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Lyric Poetry and P.B. Shelley: A review.

It can be said without any reserve that the genius of English poetry is best manifested in the great Romantic Lyricism of the 18th Century. The Lyricism became spectacular in the Odes, Sonnets, and elegies of Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron and Keats. The Lyricism of these great Romantic poets is generally deemed unsurpassable either by their illustrious predecessors or by their meritorious successors. Romantic poetry is basically lyrical even when its theme is philosophic, didactic or secular love. A Lyric is a short poem, usually divided into stanzas and directly expressing in melodious language the thoughts, emotions and feelings of the poet himself. It is the crowning glory of subjective poetry. Originally, the Lyric meant a song which was to be sung in accompaniment with a Lyre or Harp. This original sense of the lyric being a song is preserved in its melodious (musical) language and in the intensity of emotion or feeling expressed. But where as, in ancient times the Lyric, like music, was inspired by something external to the poet derived from such public events like triumph in war, religious ceremonies etc, and as such possessed the objective character; the modern Lyric is inspired by something within the poet and possesses purely personal character. A lyric proper is actually the product of a swift, momentary and passionate impulse. It implies impulsiveness or subjectivity. Secondly, a lyric like a sonnet or a short story turns on to some single thought, feeling or situation. Thirdly, it is unique in its spontaneity and sincerity. Fourthly, a Lyric possesses the element of reflection and lastly, it possesses music or melody.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is regarded as the greatest lyricist ever. Though he wrote poems of all sorts, to the readers, he is the consummate artist of lyric harmonies. In none of Shelleys greatest contemporaries was the lyrical faculty so paramount and so poignant, he was the loftiest and most spontaneous singer in our language says Arthur Symons. Earnest Rays in his book Lyric Poetry endorses the opinion of Symons. Shelley is the Lyric Lord of Englands Lordliest singers, says Swinburne while Rabindranath Thakur hails him as a heavenly creature both as a poet and a Man. Francis Thompson writes in his famous essay on Shelley: He is gold-dusty with tumbling amidst the stars. He makes bright mischief with the moon. The meteors nuzzle their noses in his hand. He teases into growling the kenneled thunder, and laughs at the shaking of its fiery chain. He dances in and out of the gates of heaven: its floor is littered with his broken fancies. He runs wild over the fields of ether. He chases the rolling world. He gets between the feet of the horses of the sun. He stands in the lap of patient Nature and twines her loosened tresses after a hundred willful fashions, to see how she will look nicest in his song. This it was which, in spite of his essentially modern character as a singer, qualified Shelley to be the poet of Prometheus Unbound, for it made him, in the truest sense of the word, a mythological poet. In A Defense of Poetry Shelley speaks of a poet as a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds. This view suits best for him as poet. He is really A phantom among men; companionless. (Adonais) Robert Browning calls him Sun treader

in noticing his

Nightingale like desire to fly high into the unknown. English Lyric poetry has been developed partly out of indigenous folk-song and partly under the influence of Greek and Greco-Roman models. Folk-songs were the utterances of a single person where as Classical Lyrics were choral or even orchestra. Shelleys Lyrics, however, contains the spirit of the both. The following lines from Prometheus Unbound describe the unpremeditated, effortless and spontaneous quality of Shelleys Lyrics and, of course, this is his

first Lyric poem which heralded the emergence of one of the greatest Lyric poets in English: From unremembered ages we Gentle guides and guardians be Of heaven ----oppressed mortality; And we breathe, and sicken not, The atmosphere of human thought. The Classical influence in Shelley came straight from the Classics, and he used it with a Greek lucidity and sonority, and yet with all the native music of the language, to express general ideas that had never been expressed before in Lyric poetry: Swift as the radiant shapes of sleep From one whose dreams are Paradise Fly, when the fond wretch wakes to weep, And Day peers forth with her blank eyes So fleet, so faint, so fair-There is more symmetry and simplicity of form as well as theme in the closing Chorus. But the music has the same clearness, the same swift yet stately movement: A Loftier Argo cleaves the main Fraught with a richer prize Another Orpheus sings again And loves, and weeps and dies.

A new Ulysses leaves once more Calypso for his native shore. Almost all the modes of songs, from the simplest to the most intricate, are embodied in this poetic epic. This Lyrical strain is present in almost all his longer poems namely Prince Athanase, The Witch of Atlas, Rosalind and Helen, Adonais, Alastar, Epipsychidion, and The Triumph of Life. But, it is in his smaller poems where his greatest virtue as a Lyricist lies. The following poems may be mentioned in this regard: The Constantia Singing, Ozymandias of Egypt, The Lines written among the Eugene Hills, Stanzas written in Dejection, Ode to the west wind, The Cloud, To The Skylark, Arethusa, Worlds Wonderers, Music when soft voices die, The Flowers that smiles today; Rarely, Rarely, comes thou; The Lament, One word is too often profaned, The Indian Air, The Second Lament; O world! O Life! O time; Invitation; Recollection etc. In between 1819 and 1820, he wrote his best lyrics like Ode to the West wind, The Cloud, To The Skylark, The Sensitive plant and Ode to Liberty. At that time he wrote I take great delight in watching the changes in atmosphere. The play between Cloud and Lightening on the Sky of Orno in Florence in an evening gave him the impulse of writing Ode to the West wind. Subjective elements abound in the poem. His anguished mind finds expression in the following lines: O wind! Lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud! I fall upon the thorns of life I bleed. His To a Skylark turns on the single idea which is the contrast between the life of the skylark, an object of Nature and Human life. This keen sense of contrast runs through the whole poem like a thread and lends pathos to the otherwise joyful lyric. The poem was inspired by the song of a real skylark heard by Shelley and his wife (Mary) near Leghorn in Italy in 1820. Here

Shelleys imagination soars skyward like the skylark but he does not ignore the palpable facts of human life--We look before and after; and pine for what is not, Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught. The poet wants to know the secret of the birds melodious rupture, so he requests Fetch me half the gladness That thy brain must know, Such harmonious madness From my lips would flow. The World should listen As I am listening now. In this poem the sadly sweet emotion stirred in him by the heavenward flight of the bird, comes out in his heart like the spontaneous flow of a river. Again, the following lines from The Cloud: And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams Build up the dome of air, I silently laugh at my own Cenotaph And out of the caverns of rain like a child from the womb, Like a ghost from the tomb, I arise and unbuild again reveal the height of musical pitch seem to have been reached .The very words echo the sense. And we are simply charmed by the music produced by them. His Stanzas written in Dejection Near Naples, which is the spontaneous and effortless expression of the poets mood of despondency contains the pathetic

reflection on the wretched state of mind and body, culminating in his longing for death. It describes Shelley as a man who has been doomed to a life of sorrow and suffering and who wants to cease upon the midnight with no pain--A forlorn and stranded man on the wilder island of life: Alas! I have nor hope nor health, Nor peace within nor calm around, Nor that content surpassing wealth The sage in meditation found, And walked with inward glory crowned Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure.
(Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples)

These are not only what is personal to Shelley but also what Universal is. We find in Shelleys sad and tragic experiences an echo of our own sad experiences. Like Shelleys our life, too, is a long vale of tears. The repeated rebuffs and buffets of the world make our life so miserable and unbearable that we want that Death, Death like sleep might steal on us. Thus Shelley can be viewed as the mouthpiece of the oppressed and miserable humanity. But the Romantic poet is not a defeatist. He is a bold optimist. He hopes for a happy and bright morning after the darkness of night; a happy and luminous new beginning after a perilous and catastrophic end. So he consoles himself in the lines--O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? (Ode to the West Wind) And finally we can conclude with the fundamental Truth of Life as contemplated by the poet: We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter

With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. (To a Skylark) Summing up, it can be said that Shelley is a lyric poet in whom all the characteristics of lyricism has found their true expression. Almost all human feelings and sentiments that make a true lyric poem are encapsulated in his poems. Mad-Shelley, the nickname that his friends gave in his boyhood days showed the true colour of life in his unforgettable lyrics. Indranil Sarkar 10-01-2014