P. B. Shelley: as A Prophet & A Reformer

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      Shelley is one of the subtlest and most profound thinkers among English poets, a prophet with a penetrating vision of reality; whose words can only be thoroughly understood after long and careful study They are well described by Browning as, "a sublime fragmentary essay towards a presentment of the correspondency of the universe to Deity, of the natural to the spiritual, and of the actual to the ideal". Before he was a poet, he was a prophet and his poetry is largely the medium of his prophetic message. He is not only a poet, he is a prophet and a reformer.

      Shelley never believed in life as it is lived; so he made people realize and aspire for the absence of the necessities. He hated and condemned the tyranny of State, Religion and Society which stand in the path of a heavenly blissful life. The calamities, he refers to are not natural calamities but man-made calamities; aspiration of man for Power pollutes the whole nation like a 'devastating pestilence. So people suffer under such people's tyranny. So he longs for a golden age which is free from such calamities yet immtme to pain and death.

      He prophesies a world which is attainable. But he reveals the truth that it is not easy to attain such a virtuous world. Centuries will pass before the goal is attained and it is possible only through the efforts of wise virtuous and heroic human beings. But in his imagination, Shelley leaped over centuries. He sings in the 'Ode to the West Wind'.

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth,
And, by the incantation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind.

      Some critics are of the opinion that the world cannot understand his ideas. Even if the world fails to understand him, like a prophet, he will lead them to his future world. For, in Prometheus Unbound, he dramatizes the defeat of evil by the spirit of life. He is not shy to deal with such an enormous subject and is ready with the solution for the problems which it raises. The answer is that evil is subdued by love. Shelley suggests that this reappearance of evil is a possibility in a remote future. To Shelley; the prophecy is to begin and end, and the prophecy is of love. He prophesies: once human goodness is aware of love and touched by it, marvelous things may happen, which is the main theme celebrated in his Prometheus Unbound.

      Shelley is a poetical angel who saves us from the cruel hands of dejection and suffering and shows us the brighter way to success. For that, he says, what is important is 'hope'; we should not lose our hope at any time, for destruction is to regeneration, night is to day; unhappiness is to happiness, slavery is to freedom, end is to beginning as he points out in Ode to the West Wind:

If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?

      So the golden age, in Shelley's view, lies not in the past but in the future.

      Shelley's devotion to liberty made him a violent reformer. Seeking to overthrow our present institutions and to hurry the millennium out of its slow walk into a gallop, to renovate the world, to bring about utopia—this was his constant aim.

      Shelley was much influenced by Godwin's revolutionary theories. He was in rebellion against the institution of marriage too, for which he proposed to substitute the doctrine of elective affinity A few years later, Shelley showed his belief in the revolutionary theories preached by Godwin by eloping with his daughter, Mary This proves that he is not only a dreamer but a reformer too. He was a true revolutionary, perpetually at war with the present world, a martyr and exile, fighting and crying defiance to the end.

      As a true reformer, he tries to deliver himself, as well as humanity from evil and darkness. He preaches that the solution is the Universal spirit of love. Love within sheds its rays and illuminates the whole universe:

One spirit's plastic stress
Sweep through the dull dense world, compelling there
All new successions to the forms they wear;
Torturing the unwilling dress that checks
it's flight
To its own likeness.

      He looked forward to that world when the 'plastic stress' of this Power shall have mastered the last resistance and have become all in all, and when both Nature and mankind shall have been fully redeemed. This is the faith of the prophet. This is the most striking quality of Shelley—to awaken public hope and to enlighten and improve mankind.

      Shelley as a prophet with penetrating vision of reality is evident in his own sentence on Dante in A Defence of Poetry. "His very words are instinct with spirit, each is as a spark, a burning atom of inextinguishable thought and many yet be covered in the ashes of their birth and pregnant with a lightning which has as yet found no conductor."


Q. 1. "Before Shelley was a poet, he was a prophet and his poetry is largely the medium of his prophetic message". Comment on this statement.
Q. 2. Consider Shelley as a Prophet and Reformer in his poems.
Q. 3. How far does Shelley succeed in advocating a reformed society through his poems?

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