German Literature

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; one 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 Wilheim 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 exulation more intense and wild than he
could have felt for any personal advantage.”, notes wife Mary. (ix) Shelley
felt great joy in exposing the inefficiences 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 18th or 19th 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 Unversity Press,
1961.


Blank, G. Kim. Wordsworth””””””””s Influence on Shelley. New York: St. Martin””””””””s
Press, 1988.
Bloom, Harold. “The Unpastured Sea: An Introduction to Shelley.” The Ringers
in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1971.
Cambell, Pyre, and Weaver, eds. Poetry and Criticism of the Romantic
Movement. New York: F.S. Crofts and Comapny, 1932.
Hazlitt, William. “A Review of Shelley””””””””s Posthumous Poems.” Nineteenth
Century Literary Criticism. Kansas City: Random House, January 1988.


Ingpen, Peck, eds. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume I. New
York: Gordian Press, 1965.
King-Hele, Desmond. Shelley: His Thought and Work. Teaneck: Farleigh
Dickinson University Press, 1960.
Knopf, Alfred, ed. Shelley: Poems. Toronto: David Campbell Publishers Ltd.,
1993.


“Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Adventures in English Literature. New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
Shelley, Mary. “Mrs. Shelley””””””””s Preface to the Collected Poems, 1839.” The
Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poems, Vol. 1 by Percy Bysshe
Shelley. Ingpen and Peck, eds. Toronto:
Gordian Press, 1965.

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