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Percy Shelley: Romantic Poet and Philosopher
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.
"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.
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?
More Books to Read
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.
"Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar."