Shelley was a third generation Romantic who died at the age of 30. Although a late Romantic his work most resembles Blake is his use of psychological and political abstractions and his sense of a progressive political future. Like Blake, too, he was a poet of great transformations, and of the movement in the nature of things. His Prometheus Unbound is an analogue to Blake's "America," with Prometheus a less melodramatic Orc, but with progress seen as working through osmosis and suffusion (not violence and rapine). Shelley celebrates, not contraries and opposition, but harmonies, the organic law and mechanism of creation,--themes embodied in the lyrical, musical ranges of his sounds and rhythms.

Shelly is a poet of synaethesia, who carefully eschews concrete images to concentrate on motion, light, and transformation in the elements of nature. He is thus a difficult poet to read. His poetry may suffer from the problem of surface simplicity, which encourages a too rapid reading and makes individual lines or expressions more difficult to remember.

Not surprisingly Shelley's early work was strongly influenced by his eventual father-in-law William Godwin. He was one of few literary figures to feel continuing sympathy with earlier radicals such as Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Shelley's view of creation and human possibility contrasts markedly with that of his wife, Godwin and Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary Godwin Shelley.

Shelley's "Adonais," an elegy on the death of Keats, is a Romantic analogue to "Lycidas"; the "Ode to the West Wind" expresses similar preoccupations with transience.

Early Poems

Like eighteenth-century radicals, Shelley opposed luxury, a parasitic aristocracy and church, government repression, and the creation of poverty through taxation (for examples, taxes on staples such as bread). He opposes the identification of national prosperity with the prosperity of the business and commercial classes alone. Like other advanced radicals he opposed institutionalized marriage and other intrusions of religion into private life.

Does Shelley advocate revolution? Does he think revolution will occur? Do you think he would have supported working-class radical movements, had he lived longer or been able to remain in Britain?

Are there resemblances between Shelley's ideas and those of Karl Marx? Where would the two have differed? (like Hegel and others of the period, he believed progress was inevitable)

In what ways are his views different from Godwinian individualism?


What is the effect of narrating a tale told by a traveller from a distant land? Would the incident have had the same effect if he had had the experience himself directly, or if it had occured at a local site?

How are the octave and sestet divisions of the sonnet used to develop his point? The use of the final lines?

What is significant about Shelley's use of diction? The poem's rhythms?

What significance is given to the artist in this narration? What had been his relationship to the proud monarch?

What ironies does the poem convey? What is the poem's point or moral?

Is "Oxymandis" a depressing or a victorius poem? (tyrants eventually die! the truthtelling function of art lives on)

"Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"

What is intellectual beauty?

What does the speaker of the poem desire?

"Ode to the West Wind"

As one of the most concrete Shelly poems and one organized around a single image, "The Ode to the West Wind" is a useful poem for begining Shelley. Here the central iamge is more closely tied with the resolution of the poem than is usual in his work. The poem was written aet. 27 in Italy, where he was in exile for his political beliefs.

"The Cloud"

What relationship does the Cloud itself bear to "Intellectual Beauty"? To the west wind of "The Ode to the West Wind"? To the Lady of the garden of "The Sensitive Plant"?

In what ways is the Cloud a characteristic Shelleyan image? What or who does it represent?

Why is the Cloud describd four times as "laughing"? Does it reveal other human traits--or is it anthropomorphic to see laughter or enjoyment as only human traits? What is the Cloud's relation to other aspects of nature? --embraces them

Is there a progression to the poem, and if so, what is this?

How do the poem's language and rhythms express its themes?

Is its ending similar to that of other Shelleyan poems of this period of his life?

"The Sensitive Plant"

What was the "sensitive plant" botanically? What is added to the poem by the fact that its central metaphor is from botany?

How do the themes of "The Sensitive Plant" resemble those of other Shelley poems? (e. g., "Adonais," "Mount Blanc," "The Cloud," "Lift Not the Painted Veil," Prometheus Unbound)

--cmp. "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," for example. What is the equivalent of "intellectual beauty" here?

What are the traits of the sensitive plant?

How do the poem's rhythms and language suggest the qualities of natural order and beauty within the garden?

For example, what type of language does Shelley use to express natural order and beauty?

--palpitating, interfusion of natural elements, ll 66ff, intepentrating

--tremulous, l. 9, fainting

--use of synaethesia, fusion

--soft images, variety of colors and light t

--elaborate alliteration and assonance

--rhythms are anapestic, varied

What is the significance of the conclusion?

Is the conclusion consonant with the earlier content of the poem? How is this parallel to other Shelleyan concluding passages, e. g. of "Prometheus" and "Intellectual Beauty"?

Is Shelley's concept of eternal beauty here similar to that of Keats in his Odes?


The name "Adonais" is the Doric form of Adonis, a beautiful youth who in legend was beloved by Venus and slain by a wild boar. "Adonai" was also the Hebrew for "lord," carrying caballistic significance

The poem is a pastoral elegy, whose conventions included a lament of nature over the dead one, a procession of mourners, a contrast between the rebirth of spring and the fixity of grief and death, and a change of tone at the end with the consoling thought that the dead poet is immortal

Shelley sometimes paraphrases Bion's "Lament for Adonis," and to a lesser exent, Moschus' "Lament for Bion."

The poem hurt as well as helped Keats' reputation. Keats was criticized for his weakness in allegedly responding traumatically to an article--an "oversensitve poet." In fact Keats died of the tuberculosis which killed his brother Tom, whom he had nursed.

Motto: (translated by Shelley)

Thou wert the morning star among the living,

Ere the fair light had fled;--

Now, having died, thou art, as Hesperus, giving

New splendour to the dead.

What hapens in the poem? i. e., what is its structural and thematic progression?

What mythological figures does the poem asociate with Keats?

Why should we not mourn for Adonias? Is the claim that we should not mourn partly a figure of speech? What is the sequence of forms of comfort?

--stanzas xxxviii ff., esp.stanzas 43 and 52

Do Shelley's introductory comments on Keats and the presentation of Keats as a languishing sensitive spirit affect the reader's final image of the poet?

--cmp. Sensitive Plant--yet the spirit of Adonais must lead us to the eternal realms; it is a paradox that it is a "gentle child" who will lead the human race--a reversal of values, st. 27

-cmp. myth of Chatterton--died young from poverty and lack of recognition, a Romantic type of the neglected poet.

What does the poet attack Keats' critics for in the Preface?

--political bias

What use is made of biblical allusions?

What is Adonais' final function within the poem?

In your view, is the resolution at all forced or artificial?

Is the introductory processional important to the poem's sequence? Are the first and second portions of the poem consistent in tone?

Might the poem have been usefully shortened? If not, why not?

Do you believe the genre of the formal elegy is successful for you as a mode of responding to death? Why might it have had especial appeal in the nineteenth century?

What is the relationship between the deceased poet and the speaker? the deceased poet and the audience?

How does this poem resemble other Shelly poems in theme, for example, "The Senstive Plant" and "the Ode to the West Wind"?

"The Triumph of Life"

The basic metaphor of the poem was suggested by Petrarch's Trionfi, and refers to the procession through ancient Rome by which the senate and people honored a victorious general. The poem proceeds by a series of processions and shapes---phantasms and emanations. These seem to overlap in meaning, so that a strict allegorical reading of the final shapes is unnecessary: they embody life--pleasant but thought-destroying, attainable ony through a veil.

1. What is the poem's central metaphor? Can you compare it to the "Ode to the West Wind" or other Shelley poems?

2. What do you think of the poem's rhythms and stanza form? Are they appropriate for its subject? Can you comment on the poem's language and tone?

3. What is the purpose of the prologue, ll. 1-42?

4. What does the chariot represent?

5. Based on your knowledge of other Shelley poems, how do you think the "Triumph of Life" might have ended? Or do you think it already essentially complete?

6. Why is Rousseau given such an important position in the poem? What does he represet?

7. Where is the poet/speaker in relation to the processional? Does his stance change, and what is the significance of this change?

8. Where is the "spirit of beauty" in this scene?

9. What may Shelley mean in ll. 230-31, "And why God made irreconcilable/ Good and the means of good . . . "

"A Defence of Poetry"

1. What according to Shelley are the essential qualities of poetry? How do these differ from those described in Wordsworth's "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads"?


--harmony through community and fusion, 480, 482

--result of childlike, original perceptions, the natural expression of orginal language, 482

--rhythmical, musical

--approximates the beautiful in a more intense fashion

--poetry works through metaphorical perception, 482

--deals with the psychological nature of the human being, 48

--innovative in versification, 484

--philosophic, creates revolutions in thought, 85

--forms an image of life, that is, of the universal as opposed to the particular 485

--creates meaning of facts through imagination, 485

--poets are judged by their peers, their fellow poets, rather than by their contemporaries, 486

--poetry inevitably contains prophecy, 482-83, though participating in the eternal

--poety raises the moral sense through exercing the imagination through the spirit of love, 486-87

--poetry presents itself through time and the sense of each age, 487

--poetry makes familiar objects new, 487 (cmp. Russian formalist notion of distantiation)

--takes its form from the unconsiocus, 503-504

--expresses the morality of the ages, 490 (Browning, Morris)

2. Do you see parallels between Shelly's views and those xpressed in Keats' letters?

3. Are there parallels/contrasts with Wordsworth's desription of the role of the poet in the "Preface to Lyrical Ballads"? In his description of the role of the poet as teacher at the conclusion of The Prelude?

4. Acoding to Shelley, how does poetry contribute to a moral sense? 487-88 Should poetry be overtly didactic? 488

5. Do yu see any ontrasts bewteen Shelley's prescriptions and his practice? A strong correlation?

6. How does Sheleys theory f poetry enable hi to approach the Christian religion? What in his view did the middle ages contibut to poetry? 496-98

7. How does Shelley define epic poetry? 499

8. Why is poetry in some sense more useful than practical action? 502 What is its relation to "intellectual beauty"?

9. What is the relation betwen poetry and the moral virtue of the individual poet? 58

10. What are some later poets influenced by Shelley?

--early Tennyson; Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Robert Browning; Algernon Swinburne; William Morris (esp. Love Is Enough); W. B. Yeats

11. Does Shelley's notion of poetry seem broader than rhymed verse--that is, could it apply to certain forms of prose?

12. How might Shelley's notions of poetry have been perceived by twentieth-century critics of poetry, such as the New Critics? How might he perhaps have answered their charges?