Nature Elements in P. B. Shelley's Poetry

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      Attitude towards Nature: Like other Romantic poets, Shelley, is an ardent lover and worshipper of Nature. Nature is to Shelley, as it is to Wordsworth, a spiritual reality. Shelley looks upon Nature, as Wordsworth does, as a never-ending source of solace and inspiration. Like Wordsworth, he believes that there is in Nature a capability for communicating with the mind and emotions of man. Yet there is a fundamental difference between these two poets in their treatment of Nature. Wordsworth endows Nature with a spirit, Shelley goes much further to provide it with an intellect. He also lends a dynamic quality to the forces of Nature in a way that the other Romantics have never been able to do. J.A. Symonds remarks: "Shelley is one with the romantic temper of his age in ascribing to Nature a spiritual quality and significance and in regarding man's life as dynamic and progressive. But he goes beyond romanticism in his idea of a vigorous dynamic life of Nature." Shelley loves Nature and can extract joy in its company and rid himself of his sufferings and feelings of loneliness. His admiration for Nature, thus finds expression in his essay On Love: "There is eloquence in the tongueless wind and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rumbling of the reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something within the soul awakens the spirit to a dance of breathless rapture and brings tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one’s beloved singing to you alone."

      Utilitarian Aspects of Nature: Shelley considers Nature to be a companion endowed with a power of ridding human beings of their pain and agonies. This view of Nature has its origin in Shelley's personal experience. Whenever he is sad, he turns to Nature and succeeds in drawing comfort from it. During his days in Italy, the worst days in his life, he keeps trying to find joy in the beautiful Italian landscapes. In Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills, Shelley displays a mystic involvement with Nature. He finds in Nature a never-ending source of delightful images. The sun is to him not just a natural phenomenon, but something, "broad, red, radiant, half-reclined on the level quivering line of the waters crystalline." The surrounding scenic beauty of the Euganean Hills succeeds in soothing his melancholy for the moment and fills him with a radiant optimism heightened by his musings on the so-called islands of Delight:

Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep wide sea of Misery,
Or the mariner worn and wan,
Never thus could voyage on—
Day and night and night and day,
Drifting on his dreary way....

      Shelley's Love for the Dynamic in Nature: While Wordsworth is fond of the static and quiet aspects of Nature, Shelley is fascinated by the dynamic. He himself has admitted: "I take great delight in watching the changes of the atmosphere." This explains his great love for the sky and the resultant composition, of his sky-lyrics—Ode to the West Wind, The Cloud, and To A Skylark. The West Wind never rests and it moves speedily and continuously to perform its functions over land and sea and in the sky. The Cloud and the Skylark show an equally intense restlessness. Shelley is ever conscious of the changes in Nature and her periodic regeneration; these lines in Adonais may be quoted as an illustration:

Ah, Woe is me! Winter is come and gone,
But grief returns with the revolving year:
The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear.

      Shelley, it may be said, loves to see Nature in all its forms; but there is no doubt that the doings of Nature are more important to him than merely those forms.

      Symbolism Drawn from Nature: Shelley frequently goes outdoors to look for symbols to give concrete shapes to his abstract thoughts and emotions. Having a stronger insight into Nature than other poets, he finds in it an inexhaustible source of such symbols. His poetry becomes more meaningful and more vigorous whenever he finds in Nature a symbol to suit his purpose. In the West Wind, Shelley finds various symbolic meanings. To him the wind is at once a destroyer and a preserver, and hence a symbol of change. He uses the wind as a symbol of his own personality—"tameless, and swift, and proud". Finally, the wind is made the symbol of the forces that can help bring about the golden millennium in which the sufferings of mankind will be replaced by pure happiness. Similarly, the cloud which changes but never dies is regarded by Shelley as a symbol of his belief in immortality and his yearning for some kind of supernal status, and the Skylark symbolizes his hopefulness of the liberation of mankind thorough the efforts of poet prophets - In Adonais, "pansies" have been used to symbolize the fate of Shelley's poetry while "violets" stand for his modesty and innocence. The sky; stars, sun, moon, wind and the river have frequently been used by Shelley as symbols of eternity. In Adonais, we find such a reference to the immortality of stars:

The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn;
He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered into death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.

      Nature Imagery: Images drawn from Nature are abundant in Shelley's poetry His images often produce a pictorial quality not to be derived even from paintings. His portrait of the Cloud is more vivid, more picturesque than the cloudscapes painted by Constable or Turner. The image of the sunrise in The Cloud is unequaled in its splendor:

The sanguine sunrise, with his meteor eyes,
And his burning plumes outspread,
Leaps on the back of my sailing rack,
When the morning star shines dead.

      In To A Skylark, image after image has been piled up in quick succession to give an idea of the bird—a "Cloud of Fire", an "unembodied joy", a "poet hidden in the light of thought", "a golden glow-worm"; a rose "embowered in green leaves" and yet "scattering its scent." The changing aspects of the West Wind are also illustrated through a series of images. In Adonais, the imagery is particularly rich in the Stanzas depicting the advent of spring:

The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear;
Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead seasons' bier;
The amorous birds now pair in every brake;
And build their mossy homes in field and brere,
And the green lizard, and the golden snake
Like unimprisoned flames, out of their trance awake.

      Shelley has a natural talent for binding such images at will. When Wordsworth comes across an image, he takes care to ponder upon it until the poetry flowing from it is exhausted; he is miserly in his use of images because he does not find many of them. Shelley; on the other hand, is often seen to use one image for a moment and then to throw it away for another; unlike Wordsworth, he can afford to do so.

      Myth-making out of Nature: Another aspect of Shelley's Nature poetry is his tendency to make myths out of Nature. His profound insight into Nature and his capacity to feel it intensely account for his unique myth-making power. In his poetry he personifies the forces of nature and gives to each one of them an individuality feelings and capacity to act. In Adonais, for instance, morning, thunder, ocean, winds, echo, spring and others are all impersonated and made to participate in the mourning for Keats. Clutton-Brock writes: "His myths were not to him mere caprices of fancy. They expressed by the only means which human language provides for the expression of such things, that sense, which he possessed, of a more intense reality in nature than is felt by other men. Io most of us, the forces of nature have but little reality. But for Shelley these forces had as much reality as human beings have for most of us. There is this difference between Shelley and primitive myth makers—that they seem to have thought of the forces of nature as disguised beings more powerful than themselves but still in all essentials human, or else as manifestations of the power of such beings. But to Shelley; the West Wind was still a wind, and the Cloud a Cloud, however intense a reality they might have for him. In his poetry, they keep their own character and do not take on human attributes, though their own qualities may be expressed in imagery taken from human beings".

      Scientific Knowledge of Nature: Shelley was a keen student of science during his youth. This is why most of his descriptions of Nature are based on the popular science of his day The Cloud is the most finished illustration of Shelley's knowledge of science. The poem almost seems to be written by a meteorologist. His lines:

Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits—

      clearly shows his knowledge of the relationship between clouds and electricity. Another line:

I change, but I cannot die

      is again based on a significant scientific truth—the undying circulation of the water particles which form the clouds. That image in the poem—'Sunbeams With their convex gleams'—can also be cited to show that Shelley knows all about the atmospheric refraction of the sun's rays. Desmond King-Hele writes: "Writers who figure in the history of science, like Bacon and Goethe, are rare; but Shelley's gift of expressing in his verse a scientific outlook which 'permeates it through and through is even rarer. It is difficult to define this special scientific flavor. Probably its most important component is a persistent analysis of Nature: being eager to delve beneath the surface of appearance, instead of seeing things whole like Keats and Shakespeare, searching out the causal chain between one facet of Nature and another, and linking those facets imaginatively or metaphorically to interpret the scene described. It is in his command of this last technique that Shelley scores."


Q. 1. Write a note on Shelley's treatment of Nature.
Q. 2. Write an essay on Shelley as a poet of Nature with reference to the poems you have read.
Q. 3. "Shelley, more perhaps than any other poet, possesses an imaginative insight into nature as a world of events and processes". Elucidate.
Q. 4. "Shelley; in many ways, deviates from the true Nature poet, the normal Wordsworth type of nature poet". Substantiate this remark with illustrations.

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