Percy Bysshe Shelley Essay, Research Paper
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY 1792 1822
Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar, quoted Percy Bysshe Shelley in A Defence to Poetry. Of the poets from the English Romantic Period ( a period of love and admiration for the aesthetic portion of nature and the bond between nature and humanity ), Percy Bysshe Shelley ranked as one of the greatest. Although his life spanned but thirty years, he established himself through his works, and partly through his unique lifestyle, as both a great writer and poet. During his thirty years, he expressed himself as an atheist, satirist, radical, optimist, vegetarian, idealist, essayist, dramatist, translator, novelist, and a supporter of free love. Percy Bysshe Shelley possessed a desire for social and political reform and portrayed this in campaigns and writing pamphlets. He stressed for perfection of humanity and attempts at perfection and reason. He viewed man as good and society bad ( almost Marxist ) and thought it necessary to suppress institutions to make earth a paradise. His works included pamphlets, poetry, lyrics, and elegy.
The first of seven children, Shelley was born August 4, 1792 in Field Place, Sussex into an aristocratic family. His father, Timothy Shelley, was a prosperous country squire who became a baronet in 1815. Percy Bysshe Shelley attended, from 1802 to 1804, Syon Academy and Eton Academy. He then enrolled, in 1810, Oxford University where he was expelled a year later for publishing and neither claiming nor denying authorship of The Necessity of Atheism. Written along with friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg, The Necessity of Atheism challenged theological proofs for the existence of God (NCLC 304). During his year at Oxford however, Shelley began reading the works of William Godwin, which eventually led to the study of empiricists and modern skeptics. After his expulsion from Oxford, and disapproval from his father, Shelley eloped with Harriet Westbrook (bore two of his children, Ianthe and Charles), the sixteen year-old daughter of a London tavern owner. The two of them spent two years in England and Ireland where they spoke against political injustice and stressed social reform through distribution of pamphlets. While in Lynmouth in Devon, Shelley tried to set up a team of radicals but found out spies were watching him and consequently, moved to Wales. In 1813 in Ireland, while campaigning for political reform, Shelley privately published his first important poem, Queen Mab. This poem set forth a radical system of curing social ills by advocating the destruction of various established institutions (Horsham 1). During 1814, Shelley met his hero, William Godwin (1756 1836), author of Political Injustice, philosopher, anarchist, radical, and idealist, and immediately fell in love with his daughter Mary Wollstonecraft (1797 1851). Mary Wollstonecraft was the author of the famous Frankenstein (1818). Because of Shelley s love for Mary, his marriage with Harriet failed. Shelley and Mary then eloped to Switzerland along with Mary s sister Claire (Jane Clairemont). During their journey abroad, in 1814, Shelley wrote an unfinished novel titled The Assassins, which combined as a journal Six Weeks Tour reworked by Mary Shelley in 1817. Also during their journey abroad, the three kin experienced financial strains. Their financial problems, however, where extinguished in 1815, when Shelley inherited a large amount of money after the death of his grandfather. That same year, Harriet (Shelley s first wife) gave birth to his first son Charles (Shelley was living with Mary). In 1816, supposedly pregnant by another man, Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine River. After hearing this, Shelley officially married Mary. That same year, Mary gave birth to Shelley s favorite son William, who would die a few years later in Rome. Shelley spent the summer of 1816 with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. There, Lord Byron had an affair with Claire (Mary s sister), supposedly impregnating her. During his stay at Lake Geneva, Shelley composed, Lord Byron had an affair with Claire (Mary s sister), supposedly impregnating her. During his stay at Lake Geneva, Shelley composed Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Mont Blanc. Mary, at the same time, began writing Frankenstein. Shelley also composed Alastor and The Spirit of Solitude in 1816. In 1817, Shelley wrote Laon and Cynthna, which was withdrawn because of it s controversial content, and republished a revised edition titled The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Also in 1817, Harriet s parents obtained a decree from the Lord Chancellor stating that Shelley was unfit to have custody of Charles (first son by Harriet). They convinced the court by citing Queen Mab where Shelley was in favor of free love and atheism and put down society. As a result, in 1818, Mary and Shelley left England for Italy.
During the Shelley s time in Italy, Mary gave birth to daughter Clara and son Percy Florence. Claire also gave birth to her daughter Allegra, who s father was Lord Byron (also resided in Italy). In Rome in 1819, two of Shelley s children, William and Clara (infant) died. Consequently, in 1820, the Shelley s moved from Rome to Pisa. Lord Byron and Shelley then gathered a circle of friends. In this group, Shelley was the peace-maker. Lord Byron was quoted as saying, everyone else knew that I was a beast compared with Shelley. Two years later, after much writing (Julian and Maddalo, Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci, The Mask of Anarcy, Adonais, A Defence of Poetry, Ode To The West Wind, To a Skylark, The Triumph of Life, and Ozymandias), Shelley sailed to Leghorn to welcome friend Leigh Hunt with Edward Williams. Upon their return to Lerici (where Shelley lived at the time), Shelley s boat sank during a violent storm and both he and Edward drowned. Their bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio and were burned on the beach in the presence of Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron. Percy Bysshe Shelley was later buried in Rome.
Mr. Shelley s style is to poetry what astrology is to natrual science a passionate dream, a straining after impossibilities, a record of fond conjectures, a confused embodying of vague abstractions, – a fever of the soul, thirsting and craving after what it cannot have, indulging its love of power and novelty of the expense of truth and nature, associating ideas by contraries, and wasting great powers by their application to unattainable objects (NCLC 325). Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the greatest English Romantic poets. Frank Magill states that Shelley is The most versatile stylist among all English poets and lyrical, unremitting intensity is the defining quality of Shelley s verse. Many of Shelley s works portray aspects from his own life (political and social reform, sexual equality, humanity s strive for perfection, and powers of love, imagination, and nature). His first work Queen Mab was printed in 1813 but not published due to its controversial subject matter. In 1816, Shelley wrote Alastor or The Spirit of Solitude and Other Poems. By this time, Shelley was recognized as a serious poet. A (Alastor) visionary and sometimes autobiographical poem, Shelley describes the experiences of the Poet who, rejecting human sympathy and domestic life, is pursued by the demon Solitude (NCLC 305). In 1817, Laon and Cynthna and The Revolution of the Golden City were written in conjunction with John Keats. The two poem s themes consist of the positive powers of love, good versus evil, and spiritual victory through martyrdom (NCLC 305). Because of the controversial content of Laon and Cynthna, the printer immediately halted production. Thus, Shelley revised his work to The Revolt of Islam, extracting segments involving political and social revolution and incest.
Shelley composed two of his most ambitious works in 1819. Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci, two verse dramas were published. Prometheus Unbound is usually viewed as Shelley s masterpiece and combines myth, political allegory, psychology, and theology (NCLC 305). In this work, Shelley structures the Aeschylan myth of Prometheus, the fire-giver, into an allegory on the origin of evil and the idea of love reviving nature and humanity (NCLC 305). The variety of verse forms Shelley employed exhibits his poetic virtuosity and makes it one of his most challenging works (NCLC 305). Poetical abstractions are beautiful and new, not because the whole produced by their combination has some intelligible and beautiful analogy with those sources of emotion and thought, and with the contemporary condition of them: one great poet is a masterpiece of nature which another not only ought to study but must study (NCLC 318 from Preface to Prometheus Unbound in Shelley s The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley). In Prometheus Unbound, love, fate, chance, and change symbolize the primary powers of the universe. The Cenci is different from Prometheus Unbound in its tone and setting. This tragedy is placed during the sixteenth-century and describes the history of an Italian noble family. The involvement of incest between Count Cenci and his daughter, Beatrice (he rapes her), prevents the play from being published. Ironically, Percy Bysshe Shelley himself was accused of participating in an incestuous relationship involving a love triangle between Mary and Claire (sisters).
In 1821, Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats appeared. This elegy was written in elegiac verse. Shelley laments Keat s early death and, while rejecting the Christian view of resurrection, describes his return to the eternal beauty of the universe (NCLC, 305). Also appearing in 1821, was Epipsychidion. This work summarizes his journey and search for ideal beauty through his relationships with many women (Harriet, Mary, Claire, and Emilia Viviani). Epipsychidion is considered as one of Shelley s most revealing and technically accomplished poems (NCLC 305). Shelley s last work, The Triumph of Life was unfinished at his death. It describes the harsh journey of life that has halted the goals of most people. Despite its fragmentary state, many critics consider The Triumph of Life a potential masterpiece and evidence of a pessimistic shift in Shelley s thought (NCLC 305). Previously, all of Percy Bysshe Shelley s works expressed an optimistic view of humanity and life. It is ironic that at the change in his style and view of life, his death occurred shortly after.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, throughout his career, composed numerous short lyrics that have been viewed as some of his best works. All of his minor poems possess a simple, personal tone and touch on theme central to his more ambitious works: the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Mont Blanc focus on his belief in animating spirit, while Ode to the West Wind examines opposing forces in nature (NCLC 305). The west wind, in the famous ode, symbolizes the power of natural phenomena and nature s promise of providing a new world after the wintry present. To a Skylark symbolizes in it the gladness of natural creatures that are free from the hate and pride, and fear which sadden and cloud the spirit of man. Shelley is often felt to be less a poet of nature he does not follow nature so faithfully, but compels her to ends of his own. In a sense, however, he is more of a nature-poet. For he readily passes beyond the visible shows of nature to the larger cosmic operations in which she manifests her power and direction (Joseph Warren Beach). Another one of Shelley s famous lyrics is the ironic Ozymandias, the result of a writing contest that granted Shelley as the winner.
Although Ozymandias is a short, lyrical poem, there derives from its context deep meanings and irony. There is also a hidden sense of attachment between the writer s lifestyle and the themes that are present within the poem. As stated earlier, Percy Bysshe Shelley stressed social and political reform. His idea of a ruler or government was totally opposite of how King Ozymandias is portrayed. The line immediately following King Ozymandias words Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! mock and stress the absurdity of the king s words. Nothing beside remains. This line brings forth the fact that the words on the pedestal are the only trace of the great king. And those words on the pedestal remind all who read them that King Ozymandias apparently was not as mighty as he thought. This fact involves dramatic irony. The audience or reader knows what really remains of the great king; however, Ozymandias himself has no idea. Furthermore, why would a great king s statue remain in a desolate desert where the lone and level sands stretch far away. At some point, this statue must have been built around his empire. This fact amplifies the image of the downfall of the king and his empire. Just as Shelley in his own life, stresses the downfall of the church and government. Shelley s use of quotes from the meeting of the traveler in the poem brings a sense of realism to it. During these quotes, Shelley inserts alliteration many times to allow the lines to be read and flow more easily. For example, cold command, survive, stamped, bound and bare, and lone and level. Shelley also uses personification while describing the heart that fed and the lone and level sands stretch. The theme of the poem involves death, decay, irony, and the thought that tyranny cannot last forever but reminders or it will always remain.
Zachary Sng, in his article titled The Construction of Lyric Subjectivity in Shelley s Ozymandias, discusses the poem in great detail. Shelley s Ozymandias, addresses the very essence of lyricism in its bold, albeit oblique, approach to the space in which the writing subject is constituted, where poetry itself becomes a possibility. Ozymandias s linguistic failure, too often read in a limited sense as confined only to one narrative register and contained within a didactic framework, actually manifests itself as a rhetorical pole from the very first word of the poem and situates itself as constitutive rather then symptomatic of the poetic moment. The persistence of Ozymandias s utterance as material trace, long after the material circumstances of its production have ceased to exist, becomes a source of irony. It is this very same ability of language to be separated from its material context, however, that forms the preconditions for the lyric I s voice, and by extension the whole poem.
The form of the poem Ozymandias is a variation on the English sonnet with an irregular rhyme scheme. The great Works Ozymandias refers to in the inscription on ( Look on my Works, ye Mighty ) are now little more than a colossal Wreck. The jarring contrast between what the inscription refers to and the decaying remains of the relic help to generate the dramatic irony in this poem. Dramatic irony involves a situation in a play, novel. Or poem in which the audience or reader knows something about a character which that given character does not know. For example, dramatic irony occurs in Ozymandias when we are aware of the short-lived power of King Ozymandias, while (judging from the words and tone of the inscription on his monument) King Ozymandias is not. This poem may also be read as a critique of authoritarian rule and, at a more basic level, pride. Lines four through eight for example:
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
The hand is the sculptor s, who had mocked (both imitated and derided) the sculptured passions; the heart is the king s, which has fed his passions. The fact that the sculptor captures the scornful and proud appearance of Ozymandias unbeknownst to the king is also highly ironic both the sculptor s work and colossal ruin live on to mock this once powerful and proud king. At a more general level, the irony in this poem serves to underscore the popular 18th century sic transit gloria mundi theme, which often centers on ruins (especially monuments) to make a statement about the passing glory of the world. The stark contrast between the power of the inscription and the wreckage it refers to also underscores the romantic interest in ruins and the aesthetics of the natural process of decay.
Because of the controversial content in much of Percy Bysshe Shelley s works, he was criticized and unable to surface and publish them the way he would have liked. Those critics during his time that did notice and appreciate his skills were, ironically, the reason for his fame today. During the 1930s Shelley s reputation resurfaced as scholars came to realize the complexity of his philosophy. Modern critics have generally focused on his imagery, use of language, and technical achievements, in addition to his exploration of political and social reform. Described in the last stanza of The Sensitive Plant, Shelley again expresses his ideas of death and the purification of man. For love, and beauty, and delight, there is no death nor change; their might exceeds our organs, which endure no light, being themselves obscure.