Percy Bysshe Shelley Biography His Life and Literature

Percy Bysshe Shelley Biography His Life and Literature


His Life and Literature[Percy Bysshe Shelley Biography]

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the son of a baronet, was born at Field Place, Warnham in Sussex, on August 4, 1792. He was educated at Eton. Afterwards he went to Oxford. He was rusticated from Oxford for publishing, at the tender age of nineteen, the pamphlet entitled “The Necessity of Atheism”. Shelley returned from Oxford and then, under a momentary impulse, married Harriet Westbrook. His conjugal life was unhappy, as Shelley had little mental affinity with Harriet. Shelley fell in love with Mary, the daughter of William Godwin, and eloped with her . Two years later, Harriet committed suicide. Shelley married Mary. But he became rather unpopular in his own land and society for the certain stories of his cruel behaviour with his deceased wife Harriet. In 1818, he and Mary left England forever and went to Italy, living in Rome, Venice, Pisa and other places. On July 8, 1822, Shelley was drowned, when the boat carrying him capsized in the violent storm on the Mediterranean Sea.

Shelley’s chief works are Queen Mab, Alastor, Revolt of Islam, Prometheus Unbound, The Mask of Anarchy, The Witch of Atlas, Hellas, Adonais , Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, and several other long and short poems.

Shelley died early. But he remains till now one of the greatest English poets of the world. His imaginative faculty, his exuberant emotional vivacity, his deep love and feeling for man and nature, and his prophetic hope for mankind mingle together to give his poetry a force that is at once enlivening, ennobling and enchanting. Shelley is an idealist–a reformer—a preacher. His feeling is the feeling of love for all the oppressed and enchained people. His voice is the voice of protest against the tyranny and exploitation of the bench of bishops and kings. His dream is the dream of the resurrection of this much worn out world. His hope is of the establishment of a realm of peace and progress where Man will be truly Man.

Shelley as a Poet

of the romantic poets, who graced English poetry in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Shelley was, perhaps, most vitally inspired. He was essentially different from his great contemporaries. He stood rather alone in his age as a poet of a forlorn hope for mankind. At the same time, he has remained the most enchanting poet in the great age of romantic poetry and represented the essence of romance in poetry.

Wordsworth’s poetry, though much conditioned by the French Revolution, hardly embodies any actual revolutionary spirit. It is, however, in Shelley, that the spirit of revolution is found manifested with zeal and depth. Liberty is the very breath of his poetic spirit. Freedom from the tyranny of political despotism and religious dogmatism is the very ideal of his literary pursuits. His poetry is the voice of the revolution, rather the gospel of the children of the revolution-for a thorough change of the existing state of absolutism and repression all over Europe. His clarion call of revolution is distinct and inspired:

“Rise like Lions after slumber In unvanquishable numberShake your chains to earth like dew Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are many—they are few.” (The Mask of Anarchy) Shelley’s revolutionary spirit, however, has an optimistic inspiration. An ideal of the social and political millennium to dawn on humanity animates his poetic vision and his poetry visualizes a world of all joy, love and hope:

………………to hope till Hope creates From its own wrecks the thing it contemplates

This is alone Life, Joy, Empire and Victory.

(Prometheus Unbound)

But Shelley’s poetry is more than this. No other English poet, perhaps, has the Shelleyan pursuit of loveliness. In his language, ‘poetry turns all things to loveliness’ . Shelley’s poetry is all alive with loveliness in man and nature. His poetic imagination turns the little bird skylark into a ‘blithe spirit’, ‘an unbodied joy’, and ‘the cloud’ into a romantic heroine. The skylark in its high station in the sky is described as all lovely

“Like a poet hidden

In the light of thought.”

His cloud basks, no doubt in a lovely setting, in ‘Heaven’s blue smile’ and rests on its ‘airy nest as still as a brooding dove.’ The west wind, too, is presented with a romantic loveliness

‘Before whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing!

Again, of all English poets, Shelley is most completely lyrical. Lyricism is found triumphant in some of his illustrious poems, such as To a Skylark, To Night, Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud, Stanzas Written in Dejection, Lines Written on the Eugenean Hills, and so on. Of course, all of them are not of the equal standard or merit. Some of them, like Time, A Lament, When the Lamp is Shattered, One Word is too Often Profaned, etc., are nothing more than brief lyrical fragments. More characteristic of Shelley are some long and elaborate poems, which are lyrical in spirit, though not in form, like Adonais, Lines written in the Eugenean Hills, and a few others. Shelley’s lyrical notes are, however, most perfect in some of his poems which are rather of a moderate length. Such poems are Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, The Cloud and Ode to Naples. To the Night is a short poem, but it retains well Shelley’s characteristic lyricism in its content and form.

A lyrical poem is propelled by a single emotion. This emotion may have varied representations to elucidate its nature. But there is always a singleness of the poet’s emotion. In his lyrics, like Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, To the Night and so on, Shelley’s emotion is single, although it is modulated to enhance the effects of his poetic appeal.

Shelley’s impulsiveness, again, is prompted by his idealism. His lyrics are full of his high ideals. His idealism is noted well in his celebrated lyrics, like Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, and Written among the Eugenean Hills . The highest point of Shelley’s idealism is, perhaps, reached in his message of resurrection to the dark and heedless world in his great lyric Ode to the West Wind: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

The process, in much of Shelley’s lyrical poetry, lies in the poet’s realisation of a symbol for his own emotional pattern in some natural objects. His best and most inspired lyrics arise, when his emotion finds an appropriate outlet (Stefato 26767) through some natural object. This is particularly seen in Ode to the West Wind, where the wind adequately symbolizes the revolutionary zeal of the poet. In To a Skylark, again, there is felt much harmony between the bird and its creator, and the skylark seems to be Shelley’s other self.

Shelley’s poetry is intensely personal, although it is never like Byron’s, an advocacy of his own self. His poems are found to echo his own joy, hope and sorrow in a profound measure.

A lyric proper must be simple in form and ornamental. Its emotion must be intense and genuine. Shelley’s are the swift, yet simple forms of lyrics. They have the genuine warmth of the poet’s feeling. Again, in a perfect lyric, there is a fine harmony between the poet’s emotion and his music. Shelley’s excellence is enchanting in this respect. The vibration of rhythms with the vibration of emotion is the chief loveliness of Shelley’s lyrical music. In Ode to the West Wind, for instance, the poet’s emotion communicates itself excellently to the very metre, and the enchanting (737 PS) melody of the poem runs in a grand harmony with the high current of the poet’s thought.


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