Hymn to Intellectual Beauty1The awful shadow of some unseen Power2Floats though unseen among us; visiting3This various world with as inconstant wing4As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;5Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,6It visits with inconstant glance7Each human heart and countenance;8Like hues and harmonies of evening,9Like clouds in starlight widely spread,10Like memory of music fled,11Like aught that for its grace may be12Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery. 13Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate14With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon15Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?16Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,17This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?18Ask why the sunlight not for ever19Weaves rainbows o’er yon mountain-river,20Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,21Why fear and dream and death and birth22Cast on the daylight of this earth23Such gloom, why man has such a scope24For love and hate, despondency and hope?25No voice from some sublimer world hath ever26To sage or poet these responses given:27Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,28Remain the records of their vain endeavour:29Frail spells whose utter’d charm might not avail to sever,30From all we hear and all we see,31Doubt, chance and mutability. 32Thy light alone like mist o’er mountains driven,33Or music by the night-wind sent34Through strings of some still instrument,35Or moonlight on a midnight stream,36Gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream. 37Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart38And come, for some uncertain moments lent. 39Man were immortal and omnipotent,40Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,41Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.Order now
42Thou messenger of sympathies,43That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes;44Thou, that to human thought art nourishment,45Like darkness to a dying flame!46Depart not as thy shadow came,47Depart not–lest the grave should be,48Like life and fear, a dark reality. 49While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped50Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,51And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing52Hopes of high talk with the departed dead. 53I call’d on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;54I was not heard; I saw them not;55When musing deeply on the lot56Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing57All vital things that wake to bring58News of birds and blossoming,59Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;60 I shriek’d, and clasp’d my hands in ecstasy!61I vow’d that I would dedicate my powers62To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?63With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now64I call the phantoms of a thousand hours65Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision’d bowers66Of studious zeal or love’s delight67Outwatch’d with me the envious night:68They know that never joy illum’d my brow69Unlink’d with hope that thou wouldst free70This world from its dark slavery,71That thou, O awful LOVELINESS,72Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express. 73The day becomes more solemn and serene74When noon is past; there is a harmony75In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,76Which through the summer is not heard or seen,77As if it could not be, as if it had not been!78Thus let thy power, which like the truth79Of nature on my passive youth80Descended, to my onward life supply81Its calm, to one who worships thee,82And every form containing thee,83Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind84To fear himself, and love all human kind. The Spirit of Classical Hymn in Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”Style, Spring, 1999 by John KnapppicSave a personal copy of this article and quickly find it again withFurl.
net. Get started now. (It’s free. )Richard Cronin has observed that in Shelley’s poetry, as in his life andthought, “there is an ever-present drive towards a rejection ofconventional controls” countered by the recognition that “controls,systems, conventions, are humanly necessary” (35). These contrary pulls, asCronin calls them, make Shelley’s attitude toward literary genreproblematic and make further genre-linked critical approaches to his poetryvery challenging, so much so, in fact, that little genre criticism existsin modern Shelley studies.
Yet, as Jennifer Wallace points out, “Shelleywas an extraordinarily diverse writer, experimenting with genre far morethan either Keats or Byron” and maintaining an active dialogue throughouthis life with the forms offered by literary tradition (4). This is not tosay that Shelley’s generic experiments are poetic imitations. Genre forShelley is unfixed and mutable. Envisioning genre as a “process . .
. subject to the flux of history,” he judges poetic accomplishment by thedegree to which a writer expands or modulates generic conventions andconsequently alters them for the future (Cronin 33). “Every great poet,”Shelley asserts in “A Defence of Poetry,” “must inevitably innovate uponthe example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiarversification” (484). The contrary pulls that Cronin detects in Shelley’spoetry, and which problematize the status of genre in the poems, aresometimes activated or exacerbated by Shelley’s genre choices. Theyindicate Shelley’s sophisticated understanding of the mutability of genrewhile they figure that mutability in the poetry itself.
The “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” exemplifies how Shelley employs genre andgenre-linked features in innovative and figurative ways. The poem is indialogue with the classical hymn, a genre to which tradition grants unusualstructural flexibility and in which writers, including Shelley, find both apositive support and a challenge to their innovative skill. The classicalhymn presupposes fundamental separation while aspiring to unity, and soprovides Shelley with inherent contrary pulls, or inherent dialectics,congenial with his aim to contain an effusive, inspiring power in poeticform. That “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” struggles between containment andeffusion is not disputed by critics today, but Shelley’s modern readersrecognize that dialectic as working primarily in language itself. Questionsof genre are frequently passed over, and, despite the generic claim ofShelley’s title and the features of classical hymn that appear in the poem,critics are reluctant to come to terms with hymn.
In fact, criticaldiscussions of the generic resonances of the “Hymn” often rest onmisapprehensions about genres that Shelley himself did not share,particularly that genres exist immutably and apply equally to all past andpresent literary works. Adopting a vague exemplar of the Christian hymn,for instance, recent readers of Shelley conclude that the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty” is an ironic hymn or simply an ode (Cronin 224; Curran58; Fry 8; Hall 136). Observing the critical confusion surrounding itsgenre, Stuart Curran writes that the poem “seems to present us with ageneric crux” (58). But largely overlooked by commentators, the traditionof classical hymn can be brought to bear in ways that both supplement ourunderstanding of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and illustrate Shelley’sshrewd employment of genre to oppose its potential to become fixed andinert. Modern critics of Shelley discern a dialectic of containment and effusionin the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. ” Primarily, they understand thatdialectic as operating in language itself.
For Tilottama Rajan, it is themechanism of a “Romantic deconstruction” that “unfixes,” “disseminates,””disarticulates,” and “disrupts” ostensible meaning and unity, so that thepoem “survives not as what it originally was but as a series ofindeterminate self-transformations” (292, 283, 296). Shelley’s language”unravels the statement to be illustrated through it” and intimates hisprofound uneasiness with the relationship of poetic conception andrepresentation (Rajan 281-82). According to Rajan, “illustration andrepetition make expression a differential process” in Shelley’s writing “bycreating crevices between the parts of any analogy or between the differentconceptual and figurative planes. ” The resultant “Hymn” is a “fissured”text that “cannot contain its meaning” and that “can become ‘poetry’ onlywith the aid of a reader, who will save it from the disfigurations ofhistory or representation” by supplying “a unity not in the text” (280-81,2).
For Rajan, the dialectic of containment and effusion in the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty” is detectable in places of linguistic indeterminacy orgaps in representation that call for additions by the reader beyond thefeatures of the original. She claims her approach “paradoxically renews theoriginality of the text by liberating it from the tyranny of the originalintention behind it” (293). (1)In his detailed analysis of Shelley’s perpetual transference from a stateof containment to a state of effusion, Jerrold E. Hogle, like Rajan,conceives literary context in terms of linguistic indeterminacy.
For Hogle,transference “is a preconscious invasion of awareness” that prompts inShelley “a conscious will to write that can never recover the originalimpulse exactly as it was” (24). Since it “impels Shelley’s peculiarlanguage,” he writes, “transference must finally be put in linguisticterms” (12). Hogle’s “remarkably abstract” approach (Wallace 17)nevertheless sheds light on an “inherently iconoclastic and revolutionary”poetic impulse in Shelley that constantly criticizes “any limits that tryto confine it” and exploits the “tension between established andexperimental” methods of composition (Hogle 14). That mobile impulse can beexamined in relation to genre as well as language. Surely, as Hogle pointsout, Shelley strives to modulate “canonical thinking about the ‘proper’style and themes of poetry,” and he is drawn toward “a peculiar combinationof traditional and rebellious techniques of writing, toward modes ofcharacterizing, image shifts, genre choices, stanza arrangements, rhymeschemes, and stances of address” (vii) that frequently “explode the mostestablished, conventional thought-relations into interconnections withothers that were rarely thought to be analogous before” (26-27).
ButShelley’s conception of genre is of secondary interest to Hogle, whodevelops his theory of transference along different lines. Like Rajan,Hogle considers linguistic indeterminacy “the basis of every stage ofShelley’s thinking and writing” (18). Generic and stylistic consistenciesin Shelley’s poetry become antithetical foils in Hogle’s subsuming processof transference. His reading of Shelley nevertheless leaves room for acritical approach to Shelley’s writing that conceives the dialectic ofcontainment and effusion in generic terms and locates a work’sindividuality in relation to generic conventions. The “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” has, of course, a linguistic order. Butas Alastair Fowler points out, “literary order need not inhere primarily inwords” (5).
In the “Defence,” Shelley acknowledges a sublexical literaryorder: “The language of poets has ever affected a certain uniform andharmonious recurrence of sound, without which it were not poetry, and whichis scarcely less indispensable to the communication of its influence, thanthe words themselves, without reference to their particular order” (484). Critics who inventory the lexical and sublexical features of a literarywork – its repertoire – can recover patterns, structures, and meanings thathelp to illustrate coherence and communicate meaning. Ascertaining a work’srepertoire is also useful to critics who would relate that work to literarytradition, for repertoires often are generically organized. As Fowlerexplains, “superstructural” (57) features (rhyme, closure, topic, metricalforms, stanzaic scheme) and common linguistic features (rhetoric, idiom,presentational mode) have a “privileged status unqualified by subsequentsound-changes, semantic changes, or changes in convention” (256). Whenmarked by a traditionally recognized “complex of substantive and formalfeatures” (74) that includes a distinctive linear sequence of parts(whether organized typographically or by contents), a literary work can beassociated with at least one genre and, thus, will maintain the continuityof generic descent (60). Continued from page 1.
This is not to say that a single set of characteristics can define a genre,that genre boundaries cannot change, or that a work can belong to one genreonly. Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” includes generic featuresthat suggest it is in dialogue with the classical hymn, but it is not aHomeric hymn, despite family resemblances. “The character of genres is thatthey change,” writes Fowler; “only variations or modifications ofconvention have literary significance” (18). A genre, for Shelley, is notcrudely prescriptive.
It is “a historical process, that is, a set ofconventions subject to the flux of history” (Cronin 33). In Shelley’s view,genres are mobile and ever-changing; they are bound up in perpetualtransference. A poem has artistic significance for Shelley only if itmodulates or departs from its generic conventions and restyles them for thefuture: “Every great poet must inevitably innovate upon the example ofhis predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiar versification”(“Defence” 484). Shelley remains suspicious of the communicative efficacy of traditionalgenres, however, and he adopts a particular form only after considerabledeliberation. As a number of critics have observed, Shelley’s assertion inthe “Defence of Poetry,” “when composition begins, inspiration is alreadyon the decline,” underscores his ambivalence about poetry as a medium oftransmission (504).
(2) For Shelley, writing poetry necessarily involves thedegradation or distortion of inspiration; inspiration is inevitablycompromised when it takes material form. Indeed, Paul Cantor points out, heregards “the collapse of imaginative vision into fixed form” as “thefundamental fall” (92-93). Shelley’s view makes the status of genre in hiswriting problematic, but he is far from regarding poetry, or indeed theentire history of literature, as a mere record of failures. Nor does heregard the examples of literary history as necessarily fixed.
Compositionbegins despite declining inspiration, and in a few remarkable cases theresult is enduring poetry. Shelley explains in the “Defence” that, at least in part, efficientcommunication relies on the appropriation of a suitable poetic structure. Only “supreme poets” can subdue the “evanescent visitations” of divinityunder the “light yoke” of poetic form without complete devitalization (485,505). Such writers are, in Shelley’s view, “spirits of the most refinedorganization,” whose poetry “thus makes immortal all that is best and mostbeautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which hauntthe interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form,sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to thosewith whom their sisters abide” (505). Shelley’s objective as a poet is toredeem from decay these “visitations of the divinity in man” and thereby tojoin the ranks of foremost poets.
Despite acknowledging the existence ofelite poets and enduring poetry, however, Shelley questions thecommunicative efficacy of the established literary forms. Dante,Shakespeare, Milton, and other “supreme poets” capable of “perceiving andteaching the truth of things” have “employed traditional forms” in order tocommunicate that truth (485). But how viable would traditional forms be inShelley’s own hands? In the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” Shelley wrestleswith a literary tradition for which he has great esteem, of which hedesires to be a part, and upon which he aims to innovate. Appropriately, Shelley’s poem is in dialogue with classical hymn, one ofthe oldest and most neglected genres in that tradition, which conveys thesinger’s reverence for his subject, desire to do it justice, and, often,anxiety about his own compositional skill. Because Coleridge, Wordsworth,Byron, and other contemporary poets had failed to revitalize the dormantclassical hymn, Shelley would test his resuscitative and innovative skillsunhindered by competition.
Shelley’s knowledge of Greek literature “allowedhim to realize the heterogeneity” of ancient writers and to “reflect thatvariation in his own writing” (Wallace 4). His familiarity with classicalhymn is confirmed by his translations of the Homeric Hymns, begun roughly ayear after the composition of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. ” AndShelley is attracted to the genre for a number of reasons. Tradition grantswide latitude to composers of classical hymns; as a result, the genre isunusually flexible.
Works in the genre “are not characterized by meter orlength” and are often mixed with other genres, including epic and elegy(Cairns 92). All classical hymns address gods, but the composer or singeris by no means bound to believe in them, nor is the writer precluded fromsyncretizing them, obscuring them, or altering religious or philosophicaldoctrine associated with them. Callimachus, who takes his gods seriouslyonly as literary figures, provides Shelley with a firm atheistic precedent. Since classical hymn must reckon with fundamental separation (of singer anddeity, of human and divine, of temporal and eternal) while aspiring toreturn and integration, the genre is congenial to the dialectic ofcontainment and effusion that Shelley develops in the “Hymn to IntellectualBeauty. ” Even in prose, Shelley describes the influx of inspiration in theterms of hymn, as the union of divinity and humanity: “It is as it were theinterpenetration of a diviner nature through our own” (“Defence” 504). Shelley’s gods exist and can be worshipped only in, or by means of, poetry.
In the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” he presents himself as a modernclassical hymnist who will expand the tradition by apostrophizing,describing, and praying to a unique migratory divinity in an innovativeway. He also figures the brief visitations and departures of that divinity(or activates the dialectic of containment and effusion) structurally andstylistically by employing and by altering a number of the classical hymn’sgeneric conventions. The only classical hymns that survive before the year 400 BC are ascribedto Homer; Shelley translated seven of these between 1817 and 1820. Thethirty-three extant Homeric Hymns are hexameter oral compositions that werepreserved later in writing.
There is “little firm knowledge about thecircumstances surrounding their composition and performance,” but criticsgenerally agree that the hymns were presented at public feasts, festivals,and religious occasions (Clay 6-7). Thucydides refers to the Homeric “Hymnto Apollo” as a prelude, which would have been chanted by a rhapsode beforean epic recitation, and a number of the Homeric Hymns presumably servedsuch a function (Evelyn-White xxxiv). Although they range in length from ahandful of lines to several hundred, and address numerous divinities, theHomeric Hymns share recognizable linguistic and superstructural featuresthat organize the works and establish a distinct generic repertoire. (3)They are predominantly narrative pieces with subsidiary lyric sections. They appear in a linear sequence of parts: exordium, exposition, andperoration. A firm decorum of subject relates the hymns to the actions andattributes of the Olympian gods.
The hymns presuppose a special stylisticattitude of inferior to superior, particularly of supplicant to deity. Theyfollow an interlaced or discontinuous pattern of action. Their epideictic,elaborate, and elevated rhetorical style is fitting for the honoring ofgods. Most of these features “are not discrete aspects but functiontogether in the poetic context with other characteristics” (Rollinson 22).
Of course, there is nothing like exact equivalence from hymn to hymn. Thegreat disparity merely between the length of the Homeric hymns “To Zeus”and “To Hermes” precludes any one-to-one correspondence. Nevertheless,there is a kinship about the Homeric Hymns and a sequence of influence andimitation that proceed from them to the hymns of Callimachus, Cleanthes,and the Roman Emperor Julian, all the way to Shelley’s “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty. ” This tradition connects the works generically whileallowing wide variation. Philip Rollinson outlines the tripartite structure of exordium, exposition,and peroration introduced in the Homeric Hymns and shows that it is amongthe most pervasive and influential characteristics in subsequent classicalhymns (16). The Homeric Hymns generally begin with an exordium, whichincludes an invocation and often an apostrophe to the god praised, proceedto an exposition describing some of the deity’s basic attributes or acts,and close with a perorational prayer or salutation to that deity.
Even theshorter Homeric Hymns tend to follow this pattern, as the hymn “ToHephaestus” illustrates:Continued from page 2. Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaestus famed for inventions. With bright-eyed Athene he taught men glorious crafts throughout the world, – men whobefore used to dwell in caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But nowthat they have learned crafts through Hephaestus the famed worker, easilythey live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year round. Be gracious, Hephaestus, and grant me success and prosperity! (Hesiod 447)The tripartite structure of the Homeric Hymns organizes and incorporatesother genre-linked features, including the singer’s reference to himself inthe first person, a catalog of epithets describing the god, and recurringrhetorical formulae that introduce narrative sections and close the hymns. Like the Homeric epic, familiar features in the Homeric Hymns make iteasier for listeners to pay attention while simultaneously educating andinstructing them.
Further, consistent patterns in the individual HomericHymns confirm the works as members of a particular genre, one that aims toinstruct listeners in the propriety of invoking and worshipping theOlympian gods. Formal patterns and generic identification, therefore, bearupon the meaning of the Homeric Hymns. In his six “imitations and adaptations” of the longer Homeric Hymns, theAlexandrian poet Callimachus modulates and varies the generic conventionshe inherited (Rollinson 22). The Callimachean hymns range in length from 95(“To Zeus”) to 326 lines (“To Delos”) and follow the pattern of exordium,exposition, and peroration. They include descriptive epithets for the gods,first person references to the singer, and sections narrating rituals ormyths associated with the deity praised, and they instruct listeners in theproper means of praise.
But as Rollinson points out, Callimachus’s hymnsare “very skillfully constructed artifices” that reveal the composer’sdistinctly literary ambition (25). Their “structural details,””rhetorically ornamented formality,” and “emphasis on the display ofhistorical, geographical, and mythological erudition” sharply distinguishthem from their Homeric predecessors. For instance, Callimachus abandons strict hexameter lines for elegiaccouplets in “On the Bath of Pallas” (Hymn 5). At one point he introducescontemporary persons and events in “To Delos,” lavishing praise on hispatron, Ptolemy Philadelphus, “another god, the most highest lineage of theSaviours” (Hymn 4, lines 165-66).
In “To Apollo,” Callimachus gives agenealogy of his native Cyrene, and lists the city among the most blessedof Apollo (Hymn 2). The status of the Olympians becomes problematic in theCallimachean hymns. Callimachus, Rollinson writes, “did not take hisOlympians seriously at all, except as literary tools” (32). He gives them a”new relevance” that is not religious, but “purely literary” (26). The godsare imaginative springboards for Callimachus.
He exploits their richmythological associations in order to showcase his learning, to questionthe veracity of previous accounts, and to ornament the formal patterning ofthe hymns. Reflecting an Alexandrian literary appreciation of the gods andachieving a “very high degree of structural organization and technicalfinish” in his hymns, Callimachus consequently alters the conventions ofclassical hymn for the future (22). Cleanthes, a contemporary of Callimachus, also makes use of the genre-linked features of the Homeric Hymns to break new ground. His only extantwork, the fifty-one-line “Hymn to Zeus,” adopts a tripartite pattern ofexordium, exposition, and peroration in the manner of the Homeric andCallimachean hymns.
It opens with an apostrophe and a list of epithetsaddressed to Zeus: “God most glorious,” “Nature’s great King,” and”Omnipotence” (lines 1-3). The singer then describes some of the god’sprimary attributes and acts, including, for example, how Zeus “didstharmonize/Things evil with things good” (24-25). The hymn closes with aprayer for enlightenment and protection, and with the singer’s pledge thathe will praise Zeus’s “works continually with songs” (47). The Zeus of Cleanthes, however, takes on new proportions and representsdifferent values: he is neither the literal god of the Homeric Hymns northe literary god of Callimachus. Cleanthes fills Zeus with “genuinephilosophical implications” and identifies him with the whole of”metaphysical reality” (Rollinson 26-27). For Cleanthes, Zeus is anethereal “vehicle of the universal Word, that flows/Through all,”enlightening his devotees despite being shrouded in darkness (lines 16-17).
“Knowledge” of Cleanthes’ Zeus and of his “universal law” are derived fromhuman reason rather than religious tradition (44, 5 l). Only personsproperly attuned are able to detect the subtle omnipresence of the god,”whose deathless might / Pulsates through all Nature” (14-15). “The rest,”writes Cleanthes, “Yet seeing see not, neither hearing hear,” and “for anidle name / Vainly they wrestle in the lists of fame” (33, 30, 34-35). Cleanthes’ Zeus is an immanent world-force to whom human beings may still”yield/Glad homage” if they are “By reason guided” (11-12, 32). LikeCallimachus, Cleanthes uses the resources of the hymn genre to modify thevalues it has traditionally embodied and communicated.
The “Hymn to Zeus”retains most of the classical hymn’s generic repertoire (sequence of parts,lyrical aspect, supplicatory attitude, decorum of subject, elaboraterhetorical style) while reorienting its traditional values and enlargingits scale to encompass both religion and Stoic philosophy. The Roman Emperor Julian, surnamed by Christian writers “The Apostate,”composed two Greek prose hymns in the fourth century AD, “To King Helios”and “To the Mother of the Gods” (Orations 4 and 5). Structurally, thesehymns resemble the Homeric, Callimachean, and Cleanthean hymns. Theexordium of the hymn “To King Helios” contains invocations as well aspersonal references of the singer to himself. In the extended exposition,the singer describes the powers and actions of Helios.
The hymn concludeswith a prayer for grace “in recompense for this my zeal” and for “moreperfect wisdom and inspired intelligence” (158C). (4) Julian makes use ofHomeric and Callimachean rhetorical formulae, including what Rollinsonterms the “what or how may I sing thee” formula (Rollinson 17), in whichthe singer questions his own ability, as a composer, to communicate thedivine: “Now it is hard, as I well know, merely to comprehend how great isthe Invisible, if one judge by his visible self, and to tell it is perhapsimpossible, even though one should consent to fall short of what is hisdue” (132A). Like Cleanthes, Julian gives the time-worn Olympians new life by imbuingthem with philosophical significance. But Julian sets out to elucidate theobscure philosophy of his model, Iamblichus, and as a result the hymns “ToKing Helios” and “To the Mother of the Gods” are much more didactic thanthe “Hymn to Zeus.
” He writes in prose. He expands the narrativeexpositions to include philosophical interpretations of traditional myths. Further, Julian syncretizes Greek, Egyptian, and Persian myths so thatHelios (an amalgam of Zeus, the Egyptian god Serapis, and the Persian godMithras) and Attis (an amalgam of Mithras and Persephone) take on manifoldsignificance. (5) An Homeric audience would scarcely recognize their Zeus inJulian’s Helios. As Wilmer Cave Wright explains, Helios is at once the”supreme principle of the One,” the intermediate “intellectual god” whobestows upon human beings “intelligence and creative forces,” and thegovernor of the world of sense-perception (349). Julian’s syncretic hymnsproblematize the status of the traditional Greek gods praised in theHomeric Hymns and already transformed in the hymns of Callimachus andCleanthes.
The genre challenges and provokes Julian to transcend thelimitations of these examples, and in the hymn “To King Helios,” he callsattention to his skill as a literary innovator (147C). Julian’s hymns arefurther examples of the way classical hymn has changed with time, “so thatits boundaries cannot be defined by any single set of characteristics”(Fowler 38). Post-classical, Christian, and Renaissance writers alter theboundaries of classical hymn to such a degree that by the nineteenthcentury the genre is not easily distinguishable. Modern readers have adifficult time tracking the generic development and compositionalinnovation of classical hymn after Spenser and Marullo. (6) As a result, the”Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” has remained generically enigmatic despiteits title.
Ignoring the genre of the “Hymn” altogether, some criticsinadvertently accept generic conventions prescribed by fashion. Others,including Hogle and Stuart Curran, discuss the hymn genre and its assumedconventional “verse-form” without specification or definition (Hogle 62;Curran 63). Generally, modern readers conclude that the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty” is not a hymn at all, but an ode (Cronin 224; Curran58; Fry 8; Hall 136). This conclusion typically rests on at least one ofthe following critical misconceptions related to genre. First, that genresare fixed forms with little variability, defined by a single set ofcharacteristics “such as would determine a class” (Fowler 38).
Moderncritics tend to measure literary hymns by strict standards that are rarelyexplained or clarified. Romantic odes, on the other hand, are an exception,for modern critics tend to give odists unusually free compositional reign. The second misconception is that the common meter Christian hymn,exemplified by Watts and the Wesleys in the eighteenth century, is themodel of the English literary hymn. Although its form is somewhat variable,this model would restrict composers to subjects prescribed by religiousdoctrine. And last, many critics insist that Shelley’s atheism precludeshis composing anything but an ironic or “Satanic” hymn (Fry 9).
Theargument for intended irony is undercut, however, by Shelley’s own claimthat “the poem was composed under the influence of feelings which agitatedme even to tears” (Letters 529-30). Readers of Shelley may avoid thesemisconceptions and may reach a different conclusion regarding the genre andperhaps the meaning of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” by recallingShelley’s distrust of fixed form, his familiarity with and translations ofGreek literature, and his earnest desire both to expand literary traditionand to be counted among its “supreme poets” (“Defence” 485). In terms ofthe tradition of classical hymn, these and further dimensions of genre andmeaning in Shelley’s “Hymn” become apparent. To say that Shelley’s poem is in dialogue with the classical hymn does notmean that the poem is an imitation of a specific locus classicus. Like manyliterary innovators, Shelley is in part a mediator of literature of a muchearlier period. But his dialogue with the classical hymn takes on a life ofits own.
To transcend the limitations of these examples, Shelley employsgenre-linked features of the Homeric, Callimachean, Cleanthean, and Julianhymns. The eighty-four-line “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” is a lyric piecewith a subsidiary narrative section. It follows the linear sequence ofexordium, exposition, and peroration. Shelley observes a decorum of subjectthat relates the “Hymn” to the attributes and actions of the object ofpraise. The poem reflects the stylistic attitude of singer to deity andincludes epithets describing that deity: “Messenger of sympathies,” “Oawful Loveliness,” “Spirit Fair” (lines 42, 71, 83).
The singer’s rhetoricis elaborate, elevated, and solemn, and he refers to himself in the firstperson. In the exordium in stanzas 1-4, the singer invokes the Spirit of Beauty andthen apostrophizes the Spirit for thirty-five lines:Shelley’s exordium illustrates the singer’s reverence for and devotion tothe divinity praised, in the manner of the Homeric Hymns and, subsequently,of Callimachus, Cleanthes, and Julian. The exordium points up both thefundamental separation between singer and deity (“where art thou gone?”)and the singer’s desire for that deity’s continued presence (“Keep with thyglorious train firm state”). In the exposition in stanza 5, the singer recounts a story associated withthe Spirit of Beauty. Shelley modulates the Homeric exposition, whichdescribes an “epoch-making moment in the mythic chronology of Olympus” and”inaugurates a new era in the divine and human cosmos,” by presenting it ona much smaller scale (Clay 15). We are informed that the Spirit descendedon the singer himself while he was “yet a boy” (“Hymn” 49).
Theintroduction of contemporary persons and events into the classical hymn hasits precedent in the Callimachean hymns; the singer’s relation of apersonal encounter with the divinity praised has its precedent in Julian’shymn “To King Helios. ” Like Shelley’s singer, Julian’s describes an”extraordinary longing” for metaphysical knowledge that overcame him duringhis “earliest years” (“To Helios” 130C). “I walked abroad in the nightseason,” explains the singer, and “abandoned all else without exception andgave myself up to the beauties of the heavens; nor did I understand whatanyone might say to me, nor heed what I was doing myself” (130D). At last a”heavenly light shone all about me,” and “it roused and urged me on to itscontemplation,” Julian writes, so that now “I regard the god . . .
as thefather of all mankind” (131B-C). Similarly, Shelley’s singer wanders”through many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin, / And starlight wood,”futilely pursuing metaphysical knowledge, until the Spirit of Beautydescends suddenly and unexpectedly upon him (“Hymn” 50-51). Following the narrative section, Shelley’s “Hymn” closes with an earnestperoration in stanzas 6-7 that includes another apostrophe, a prayer forfuture grace, and the singer’s pledge of continued devotion. The singer’sreference to himself as “one who worships thee, / And every form containingthee” maintains both the poem’s supplicatory style and the dialectic ofseparation and integration that most classical hymns require (81-82). Shelley uses genre-linked features to prevent genre from becoming fixed andlifeless. He keeps the dialectic of containment and effusion alive bysuggesting that the Spirit of Beauty can be worshipped both within andwithout “containing” forms.
The status of divinity is problematic in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”because of Shelley’s atheism. Critics have wondered at theuncharacteristically supplicatory and solemn attitude Shelley adopts in thepoem, and frequently they conclude that he intends irony. But Shelley’spoem is neither a hymn to Apollo nor a Christian hymn. For Shelley, thedivinities of these traditions represent vital poetic ideas that havehardened into dogma. The singer of the “Hymn” rejects all such “poisonousnames with which our youth is fed” (53).
Traditional divinities havedegenerated into mere names or “Frail spells” whose “uttered charms” arepowerless against immanent “Doubt, chance, and mutability” (29, 31). Shelley would be hesitant to compose a solemn hymn to a traditionaldivinity or to endorse a particular method of worship. Continued from page 4. In the manner of Julian and Cleanthes, Shelley, therefore, eschewsChristian and classical deities for a “classical semi-philosophical” objectof praise (Rollinson 134).
Julian’s Helios, described by the epithet “theInvisible,” is a world-force occupying at once and separately the three”worlds” of pure reason, consciousness, and sense perception (“To Helios”132A-B). He is an amalgam of Greek, Persian, and Egyptian religion and acomplex embodiment of Iamblichean philosophy accessible only to theindoctrinated (158A). Cleanthes’ Zeus is an immanent world-force that”Pulsates through all nature,” bringing “To birth, whate’er land or in thesea/Is wrought” (Cleanthes 15, 20-21). For Cleanthes, only those “By reasonguided” (32) are capable of discerning the omnipresence, and derivingknowledge, of Zeus; one who is unable to compute the subtle movements ofZeus is “Self-prompted” to pursue a “fruitless” and “idle name” (34, 38). Shelley’s Spirit, similar to the philosophical divinities of Cleanthes andJulian, is an immanent world-force, an “awful shadow of some unseen Power”that “Floats though unseen amongst us” (“Hymn” 1-2). But unlike Zeus andHelios, the Spirit of Beauty makes itself known to the “musing” rather thanthe reasoning devotee (Cleanthes 55).
For Cleanthes, musing or”unreasoning” persons are “for ever seeking good and finding ill” (39). Shelley’s Spirit of Beauty cannot be apprehended rationally. Indeed, tounderscore divinity’s remoteness from reason Shelley emphasizes theinconstancy of the Spirit’s visits, the futility of the singer’s determinedquest for the Spirit, and the surprise with which the Spirit finallydescends. While the Spirit of Beauty has philosophical implications,Shelley is far from using it to elucidate philosophical doctrine as Juliandoes.
He innovates on the examples of his predecessors by praising an”intellectual” deity whose presence is made known to human beings byunanticipated influxes of inspiration, without recourse to reason,doctrine, or tradition. The Spirit of Beauty chooses to reveal and concealitself as the god of the Bible does. But, like the gods of Callimachus,Shelley’s god exists only in poetry. Twentieth-century critics are often reluctant to acknowledge Shelley’s”Hymn” as a hymn because they mistakenly measure it against a vague, andyet unyielding, model of the Christian hymn.
Louis Benson offers hiscriteria for hymn in The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship:”The Literary Hymn may be described as one in which heightened feelingseeks to confine an impression of some reality of religion within thelimits of the hymn form . . . and in which the spirit of pure devotion,apart from didactic and utilitarian ends, reveals the essential poetry ofour infinite relationships” (437).
Benson recognizes that literary hymnsmust reckon with the paradox of confining the infinite, but he suggeststhat such “essential poetry” must always be revealed through a fixed form. For Benson, the “hymn form” is largely restricted to the four-beat rhythmsof short, long, and common meter, exemplified by the eighteenth-centuryChristian hymns of Watts and the Wesleys (207). An implicit reason forBenson’s exclusion of Shelley’s “Hymn” from the genre, therefore, is thatthe poem strays from common measure. But he also regards Shelley’s elevatedrhetoric, supplicatory attitude, and non-Christian object of praise asirreverent and wholly inappropriate for a literary hymn: “If Shelley’sunmoral attitude of artistic elevation had been the standpoint of the newRomantic movement, it might doubtless have come and gone with noperceptible influence on Hymnody” (435-36). Recent critics who conclude, with Benson, that Shelley’s “Hymn” is anironic or anti-hymn, or an ode, and do not take account of the rich,influential “pagan” examples of Homer, Callimachus, Cleanthes, Julian, oreven of Spenser and Marullo, often are judging by an ill-defined model ofChristian hymn. They contend that because Shelley’s atheism is antitheticalto the values of the genre he ostensibly embraces, his adoption of hymnsuggests a “Satanic” motivation (Fry 9).
Paul Fry points to theinteriorization taking place between the singer’s reliance on the “grace”-bestowing Spirit in the first two stanzas and his burgeoning “Self-esteem”at the opening of stanza 4 as evidence of the “Satanic” overthrow of hymnby the originary voice of the Romantic odist (“Hymn” 36-37; Fry 9). Fryassociates the shift from general to personal concerns almost exclusivelywith the Romantic ode. The ode, he writes, “is never a hymn” (9). Rather,the odist attempts to “recover and usurp the voice to which hymns defer”(9). In terms of the tradition of classical hymn, however, the internaltransition that Fry observes in stanzas 3 and 4 of the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty” parallels the poem’s structural transition fromexordium to exposition. “Grace” and “Self-esteem” are complementary andinterrelated, as are the “Word” of Zeus and the divine “knowledge” itimparts in Cleanthes’ hymn (Cleanthes 16, 44).
That is, they are bestowedupon attuned human beings by the divinity praised and are compromised bythat divinity’s departure. In stanza 4 of Shelley’s poem, the singerdutifully celebrates the migratory Spirit of Beauty in the same manner thatJulian celebrates his Helios, as a catalyst of the imagination (“To Helios”140B-C):Man were immortal, and omnipotent,Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart. Thou messenger of sympathies,That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes -Thou – that to human thought art nourishment,Like darkness to a dying flame! (“Hymn” 39-45)Rather than depicting a “Satanic” impulse, the poem’s central imageassociates the “nourishment” provided to “human thought” with “darkness toa dying flame”: visitations of the Spirit of Beauty intensify the humanimagination, making it appear to burn brighter. The singer has experiencedsuch a visitation, and he proceeds from exordium to exposition with thehope for another.
Like Fry, Stuart Curran argues that “the major hymn of British Romanticismis, in fact, an ode” (63). In Curran’s view, Shelley is following the samepattern of defiance in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” that he institutesin “Mont Blanc,” that is, Shelley is attempting to establish a propheticpoetic voice from a myriad of dialectical pressures (62-63). The drive toextend the capacity of discernment and to figure that extension in asuitably unhindered poetic form characterizes the Romantic odist, Curransuggests, whereas the Romantic hymnist aims for complete absorption in hisobject of praise. The hymn “insists on the veritable existence of the beingit calls upon,” assumes that “the space between” singer and deity canclose, and consequently sets up expectations of tidy containment andassured future grace, none of which, according to Curran, can be found inthe “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” (56-57). Curran does not conclude thatthe hymn is a fixed form. But he resolves that Shelley’s poem is not a hymnbecause of the stylistic variation within its uniform stanzas.
Furthermore,other dialectics in the “Hymn” collapse into union only briefly: singer andSpirit, inspiration and representation, and the temporal and the eternal. The reconciliation of these dialectics is deferred; only “unresolvedtensions” endure (78). For Curran, the deferral of union in the “Hymn”figures Shelley’s realization that “to be absorbed by pure beauty is tolose the capacity of discernment, to become one with the cause andunconscious of its effect” (62). Pulling back from this identification,Curran claims, Shelley takes up instead the “dialectical condition ofhumanity” that is played out in the Romantic ode, and therefore is “purelyironic in subverting the form he invokes” (63). But if we see the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” as a dialogue with theclassical hymn genre, our response will not be the same as if we saw it asa Christian hymn or an ode. The examples of Callimachus and Juliandemonstrate that, for the most part, literal belief in the praised objectpassed with the Homeric Hymns.
Moreover, the hymns of Callimachus,Cleanthes, and Julian are aimed at expanding both the inherited genericboundaries of hymn and the artistic and philosophical horizons of singerand listener. To be sure, Shelley’s Spirit has aesthetic and philosophicalaspects. But these aspects are deliberately vague and require particularlyfine discernment on the part of both singer and reader, for unlike hispredecessors, Shelley offers no supporting or code-breaking dogmaContinued from page 5. Like Shelley’s “Hymn,” classical hymns acknowledge fundamental separationwhile aspiring to reunion. After invoking a god, or muse, and relating anevent to exemplify that god’s power, works in the genre often conclude witha perorational prayer that is necessary precisely because a breach remainsbetween god and singer.
Affirming the basic separation of singer and deity,the rhetorician Menander prescribes the following topos in his treatise onhymns: “It is also necessary that a prayer should be made to the godasking him to come back and stay again” (qtd. in Cairns 160). The “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty” approaches its conclusion with such a prayer:Thus let thy power, which like the truthOf nature on my passive youthDescended, to my onward life supplyIts calm – to one who worships thee . . . ” (78-81)As many hymns do, Shelley’s “Hymn” takes up the “dialectical condition ofhumanity,” a condition that Curran and others associate with ode, and thepoem is in partial dialogue with contemporary odes and their lyricassumptions (Curran 63).
Because generic mixture is to be expected inShelley’s poetry, it should be no mystery. It is inevitable that Shelley’sdistrust of fixed form and his view of genre as ever-changing should entailgeneric combination and innovation. But while an old generic label like”hymn” cannot be taken at face value in his poetry, it still can be broughtto bear in a way that enhances our understanding of the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty. “Like many classical hymns, including the Homeric Hymns translated byShelley, the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” follows a linear sequence ofexordium-exposition-peroration, maintains a supplicatory stylisticattitude, includes a prayer for future grace, and observes a decorum ofsubject that connects the poem with the object of praise. The dialectics ofcontainment and effusion, of separation and union, and of singer andSpirit, which suggest humanity’s general dialectical condition, areadditional features of classical hymns that Shelley develops in the poem.
Perhaps it is appropriate that, attempting to join tradition by subduingthe brief visitations of inspiration and harboring suspicions about thetransmissive efficacy of traditional poetic forms and genres, Shelleyshould compose a poem in dialogue with a genre fraught with dialectics. Shelley brings to the genre a nontraditional divinity that is accessible bymeans of neither doctrine nor reason, but by poetry only. He does notintend to teach or elucidate divinity’s principles, but to show that itsprinciples cannot be taught or elucidated. Because classical hymn grapplesfundamentally with the problem of containing and expressing the divine andthe ineffable, the genre proves to be a positive support and building-blockfor Shelley.
Genre-linked features of classical hymn also reinforce Shelley’s stylistictroping of containment and effusion, to which we now turn. Even beforereading it, readers are aware of the unique stanzaic form of the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty,” merely because of the way the poem appears on thepage. Shelley appropriates a homostanzaic (one recurrent stanza) patternwith a rigid program of indentation instead of the irregular strophes andverse paragraphing he uses in other poems of this period, including”Alastor” and “Mont Blanc. ” Shelley’s translations of the Homeric Hymns,most of which are written in heroic couplets, suggest that he believesclassical hymn adhere to a systematic formal pattern. His original worksbearing the title of hymn or ode also demonstrate Shelley’s tendency towardtypographical regularity. Of Shelley’s eight multi-stanza hymns, five arestanzaically uniform; of his five poems designated as odes, only the “Odeto Naples” is stanzaically irregular (although it is composed in repeatingPindaric triads of strophe, antistrophe, and epode).
In the remaining odeshe employs a single, recurrent stanza. Since Shelley composes homostanzaichymns and odes with such frequency, it is difficult to ascertain thestructural distinction he draws between the two genres. Indeed, manycommentators assume that Shelley makes no distinction. (7)The elaborate typography of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” suggests thatit is a contained whole, its continuity fully in Shelley’s control. Henever veers from the poem’s stanzaic uniformity. The twelve-line stanza ofthe “Hymn,” which appears to be original with Shelley, employs threedifferent line lengths, a distinct pattern of indentation, and a strictabbaaccbddee rhyme scheme.
(8) For Shelley, it is a beneficial support. Itoffers a “proportioned space” in which to write and by which to order hisexperience by during composition (Fowler 31). The stanza also offers achallenge by enticing Shelley to transcend its boundaries stylistically. Asstanza 6 illustrates, Shelley seems to show off the very form by which heintends to contain the Spirit of Beauty:I vowed that I would dedicate my powersTo thee and thine – have I not kept the vow?With beating heart and streaming eyes, even nowI call the phantoms of a thousand hoursEach from his voiceless grave: they have in visioned bowersOf studious zeal or love’s delightOutwatched with me the envious night -They know that never joy illumed my browUnlinked with hope that thou wouldst freeThis world from its dark slavery,That thou – O awful Loveliness,Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express. (61-72)Shelley uses a rigid pattern of indentation to exploit the contrary pullsof formal continuity and discontinuity.
The first five lines emphasizeregularity and containment. Indentation corresponds to rhyme. The first,fourth, and fifth lines are left-justified and rhyme; the second and thirdlines are indented identically and rhyme. Only the fifth line, a hexameter,varies from the pentameter norm.
As the stanza develops, the symmetry ofthe initial lines is compromised by a sudden elasticity in line-length andindentation. Indentation for the last seven lines corresponds to meter,with tetrameter lines indented the farthest. The sixth, seventh, ninth, andtenth lines are tetrameters and rhyme. The eighth line rhymes with thesecond and third, and is likewise pentameter, but a string of interveningrhyming couplets enfeebles that correspondence. Structural symmetry iscompromised as the stanza develops; in the lower half of each “Hymn”stanza, Shelley’s lines expand and contract like a “beating heart” (63).
Looking at the mechanisms of prosody that operate within the “Hymn toIntellectual Beauty,” one gains a broader view of how Shelley structuresthe genre-linked dialectic of containment and effusion. Since the classicalhymn does not have a fixed form, Shelley need not adhere to a particularmeter, rhyme scheme, or stanzaic arrangement. Nevertheless, he composes thepoem in a demanding metrical and structural pattern. Shelley uses rhyme,varying line-length, repetition, and assonance to emphasize the poem’sstructural boundaries and to suggest visual and aural integrity. Thesedevices help establish sublexical order in the poem, including a “uniformand harmonious recurrence of sound,” which, for Shelley, is indispensableto any poetry capable of “communicating its influence” (“Defence” 484).
Atthe same time, Shelley enfigures effusion by use of enjambments andcaesurae (which disrupt the poem’s syntax) and by use of what JohnHollander calls the “bridging, associating, linking function” of rhyme andother prosodic devices (119). Linking words, lines, and stanzas, Shelleyestablishes an expanding chain of figures and sounds that often seems toextend and operate outside of poetic form. Shelley is thus able toapproximate the passing of the migratory Spirit of Beauty. As Harold Bloomremarks, the “Hymn” communicates “a vision whose reality is, and can onlybe, embodied in a chain of metaphors”; a “single metaphor could not fit theevanescent nature of the phenomenon that is the poem’s theme” (37). Shelleyactivates lexical and sublexical figures to produce this intricate chain. Continued from page 6.
Numerous enjambments and caesurae in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”offset the primary typographical metaphor of containment and magnify theimpression of effusion, not through any linking function, but by jarringthe poem’s syntax and opening up alternative, short-lived syntacticstrains. In their very abruptness, the structural impositions of enjambmentand caesurae figure the sudden disappearance of the Spirit of Beauty fromthe grasp of the singer. Over a third of the poem’s eighty-four lines areenjambed, producing periodic disjunctions between syntax and lineboundaries. In nearly half of the “Hymn,” caesurae break the syntax withinline boundaries. An overview of this dispersion shows Shelley movingfurther away from uninterrupted syntax as the “Hymn” proceeds.
Whereasstanza I contains only two caesurae within line boundaries, central stanza4 and concluding stanza 7 contain nine syntactic interruptions apiece. From the poem’s opening lines, the dialectic of containment and effusion inthe “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” is apparent, structurally andstylistically:The awful shadow of some unseen PowerFloats though unseen amongst us, – visitingThis various world with as inconstant wingAs summer winds that drift from flower to flower. (1-4)This is a power that transcends the tangible landscape, making its verymateriality seem false (Watson 206). The power itself is thrice removed, aninvisible shadow further distanced through simile.
In the above quatrain,enjambment works to extend the separation between singer and Spirit to theverge of imperceptibility. Shelley stresses the transitory by cutting offhis lines at “unseen Power” (1), “visiting” (2), and “inconstant wing” (3),and then leaving these already transitory terms to dissolve quickly intothe empty space beyond each line. The linking function of rhyme heredestabilizes the quatrain. Although “Power” and “flower” rhyme, theintervening and feebler “visiting” / “wing” rhyme, along with therepetition of “flower” in line 4, weaken the resonance of the enveloperhyme. In the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” Shelley establishes a sense ofstability in the first stanza by means of repetition, but it is immediatelycompromised because the repeated words, “unseen,” “inconstant,” and”visit,” are not associated with stability (1-3, 6).
He uses the word”like” five times in the first stanza, and each time it introduces atemporal simile. Summer winds, moonbeams, shades of evening, clouds, andmemories of music come and go, like the Spirit of Beauty, without regardfor human desire (5, 8-11). In this series of similies, as Bloom notes,instead of creating an impression of containment, “all of the naturalcitation is wavering” (37). In the stanza’s last line, the singer stressesand repeats how “dear” the Spirit is to him, “Dear, and yet dearer for itsmystery” (“Hymn” 12).
But his use of the comparative suggests that theinscrutability of the Spirit is more precious than any of its temporaryavatars. In addition to suggesting the Spirit’s inscrutability, the finalword in stanza 1, “mystery,” leaves both reader and singer uncertain oftheir ability to apprehend the Spirit within the poetic trappings of the”Hymn. “Containment and continuity are reasserted in the opening lines of stanza 2,but these qualities fail and fade as quickly as they appear. It is as ifreaders were expected to share the singer’s hopelessness upon eachdisappearance of divinity:Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrateWith thine own hues all thou dost shine uponOf human thought and form, – where art thou gone?Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate? (13-17)Shelley continues to enfigure containment and evanescence by employingindentation, enjambment, caesurae, line length, and assonance.
The firstquatrain again displays the symmetry produced by indentation. But itsinitial line, split by a medial caesura into two segments syllabicallyequal, undermines this symmetry. The Spirit of Beauty and its consecratingpower are separated: linear disruption compromises the Spirit’s integrity. In lines 14-15, Shelley’s enjambment of “all thou dost shine upon / Ofhuman thought” creates at least two interpretive strains without disruptingthe stanza’s syntax.
One might read line 14 as a description of theSpirit’s infinity: it makes sacred every single thing it shines upon. Butthe syntax spills rapidly into line 15, making it evident that the Spiritof Beauty specifically illuminates human beings and their produced forms. The Spirit consecrates “all . .
. / . . . of human thought and form” onwhich it shines: “all” is qualified by “human” in lines 14-15.
Shelley’senjambment here suggests that the Spirit of Beauty is uncontainable at onemoment and confined to human minds and art forms at another. To make thestatus of divinity even more problematic, Shelley allows neither of thesestrains to prevail. Created and sustained by enjambment, the firstdissolves as the next line is read. The second strain is abruptly cut offby a medial caesura in line 15. Just as the singer apprehends divinity, itevaporates: “where art thou gone?”Shelley employs the hexameter in stanza 2 with particular figurativeefficacy.
Following the light pentameter of line 16, which approximates theswift departure of the Spirit of Beauty, the hexameter’s heavily accentedmonosyllables “dim vast vale of tears,” top-heavy disyllabic “vacant” andtrisyllabic “desolate,” /a/ assonance, and repeating phonemes /v/, /d/, and/t/ underscore and prolong the singer’s hopelessness upon the Spirit’sabrupt departure. The accumulation of syllables in the hexameter gives way,just as abruptly, to the tetrameter of line 18 (“Ask why the sunlight notforever”), calling attention again to the linear elasticity of the lowerhalf of the “Hymn” stanza and to the brevity of the Spirit’s visit. The closing couplet of stanza 2 – “why man has such a scope / For love andhate, despondency and hope?” (23-24) – offers another example of howShelley exploits the implications of line and stanza-ending to underminestructural continuity. Shelley weakens the stanza’s and couplet’s effectsof closure by ending with a question. The question reverberates across thestanzaic break before the singer informs us that it cannot be answered inany poetry or by any metaphysical inquiry: “No voice from some sublimerworld hath ever / To sage or poet these responses given” (25-26).
Shelleyhas actually intimated the unanswerability of this question in the asking,by playing off its “scope” (23). At the end of line 23, the questionappears to be an inquiry into the (presumably vast) extent of humanintellect and is left open by the enjambment after “scope. ” But Shelleyabruptly restricts that “scope” to the non-rational qualities of “love andhate, despondency and hope” in line 24. The seemingly unhindered range ofhuman beings is thus reduced to a view determined by irrational powers andvery limited in extent. Shelley implies that the possibilities for a returnto or union with the “sublimer world” are diminished by humanity’smisreading of its own “scope” (25). In the manner of Julian’s hymns, the singer narrates in stanza 5’sexposition his personal experience of union with divinity.
Shelleyreinforces the union by figuring it in meter and rhyme. The Spirit ofBeauty descends on the singer unexpectedly, in swift tetrameter, anddissolves along with the singer’s “extacy” in the very next line (60). Shelley places this brief rhapsodic union (the sheer sublimity of whichobliterates all of the “Frail spells” and “poisonous names” that can besqueezed into a hexameter) within stanza 5’s closing couplet, that is,within a mere two of the “Hymn'”s eighty-four lines: Sudden, thy shadowfell on me;! I shrieked, and clasped my hands in extacy!” (29, 53, 59-60). The associative chain produced by the provocative feminine off-rhymes,”ruin” / “pursuing” / “wooing” / “blossoming,” parallels the growingintensity of action in stanza 5 leading up to the climactic final couplet(50, 51,56, 58). It also traces the developmental stages of the singer thatled to his encounter with the Spirit of Beauty.
Continued from page 7. Just as the singer’s devotion to the Spirit reaches a new level followingthe Spirit’s descent, the poem’s syntax takes on a new degree ofaccommodation in the peroration in stanza 7. The Spirit of Beauty issomewhat more subdued, for it now inspires “calm” instead of “extacy” (81,60). The singer, too, seems more at ease.
His focus is on his “onward life”rather than the “dark reality” of the grave, and he recognizes a “serene””harmony” and “lustre” where he once saw a”dim vast vale of tears, vacantand desolate” (80, 47-48, 73-75, 17). The “passive youth” who once wanderedthe “starlight wood” now appreciates the “harmony” of an autumn afternoon(79, 51,74-75). The final couplet in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,”however, upsets this tranquillity:Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bindTo fear himself, and love all human kind. (83-84)This is a tightly-knit ending, predominantly iambic and reinforced byrhyme. But the sense of formal containment is countered by a subtle senseof disruption.
Three caesurae interrupt the syntax of the couplet. Thebreak at line 83, like those at lines 14 and 23, establishes at least twointerpretive strains: the first associates human beings with metaphysicalpower; the second revokes this power and circumscribes human beings withinvery particular earthly limits. Shelley frees his syntax from a singlestrain by paradoxically using “bind” at the point of enjambment. At the endof line 83, the singer is bound to a boundless Spirit. In the next line,however, we find that the singer is not bound to the Spirit of Beauty afterall. He is specifically bound “To fear himself, and love all human kind”(84).
This, it appears, is the obligation of singer, devotee, and reader;one might be tempted to interpret this as atheistic doctrine. But as wehave seen, Shelley aims in the “Hymn” to avoid the didacticism of previousclassical hymns. He does not wish to add to the long line of “Frail spells”and “uttered charms” that distort the vital poetic ideas inspiring them(29). The final line of the poem, which may appear to be doctrinal, isambiguous. Shelley does not specify whether “fear” denotes mistrust,respect, doubt, or reverence.
As the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” ends,the syntax again begins to open up. Yet Shelley’s “solemn and serene” andcongregational final image, of human unity in the service of an inspiringSpirit and in the face of transience, is another reminder of the classicalhymn’s peroration and a sign that Shelley’s dialogue with that genre isopen until the end of the “Hymn” (73). Shelley has managed both to mediate a number of opposing qualities in the”Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and to keep his “synthesizing consciousness”intact (Curran 78). The poem is a precarious mediation of enclosure andeffusion, separateness and union, innovation and convention – one thatleaves many tensions unresolved. Appropriately, the “Hymn” is in dialoguewith the classical hymn, a genre linked by convention to such dialecticsand granted wide structural variability by literary tradition.
Shelley doesnot imitate a particular example of classical hymn, but employs a number ofits genre-linked features to transcend the limitations established byprevious works in the genre. In the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” just asCallimachus, Cleanthes, and Julian restyle the Homeric Olympians and thegenre-linked features of the Homeric Hymns, Shelley also employs theresources of hymn to restyle time-worn values associated with the genre. Shelley introduces a personal, non-traditional deity that exists only inpoetry. Knowledge of this deity is derived neither by doctrine nor reason,but only through patterns of internal consistencies and disruptions in thepoem itself. As the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” demonstrates, patternsbrought to light through the analysis of genre affect meaning in Shelley’spoetry, and while genre criticism is not the whole of criticism, it makesan invaluable contribution to Shelley studies because it helps toillustrate the coherence of works that might otherwise appear enigmatic orindeterminate. Notes1 Rajan points to the association in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” of”darkness to a dying flame” (45) as a paradigmatic instance of a Shelleyanrepresentational gap or place of indeterminacy.
In this instance, shewrites, “An idea is embodied in a figure whose subtext generates adifferent and autonomous idea” (Rajan 286). The figure of darkness “canseem to continue the idea of beauty as fostering human development,” butRajan regards this reading as secondary to the one that suggests “darknesssmothers the dying flame” (286). The point is well-raised, but if Shelley’smeaning is vacuous, as Rajan argues it is, attending to primary connotationseems to compromise the aim to be free of “the tyranny of the originalintention” (293). 2 See esp.
Cantor 92-93 and Wolfson 912. 3 For a discussion of the major Homeric Hymns (“To Apollo,” “To Hermes,””To Aphrodite,” and “To Demeter”) as a genre that bridges archaic Greektheogonic and epic poetry, see Clay 3-16. 4 I cite Julian by manuscript section number as presented in the LoebClassical Library edition of his works. 5 For a helpful explanation of Julian’s syncretized and philosophical gods,see Wilmer Cave Wright’s introductions to Julian’s hymns (348-51; 439-41). Rollinson also provides useful information on Julian’s hymn innovations (28-32). 6 For an extensive survey of the classical hymn tradition during theRenaissance, with particular emphasis on Spenser and Marullo, see Rollinson(50-155).
See also Schlueter (esp. 214-50), who claims that a “secondarytradition” of classical hymn, with a particular “hymnic model,” wasintroduced during the Renaissance by Sidney and Milton and continued byGray, Collins, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats (244). Drawing onthe rhetorician Menander’s description of the hymnos kletikos, Schlueterconceives this model as a tripartite structure similar to the one positedby Rollinson and discussed here. Schlueter provides few examples, however,to buttress his argument that Shelley’s “To Night” is in dialogue with, orinnovating upon, the primary tradition of classical hymn. 7 Shelley’s hymns include the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” the “Hymn ofPan,” and “Hymn of Apollo,” and translations of seven Homeric hymns. Hisodes include “Ode to Heaven,” “Ode to the West Wind,” “Ode to Spain,” “Odeto Naples,” and “Ode to Liberty.
” Shelley’s “Hymn to the Sun” consists oftwo twelve-line stanzas in heroic couplets, and the “Hymn to Mercury” ispresented in ninety-seven stanzas of ottava rima. Of Shelley’s remaininghymns, two are composed in irregular strophes (“To the Moon” and “To theEarth, Mother of All”), two are a single stanza long (“To Castor andPollux” and “To Mercury”), and one is incomplete (“To Venus”). 8 Critical notice of the form of Shelley’s “Hymn,” particularly of itstwelve-line stanza, has been cursory. In their respective studies of thepoem, Harold Bloom, Stuart Curran, Paul Fry, and Susan Wolfson do notinvestigate the unique “Hymn” stanza. Among the few references to thisstanza, Ernst Haublein observes merely that “stanzas of ten, eleven, ortwelve lines hardly occur in English poetry . .
. Shelley has a twelveline stanza in ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'” (33). David Robertson, inhis comparison of Shelley’s hymn and Psalm 90, notes that Shelley “choosesa very demanding stanzaic form (twelve iambic lines, the first four ofwhich are pentameter, the fifth hexameter, the next six tetrameter, and thelast pentameter, with rhyme scheme abbaaccbddee) and invariably adheres tothat form” (63). Shelley’s stanza is in fact pentameter at line eight; onlyin the first stanza is line eight tetrameter.
Curran suggests, as Bloomdoes to a lesser degree, that Shelley’s “Hymn” “responds antithetically toColeridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sunrise,'” written in 1802 (Curran 58; Bloom 11;35). Formally, the two works are quite different. Coleridge’s “Hymn” iswritten in blank verse and appears in eight irregular strophes; Shelley’s”Hymn” is homostanzaic and follows strict rhyme and indentation schemes. Although the twelve-line stanza of Shelley’s “Hymn” is unique, similarstructures are used elsewhere by Coleridge, Thomas Gray and Sir WilliamJones. Coleridge’s “Ode to the Departing Year” (1796) contains a twelve-line strophe that appears twice and is very similar to Shelley’s “Hymn”stanza.
The single difference in rhyme scheme shows at line 5, whereColeridge has a b rhyme, Shelley an a. Coleridge’s alexandrine is placed atstanza’s end, while Shelley’s is placed at line 5. Only two tetrameterlines (a couplet) appear in the Coleridge strophe, their indentationmatching the two previous rhyming couplets. To illustrate the similarity ofShelley’s and Coleridge’s typography, here is the first strophe from “Odeto the Departing Year”: