P. B. Shelley's Literary Contribution to Romanticism

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      Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) alone among the Romantic poets imbibed the explosive spirit of the revolution. He was the child of the French Revolution and rebelled against all that he felt to be a cause of, human misery. He saw in established institutions, in kings and priests, all the diverse forms of evil and obstacles to human happiness and progress. He dreamed of a new world order based on liberty, love and equality.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) alone among the Romantic poets imbibed the explosive spirit of the revolution.
Percy Bysshe Shelley

      Born at Field place, Sussex and educated at Eton and Oxford, he was a born rebel. At Eton he showed the strain of the rebel in him by defying the authorities. He was expelled from Oxford for circulating a pamphlet on The Necessity of Atheism At 21 he wrote Queen Mab which is a formal profession of atheism. His The Revolt of Islam (1817) is a sort of transfigured picture of the French Revolution. In 1820 appeared Prometheus Unbound which sang the hymn of revolt against the oppression of false gods. He published the drama Hellas (1812) in honour of Greece which fought against the Ottoman rule.

      Shelley was however inspired by love in his struggle against tyranny and oppression. Byron was inspired by, a dislike of mankind and so his poetry was satirical and sardonic. But Shelley's love extended to every living creature, to animals and flowers, to the whole of Nature. Some of his best lyrics, Ode to the West Wind, To the Skylark, The Cloud testify to his emotional identification with Nature and to his optimistic faith in mankind. Alastor (1816) recounts his pursuit of an unattainable ideal of beauty. In Epipsychidion, he sings of his love for a beautiful young Italian girl. The Witch of Atlas (1820) is the most delicate of Shelley's - fantasies. The Masque of Anarchy (1819, published 1832), inspired by the news of the massacre of Peterloo expresses Shelley's revolutionary political views and is very severe on Lord Castlereagh. Adonais (1821) is an elegy dedicated to the poet Keats. The Triumph of Life is a mysterious fragment with the promise of a masterpiece.

      Shelley is one of the supreme lyrical poets of England. The lyrical rapture in all his works is unique. The spontaneous utterance of his passion and emotion and the rich melody of his poetry are an abiding contribution to English lyric poetry. He achieved an easy flexibility of rhythm that is quite astonishing in every form of verse he wrote. He used couplets in Julian and Maddalo, the Spenserian stanza in Adonais and The Revolt of Islam, terza rima in To The West Wind, iambic verses and anapaests as in The Cloud and The Sensitive Plant, Lyrical intensity is invariably accompanied with a gift of melody in Shelley's love-lyrics. Swinburne calls him "the perfect singing god."

      Shelley wrote dramas when he was in Italy. Prometheus Unbound (1818-1819), published (1820) is a wonderful combination of the lyric and the drama. It shows Shelley's aspiring soul yearning for freedom. It has the sweep and soar of audacious poetry. The Cenci (1819) is a formal drama dealing with a grim and sordid family affair. It is in the vein of Elizabethan melodrama. It has the lack of subtlety in its character drawing and the inadequacy of its dramatic action. It retells in dramatic form the terrible story of Beatrice who, the victim of a father's lust takes his life in revenge. Hellas is another drama. Shelley's Critical writing in prose A Defence of Poetry was published in 1820.

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