Romantic Opinions in the Work of Percy Bysshe Shelley 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 …