Shelley as a lyrical poet
Q.S. What lyrical qualities do you find in the poetry of Shelley? Discuss with reference to the poems you have read.
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.