Shelley as a Lyrical Poet
Shelley as a poet of Nature
P.B. Shelley is a great poet of Nature. He invests nature with intellect and thus he intellectualizes nature. Like William Wordsworth he believes in a sort of pantheism and holds that all universe is alive, that nature is a living reality, and that every part has its life in the whole. He does not worship nature as Wordsworth does, Shelley’s “Ode to West Wind” reveals his peculiar attitude towards nature. Shelley does not believe with Wordsworth that the contemplation of Nature’s work in wise passiveness would strengthen and inform the soul. He is indeed not so much attracted by Nature’s works as by her forces; for him the wind is alive, the woods are but the instrument on which it play. In this he is much nearer to the primitive mind than to Wordsworth.” Unlike Keats he does not appreciate nature very much through his senses. This is why Shelley’s poetry lacks the intimate familiarity with earth’s common things which we find in Wordsworth and Keats. But it is great in the treatment of large landscapes.
Shelley approached nature to see things there as they really were. He did not read his own ideas in them. He made nature the mere image of his own thoughts and feelings when he is lost in his own thoughts and when he writes of himself. It is at this time that he makes nature the creature of his mental state or mood. This quality is very well marked in his “Ode to the West Wind.”
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own
Be through my lips to unawakened earth.
The triumph of a prophecy. : From Ode to the West Wind
According to Shelley the indwelling spirit of nature is love which expresses itself in beauty. According to Shelley nature has no message for mankind. Unlike Wordsworth he does not recognize it is a teacher or as something possessing the healing power. He sees in nature only a symbol of perfect beauty. Shelley etherealised nature, for he sings of nature in the sky and the upper air. He is aware of the presence of the bloody claws of destruction, but he knows well that the destruction which nature causes has got in it the seed of reconstruction also. Nature has the power of continuous revival. He says:
If winter comes, can spring be far behind:”
There is a certain Greek quality in his treatment of nature. He shows the power of conceiving the life of separate things in nature with astonishing individuality. The modern poet is forbidden by science, theology or pantheism to see anything in nature as having a separate life of its own. Shelley divides and subdivides the life of nature in the same way as a Greek of the ancient days could do and did. Hence a Greek note in many passages of nature in Shelley’s writings. Shelley’s nature exists somewhere away from our world of thought. The cloud, the West Wind or the Skylark belong to a race apart from humanity. Shelly finds that nature is “penetrated, vitalised and made real by a spirit.” This is the spirit of nature. This spirit is something more than life. It gives its reality to life. This spirit of nature is also conceived by him as love, beauty or benediction also. This spirit appears everywhere in all the elements of nature. Man is to adore this spirit. This is what is called the pantheistic view of nature. Both Wordsworth and Shelley hold this view of nature but the former views this spirit as thought and the latter conceives of it as Love.
Shelley’s treatment of nature differs from mood to mood. He makes myths of the various elements of nature. This thing is very well illustrated by the poems such as “The Cloud“, “The Sensitive Plant” and “Ode to the West Wind’. This thing is clear from his “Prometheus Unbound” also. He begins as a poet of nature under the influence of Wordsworth and then he becomes a myth-maker.
Shelley as a Lyrical Poet
P.B. Shelley is the greatest lyric poet of England. He occupies the highest place among the other lyricists of English literature. He is the loftiest and most spontaneous singer in English language.” Shelley is a lyric poet before everything else. The lyric faculty is very powerful in this great poet. Tennyson, Browning and Swinburne have also praised him as a lyric poet. All these things show that Shelley needs no longer to have his claim of being the greatest lyricist reaffirmed. Thus his peculiar excellence is in the lyric. Shelley’s range as a lyric poet is very wide. If this had been otherwise, Shakespeare would have been the greatest lyric poet of England. But as things are, we can not doubt that the title belongs to Shelley,
P.B. Shelley is known to have played a very great part in the development of English lyric which has grown out of the folk-song under the influence of what is called the classical lyric.
The folk-song origin has given it its character and spontaneous melody. The lyric is characterised by simple music resulting from the use of simple language. The folk-song is the music of a single voice, but the classical lyric is choral or even orchestral. Thus the classical lyric has a great variety of music. It expresses a variety of emotions. It is intellectual in as much as its emotions are aroused by general ideas. Thus the English lyric is characterised by emotional quality and its intensity. It is the poetic cry from the heart-of joy, sorrow, fervour and exultation, etc. If we go through the history of English literature, we find that the classical of lyric begins with Spenser. It is developed by Crashaw; it attains its perfection in Milton. In Dryden’s Odes it grows pedantic and in Pope’s hand it is degraded into vulgar nonsense. It is revived in the odes of Gray and Collins. It becomes natural in those of Wordsworth. But it is in the hands of Shelley that it is brought to perfection, the best example of such classical lyrics is found in the two choruses of “Hellas”, namely, “Worlds on worlds are rolling over” and “The world’s great age begins a new.”
The classical influence seems to have come to Shelley straight from the classics of Greece and Rome. He uses it with a Greek lucidity and sonority and yet with all the native music of the language, he has used it to express general ideas that have never before been expressed in lyric poetry.
The key-note of the wonderful and passionate lyrics of Shelley is love of spirit, of nature, of liberty, of intellectual beauty. He sings of things out of reach, ideal and remote. Unlike other lyric poets he does not sing of what he feels. In his lyrics Shelley sings of what he wants to feel. The thrills of the gushes of emotions and their like are all straining after something seen after but unattainable, something distant or future. His lyrics are wails of passionate despair.
They express the poet’s despondency for something hopeless, by-gone. But these outbursts of passionate desire after ideal beauty set our pulses a throbbing with a strange vibration even when we do not really sympathies with them.
The lyrics of Shelley will live, because they not only hold in them the spirit of their own century and voice the spirit of their time, but hold too that larger spirit of poetry which Shelley is known to have recognised in Homer and Dante. This spirit endures and its to endure not by reason of its special office but of its universal appeal. The lyrics of Shelley are inspired by his love for humanity, love of freedom for all mankind, hatred of all oppression, and a prophecy of a golden age. We find in them his deep humanism also Shelley’s practice of the lyric art agrees with his theoretic account of it as we find it in his “Defense of Poetry” It is said of Shelley that he exhales a lyric as a flower-exhales perfume. Shelley’s strength lies in his music far more than in his thought. His love lyrics are generally marked by sadness. Thus “Shelley’s lyricism is incomparable”. It is characterized by “perfect sureness, the triumphant rapidity of his upward flight… the poignant intensity of the sounds which fall from these aerial regions.”
P.B. Shelley’s genius is essentially lyrical and all his writings are characterised by it: “Prometheus Unbound” was the first poem which showed that one of the greatest lyric poets of the world was born. It is full of most exquisite lyrics. It contains a number of choric songs having lyrical qualities in them. His lyrical strain is present in almost all his lyrical poems such as “The Witch of Atlas’ ‘Alastor’, ‘Adonias’ “The Triumph of Life’ and ‘Epipsychidion’. Some of this famous lyrics are the “Ozamandias sonnet”, “Lines written among the Eugene Hills, the “Stanzas written in Dejection”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “To a Skylark”, “The Cloud”, “A Lament”, “One word is too other Profaned” “Invitation” and “Recollection.” The perfection of these lyrics lies in the absolute fusion of imagery and rhythm in a diction which is almost music. The soul which utters them is the melancholy soul of Shelley, overshadowed by his tragic destiny. All these things establish the fact. P.B. Shelley is the greatest lyric poet of England. He is second to none in the world of lyrics.
English Literature— Important links
- “Ode to the West Wind”- Introduction & Complete Explanation
- Main Characteristics of P. B. Shelley’s Poetry
- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
- SONNET 138- When my love swears (Analysis and Explanation)
- “The Canonization” by John Donne- Summary & Line by line Explanation
- “Paradise Lost” (Lines 242-272) John Milton | Summary & Analysis
- Absalom and Achitophel (John Dryden)- Introduction & Summary
- “Essay on Man” by Alexander Pope, Epistles II (Complete Explanation)
- “Tintern Abbey” by Wordsworth- Introduction and summary
- The World is Too Much With Us- Summary & Stanza-wise Explanation
- Critical appreciation of ‘The Canonisation’ (Poem by John Donne)
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