Lyrical Elements: Used in P. B. Shelley's Poetry

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      Shelley's Position among Lyric Poets: Shelley has been universally accepted as one of the supreme lyrical geniuses in English poetry. He, according to Swinburne, "stands alone among singers, and he is the prefect singing god". According to Cazamian, "Shelley's lyricism is incomparable. In no other poet do, we find the perfect sureness, the triumphant rapidity of his upward flight, the soaring height, the super-terrestrial quality as well as the poignant intensity of the sounds which fall from these aerial regions". Ernest Rys in his Lyric Poetry has paid a similar tribute to Shelley's lyrical genius: "Among the lyric poets, Shelley; who was a lyric poet before everything, needs no longer to have his claim reaffirmed. We judge him by the verdict of those English poets who, coming after him, have famously sustained his ideals." Even the narrative poems of Shelley are stamped by his lyricism. Shelley combines his passion and simplicity with other remarkable qualities, namely the quality of music and the art of combining the outward rhythm of the verse with an inner rhythm of thought and imagery; No other English poet has so well succeeded in blending music with thought, in harmonizing rhythm with emotion."

      Intensity of Feeling: "The lyric proper" says Stopford Brooke, "is the product of a swift, momentary and passionate impulse coming from without for the most part, suddenly awaking the poet into a vivid life, seizing upon him and setting him on fire. The duration of this fire is short in all poets, but it burns with different intensity in different poets." In Shelley; it burns slowly for a time, then flares to heaven in a rush of flame, then sinks and dies as swiftly as it flamed. It is as momentary as a meteor in him, and its substance is vapourised by its own heat. A pure lyric arising out of such circumstances has to be simple both in theme and form. Because the lyric fire is short-lived, the lyric gives forth only one emotion or one thought. In the creation of such a lyric there is no time for ornamentation. Shelley is the master of this swift, fiery and simple form of lyric. The Flight of Love can be quoted to illustrate this form:

When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead.
When the cloud is scattered,
The rainbow's glory is shed.

      Spontaneity of Expression: Spontaneity is the most striking quality of Shelley's lyrics. His lyrics move so flowingly because they come straight from his heart. His lyrics, as Stopford Brooke remarks, "have the rush and impetuosity of the south". According to Compton Rickett, "Shelley exhaled verse as a flower exhales fragrance. The essential point is that there was no effort or laborious artistry about it any time." Shelley is swept forward by a rush of poetic energy and goes on producing image after image, all inspired by the original thought. The imagery in these lyrics, therefore, give the impression of being the product of no laborious thought but of a spontaneous growth of poetic impulse. The imagery in the West Wind, for example, gives an instant impression of a spontaneous flow of thought. We pass in turn over earth, sky and sea, the music growing fuller and more majestic as the poet moves on.

      Music: Shelley's lyrics are surpassingly musical and sweet. Swinburne was ecstatic in his tribute to this aspect of Shelley's lyricism. Shelley outsang all poets on record, but some two or three throughout all time; his, depths and heights of inner and outer music are as diverse as nature's and not sooner exhaustible. He was alone the perfect singing God; his thoughts, words and deeds all sang together. Arnold, one of the worst critics of Shelley; admired his music and remarked: "The right sphere of Shelley's genius was the sphere of music." Shelley's careful handling of diction fitting into the sense of his lines enhances the musical quality keeping with the swift, of his lyrics. The rhythm of Ode to the West Wind is thus exactly in gusty march of the wind itself:

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.

      Similar artistry can be traced in To A Skylark which is not simply a poem but the bird's song itself translated into Stanzas. The Stanza used in the poem indeed corresponds, in its first four lines, to the crescendo of the bird's song, and, in the prolonged last line, to the 'rain of melody' which is its climax. The rhythm of the poem,' The Cloud, beautifully suggests the hurrying movement of the Clouds before a tempestuous wind. Such blending of sense and versification is wonderful and unique, and it is this quality in particular which has made Shelley's lyrics so musical. On his lyric poetry Charles Morgan remarks: "His instrument was unique. There is no poet, not even Shakespeare in his lyrics, who has Shelley's effect of bird-song pouring and pouring out. His lyrics are not written; they burst from the hedgerow, the sunshine, the air; they give to the hearer the life of the heart, that sense of penetrating rapture which is given by Nature and by love."

      Note of Melancholy: Melancholy is found to be the dominant note in most of Shelley's lyrics. He becomes sad and often despondent whenever he thinks of the evils of the present, or of personal sufferings. Some of his lyrics are entirely pessimistic in tone. His Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples, reflects a mood of utter despondency. He feels that he is one "whom men love not" and then proceeds to narrate a profound sense of helplessness:

Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around.

      The Indian Serenade is another of his lyrics written in a similar mood. Here he gives expression to his sufferings and frustration with genuine passion:

O lift me from the grass!
I die! I faint! I fail!

      This note of melancholy that pervades his poetry has added to the lyrical quality of his poems. Looking at them we cannot but agree with the famous poetic truth: "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought". But Shelley's melancholy is never depressing. Shelley never allows morbidity to overcome the enjoyment in his lyrics. Self-pity is no doubt his favorite theme. But in his lyrics, he presents this self-pity not as something to be feared, but as an essential part of life. Shelley's readers are never depressed because they are constantly reminded that sufferings lie only in the present and that in future all suffering will be replaced by pure happiness. In Ode to the West Wind, the poet shows a mood of despondency:

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed.

      His despondency is soon replaced by an ecstatic rapture of joy when he comes to think of the future happiness of mankind, of the millennium to come:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

      This co-existence of pessimism and optimism—the swift replacement of one by the other—is a major attractive feature of Shelley's lyric poetry.


Q. 1. "The sublimity of Shelley's poetry lies in its wonderful lyrical intensity". Discuss.
Q. 2. "Shelley stands alone among the singers of his age". Bring out the lyrical quality in Shelley's poetry in the light of this statement.
Q- 3. Write an essay on the greatness of Shelley as a lyric poet.

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