To think of something romantically is to think of it naively, in a positive light, away from the view of the majority. Percy Bysshe Shelley has many romantic themes in his plays. Educated at Eton College, he went on to the University of Oxford only to be expelled after one year after publishing an inappropriate collection of poems. He then worked on writing full-time, and moved to Italy shortly before his death in a boating accident off the shore of Leghorn. He wrote many pieces, and his writing contains numerous themes. Shelley experienced first-hand the French Revolution.
This allowed him to ponder many different situations, and determine deep philosophical views - views that were so radically different they were considered naive at best, downright wrong at worst. He contemplated socialism, having for a father-in-law William Godwin, who was the prominent socialist in the United Kingdom in Shelley's time. Shelley liked Napolean, and was suspicious of both the Bourbon monarchy and the Directory. Most of all, Shelley felt that all people had the right to work for themselves; he did not support the notion that once one had been born into a class, one must stay in that class for the rest of one's life.
Shelley felt that all bodies of the universe were governed by the same principle, completely contradicting the given theories, those of Aristotle. Thus, Shelley gained a romantic and rather naive view of the universe. In fact, Carlos Baker describes his poems as "The Fabric of a Vision." (Baker 1) In Percy Bysshe Shelley's poems, the author uses those naive, romantic opinions on the themes of romance, politics, and science. Romance is well defined as a theme choice for Shelley. Shelley uses this theme rather romantically; on could say that Shelley's theme in his amorous poetry is unrestricted passion; love, Shelley feels, can overcome all obstacles, distance, fear, even death. One example of this is in Shelley's poem which is titled by the first line: "I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden": "I fear thy kisses gentle maiden; /Thou needst not fear mine; /My spirit is too deeply laiden/Ever to burden thine/I fear thy mien, thy tones, thy motion; /Thou needst not fear mine; /Innocent is the heart's devotion/With which I worship thine" In this poem Shelley is observing that he feels inferior to his maiden; he "fears" her kisses because he is intimidated by her perfection to the point where he feels as though he is stifling her, that she is compromising her own value by falling in love with him; this is why the maiden should not fear Shelley.
He emphasizes his own faults in line 3, by stating that his spirit is "too deeply laiden" to be good enough for his maiden. He also mentions that everything about her is perfect, her body (mien), her voice (tones), and her walk (motion). In the last line, Shelley asserts that he feels so inconsequential that he wishes to place his maiden on a pedestal and worship her, as opposed to treating her as an equal. In this way does Shelley show his unbounded passion for his maiden. Another example of this is in Julian and Maddalo, a long text wherein Maddalo is traveling to meet his beloved Julian. William Hazlitt reviewed as "a Conversation or Tale, full of that thoughtful and romantic humanity...
which distinguished Mr. Shelley's writings." (500) The lines he most seemingly referred to were lines 13-19, which state .".. I love all waste/And solitary places; where we taste/The pleasure of believing what we see/Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be. /And such was this wide ocean, and this shore/More than it's billows... ." Shelley is referring to the love that partners have for eachother; this love is boundless, with infinite possibilities for showing this passion, both physical and honorable. True love turns away from faults and inefficiencies, which bound all other virtues (talent, strength, et cetera); Shelley wishes that his body had that kind of freedom, the freedom to roam around without a care in the world, and thus the freedom to do whatever he chooses, knowing that nothing will be affected by the mistakes he makes.
Lovers whose love is true have this ability, the ability to forgive and forget for the numerous errors that either partner commits. This is easily translatable to any era and any person, which is the meaning of Hazlitt's remark. Yet another example of this can be seen in Arethusa, with the lines 19-37: And now from their fountains In Enna's mountains, Down one vale where the morning basks, Like friends once parted Grown single-hearted, They ply their watery tasks. At sunrise they leap >From their cradles steep In the cave of the shelving hill; At noontide they flow Through the woods below And the meadows of asphodel; And at night they sleep In the rocking deep Beneath the Ortygian shore; Like spirits that lie In the azure sky When they love but live no more. In this poem Shelley is playing on one of the most beloved fantasies of both men and women, which is for the gorgeous, breathtakingly beautiful woman to be swiftly carried away by a tall, handsome, strong gentleman to a remote island where the two of them can make love in peace until the end of their days. Arethusa is carried by Alpheus to a luscious island where they act amorously until they die, their love for eachother lasting much longer than their mortal lives.
More evidence of Shelley being the "incurable romanticist" comes in the poem The Dirge, which discusses a person who sees his significant other in a coffin: "Ere the sun through the heaven once more roll'd, /The rats in her heart/Will have made their nest/And the worms be alive in her golden hair/While the spirit that guides the sun/Sits throned in his flaming chair/She shall sleep." (Hazlitt 494) Again Mr. Hazlitt remarks that this poem .".. is a fragment of the manner in which this craving... this desire to elevate and surprise, ... leads us to overstep the modesty of nature and the bounds of decorum." (494). In the poem, Shelley imagines that his wife, Mary, in the coffin, dead; he is so deeply in love with her that he cannot bear the thought of her death, and the thought of worms, rats, and parasites decomposing her once-dazzling body; the golden hair may or may not refer to Mary, because it is not certain that she had blonde hair, but rather one find finds his significant other's hair, rather amorously, beautiful, of extremely fine quality, like gold.
The flaming chair refers to Purgatory, the weigh station before a soul can pass to heaven, according to the doctrines of Roman Catholic Christians. The thought of the inspiration for all of his passion being decomposed by parasitic, filthy creatures scares Shelley, as it would any other man whose woman lays in a coffin. Thus, Shelley is able to emphasize unbridled, noble passion in his poems. Another theme Shelley exhibits in his poems is politics and social reform. Shelley spent many years in France during the French Revolution, at a time when the French did not respect any leader except Napolean.
Europe set up the Congress of Vienna, whose job was to oust Napolean after he tried to take all of Europe, banish him to a remote island, and reset the borders of Europe to what they were before they banished him. It took them two tries to get it right, because Napolean returned to France, where he was still revered, and attempted to conquer Europe again. He was finally defeated by the same general, and was banished correctly. In his The Mask of Anarchy, Shelley asserts that "I met murder on the way- He had a mask like Castlereagh, Very smooth he looked, yet grim; Seven bloodhounds followed him." (ll. 8-12) Lord Castlereagh was the United Kingdom's representative to the Congress of Vienna in 1819; Castlereagh had the Congress impose harsh sanctions on France, and the seven that followed him were seven countries that felt the same way, including Austria, Prussia, and Russia, the dominant military powers of the time.
Shelley feels that the sanctions that Castlereagh imposed were too severe, and thus would lead to the demise of both France specifically and Europe in general. Shelley proved to be a prophet, for much land was given to the Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, who then, drunk with power, formed Germany, a nation that then attempted - twice - to conquer all of Europe. Harold Bloom notes that .".. the Power speaks forth, through a poet's act of confrontation with it that is the very act of writing his poem, and the Power, rightly interpreted, can be used to repeal the large code of fraud, institutional and historical Christianity, and the equally massive code of woe, the laws of the nation-states of Europe in the age of Castlereagh and Metternich...
." (87). Shelley, in writing this poem, is attempting to reveal the corruption at the Congress of Vienna. Shelley's aforementioned wife, Mary, comments on her husband in a similar way. .".. [Percy Shelley] had been from youth the victim of the state of feeling inspired by the French Revolution; and believing in the justice and excellence of his view, it cannot be wondered that a nature as sensitive, as impetuous, and as generous as his, should put it's whole force into the attempt to alleviate for others the evils of those systems from which he had himself suffered." (ix). Mrs.
Shelley is referring to Percy's whole-hearted faith in Napolean; he felt abused by the monarchy and the National Convention, which overthrew the monarchy in favor of a republic. The commoners of France felt a void that only Naploean filled; Napolean gave the commoners a sense of nationalism and patriotism. And when Europe banished Napolean for a second time to a remote South Atlantic island. Shelley wrote this sarcastic sonnet, Feelings of a Republican on the fall of Bonaparte, in which a Napolean dissenter addresses the dead tyrant: .".. For this I prayed, would on thy sleep have crept/Treason and Slavery, Rapine, Fear, and Lust, /And stifled thee, their minister. I know/Too Late, since thou and France are in the dust, /That virtue owns a more eternal foe/Than Force or Fraud, old Custom, legal Crime, /And bloody Faith the foulest birth of Time." (ll.
8-14). The Republican states that while Napolean is asleep (banished from France), many traits returned, such as devastation, treason, slavery, and crime; and the rest of Europe pinned the blame onto Napolean, which was unfair. Shelley supported Napolean, and wrote this poem to show the mistake France was making in allowing the Congress to banish him. Shelley also had a strong opinion about the conditions of English laborers, which he addressed in his poem, Song to the Men of England.
"He looked on political freedom as the direct agent to effect the happiness of mankind; and thus any new-sprung hope of liberty inspired a joy and an emulation more intense and wild than he could have felt for any personal advantage." , notes wife Mary. (ix) Shelley felt great joy in exposing the inefficiencies of certain governments and their treatment of certain groups of people; he felt the British working class were losing in the capitalist parliamentary society that was in place in the United Kingdom at the time, and felt a great sense of pride in exposing this to the general public, as seen in this quote, "Men of England, wherefore plough/For the lords who lay ye so low/Wherefore weave with toil and care/The rich robes your tyrants wear Wherefore, Bees of England, forge/Many a weapon, chain, and scourge, /That these stingless drones may spoil/The forced produce of your toil." (Baker 158) Shelley is attempting to show the British commoners that they are working for people who think they are better than the commoners, and who do not care about the working class. He wants to stir anger against the "capitalist tyrants", perhaps under the influence of Godwin. He was not successful, but he proved his point. Thus Shelley has a romantic, naive view of politics and government. Shelley also shows his romanticism in the field of science.
At the time, the view of the majority was Aristotelian, regardless of what others may prove. Shelley, however, sided with the modernists, who were able to disprove Aristotle but were not taken seriously, and were thought to be theologically backward. An example of the science entering the poem is in Notes to Queen Mab. Notes Desmond King-Hele: ."..
in 1813 [Shelley] wrote, 'I am determined not to relax until I have attained a considerable proficiency in the physical sciences'... the first fruits of Shelley's astronomical studies appears in Notes to Queen Mab... ." (164-165). Shelley's first note is the one that best exemplifies the point. .".. .' The sun's unclouded orb/Rolled through the black concave'...
Beyond our atmosphere the sun would appear a rayless orb of fire in the midst of a black concave. The equal diffusion of it's light on earth is owing to the refraction of the rays by the atmosphere, and their reflection from other bodies." (Complete Works 135). Shelley wanted to dispel the belief that the sun actually shot rays of light toward the earth, when in fact the "rays" that we see is light from the sun being refracted by the Earth and many other planetary objects in space. Shelley embraced this view, and many other views of the modernists; and, as Desmond King-Hele noted, ."..
without understanding the science undertone, Prometheus Unbound loses half it's bite." (169). In fact, in that piece is the belief that Shelley held, which was that he .".. believed that fire, light, heat, caloric, phlogiston, and electricity were, of not identical, merely modifications of the same principle... the hypothesis certainly appealed to Shelley, who made good use of it in Prometheus Unbound." (King-Hele 159). King-Hele uses this passage as his evidence (177): The bubbles, which the enchantment of the sun Sucks from the pale faint water-flowers that pave The oozy bottom of clear lakes and pools, Are the pavilions where such dwell and float... And when these burst; and the thin, fiery air, The which they breathed within those lucent domes, Ascends to flow like meteors through the night, They ride on them, and; and rein their headlong speed, And bow their burning crests, and glide in fire Under the waters of the earth again.
In the passage, Shelley shows a phenomena between meteors falling into the Earth's atmosphere and bubbles from decaying vegetation as having the same theoretical principle. Shelley sided with the modernists, with a view that was at the time considered novel but highly unlikely. Another piece of evidence for Shelley's science background comes from Ode to the West Wind, in which Shelley discusses clouds. "Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion, /Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed, /Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean." (ll. 15-17). While his contemporaries felt that rain was a sign from God, Shelley had a more literal view.
"As Shelley sees it, about two-thirds of sky is blue and about one-third, from nearly overhead to as far as the eye can see west, is covered by a high filmy layer of white, streaky mare's-tail or plume cirrus... low in the west are jagged detached clouds, scud or fractostratus, grey and watery, approaching fast in the rising wind... in the [stanza], the loose clouds shed like earth's decaying leaves in to the airstream, are the fractostratus clouds, harbingers of rain." (King-Hele 215-216). What Shelley describes in the poem is the last third of the sky, releasing it's rain like dead leaves off a tree in autumn; at the time, all things "falling from the sky" were thought to be a sign of God; Gallileo said it best when asked where is God. "Certainly not up [in the sky]." When asked then where was He, he replied, "How should I know I'm a mathematician, not a theologian." Shelley showed that modernists like Gallileo were correct, that God could not ride a cloud around the Earth as Aristotle believed. Shelley shows that rain is also a scientific function, not a function of Him.
Thus, Shelley undertones many poems with science. In conclusion, Percy Bysshe Shelley had a lifetime of adventures from which he was able to form naive and romantic opinions, which undertone his poems. For example, he feels that love can conquer all obstacles, including distance, like Julian and Maddalo and Arethusa, fear of inferiority, as in "I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden", and even death, as in The Dirge. Shelley also laces his political poems with his romanticist views. He shows his support for a tyrant who tried to conquer the known world twice in Napoleon, as in Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte; he attempts to stir emotions towards socialism in Song to the Men of England; and he attempted to smite the Congress of Vienna, which for a while brought order and stability back to Europe, in The Mask of Anarchy.
He also had what as considered naive views on the sciences, which admittedly are now known to be true. He shows that all bodies operate under the same principle in Prometheus Unbound; shows how rain is made, indirectly by God, directly by clouds, not the other way as one in the 18 th or 19 th century might argue, in Ode to the West Wind; and he explained from where the sun's "rays" are coming, and again disproved the notion that God directly poured them into the Earth, in his Notes to Queen Mab. Thus, Shelley undertones his poetry with the naive views of life he held during his lifetime. Bibliography Baker, Carlos. Shelley's Major Poetry. New York: Princeton University Press, 1961.
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