Romantic Opinions In The Work Of Percy Bysshe Shelley

.. 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.

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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: “ 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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