fallen. More importantly, he treats the wind as a force that can spread his poetic messages throughout the world and bring revolutionary changes.

In the last stanza, he implores the wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change: “make me thy lyre”. He prays to the wind to scatter his dead thoughts over the universe so that, like the autumn leaves, they may stimulate new idea which will bring out a new era in human history: “Be thou, Spirit fierce,! My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!/ Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/ Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!” For Shelley, poetry is not mere art. It is an ‘incantation’. It is a prophecy. It pours life into dead things. It evokes faith in the despondent. But, nature plays a great role. The West Wind will act as a ‘trumpet’ to announce ‘my words among mankind’ and rouse the world from its stupor.

In “To a Skylark” Shelley sees nature as something that goes beyond its outer appearance and instead sees it as a form of inspiration or emotion. The Skylark is a “spirit” invisible in the sky. It sings and flies free of all human error and complexity, and while listening to its song the poet feels free of these things too. The bird is a “scorner of the ground”. Its music is better than all music and all poetry. Shelley asks the bird to teach him “half the gladness / That thy brain must know,” for then he would overflow with “harmonious madness,” and his song would be so beautiful that the world would listen to him, even as he is now listening to the skylark. Thus, the Skylark is Shelley’s natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration. The Skylark’s song issues from a state of purified existence, a notion of complete unity with heaven through nature.

Thus, in both “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark”, Shelley establishes connections between nature represented by the wind and the bird respectively and art meaning his poetry. In both cases, nature is a sort of supreme metaphor for beauty, creativity, and expression.

 

Q.S. Write a note on Shelley’s conception of a poet and his function as revealed in the poems “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark”.

Ans. Both “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark”, two of Shelley’s celebrated lyric poms, are marked by intensity of personal passion, delicacy of poetic sensibility and exuberance of emotion. Though in the poems Shelley idealizes natural phenomenon, they also reveal his idea of a poet and his function. To Shelley, the poet is not a mere artist. He is a divine harp through which the Cosmic Power makes music for mankind. He is a reformer as well as a prophet spreading messages with a view to bringing about revolutionary changes in human history.

In “To a Skylark”, Shelley compares the Skylark and its song to a poet who remains unknown behind the light of his own thought but always pours out his heart of his own accord. The poet, according to Shelley, composes his poems spontaneously without being ordered by the people of the world, and the time comes when those people of the world who had paid no attention to his lofty messages, ultimately understand the thoughts of the poet and begin to sympathize with him:

“Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:”

In the last stanza of the poem, the poet implores to the Skylark to inspire him with its joy and happiness. He is confident that if he could get the happiness and joy of the Skylark in his heart, he would reproduce such fine poetry of deep inspiration that the world would listen to him with rapt attention: –

“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

In “Ode to the West Wind”, the poet makes a fervent appeal to the wind to spread his hitherto unknown and inoperative thoughts among mankind to ‘quicken a new birth’:

“Drive my dead thoughts over the universe                                                                                                 Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!                                                                                          And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth                                                                                                Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!                                                                                        Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy!”

The quotations above from both “To a Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind” reveal Shelley’s idea of a poet and his function as well as Shelley’s conception of poetry as ‘harmonious madness’. The first striking aspect of a poet is his unknown personality. A poet remains unknown or ‘hidden’. Though his songs flash out over the world, his personality remains unknown to others. He is immersed in the light of his own thought. He composes songs of his own accord with being asked by the people. His songs regale the hearts of the listeners who do not always understand the contents of his lofty thoughts.

The poet is an inspired soul. He pours out his whole heart when he composes poetry. According to Shelley, the poet also possesses a missionary zeal to reform the world. He is a reformer as well as a prophet. His poetry is a vehicle of revolutionary ideas to help regenerate and resurrect the lethargic society.

For Shelley, poetry is ‘harmonious madness’. The poet undergoes poetic rapture of frenzy which shapes itself into captivating poetry. He produces fine frenzied poetry of inspiration containing harmony aid consistency.

 

Q.i. Write a critical appreciation of the poem “Ode to the West Wind”

Ans. “Ode to the West Wind” is one of the most famous poems by Shelley and it was published in the same book, which consists of his famous drama, Prometheus Unbound, and many magnificent lyric poems. He wrote this poem in the autumn of 1819 in Florence. The poem is considered as one of the noblest lyrics in English. It bears testimony to the poetic genius that Shelley was.

Structurally the poem is divided into five stanzas or cantos. Each stanza is in sonnet form. The ode consists of five sonnets. Every sonnet consists of four terza rima (a three-line verse) with traditional terza rima rhymes and a rhymed couplet. The first three stanzas are the address of the wind and at the same time the characterization description of the wind. All of three stanzas end with the “0 hear” prayer. In the fourth stanza, personal elements penetrate in the poem and Shelley compares himself with the wind. He makes fervent plea to the wind to lift him up as he bleeds falling on the ‘thorns of life’. The last stanza is a prayer to the forceful spirit of the wind to use him for regeneration of humanity. Shelley ends on a note of optimism — “0, Wind,/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

In the poem, the West Wind is presented as a powerful force. Shelley makes myths of the autumnal West Wind as a great force which possesses redeeming power. It is gigantic, wild, restless power, free and unbounded. Two contrasting aspects of the wind are underlined in the first three stanzas — its terrifying destructive power and its gentle fostering influence. It is simultaneously a destroyer and a preserver. On the earth, the wind drives away dry leaves of trees like “ghosts from an enchanter fleeing”. It also carries the winged seeds and deposits them in the “dark wintry bed”, where they remain buried throughout the winter. The same wind will also make them germinate in the spring. It also sweeps wild storm clouds along on the firmament from the bottom of the sky to the peak of the sky. The wind also makes its mighty influence felt on the sea. It stirs the Mediterranean sea to its depth. It makes a lashing progress through the waters of the Atlantic, dividing the mighty Atlantic’s ‘level powers’ into two halves, its impact reaching miles below to turn the submarine nature grey in fear. Thus, the mythical might of the wind cover the earth, the sky and the seas.

“Ode to the West Wind” is a lyric. The music swells like the surge of the West Wind. Shelley uses a number of poetic devices in order to bring his ideas home. The dramatic alliteration in the opening line, ‘Wild West Wind’, announces energy and force. The wind is personified and has been given a mythical stature. The poem is replete with images and metaphors. There is a rapid succession of images in the poem. The poet’s emotion is at the peak when he makes fervent appeal to the wind to make him its ‘lyre’. His use of emotive language is noteworthy.

The poem starts with the natural and the moves to the personal finally turning to the universal. Shelley deftly blends the natural, the personal and the universal in the same poem. It also captures the past, the present and the future. Shelley finished this great poem optimistically believing in the rise of humanity.


What poetic form and devices does Shelley uses in his
poem “Ode to the West Wind”?

Ans. The dramatic alliteration in line one, ‘Wild West Wind’, announces energy and force, which flows into the rest of the poem, emphasizing how wild and destructive this wind can be. Shelley creates a sense of movement, making the wind more effective, with imagery, such as ‘Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing’, ‘who chariotest to their dark wintry bed’ and ‘Wild spirit, which art moving everywhere’.

This poem is made up of five stanzas’, each one a sonnet of four tercets, with a concluding couplet. The tercets share the same rhyme scheme of abcz bcb cdc tied throughout, although the closing couplets don’t rhyme in each stanza. All stanzas end with an invocation, giving a pleading tone to the poem, as ‘hear, oh, hear’, ‘oh, hear’, ‘oh, hear’, ‘tameless, swift and proud’ and ‘can spring be fir behind?’

In the first three stanzas, Shelley uses series of images and metaphors to underscore the forceful aspect of the wind. Images and metaphors like “like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing”, “Pestilence- stricken multitudes”, “like a corpse within its grave” indicate destructive as well as fostering aspects of the wind. In the second and third stanzas, imagery and metaphors invoke the forceful natural aspects of the wind. Shelley uses powerful language and the tone is energetic. These first three stanzas are narrated in the third person, not belonging to any specific character, hut omniscient in that the speaker is able to recount the motivations of the wild wind, to tell us where it travels and what it destroys. The language of the fourth stanza changes the tone, giving a more sombre feeling to it. There also occurs a shift in focus. So long, the focus was on the wind itself. No’ the poet uses metaphors of nature to depict himself and his desires. It is narrated in the first person, with language such as ‘If I were a dead leaf and ‘If I were a swift cloud’. The concluding stanza is a continuation of the preceding one. Shelley’s use of imagery in the fifth stanza, uses metaphors of nature, begging for a renewal of his power.

Throughout the poem, Shelley employs enjambments, enabling the theme of the destructive wind to flow from one scene to another without hesitation, a poetic tool for enforcing the image of movement Examples of this are: lines 2 and 3 with ‘from whose unseen presence the leaves dead are driven’, lines 6 and 7 ‘Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed the winged seeds’, lines 21 and 22 ‘even from the dim verge of the horizon to the zenith’s height’ and lines 50 and 51 ‘when to outstrip thy skiey speed scarce seemed a vision’.

The poem “Ode to the West Wind” is comprised of terza rima sonnet stanzas (four tercets and a couplet). It contains interlocking rhymes with energetic enjambments that evoke the force that Shelley evokes, and provides the rush of assonance and alliteration, the repetitions that resembles tile wind. The first three stanzas convey the force of the wind on the earth; in the fourth stanza, the poet seeks participation in this energy and realizes his exclusion; in the fifth h( imagines, and prays for inspiration, to make his poetry a force aligned with the prophetic, life-bearing wind, bringing spiritual and possibly political rejuvenation.

Consider Shelley as a poet of hope with reference to
his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Or,
Write a note on Shelley’s optimism with illustrations from his poems.

 Ans. Shelley was a born revolutionary and he had firm faith in the regeneration of mankind He was a visionary whose faith and optimism never dwindled. His motto of life was to liberate mankind from the tyranny of all types. He dreamt of a bright and radiant future. His constant aim in poetry was to bring about a glorious millennium —- a Golden Age in future. His “Ode to the West Wind” is a poetic manifestation of tile hope and optimism that he would nourish in the inner recesses of his heart.’,

In the poem “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley presents the wind as a mighty, powerful force. The duality of the wind’s power is emphasized throughout the poem. Two contrasting aspects of the wind are underlined in the first three stanzas — its terrifying destructive power and its gentle fostering influence. It is simultaneously a destroyer and a preserver The wind destroys in order to create something new. It drives away all the dead leaves — “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,/ Pestilence-stricken multitudes” because they post obstacles to new_germination. The dry old leaves stand for old and useless thoughts that barricade the inauguration of new and revolutionary ideas. The wind symbolically representing a powerful force destroys the old, useless thoughts and preserves the new ideas represented by ‘winged seeds the second and third stanza Shelley describes the tumultuous impact of the West Wind in the sky and on the ocean)On the sky there is a deep commotion as the clouds are dispersed just like the decaying leaves on the ground with the approach of the West Wind.. There comes tempestuous storm from which “Black rain and fire and hail will burst out.” The west wind recreates havoc on the ocean-bed also. The Atlantic ocean cleaves itself into a deep chasm when the west wind raises high weaves on it. Even the sub-marine plants, flowers on the bed of the ocean tremble in fear. The West Wind is thus a cataclysmic force that effects a phenomenal change in the natural world. Shelley was attracted by this tremendous manifestation of the hidden power of natures He saw it as a symbol of the force of revolution that is necessary to change. The present life is a death like state—it is winter of discontent and despair. If we are to bring in a spirit of hope on this earth, we have to destroy the old world and create a new one on its wreckage.

In the fourth stanza, the poet seeks participation in the energy of the winch He expresses his ardent desire to accompany him in his mission of creating a new order of life but the agonies and bitterness of life — “heavy weight of hours” have repressed his qualities. He makes an ardent appeal to the wind to lift him like ‘a wave, a leaf, a cloud’. In the last section, he vehemently urges the west wind to inf use its vigour and power into him, so that he can play the “trumpet of prophecy” and render his massage to mankind. He wants to awake mankind from their “wintry slumber”. He expresses his ardent zeal for regeneration’s — “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth/ Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!” Final manifestation of hope and optimism occurs in the last two lines – – “0, Wind,/ If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” This establishes Shelley as a poet of inspiration, hope and optimism who sees the rays of hope even through the worst condition.?

Q.4. Comment on Shelley’s use of imagery in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Or,
Write a note on Shelley’s use of imagery with
special
reference to “Ode to the West Wind.” 

Ans. Shelley was a great imagist and the images he picked were not of ordinary types. His images are mostly kinaesthetic in nature. Most of his images are like close fitting garments of thoughts — brief, apt and illuminating. In his celebrated poem “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley deftly uses images with a view to bringing his ideas home. The poem is given a subtle unified texture by the overlapping of images, the echo of words, rhyme sounds and alliterative patterns, and the frequent similes. Images drawn from nature abound in the poem. The changing aspects of the West Wind are illustrated through a series of images.

The most dominant image of the poem is the West Wind itself. Throughout the poem, the West Wind remains an immense power that destroys the useless and nourishes the useful. Images of leaves, recurrently used in all five parts of the poem, imparts and organic unity to the poem. In the opening stanza, the wind drives away all the dead leaves — “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,/ Pestilence-stricken multitudes”. In the second stanza, the clouds are “earth’s decaying leaves”. In the fourth stanza, the image of ‘leaf’ reappears — “If I were a dead leaf thou mightiest bear” and “Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!” It again appears in the final stanza — “Drive my dead thoughts over the universe/ Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!”

In the poem, the images are constituted mainly by the use of figure of speech. Thus, the images of leaves symbolically represent something beyond their usual meaning. The destruction of the ‘pestilence-stricken’ leaves stands for the annihilation of the out-of-date social systems. The dry old leaves stand for old and useless thoughts that barricade the inauguration of new and revolutionary ideas. The wind symbolically representing a powerful force destroys the old, useless thoughts and preserves the new ideas represented by ‘winged seeds’. The image of the ‘winged-seeds’ implies the expectant social order beneficial to the mankind.

The second stanza, with the onset of the winter storms, produces images of violence, destruction and possession. The wind disrupts the usual order in a ‘commotion’ with ‘tangle boughs of Heaven and Ocean’ and the demonic figure of the Maenad is threatening. The dirge and vast sepulcher of this stanza are replaced in the third stanza by the images of clear water, light, balmy winds and a state of trance.
Other powerful images in the poem are image of thorns — “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” representing the hardships in life. The image of ghosts and enchanter appear early in the poem. The wind is compared with an enchanter and the decayed leaves with ghosts that run away from an enchanter out of fear. Colour images also appear in the poem in lines like “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red” and “With living hues and odours plain and hill”.

Shelley drew his images mainly from nature. He always had a keen eye for the moving objects in nature. His images are mainly kinaesthetic in nature. The images, in conjunction with the figures of speech, mould the meaning of the poem.

 

                                Shelley as the West Wind “Destroyer and Preserver”

Q.S.Bring out the duality of the Wind’s power in Shelley’s / poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Or,
Shelley calls the West Wind “Destroyer
and Preserver.” How does his Ode bring out this twofold nature of the wind?

How does Shelley build up the image of the West Wind as a “destroyer and preserver” in “Ode to the West Wind”?

Ans. Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” is a wonderful lyric in the tradition of romantic poetry. In the poem, Shelley considers himself as a poet prophet campaigning for reform and revolution using the ‘Wild West Wind’ to destroy everything that is old and defunct and plant new and progressive, liberal and democratic ideals in its stead. He underlines the forceful aspects of the autumnal wind and calls it both a ‘preserver’ and a ‘destroyer’. The wind destroys with a view to creating space for new creations. This duality of the wind is at the core of Shelley’s poem.

The poet describes the mighty powers of the West Wind both as a destroyer and preserver. As a destroyer the wind drives away the pale dry leaves of trees and preserves the seeds in the moist earth for germination in the coming spring-time. Metaphorically in the poem, the ‘dead leaves’ stand for old ideas and ‘winged-seeds’ symbolize new ideas that can bring about desired change in the world. The West Wind is thus both ‘destroyer’ and ‘preserver.’

As the West Wind is a very powerful force, it causes great commotions on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean. In the sky, the wind breaks the clouds up “like earth’s decaying leaves” that are shaken “from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean”. Shelley compares rain and lightning to angels, and says the wind spreads them both through the sky “like the bright hair uplifted from the head”. The wind spreads the clouds in a way that the entire sky from the dim horizon up to the highest zenith becomes overcast with them. It creates great commotion in the sky. In the third stanza, Shelley presents the operation of the autumnal wind on the seas. The Wind arouses the Mediterranean from its slumber in which the sea dreams about the old palaces and towers submerged in its own blue deep. The Wild Wind then makes a lashing progress through the water of the Atlantic, dividing the mighty Atlantic’s ‘level powers’ into two halves, its impact reaching miles below to turn the submarine nature grey in fear. Thus the destructive forceful aspect of the wind is underlined in the first three stanzas of the poem.

But in the mighty power of the wind Shelley sees a great liberating force. This is why he makes an earnest plea to the West Wind to infuse him with its raw power and liberate him from the bout of depression which has temporarily overwhelmed him. Like the West Wind, Shelley once was ‘uncontrollable’ and “tameless, and swift, and proud”. But now, he is depressed and weighed down by the cares and anxieties of life. He passionately appeals to the wind to lift him up just like the way it lifts up the leaves on the earth and the clouds on the sky and the waves on the sea. Shelley looks upon the wind as a great force that can liberate him from the “thorns of life” on which he has fallen.

In the concluding stanza, Shelley directly and explicitly asks the West Wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change: “make me thy lyre” and “drive my dead thoughts over the universe”. The poem ends optimistically — “0, wind! If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?” Thus, throughout the poem, the duality of the wind’s power is emphasized. It is treated as a mighty force that destroys the old and creates space for the germination of new.

 

                    Shelley as a poet of nature his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.

Q.S. Critically comment on Shelley’s treatment of nature in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.
Or,
Consider Shelley as a poet of nature with reference to his poem “Ode to the West Wind”.

Ans
. Nature or love for nature is one of the dominant themes in the romantic poetry. The Romantic poets differed significantly from one another in their treatment of nature. Despite their profound love of nature, they looked at her from their own viewpoints. Like other Romantic poets, Shelley is also an ardent lover and worshipper of nature. Almost all his poems abound in nature imagery and some of his poems are poems purely of nature, such as “Ode to the West Wind”, “The Cloud”, and “To a Skylark”. In “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley takes a powerful force from nature, the West Wind and renders it a mythical stature. Despite his subjective treatment of the natural object, Shelley does not attribute any human characteristics on it. To him, nature is a ceaseless source of inspiration and power.

Shelley’s love for nature has got clear manifestation in the poem “Ode to the West Wind”. His fascination for the mighty power of the West Wind is evident throughout the poem. He gives graphic descriptions of the forceful aspects of the wind. He brings out the duality in the wind — a ‘destroyer’ and a ‘preserver’ simultaneously. By means of images taken from nature, Shelley graphically describes the changes that the West Wind brings on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean. On the earth, it destroys the old leaves but carries and scatters ‘winged-seeds’ to the wintry beds where they wait for their germination in the spring. In the sky, it drives the clouds and causes storm and rain which sings together the dirge of the dying year. It also puts the waves of the sea in agitation. It arouses from its sleep the prodigious Mediterranean. It cleaves its way through the level Atlantic so that the vegetation at its bottom is disturbed. The sea flowers grow pale with fear and drop their petals. The descriptions allude to Shelley’s fascination for forceful aspects of nature.

To Shelley, forces of nature possess redeeming quality. They have the power to bring about revolutionary changes. He looks upon the West Wind as a great phenomenon of nature endowed with great power to rid human beings of their pain and agonies. This is why he turns to the West Wind and makes a fervent appeal to liberate him from the present decrepit condition:

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.”

Shelley desires to share the strength and impulse of the West Wind. He has lost his youthful energy and has fallen upon the ‘thorns of life’. He is crushed by the circumstances of life. He voices his faith that the wind can restore his lost energy and impart its strength to him. In the last stanza, Shelley directly and explicitly asks the West Wind to make him an instrument and tool of revolutionary change:
“make me thy lyre” and “drive my dead thoughts over the universe”. The poem ends optimistically — “0, Wind/ If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?”

Shelley personifies the West Wind and gives it an independent life. He also personifies the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, giving each a separate existence. These forces of nature are so vitally imagined that they become presence. This giving of individual life to different forces of nature is Shelley’s myth-making quality. He gives conscious life to the West Wind, Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, but he does not attribute any other human qualities to them. He does not look upon nature or natural phenomenon as disguised beings. Nature does not teach him any moral lesson. To Shelley, the West Wind is still a wind, and the cloud a cloud, however intense a reality they might be for him. In his poetry, they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes. Shelley stands quite aloof in his subjective treatment of nature.

 

                                 The symbolic significance in Shelley’s poem

Bring out the symbolic significance of the West Wind in Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind”?

On the surface, the West Wind in Shelley’s ode is the autumnal wind called Affricus. But Shelley has made it a potent symbol, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. The wind is deified as a double agency of destruction and preservation, of new life alter decay and death, of a spring at the end of the winter.

It is the onset of the autumnal West Wind and its violent impact on the land, in the sky, and on the seas which the poet uses as his descriptive frame. In a series of vivid images, Shelley describes the various activities of the West Wind. It is a ‘destroyer and preserver’ at the same time. It scatters the dry leaves of the tress as it sweeps through the forest in Autumn. It also carries the winged-seeds, as if on a chariot, and deposits them in the cold underground soul, where they remain buried throughout the Winter and germinate in the Spring. In the sky, the Wind causes great commotion. It carries the loose masses of clouds making the entire space from the dim horizon up to the highest point in the sky overcast with these black clouds. These clouds bring thunder, rain and lightning in their wake. The mighty influence of the West Wind is also felt on the sea. It arouses the sleeping Mediterranean from its slumber. As the wind blows with its vigorous force, the ruined tower and palaces under the water app ear clearly visible through the shining water of the sea. As it blows violently over the surface of the Atlantic, deep hollows are produced in the waves. Even the underwater vegetation — the sea-weeds tremble with fear of the West Wind and shed their leaves and flowers. Through optical images the poet establishes the West Wind as a great force.

But the visual images of the wind’s operation and the poet’s contemplation’s more and more emphasize the spiritual character of the wind, the wind as symbolic of universal commotion effecting a change from degeneration to regeneration. On the land, the wind scavenges the earth’s floors to drive away all the dead leaves, and simultaneously, carrying the seeds of new life to their ‘dark wintry beds’ only to germinate at the call of the vernal wind. In the sky, the wind blows all over to produce a Bacchanalia inviting thunder showers to mark the end of autumn. The wind passes over the ‘mighty Atlantic’ to usher in a seasonal change at its bottom. The mighty force of the West Wind, through its various activities on land, in the sky and on the sea, brings changes. It is a great instrument for change. It is a vehicle of change that brings changes in the natural world.

For Shelley, the West Wind is more than a wind. It is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. It is an uncontrollable spirit who can rescue and elevate the poet, fallen among ‘the thorns of life’, to become the harbinger of the great agency of change. In ‘Make me thy lyre’, Shelley implores the wind, and urges it to bring forth a new spring of life in the dead winter of man’s world.

 

                                    Shelley as a revolutionary poet

Q.8. How Does Shelley present the West Wind as a tool for change?
Or,
Consider Shelley as a revolutionary poet with reference to the poem “Ode to the West Wind”.

Ans. Shelley was an ardent philanthropist who wished to rouse a soporific world from its moral stupor. A visionary anarchist he decried the enslavement of the mind by church, law, custom and tradition. He inveighed against priests, kings, soldiers and magistrates and other wielders of institutional authority. Despite his invective against organized oppression, Shelley spurned violent modes of redress. True emancipation, he believed, ensues from the cultivation of tolerance, austerity, temperance and unfettered discussion not armed revolt.

In the preface to “Prometheus Unbound” Shelley acknowledges the fact that he has a passion for reforming the world.” His passion has got clear expression in his poem “Ode to the West Wind”. Here he portrays the autumnal west wind as a destroyer and a preserver. After analyzing the poem it becomes apparent that the West Wind is a symbolic representation of the poetic power that can reform the world. He endeavours through his poetry to effect the changes that were desperately needed by the world of his time. With the help of an archetypal symbol, the West Wind, Shelley describes the present decrepit state of the human civilization and forecasts the advent of a glorious future of mankind. The poem moves on three levels: natural, personal and universal. And everywhere the West Wind serves as the point of reference as the symbol of change. The West Wind acts as a driving force for change and rejuvenation in the human and natural world. Shelley views winter not just as last phase of vegetation but as the last phase of life in the individual, the imagination, civilization and religion.

In the final stanzas of “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley has the wind transforming from the natural world towards human suffering. Shelley pleads with the wind: “Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”. He seeks transcendence from the wind and says: “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed”. He again pleads with the wind: “Drive my dead thought over the universe…to quicken a new birth!” He asks the wind to “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth! Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!! Be through my lips to unawakened Earth”. The words “unextinguished hearth” represent the poet’s undying passion for change. He says that his lips are the “trumpet of prophecy”.

The poet vehemently urges the West Wind to infuse its vigour and power into him, so that he can play the “trumpet of prophecy” and render his massage to mankind. He wants to awake mankind from their “wintry slumber”. He wants to break the shackles that bind humanity. He stands against oppression’s, persecutions of the society and the restrictions imposed upon the free thinking of man. He needs to be endowed with the energy of the West Wind in order to bring in a golden millennium, a new era where man should be “an equal amidst equals” (Queen Mab).

For Shelley, the West Wind is more than a wind. It is not only a natural phenomenon affecting changes in the natural world. It is Shelley’s symbol for regeneration, a vehicle of his revolutionary romanticism. It is an uncontrollable spirit who can rescue and elevate the poet, fallen among ‘the thorns of life’, to become the harbinger of the great agency of change. In ‘Make me thy lyre’, Shelley implores the wind, and urges it to bring forth a new spring of life in the dead winter of man’s world.

 

                                       The effects of the West Wind on the earth

Describe, after Shelley, the effects of the West Wind on the earth, in the sky and over the ocean.
Or,
Describe the various activities of the West Wind on land, in the sky and on the sea.

Ans. “Ode to the West Wind” is one of the most famous poems by Shelley and it was published in the same book, which consists of his famous drama, Prometheus Unbound, and many magnificent lyric poems. He wrote this poem in the autumn of 1819 in Florence. The poem is considered as one of the noblest lyrics in English. It bears testimony to the poetic genius that Shelley was.

In “Ode to the West Wind” the poet subjectively treats the wind and gives it a mythical stature. He underlines the forceful aspects of the autumnal wind and calls it both a ‘preserver’ and a ‘destroyer’. By using a series of vivid images, gives graphic descriptions of the effects of the West Wind on the earth, in the key and over the ocean. The poet describes the mighty powers of the West Wind both as a destroyer and preserver. As a destroyer the wind drives away the pale dry leaves of trees and preserves the seeds in the moist earth for germination in the coming spring-time.

In the second stanza of “Ode to the West Wind”, Shelley describes the commotion that the mighty West Wind brings in the sky. The wind breaks the clouds up “like earth’s decaying leaves” that are shaken “from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean”. The forceful wind breaks apart the clouds and scatters them just like leaves from trees. Shelley compares rain and lightning to angels, and says the wind spreads them both through the sky “like the bright hair uplifted from the head”. So, the rain and lighting are spread across the sky like someone’s hair that is lifted up and splayed in the wind. He then compares the wind to a crazy, intense, wild-woman (Maenad) to indicate a coming storm. The wind spreads the clouds in a way that the entire sky from the dim horizon up to the highest zenith becomes overcast with them. These clouds bring thunder, rain and lightning — “black rain, and fire, and hail”. As the sky becomes overcast with black clouds, the whole nature appears as a big dome of a grave in which the ‘dying year’ will be buried. Thus, the West Wind bring great commotions in the sky resulting in thunder, rain and lightning.

In the third stanza, Shelley presents the operation of the autumnal wind on the seas. The Wind arouses the Mediterranean from its slumber in which the sea dreams about the 01(1 palaces and,towers submerged in its own blue deep. The Wild Wind then makes a lashing progress through the waters of the Atlantic, dividing the mighty Atlantic’s ‘level powers’ into two halves, its impact reaching miles below to turn the submarine nature grey in fear. The wind causes a violent commotion in the seaweeds and the flowers that bloom on the weeds. The poet imagines that these weeds tremble with fear of the West Wind turn pale and shed their leaves and flowers. Thus, the mighty West Wind brings great changes on the earth, in the sky and over the seas.

 

                                           Shelley’s use of imagery “To a Skylark”.

Q . Comment on Shelley’s use of imagery in his poem “To a Skylark”.

Ans. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s celebrated poem “To a Skylark” is about a skylark, a miniscule bird that is famous for its song. The poet comp ares the skylark to many different beautiful things to show that the skylark is far more superior to them. The vivid use of imagery throughout the poem attracts the reader’s interest and conveys the poet’s creativity. The poem is packed with imagery which not only shows its uniqueness but also the intensity and sophistication of the poet.

“To a Skylark” establishes somewhat supernatural atmosphere and the diction used aids this eerie ambience. Shelley addresses the skylark as “blithe Spirit” rather than a bird, for its song comes from Heaven, and from its full heart pour “profuse strains of unpremeditated art”. The skylark flies higher and higher, “like a cloud of fire” in the blue sky, singing as it flies. Shelley manipulates imagery well to show the actions of the skylark. The various beautiful stanzas of the poem are those in which the bird is compared to different objects of nature and life. The superiority of the bird’s song is brought home in a series of vivid images.

The bird is “Like a star of Heaven”, unseen in broad daylight. But it declares its presence through its loud song of joy. It is compared to the moon that in the morning is obscured by the light of the sun. The poet compares the skylark to the moon and its music to the beams 0 the moon. Just as the beams of the moon flood the sky with light, similarly the music of the skylark floods the earth with its melody.

The invisible skylark is compared to a poet immersed in the light of his own thoughts:

“Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:”

The skylark is like an aristocratic maiden of the mediaeval world of romance. The heart of the maiden is filled with the pang of separation because her lover is away. She soothes her love-sick heart by her sweet melody which fills her chamber. In the same way, the skylark pours out the feeling of love in her heart through her songs which fills the earth.

The poet compares the invisible skylark to the golden glow-worm which diffuses its light in the valley which is moist-with dew-drops, while remaining itself unseen. The glow-worm is hidden from sight, though its golden light is seen.

The skylark is like a rose that scatters perfume but one cannot see the rose as it is concealed in the thick foliage. The winds take away the fragrance of the flower and permeate the whole atmosphere. In the same way, the melody of the unseen skylark overflows the world beneath:

“Like a rose embower’d
In its own green leaves,
By warm winds deflower’d,
Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet those heavy-winged

The images used by Shelley are fresh, delicate and vivid and suggest the symbolic character of the skylark. This richness of imagery is one of the distinctive qualities of “To a Skylark”. The rapid succession of images enchants the reader. The richness of images alludes to Shelley’s imaginative genius, and the gift for coining similes and metaphors for heightening the effect of the poem.

 

                                        Shelley’s superiority “To a Skylark”

Q.2. Comment on Shelley’s presentation of, attitude to, the bird in his poem “To a Skylark”.
Or,

How does Shelley idealize the Skylark in his poem “To a Skylark”?
Or,
How does Shelley establish the superiority of the Skylark in his poem “To a Skylark”?
Or,
How does Shelley idealize the songs of the Skylark iii his poem “To a Skylark”?

Ans. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To a Skylark” is about a skylark, a miniscule bird that is famous for its song. Shelley idealizes the bird and compares it to many different beautiful things to show that the skylark is far more superior to them.

Shelley begins with exclamation with, ‘Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!’. This could suggest that the skylark is being used as a metaphor. This is strongly enforced by the second line of, ‘Bird thou never wert’, suggesting that the bird is a spirit. The next line ‘purest thy full heart’ illustrates the huge amount of music the lark brings. This is also shown in the sixth stanza with the line, ‘The moon rains out her beams, and Heaven is overflowed’. This line means that the amount of voice and song that the lark has can be compared with the amount of moon light there is.

Shelley presents the skylark as superior to every earthly object. It is ‘Like a star of Heaven’ and is superior to Earth and unseen ‘In the broad daylight’. The skylark with its melodious song is a mystery to the poet. The mystery that surrounds the bird makes Shelley puts forward the question: “What thou art we know not;/ What is most like thee?” He also tells about his point of admiration for the bird. He comments that the rain of melody flowing out of the song of the skylark is brighte; than drops of rain poured from rainbow cloud: “From rainbow clouds there flow not! Drops so bright to see! As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.” The poet then goes on to present the bird through a series of comparisons or similes. The bird has been beautifully compared to a poet hidden in the light of thought, to a highborn maiden in a palace tower, to a glow-worm golden in a deli of dew, and to a rose embowered in its own green leaves.

But the comparisons are not enough to describe the beauty and pre-eminence of the bird. To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Shelley idealizes the skylark in the following lines:

“With thy clear keen joyance
Languor cannot be:
Shadow of annoyance
Never came near thee:
Thou lovest: but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety.”

Like Keats’s nightingale, Shelley’s skylark is free from ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret’ that plague human beings. The feelings of weariness never disturb the joy experienced by the skylark. The feelings of trouble and dissatisfaction do not touch the heart of the bird. Its joy is unflagging and undisturbed by troubles and anxieties. The joy and happiness of man are imperfect but those of the skylark are perfect.

In “To a Skylark”, Shelley subjectively treats the bird. He etherealizes the skylark into a spirit — a spirit of joy. To him, it is not a bird of flesh and blood but ‘a blithe Spirit’, an ‘unbodied joy whose race is just begun’. He idealizes the bird to such an extent that he tells that more than the delightful music of the earthly people or the wisdom stored in books the lark’s music is a source of inspiration to the port:

“Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!”

The skylark is a ‘scorner of the ground’. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. Being overwhelmed by the lark’s song Shelley implores the bird to inspire him with its joy and happiness:

“Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

Shelley is confident that if he could get the happiness and joy of the skylark in his heart, he would produce such fine poetry of deep inspiration that the people in the world would listen to him with rapt attention.

In “To a Skylark”, Shelley idealizes the bird and makes it a symbol of eternal joy and beauty. He presents it as a spirit, not as a bird of flesh and blood. His treatment of the bird is quite subjective.

Q.3. Percy Bysshe Shelley has passionate feeling about beauty and expression and this is documented in his poem “To a Skylark”.

Ans. Shelley has passionate feeling about beauty and expression and this is documented in his poem “To a Skylark”. A close reading of the poem reveals the poem as unique, structurally and linguistic ally. The poet captures the reader’s attention, with his use of metaphors and excellent word choices, as he conveys themes of the poem to us through the skylark. The skylark is free from all human errors and complications, and as the poet listens to the song of the skylark, he is inspired to write the poem with the message of self-perception and power of the mind and imagination.

The form and structure of the poem is like a song. The flowing verse and diction have a lilt that advances the poet to greater heights of inspiration and natural poetic genius. The five line stanzas, all twenty one f them follow the same pattern. The first four lines are metered in trochaic trimester, the fifth in iambic hexameter, and each stanza has a simple rhyme scheme of ABABB. Structurally, each verse makes a single observation about the skylark or looks at it in a new light, mainly the natural purity and divinity that it radiates.

The poet uses word choices with strong meaning, for instance, “Chorus hymeneal” and “triumphal chant”, which make the reader visualize the spiritual music the lark is producing. Shelley finds hims elf in an ecstatic mood as he listens raptly to the celestial song of the bird. He is extremely joyful, but in his world he can experience sadness, whereas the skylark “lovest — but ne’er knew love’s sad satiety”. The bird is from the natural world and free from the sadness of the real world. It is free from worry about death and the end of its life which makes it different from mortals who are forever worrying and dwelling on the inevitability of death.

The poet gives us a visual presence of a ghostly form as he writes: “Scattering unbeholden among the flowers and grass that screen it from our view”, and it hides “like a rose embowered in its own leaves”. The skylark has a beauty of its own and is a liberated spirit, free from all the human worries. It has no earthly failings, as it soars higher and higher. It inspires the poet as it sings, and the writer is overwhelmed with unbounded joy as he listens to the sweet song of the bird. He pleads: “Teach us. Sprite or Bird,/ What sweet thoughts are thine”. We can almost feel the divine joy the poet is experiencing, while he watches this bird or free spirit, with its extraordinary hypnotic presence.

He asks the bird to teach him “Half the gladness that thy brain must know”, for then he would pour out with “harmonious madness,” and in doing so, would make the world listen to his message. Shelley’s skylark would bring the message of hope and the belief that through ‘poetry’, society can improve morally and spiritually. Shelley is attempting to communicate a visual viewpoint to the reader through metaphors of nature, with the skylark being his natural metaphor for the unadulterated poetic expression. Shelley is educating the reader through the skylark. The poet wonders if they could ever imagine the joy expressed by the skylark. The human imagination works with the “skylark” to impose harmony on its melody and they become one, allowing the poet to write and create such melodious verse.

Shelley is one of the best poets of the Romantic period. His gift to write is able to unite nature with the self, to portray his messages of beauty, nature and political liberty. Shelley has a caring nature about the world and how society can improve ethically, and spiritually, through the reading of poetic verse.

 

                             Symbolic significance of Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark”

Q.S. Discuss the symbolic significance of Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark”. [NU. 2008]
Ans. In “To a Skylark” the speaker addresses the skylark as a “blithe Spirit” rather than a bird, for its song comes from Heaven, and from its full heart pours “profuse strains of unpremeditated art”. The skylark flies higher and higher, “like a cloud of fire” in the blue sky, singing as it flies. In the “golden lightning” of the sun, it floats and runs, like “an unbodied joy”. As the skylark flies higher and higher, the speaker loses sight of it, but is still able to hear its “shrill delight”, which comes down as keenly as moonbeams in the “white dawn”. The earth and air ring with the skylark’s voice, just as Heaven overflows with moonbeams when the moon shines out from behind “a lonely cloud”.

Shelley idealizes the skylark and presents it as a unique creature. To him, it is not a creature of flesh and blood. By virtue of its celestial melody, it creates an aura of mystery. The speaker says that even “rainbow clouds” do not rain as brightly as the shower of melody that pours from the skylark. The bird is “like a poet hidden/In the light of thought,” able to make the world experience “sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not”. It is like a lonely maiden in a palace tower, who uses her song to soothe her lovelorn soul. It is like a golden glow-worm, scattering light among the flowers and grass in which it is hidden. It is like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, whose scent is blown by the wind until the bees are faint with “too much sweet”. The skylark’s song surpasses “all that ever was, / Joyous and clear and fresh”.

Calling the skylark “Sprite or Bird”, the speaker asks it to teach him its “sweet thoughts”, for he has never heard anyone or anything call up “a flood of rapture so divine”. Compared to the skylarks, any music would seem lacking. Calling the bird a “scorner of the ground”, he says that its music is better than all music and all poetry. He asks the bird to teach him “half the gladness / That thy brain must know”, for then he would overflow with “harmonious madness”, and his song would be so beautiful that the world would listen to him, even as he is now listening to the skylark.

To Shelley, the skylark is an immortal being symbolizing illimitable beauty. Its music is perfect embodiment of beauty and joy and hence an endless source of inspiration for the poet. It is Shelley’s natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration. The Skylark’s song issues from a state of purified existence, a notion of complete unity with heaven through nature; its song is motivated by the joy of the uncomplicated purity of being, and is unmixed with any hint of melancholy as human joy so often is. The skylark’s song rains down upon the world, surpassing every other beauty. Symbolically, the skylark’s song is an inspiration to the hearer to write poetry with the same properties — heavenly, harmonious, worth listening to.

 

 

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