Shelly’s idealism | Sunday Observer

Shelly’s idealism

10 May, 2021

So lyrical, so very passionate about nature that he went to extremes, only to be criticised for its didacticism and reckless emotionalism. But that was in his era. It is different today where poetry laden with emotion and feelings dominates lyrical lines to bring out the passion of humankind towards others. It can erupt from love or hatred but the passion that lay between is Shelley’s signature. He was essentially a poet of ideas in search for the truth but never found it, much like me when I wrote my book on poetry. ‘From a distance’ the truth I searched I never found like in these four lines:-

‘Our hearts are endless

And our souls infinite

I close my eyes to open my heart

On time remaining upon my soul’ (page 26)

May be when I wrote ‘From a distance’ I was subconsciously influenced by his search for truth which both of us never found but I still keep looking for it knowing it is there in someone who means the world to me. There are many like me who at the end have given up the search for hope. Shelley who was inspired by Greek poets and philosophers along with the radicalism of his own age, turned to Plato. In his art if not in his life Shelley was able to soar into expressions and dreams that his visions held. Yet, they were continually tarnished by reality in the inextinguishable spirit.

Reality and expectations

His greatest asset was his lyricism which made his verse come near to music and song. His approach was akin to Byron, intense, idealistic and impetuous and I like Byron in his days, drove to great controversy. They both lived and shared lives outside their poetry.

And from the high heavens and across the spans ‘The cloud’ spoke to Shelley and condoned his frustration: -

In the depts. of the purple sea,

Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills

Over the lakes and the plains

Wherever he dream under the mountain or stream

The spirit he loves remains;

And I all the while bask in Heaven’s blue smile

Whilst he is dissolving in rain’

Shelley’s detractors never left him alone whether in life or death. He become the subject for much ridicule and his poetic reputation contrary to the expectation of his critics, stayed put lustily. The hateful passion wrought by them arousing personal virulence upon the innocent Shelley, moved many that even after his death he still raises antagonism but with complexes ideologies, the poet continue to live outside his work and attract or repel the criticism as he did when alive. No English poet suffered this dilemma not even his inseparable Byron; and no English poet was able to live through hell like this and rise unscathed. Amidst the criticism hurled at him at various points of his life by the literati and critics, Byron wrote about him ‘You were all brutally mistaken about Shelley, who was, without exception, the best and least selfish man I ever knew.’

Finding solitude in cloud

And ‘The cloud’ told him :-

‘I wield the flail of the lashing hail

And whiten the green plains under

And then again I dissolve it in rain

And laugh as I pass in thunder’

In these verses Shelly found consolation though they were a form of symbolism from which he drew inspiration. He found it easy to communicate with the cloud that hung in heaven performing its daily routine which to Shelley appeared miracles. The cloud could go get lost and appear after dissolving in rain and the spirit in it awakened the poet’s ardour when in solitude he gazed. This type of attitude irked poets of his time as relentlessly he searched the truth may be even in the cloud.

Seeped in philosophy and uncertainties of life, the deep-thinking poet found solace in simple uncomplicated virtues of life that many failed to understand. What he saw in others, they knew not, how he looked at nature appeared differently so much so that he was considered eccentric when he addressed the mountain, valley or ocean. His spirit rose above all to captivate aura and the lushness of life and perhaps beyond it. In ‘the cloud’, he can read what’s behind it or in the tasks it performs.

‘I bind the Sun’s throne with a burning zone

And the Moon’s with a girdle of pearl

The volcanoes are dim and the stars reel and swim

When the whirlwinds my banner unfurl’

What did the cloud mean? Or what did it tell Shelley? Perhaps while the poet is reduced to ashes and dust, the cloud would dissolve into water and fall upon his grave. In time, the water would be absorbed into another cloud while from the ashes would rise another Shelley. This process will repeat in many ways and to put it across philosophically, it is the cycle of life that Shelley tried to explain. Shelley’s relations with women too were unique. While he failed in his adoration to pen his ardour, he remained extremely attractive to them because of his idealism and his inability to see what went under his nose which was unperceptive in his search for the intellectual woman.

Of the two women he married, one committed suicide, the other failed and between them he had few children, not what the most essentially romantic of the poets of his age discovered and found no intellectuality in them.