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Thread: Poetry and Imagination.

  1. #1
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Poetry and Imagination.

    Poetry and Imagination.

    To examine this concept, I would like to examine some of the acknowledged great poets; and I thought it useful to start with Shelly.

    Here is a small, but well-known part of the last poem he ever published, “Hellas.”


    The world’s great age begins anew,
    The golden years return,
    The earth doth like a snake renew
    Her winter weeds outworn;
    Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
    Like wrecks of a dissolving dream.
    A brighter Hellas rears its mountains
    From waves serener far;
    A new Peneus rolls his fountains
    Against the morning star;
    Where fairer Tempes bloom, there sleep
    Young Cyclads on a sunnier deep.
    A loftier Argo cleaves the main,
    Fraught with a later prize;
    Another Orpheus sings again,
    And loves, and weeps, and dies;
    A new Ulysses leaves once more
    Calypso for his native shore.
    O write no more the tale of Troy,
    If earth Death’s scroll must be
    Nor mix with Laian rage the joy
    Which dawns upon the free,
    Although a subtler Sphinx renew
    Riddles of death Thebes never knew.
    Another Athens shall arise,
    And to remoter time
    Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
    The splendour of its prime;
    And leave, if naught so bright may live,
    All earth can take or Heaven can give.
    Saturn and Love their long repose
    Shall burst, more bright and good
    Than all who fell, than One who rose,
    Than many unsubdued:
    Not gold, not blood, their altar dowers,
    But votive tears and symbol flowers.
    O cease! must hate and death return?
    Cease! must men kill and die?
    Cease! drain not to its dregs the urn
    Of bitter prophecy!
    The world is weary of the past
    O might it die or rest at last


    So, what was Shelly’s take on poetry. Luckily in Shelley’s eloquent exposition of ideas in his works, one can discern a perceptible radiance that allows us to look into the poet’s experience in conceiving and composing.

    The world to him is a melancholy place, a ‘dim vast vale of tears,’ illuminated in flashes by the light of a hidden but glorious power.

    Nor is this power, wholly outside the world. It works within it as a soul contending with obstruction and striving to penetrate and transform the whole mass. And although the fulness of its glory is concealed, its nature can, with effort, be known in outline.

    It is the realized perfection of everything good and beautiful on earth.

    And by “all” this would cover aspects such as: the splendour of nature, the love of lovers, every affection and virtue, any good action or just law, the wisdom of philosophy, the creations of art; all are equally operations or appearances of the hidden power.

    It is of the first importance for the understanding of Shelley to realize how strong in him is the sense and conviction of this unity in life: it is one of his Platonic traits.

    To Shelley, it is the revelation of those eternal ideas which lie behind the veil that we call reality or life.

    Initially when reading his work, we hear nothing of that perfect power at the heart of things, and his poetry seems to be considered as a creation rather than a revelation.

    But for Shelley, we soon discover, this would be a false antithesis. The poet creates, but this creation is no mere fancy of his; it represents ‘those forms which are common to universal nature and existence,’ and ‘a poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.’

    We notice, further, that the more voluntary and conscious work of invention and execution is regarded as quite subordinate in the creative process.

    In that process the mind, obedient to an influence which it does not understand and cannot control, is driven to produce images of perfection which rather form themselves in it than are formed by it.

    The greatest stress is laid on this influence or inspiration; and in the end we learn that the origin of the whole process lies in certain exceptional moments when visitations of thought and feeling, elevating and delightful beyond all expression, but always arising unforeseen and departing unbidden, reach the soul; that these are, as it were, the inter-penetration of a diviner nature through our own; and that the province of the poet is to arrest these apparitions, to veil them in language, to colour every other form he touches with their evanescent hues, and so to ‘redeem from decay the visitations of the divinity in man.’

    Thus, that ‘Poetry’ which Shelley is defending is something very much wider than poetry in the usual sense. The enemy he has to meet is the contention that poetry and its influence steadily decline as civilization advances, and that they are giving place, and ought to give place, to reasoning and the pursuit of utility. His answer is that, on the contrary, imagination has been, is, and always will be, the prime source of everything that has intrinsic value in life.

    Reasoning, he declares, cannot create, it can only operate upon the products of the imagination.

    Further, he holds that the predominance of mere reasoning and mere utility has become in great part an evil; for while it has accumulated masses of material goods and moral truths, we distribute the goods iniquitously and fail to apply the truths, because, for want of imagination, we have not sympathy in our hearts and do not feel what we know.

    The ‘Poetry’ which he defends, therefore, is the whole creative imagination with all its products. And these include not merely literature in verse, but, first, whatever prose writing is allied to that literature; and, next, all the other fine arts; and, finally, all actions, inventions, institutions, and even ideas and moral dispositions, which imagination brings into being in its effort to satisfy the longing for perfection.

    Painters and musicians are poets. Plato and Bacon, even Herodotus and Livy, were poets, though there is much in their works which is not poetry. So were the men who invented the arts of life, constructed laws, disclosed, as sages or founders of religion, the excellence of justice and love. And every one, Shelley would say, who, perceiving the beauty of an imagined virtue or deed, translates the image into a fact, is so far a poet. For all these things come from imagination.

    Shelley’s exposition of this, which is probably the most original part of his theory, is not very clear; but, essentially the meaning is that the imagination, that is to say, the soul imagining, has before it, or feels within it, something which, answering perfectly to its nature, fills it with delight and with a desire to realize what delights it.

    These aspects are as various as the elements and forms of its own inner life and outward existence; and so the idea may be that of the perfect harmony of will and feeling (a virtue), or of the perfect union of soul with soul (love), or of the perfect order of certain social relations or forces (a law or institution), or of the perfect adjustment of intellectual elements (a truth); and so on.

    The formation and expression of any such idea is thus the work of Poetry in the widest sense; while at the same time any such idea is a gleam or apparition of the perfect Intellectual Beauty.

    Shelley also talks about what he terms ‘rhythm.’ He uses this word in reference to an action. Thus, he says for example, that the true poetry of Rome, unlike that of Greece, did not fully express itself in poems. ‘The true poetry of Rome lived in its institutions: for whatever of beautiful, true and majestic they contained, could have sprung only from the faculty which creates the order in which they consist. The life of Camillus; the death of Regulus; the expectation of the senators, in their god-like state, of the victorious Gauls; the refusal of the Republic to make peace with Hannibal after the battle of Cannæ’, these he describes as ‘a rhythm and order in the shows of life,’ an order not arranged with a view to utility or outward result, but due to the imagination, which, ‘beholding the beauty of this order, created it out of itself according to its own idea.’

    If this, then, is the nature of Poetry in the widest sense, how does the poet, in the special sense, differ from other unusually creative souls?

    First, he claims for language the highest place among the vehicles of artistic expression, on the ground that it is the most direct and also the most flexible. It is itself produced by imagination instead of being simply encountered by it, and it has no relation except to imagination.

    It is to the superiority of its vehicle that Shelley attributes the greater fame which poetry has enjoyed as compared with other arts. He forgets that the media of the other arts have, on their side, certain advantages over language, and that these perhaps counterbalance the inferiority which he notices.

    Language, Shelley goes on to say, represents in it’s meaning, a perfection which is always an order, harmony, or rhythm. It is measured language, which is not the proper vehicle for the mere recital of facts or for mere reasoning.

    But we must remember that Shelley’s strength and weakness are closely allied, and it may be that the very abstractness of his ideal was a condition of that quivering intensity of aspiration towards it, in which his poetry is so unique.

    Secondly, Shelley remarks that a poet’s own conceptions on moral subjects are usually those of his place and time, while the matter of his poem ought to be eternal, or, of permanent and universal interest. This, seems true, and has a wide application; and it holds good even when the poet, like Shelley himself, is in rebellion against orthodox moral opinion.

    Lastly, and this is Shelley’s central argument, as poetry itself is directly due to imaginative inspiration and not to reasoning, so it's true moral effect is produced through imagination and not through doctrine. Imagination is, for Shelley, ‘the great instrument of moral good. It is not ‘for want of admirable doctrines that men hate and despise and censure and deceive and subjugate one another’: it is for want of love. And poetry ministers to moral good, the effect, by acting on its cause, imagination. It strengthens imagination as exercise strengthens a limb, and so it indirectly promotes morality.

    And so, in conclusion, I think we can say that the moral virtue of Shelley’s poetry lay, not in his doctrines about the past and future of man, but in an intuition, which was the substance of his soul, and of the value of love.

  2. #2
    Registered User tailor STATELY's Avatar
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    Howdy ! My favorite Shelley writing may or may not be attributed to him, but I like to think it is for it would reveal a lot about his character :"When my cats aren't happy, I'm not happy. Not because I care about their mood but because I know they're just sitting there thinking up ways to get even."... perhaps I saw this on a Grumpy Cat meme or something.

    I enjoy his classical take on the poem above. I've borrowed from his Ozymandias a few times: "Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"... the last in a post within the last 6-mo.s or so during the storms.

    I'll rejoin your thoughtful post as time allows.

    Ta ! (short for tarradiddle),
    tailor
    tailor

    who am I but a stitch in time
    what if I were to bare my soul
    would you see me origami

    7-8-2015

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    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Hi Tailor

    Thanks for your response. You mention a poem to outlast empires that I likewise appreciate a lot.

    “I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    A couple of things that might be of some interest to you. You most probably know that the poem originated almost as a friendly competition between Shelly and his friend the banker Horace Smith.

    The origins of the poem likely originated in the fact that both Shelley and Smith were well versed in the Roman-era historian “Diodorus Siculus,” who described a statue of Ozymandias, more commonly known as “Rameses II”. Diodorus reports the inscription on the statue, which he claims was the largest in Egypt, as follows: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”

    What I find interesting in Shelly’s poem is the attitude, not so much of the king, but of the seemingly subordinate role of the sculptor.

    He “well those passions read,” Shelley tells us. Thus, the sculptor could sense and read beneath the cold, commanding exterior of the statute’s face, the tyrant’s rage to impose himself on so many.

    “The heart that fed” phrase, in fact could be referring to the sculptor’s own fervent way of nourishing himself on his somewhat substantial project. Ruler and the artist seem strangely linked here; the latter’s contempt for his subject does not free him from Ozymandias’ enormous shadow.

    Shelley is obviously opposed to both the statue and its arrogant inscribed boast. Time renders fame hollow. Hence the final scene of the statute located in a hollow desert setting.

    I do think that Ozymandias and his sculptor bear a fascinating relation to Shelley himself: they might be seen as warnings concerning the aggressive character of human action. Shelley always came across as a fervent creator of poetry, but yet he yearned for calm. This yearning dictated that he reaches beyond his own rebellious spirit.

    In one way or another, we all strive against the finality to which death finally brings. But we face, in that rebellion, a choice of pathways: the road of the man of power who wrecks all before him, and is wrecked in turn; or the road of the poet, who makes his own soul the instrument for unseen forces.

    Best regards
    M.

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    Shelley’s writings are of such an individual and original kind, that he can neither be hidden in the shade, nor lost in the brightness, of any other poet. No idea of his works could be conveyed by instituting a comparison, for he does not sufficiently resemble any other among English writers to make such a comparison possible.

    His background was, to say the least, challenging. Shelley’s opinions in politics and theology, which he appears to have been far more anxious to maintain, than was consistent with the peace of the household, were peculiarly obnoxious to his father, a man as different from his son as it is possible to conceive; and his expulsion from Oxford was soon followed by exile from his home.

    He went to London, where he met Harriet Westbrook, whom he eloped with and married, when he was nineteen and she sixteen.They wandered about England, Scotland, and Ireland, with a frequent and sudden change of residence, for more than two years.

    Shortly after the commencement of the third year of their married life, an estrangement of feeling, which had been gradually widening between them, resulted in the final separation of the poet and his wife. Owing, in a considerable degree, to the influence of an elder sister of Mrs. Shelley, who domineered over her, and whose presence became at last absolutely hateful to Shelley. His wife returned to her father’s house; where, apparently about three years after, she committed suicide.

    Shortly after his first wife’s death, Shelley married the daughter of William Godwin. He had lived with her almost from the date of the separation from his first wife. In 1817, it was decreed in Chancery that Shelley was not a proper person to take charge of his two children by his first wife. The effects of this proceeding upon Shelley may be easily imagined. Perhaps he never recovered from them? A year later he left England, not to return.

    It appears that the state of his health; for he appeared to have consumption made him fear lest his son, by his second wife, should be taken from him, and this combined to induce him to take refuge in Italy from both impending evils.

    He moved from place to place in Italy, as he had done in his own country.

    In 1819, Shelley finished his Prometheus Unbound, writing the greater part at Rome, and completing it at Florence. In this year also he wrote his tragedy, The Cenci, which attracted more attention during his lifetime than any other of his works. The Ode to a Skylark was written at Leghorn in the spring of 1820; and in August of the same year, the Witch of Atlas was written, near Pisa.

    On the 8th of July, 1822, Shelley and his friend Williams sailed from Leghorn for Lerici, on the Bay of Spezia, near which lay his home for the time. A sudden squall came on, and their boat disappeared. The bodies of the two friends were cast on shore; and, according to quarantine regulations, were burned to ashes. Lord Byron was present when the body of Shelley was burned; so that his ashes were saved, and buried in the Protestant burial-ground at Rome, near the grave of Keats, whose body had been laid there in the spring of the preceding year.


    The character of Shelley has been sadly maligned. It must be remembered that Shelley was under less obligation to society than most men. Yet his heart seemed full of love to his kind; and the distress which the oppression of others caused him, was the source of much of that wild denunciation which exposed him to the dislike of those who were rendered uncomfortable by his unsparing and indiscriminate criticisms.

    Of all Shelley’s works, the Prometheus Unbound is that which combines the greatest amount of individual power and peculiarity.

    There is an airy grandeur about it, reminding one of the vast masses of cloud scattered about in broken, yet suggestive forms, all over the summer sky, after a thunderstorm.

    The fundamental ideas are grand and so ethereal, that one hardly knows whether he is gazing on towers of solid masonry rendered dim and unsubstantial by intervening mists, or upon the golden turrets of cloudland, themselves born of the mist which surrounds them.

    The beings of Greek, mythology are idealized by the new souls which he puts into them. In reading this, as in reading most of his poetry, we feel that, unable to cope with the evils and wrongs of the world as it and they are, he constructs a new universe, wherein he may rule according to his will. And a good will in the main it is; good always in intent.

    The result perhaps of being driven from the places of initial learning, and cast on his own mental resources long before those resources were sufficient for his support.
    Few men have been more misunderstood or misrepresented than Shelley. Doubtless this has in part been his own fault, as Coleridge implies when he writes that his horror of hypocrisy made him speak in such a wild way.

    But setting aside this consideration altogether, and regarding him merely as a poet, Shelley has written verse which will last as long as English literature lasts; valuable from the peculiarity of its excellence. Shelley will always be admired for his sweet melodies, lovely pictures, and wild prophetic imaginings. His indignant remonstrances, burst from a heart overcharged with the love of his kind, and roused to a keener sense of all oppression by the wrongs which sought to overwhelm himself.

  5. #5
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    Prometheus Unbound.

    The "Prometheus Unbound" of Aeschylus supposed the reconciliation of Jupiter with his victim as the price of the disclosure of the danger threatened to his empire by the consummation of his marriage with Thetis. Thetis, was given in marriage to Peleus; and Prometheus, by the permission of Jupiter, delivered from his captivity by Hercules.

    The only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement.

    The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure.
    But Prometheus is, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.

  6. #6
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I haven´t read Shelleys poem, but I couldn´t resist the temptation to post Goethes rebelious poem which I love:
    "
    Prometheus - Poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    Autoplay next video

    COVER thy spacious heavens, Zeus,
    With clouds of mist,
    And, like the boy who lops
    The thistles' heads,
    Disport with oaks and mountain-peaks,
    Yet thou must leave
    My earth still standing;
    My cottage too, which was not raised by thee;
    Leave me my hearth,
    Whose kindly glow
    By thee is envied.

    I know nought poorer
    Under the sun, than ye gods!
    Ye nourish painfully,
    With sacrifices
    And votive prayers,
    Your majesty:
    Ye would e'en starve,
    If children and beggars
    Were not trusting fools.

    While yet a child
    And ignorant of life,
    I turned my wandering gaze
    Up tow'rd the sun, as if with him
    There were an ear to hear my wailings,
    A heart, like mine,
    To feel compassion for distress.

    Who help'd me
    Against the Titans' insolence?
    Who rescued me from certain death,
    From slavery?
    Didst thou not do all this thyself,
    My sacred glowing heart?
    And glowedst, young and good,
    Deceived with grateful thanks
    To yonder slumbering one?

    I honour thee! and why?
    Hast thou e'er lighten'd the sorrows
    Of the heavy laden?
    Hast thou e'er dried up the tears
    Of the anguish-stricken?
    Was I not fashion'd to be a man
    By omnipotent Time,
    And by eternal Fate,
    Masters of me and thee?

    Didst thou e'er fancy
    That life I should learn to hate,
    And fly to deserts,
    Because not all
    My blossoming dreams grew ripe?

    Here sit I, forming mortals
    After my image;
    A race resembling me,
    To suffer, to weep,
    To enjoy, to be glad,
    And thee to scorn,
    As I!
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/prometheus-2/
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  7. #7
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Dear Danik

    Brilliant. I have never read this Goethe piece before. The imagery, the finality of mortal existence so poignantly expressed. Thank you so much.

    Best wishes
    M.

  8. #8
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    Entities Involved:
    PROMETHEUS. DEMOGORGON. JUPITER. THE EARTH. OCEAN. APOLLO. MERCURY. OCEANIDES: ASIA, PANTHEA, IONE. HERCULES. THE PHANTASM OF JUPITER. THE SPIRIT OF THE EARTH. THE SPIRIT OF THE MOON. SPIRITS OF THE HOURS. SPIRITS. ECHOES. FAUNS. FURIES.

    ACT 1.
    SCENE: A RAVINE OF ICY ROCKS IN THE INDIAN CAUCASUS. PROMETHEUS IS DISCOVERED BOUND TO THE PRECIPICE. PANTEA AND IONE ARE SEATED AT HIS FEET. TIME, NIGHT. DURING, THE SCENE MORNING SLOWLY BREAKS.

    PROMETHEUS:

    Monarch of Gods and Daemons, and all Spirits
    But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
    Which Thou and I alone of living things
    Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
    Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
    Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
    And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
    With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.

    Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
    Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,
    O'er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.

    Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
    And moments aye divided by keen pangs
    Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
    Scorn and despair, these are mine empire:
    More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
    From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
    Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
    Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
    Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
    Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
    Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.

    Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever

  9. #9
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    No change, no pause, no hope! Yet I endure.
    I ask the Earth, have not the mountains felt?
    I ask yon Heaven, the all-beholding Sun,
    Has it not seen? The Sea, in storm or calm,
    Heaven's ever-changing Shadow, spread below,
    Have its deaf waves not heard my agony?
    Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

    The crawling glaciers pierce me with the spears
    Of their moon-freezing crystals; the bright chains
    Eat with their burning cold into my bones.

    Heaven's winged hound, polluting from thy lips
    His beak in poison not his own, tears up
    My heart; and shapeless sights come wandering by,
    The ghastly people of the realm of dream,
    Mocking me: and the Earthquake-fiends are charged
    To wrench the rivets from my quivering wounds
    When the rocks split and close again behind:
    While from their loud abysses howling throng
    The genii of the storm, urging the rage
    Of whirlwind, and afflict me with keen hail.

    And yet to me welcome is day and night,
    Whether one breaks the hoar-frost of the morn,
    Or starry, dim, and slow, the other climbs
    The leaden-coloured east; for then they lead
    The wingless, crawling hours, one among whom
    As some dark Priest hales the reluctant victim
    Shall drag thee, cruel King, to kiss the blood
    From these pale feet, which then might trample thee
    If they disdained not such a prostrate slave.

    Disdain! Ah, no! I pity thee. What ruin
    Will hunt thee undefended through wide Heaven!
    How will thy soul, cloven to its depth with terror,
    Gape like a hell within! I speak in grief,
    Not exultation, for I hate no more,
    As then ere misery made me wise. The curse
    Once breathed on thee I would recall. Ye Mountains,
    Whose many-voiced Echoes, through the mist
    Of cataracts, flung the thunder of that spell!
    Ye icy Springs, stagnant with wrinkling frost,
    Which vibrated to hear me, and then crept
    Shuddering through India! Thou serenest Air,
    Through which the Sun walks burning without beams!
    And ye swift Whirlwinds, who on poised wings
    Hung mute and moveless o'er yon hushed abyss,
    As thunder, louder than your own, made rock
    The orbed world! If then my words had power,
    Though I am changed so that aught evil wish
    Is dead within; although no memory be
    Of what is hate, let them not lose it now!
    What was that curse? for ye all heard me speak.

  10. #10
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    FIRST VOICE (FROM THE MOUNTAINS):
    Thrice three hundred thousand years
    O'er the Earthquake's couch we stood:
    Oft, as men convulsed with fears,
    We trembled in our multitude.

    SECOND VOICE (FROM THE SPRINGS):
    Thunderbolts had parched our water,
    We had been stained with bitter blood,
    And had run mute, 'mid shrieks of slaughter,
    Thro' a city and a solitude.

    THIRD VOICE (FROM THE AIR):
    I had clothed, since Earth uprose,
    Its wastes in colours not their own,
    And oft had my serene repose
    Been cloven by many a rending groan.

    FOURTH VOICE (FROM THE WHIRLWINDS):
    We had soared beneath these mountains
    Unresting ages; nor had thunder,
    Nor yon volcano's flaming fountains,
    Nor any power above or under
    Ever made us mute with wonder.

    FIRST VOICE:
    But never bowed our snowy crest
    As at the voice of thine unrest.

    SECOND VOICE:
    Never such a sound before
    To the Indian waves we bore.
    A pilot asleep on the howling sea
    Leaped up from the deck in agony,
    And heard, and cried, 'Ah, woe is me!'
    And died as mad as the wild waves be.

    THIRD VOICE:
    By such dread words from Earth to Heaven
    My still realm was never riven:
    When its wound was closed, there stood
    Darkness o'er the day like blood.

    FOURTH VOICE:
    And we shrank back: for dreams of ruin
    To frozen caves our flight pursuing
    Made us keep silence, thus, and thus
    Though silence is a hell to us.

    THE EARTH:
    The tongueless caverns of the craggy hills
    Cried, 'Misery!' then; the hollow Heaven replied,
    'Misery!' And the Ocean's purple waves,
    Climbing the land, howled to the lashing winds,
    And the pale nations heard it, 'Misery!'

  11. #11
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MANICHAEAN View Post
    Hi Tailor

    Thanks for your response. You mention a poem to outlast empires that I likewise appreciate a lot.

    “I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
    And on the pedestal these words appear
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    A couple of things that might be of some interest to you. You most probably know that the poem originated almost as a friendly competition between Shelly and his friend the banker Horace Smith.

    The origins of the poem likely originated in the fact that both Shelley and Smith were well versed in the Roman-era historian “Diodorus Siculus,” who described a statue of Ozymandias, more commonly known as “Rameses II”. Diodorus reports the inscription on the statue, which he claims was the largest in Egypt, as follows: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.”

    What I find interesting in Shelly’s poem is the attitude, not so much of the king, but of the seemingly subordinate role of the sculptor.

    He “well those passions read,” Shelley tells us. Thus, the sculptor could sense and read beneath the cold, commanding exterior of the statute’s face, the tyrant’s rage to impose himself on so many.

    “The heart that fed” phrase, in fact could be referring to the sculptor’s own fervent way of nourishing himself on his somewhat substantial project. Ruler and the artist seem strangely linked here; the latter’s contempt for his subject does not free him from Ozymandias’ enormous shadow.

    Shelley is obviously opposed to both the statue and its arrogant inscribed boast. Time renders fame hollow. Hence the final scene of the statute located in a hollow desert setting.

    I do think that Ozymandias and his sculptor bear a fascinating relation to Shelley himself: they might be seen as warnings concerning the aggressive character of human action. Shelley always came across as a fervent creator of poetry, but yet he yearned for calm. This yearning dictated that he reaches beyond his own rebellious spirit.

    In one way or another, we all strive against the finality to which death finally brings. But we face, in that rebellion, a choice of pathways: the road of the man of power who wrecks all before him, and is wrecked in turn; or the road of the poet, who makes his own soul the instrument for unseen forces.

    Best regards
    M.
    It seems to me that Ozymandias is about four different story-tellers. There is the poet ("I" in the poem); there is the traveler who tells the story; there is Ozymandias (whose passions are, after all, "read") and there is the sculptor. "The hand that mocks" has a dual meaning: in Shakespeare "mock" often means "imitate: (as in to 'mock up" something). So the sculptor's hand imitates the "sneer of cold command" in the stone visage. But the meaning was probably changing by Shelley's time to also suggest a "lampoon" or "critique", so the sculptor may have been making an artistic comment on Ozymandias as well as delineating his expression.

    Shelley was (I think, I'm no expert) a champion of socialism, so he doubtless meant to criticize Ozymandias and scoff at his false pride, But he was also a romantic, for whom each man's life is a work of art, whether that man be a poet, a traveler, a king or a sculptor.

  12. #12
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    The more that I read Shelley, the more becomes the impression that he is a poet of hope; and although he has been accused of being intangible and unearthly, he is so only in the sense in which the future is intangible and unearthly.

    He dazzles and overwhelms with light and music and he is unearthly in the sense that as we read him, we seem to move into a new element. We lose, as it were, the gravity of flesh and find ourselves wandering among stars and sunbeams, or diving effortlessly under the sea to discover subterranean wonders.

    Remarkably, Shelley does not seem to groan under the burden of this task. He does not bend in gloom in the presence of Heaven and Hell. His cosmos is a constellation. His thousand dawns are shaken out over the earth with a promise that turns, even the long agony of Prometheus into joy. It simply flows like a kind of sensual dream. It is the joy not of one who is blind or untroubled, but of one who, in a midnight of tyranny and suffering of the unselfish, has learned;

    “to hope till Hope creates,
    From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.”

    To write like this is to triumph over death. It is to cease to be a victim and to become a creator.

    Shelley recognized that the world had been bound into slavery by the Devil, but he seemed to believe that it was possible for the human race in a single dayspring to recover the first intention of God.

    “In the great morning of the world,
    The Spirit of God with might unfurled
    The flag of Freedom over Chaos.”

    It seems that there are some critics who would like to separate Shelley’s politics from his poetry. But Shelley’s politics are part of his poetry. They are the politics of hope as his poetry is the poetry of hope.

    Thus, Europe did not adopt his politics in the generation that followed the Napoleonic Wars. It seems as if since then, every generation has to a large extent rejected Shelley; preferring incredulity to hope, fear to joy, obedience to common sense, and then is surprised when the logic of its common sense turns out to be a tragedy, such as even the wildest orgy of idealism could not have produced.

    He was almost the only English poet up to his own time who believed that the world had a future, and he creates for us a new atmosphere of generosity. His patriotism was love of the people of England, not love of the Government of England. Hence, when the Government of England allied itself with the oppressors of mankind, he saw nothing unpatriotic in arraigning it as he would have arraigned a German or a Russian Government in the same circumstances.

    His greatest service to freedom is, perhaps, that he made it seem, not a policy, but a part of Nature. He made it as desirable as the spring, lovely as a cloud in a blue sky, light hearted as a lark, golden as a star, mighty as a wind. Shelley spoke of freedom and became a bird in the air, a wave of the sea. And he took us with him.

    With him a poem is a melody rather than a manuscript. Not that Shelley misses the wonder of things seen. But he sees things, as it were, musically.

    “My soul is an enchanted boat
    Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float
    Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing.”

  13. #13
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Well said, Manichean. Perhaps Shelley himself expressed his optimism (and his faith in poetry) best in the closing lines of his most famous poem, "Ode to the West Wind":

    ....Be thou, Spirit fierce,
    My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

    Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
    Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
    And, by the incantation of this verse,

    Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
    Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
    Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

    The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
    If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
    Shelley also wrote a defense of poetry. I glanced at it, but haven't really read it. Here's a link:

    https://www.gutenberg.org/files/5428...#link2H_4_0010

    After (if?) I read it I may comment further. I believe that Shelley thought poetry (and language in general) essential to morality, in that moral order is like the arrangement of words and feelings that constitute poetry.

  14. #14
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    Thanks Ecurb.

    I can see the point you made about possible dual meanings in the use of "mock" in the Ozymandias poem. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Like yourself, I've read some of Shelley's "Defence of Poetry", but not fully yet.

    Yes an aspiration to a higher, (perhaps unachievable?) morality comes through in so much of his work. Even if he was a dreamer, at least he used his poetry to try and achieve results.

    Best wishes
    M.

  15. #15
    MANICHAEAN MANICHAEAN's Avatar
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    PROMETHEUS:

    I hear a sound of voices: not the voice
    Which I gave forth. Mother, thy sons and thou
    Scorn him, without whose all-enduring will
    Beneath the fierce omnipotence of Jove,
    Both they and thou had vanished, like thin mist
    Unrolled on the morning wind. Know ye not me,
    The Titan? He who made his agony
    The barrier to your else all-conquering foe?
    Oh, rock-embosomed lawns, and snow-fed streams,
    Now seen athwart frore vapours, deep below,
    Through whose o'ershadowing woods I wandered once
    With Asia, drinking life from her loved eyes;
    Why scorns the spirit which informs ye, now
    To commune with me? me alone, who checked,
    As one who checks a fiend-drawn charioteer,
    The falsehood and the force of him who reigns
    Supreme, and with the groans of pining slaves
    Fills your dim glens and liquid wildernesses:
    Why answer ye not, still? Brethren!

    THE EARTH:
    They dare not.

    PROMETHEUS:
    Who dares? for I would hear that curse again.
    Ha, what an awful whisper rises up!
    'Tis scarce like sound: it tingles through the frame
    As lightning tingles, hovering ere it strike.
    Speak, Spirit! from thine inorganic voice
    I only know that thou art moving near
    And love. How cursed I him?

    THE EARTH:
    How canst thou hear
    Who knowest not the language of the dead?

    PROMETHEUS:
    Thou art a living spirit; speak as they.

    THE EARTH:
    I dare not speak like life, lest Heaven's fell King
    Should hear, and link me to some wheel of pain
    More torturing than the one whereon I roll.
    Subtle thou art and good; and though the Gods
    Hear not this voice, yet thou art more than God,
    Being wise and kind: earnestly hearken now.

    PROMETHEUS:
    Obscurely through my brain, like shadows dim,
    Sweep awful thoughts, rapid and thick. I feel
    Faint, like one mingled in entwining love;
    Yet 'tis not pleasure.

    THE EARTH:
    No, thou canst not hear:
    Thou art immortal, and this tongue is known
    Only to those who die.

    PROMETHEUS:
    And what art thou,
    O, melancholy Voice?

    THE EARTH:
    I am the Earth,
    Thy mother; she within whose stony veins,
    To the last fibre of the loftiest tree
    Whose thin leaves trembled in the frozen air,
    Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,
    When thou didst from her bosom, like a cloud
    Of glory, arise, a spirit of keen joy!
    And at thy voice her pining sons uplifted
    Their prostrate brows from the polluting dust,
    And our almighty Tyrant with fierce dread
    Grew pale, until his thunder chained thee here.
    Then, see those million worlds which burn and roll
    Around us: their inhabitants beheld
    My sphered light wane in wide Heaven; the sea
    Was lifted by strange tempest, and new fire
    From earthquake-rifted mountains of bright snow
    Shook its portentous hair beneath Heaven's frown;
    Lightning and Inundation vexed the plains;
    Blue thistles bloomed in cities; foodless toads
    Within voluptuous chambers panting crawled:
    When Plague had fallen on man, and beast, and worm,
    And Famine; and black blight on herb and tree;
    And in the corn, and vines, and meadow-grass,
    Teemed ineradicable poisonous weeds
    Draining their growth, for my wan breast was dry
    With grief; and the thin air, my breath, was stained
    With the contagion of a mother's hate
    Breathed on her child's destroyer; ay, I heard
    Thy curse, the which, if thou rememberest not,
    Yet my innumerable seas and streams,
    Mountains, and caves, and winds, and yon wide air,
    And the inarticulate people of the dead,
    Preserve, a treasured spell. We meditate
    In secret joy and hope those dreadful words,
    But dare not speak them.

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