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Percy Shelley: Romantic Poet and Philosopher

Updated on January 28, 2012
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley | Source

Very Brief History of Percy Shelley (1792-1822)

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in 1792 at Field Place, Warnham close to Sussex, England. His first publication was in 1809. In 1810, he attended University College, Oxford from which he and a friend were expelled for circulating a pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism which caused his father much angst.

Shelley and first wife, Harriet Westbrook, had eloped which wasn’t approved by his father, and the relationship between his father and himself would soon be handled through his father’s lawyer.

Shelley became involved with having a political voice and publishing material of his expressions. He falls in love with another woman, Mary Wollstoncraft. He has interesting relationships to say the least. Mary authored Frankenstein in 1818 and it has been scrutinized that Percy co-authored the novel.

In July 1822, Shelley drowned while sailing, although due to his financial problems (his father had earlier cut him off family finances), some believed he suffered from depression. He was only 30 when he died. Many of Shelley’s works are still studied, embraced and admired.

Photo of Mont Blanc.
Photo of Mont Blanc.

White Mountain

"Mont Blanc" is french for white mountain. It borders France and Italy and is the highest mountain in the Alps, or western Europe. The first recorded climb of this mountain was in 1786.

One of the most popular municipalities of Mont Blanc is Chamonix where Shelley visited in the summer of 1816, and where he received his inspiration to compose his 144-line ode, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni.

What Is An Ode?

The word, "ode," is derived from aeidein (Greek) relating to lyric verse. The Greek term, "aeidein," means to sing or chant. Odes were at one time accomanied by music. Later, this method was used by Romantic poets to show very strong sentiments.

"Mont Blanc"

Stanza no. 5 of Shelley's Mont Blanc is to be expounded upon first because it is rich with visuals of nature and the sensation of his passion for nature's beauty is clearly discoverable within each stanza of his poem.

Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:--the power is there,

The still and solemn power of many sights,

And many sounds, and much of life and death.

This stanza is likened to the final chorus of some fabulous tune. The first line is strong and presents a view of the historical site that shall never be weathered away. At the same time, though, life and death is in the surroundings. "The power is there" can be yanked out of one's mind to state that not only is there power in nature, there is power in one's perception of nature. It is the sight of nature linking with the viewer's mind and the effects of the connection brings forth intense feelings which process thought by way of imagination. "Many sights" is representative of what nature in itself can bestow upon one's imagination.

Within nature, one must learn to utilize as many senses possible to have the whole experience. Also, it is to be noted there is a comparison between man and nature in that there is "life and death" with both. Still further, though, there is a stillness and serenity that is experienced with life and death.

In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,

In the lone glare of day, the snows descend

Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,

Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,

Or the star-beams dart through them:--Winds contend

Silently there, and heap the snow with breath

Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home

Everything is still and it is dark and that even if it were day with light, the snow still falls and nobody knows. Shelley is saying that one needs to take notice of what is going on with nature. Stop and listen and pay attention. Human beings should be having a relationship with nature because if they chose to do so, they could sense the romance that occurs between man and nature. What silently takes place between the elements of nature is what Shelley is proposing should be non-silent to man. Be illuminated with nature's beauty and how it can stir the imagination, and with passion, let it be an emotional experience.

The voiceless lightning in these solitudes

Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods

Over the snow. The secret Strength of things

Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome

Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!

And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,

If to the human mind's imaginings

Silence and solitude were vacancy?

Lightening has no sound, but speaks to the imagination. Nature is a product of the universe and there are "things" in nature that can have power over one's mind. ("The secret Strength of things/Which governs thought"). Everything is a product of a divine source. People cannot stimulate nature to "feel," but because of nature and peoples' relationship to it, they can be driven to "feel." What if a person didn't have the power of thought at all? What if there was the inability to process one single thought on one single moment of one particular view such as Mont Blanc?

Everything is connected. The mountain top reaches to the sky; it points up as do the trees and everything that grows from the ground. There is much truth to the adage that a picture paints a thousand words, as can a view of a scene that shouts of its beauty. At the same time, however, there is much to be said about beauty being in the eyes of the beholder.

Another position of this stanza could be to consider the possibility that we were some mountain that stood alone in the cold without the presence of caring eyes and a mind void of thought. What if we were deemed to be non-existent? ("If to the human mind's imaginings/Silence and solitude were vacancy?"). It is because of nature, however, that our minds persuade us to act upon what we see. One way to act is to take notice, be "one" with the experience and witness the fact that even though nature appears to be silent, it can cause one's mind to speak as well as to feel.

There is a sense of magic that seems to transpire within the presence of a spectacular view. If one cannot even experience beauty in just a field of kaleidoscope green, then anything greater in nature to view will be meaningless. Because nature is oblivious to man is no excuse, nor reason, why man should be oblivious to nature.

Finally, with Shelley's exemplary use of imagery, an attempt to reenact his experience can be made by use of imagination. So, if a reader is taken to the foot of this mountain by the use of imagination as a result of language, then one should think on the heights of where else the imagination could take him or her if either was physically present at the site. Whether it is by use of Shelley's own personal sight, or experience of it, ultimately, it is with the performance of his language with which he instills in his reader's mind the similar sense of experience, which hopefully brings about a form of emotion. That is what poetry is; it should cause the reader to feel.

Shelley Quote

"Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar."



Submit a Comment

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Jools, thanks very much for your comment and the read.

  • Jools99 profile image

    Jools Hogg 

    6 years ago from North-East UK

    Great hub. I think Shelley will always be admired because he was a real talent. His early death has immortalised him as someone whose work will always be that of a young man - it might be interesting to consider what he might have gone on to do.

    Voted up etc.

  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Makusr, thanks much for your comment. I have always been intrigued with the history of how language has evolved.

  • makusr profile image

    Manoj Kumar Srivastava 

    7 years ago from India


    Greetings from MAKUSR. This is a very informative piece on such a good poet. I have read about him in my school days and you have refreshed the memories. Thanks.

    Lots of Love,


  • ytsenoh profile imageAUTHOR


    7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

    Thanks for your comments. I like Shelley too!

  • shea duane profile image

    shea duane 

    7 years ago from new jersey

    very interesting. thanks for reminding me how much I love Shelley!

    great hub

  • raciniwa profile image


    7 years ago from Naga City, Cebu

    interesting hub for one of the most popular poets of all time...great hub...


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