Percy Bysshe Shelley--The Man

Brief introduction to guest blogger, Don Naggie:

Don has a Masters in Literature and resides in Boston (much too far away from me). He now teaches ESL (English as a Second Language) and is available for tutoring online. You can contact him via facebook or don_c_naggie@yahoo.com

This is the first part of a 3 part series on Percy Bysshe Shelley

Dear Readers,

My good friend, LA Jamison, has invited me to be a guest writer on his blog. He suggested I talk about the subjects that interest me most—poetry and literature. In particular, he thought I should start with my favorite poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. I’ve decided to write a series of three short posts on Shelley. In this first I’ll give some sense of Shelley the man. In the next I’ll turn to a sampling of the poetry to give some sense of the scope of his ambitions. In the final post I will reflect on the influence Shelley has had on subsequent poets. 

Although I was interested in writing since I was fairly young I did not take an interest in reading until I graduated from high school. While attending the local community college I happened to pick up a poetry anthology one professor was getting rid of. It was there that I was first introduced to many poets, including Shelley, the I would grow to love over the years. I remember a description in that book of Shelley’s famous poem, “Ode to the West Wind.” The editor said that the poem was exceptionally difficult to recite due to the intensity of the lines. Few readers, the editor asserted, are capable of sustaining that pitch of emotion convincingly. I continued to read more and more as the years went on, working my way through many of the great books of World Literature. By the time I was graduating from college I already had the concept of Shelley that I would keep with me to this day. He seemed to be not just the ideal representation of the poet, but of poetry itself.

Part I: Shelley the Man

 

Shelley is the most etherial, the most passionate of poets. One gets the sense while reading him that he is more flame than man. “The fire for which all thirst now beams on me, consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.” He once said, “I will go on until I am stopped, and I am never stopped.” At another point Shelley described a dream in which he was confronted by his double or doppleganger who asked him, “How long do you wish to remain content?” He is relentless. And yet, I believe, and as some accounts concur, he was also the most humane of men. Byron, who was known to be very reserved with his praise, said of Shelley, “everyone else is a beast in comparison.” There are truly too many things to be said of Shelley, so I will conclude with one story before moving onto his poetry. Shelley died young, as many of his generation did. One doesn’t want to say his end was fitting but it does express his character and spirit. He died at sea, having gone sailing in a particularly fierce storm. It is well known that Shelley both loved sailing and the water, but that he had never learned how to swim. When his body washed up on shore a few days later it was feared by the local officials that it might be carrying diseases and so they forced his friends to have the body cremated where it was found. As the body was burning one of Shelley’s friends, Edward Trelawny, reached into the flames and pulled out Shelley’s heart.

 

 An Afterward from LA Jamison:  Words can only understate the influence Don Naggie can have on a soul around literature among other things. I feel fortunate to count him as a friend who I met at an atheist club advertising for Christians to come and debate with them, of all things.  The group didn’t make it for us but our friendship did!  Don is also featured in my new book, “Discoveries in the Closet” available for purchase in the Book Space Store.  His name is changed to "Percy" for his love of all things Shelley.  There is a section from Don’s final Master writing project that I want to leave you with which really speaks wonders to me not only about Shelley and the spirit of life in general but to introduce you to Don’s insight into the depths of writing and authors:

 

From “HEAVEN RUINING IN”: WAVE IMAGERY IN THE POETRY OF PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY-- D. NAGGIE

 

Shelley is following the conventions of his day when in The Defence of Poetry he states that poetic imagery preceded reason; that the earliest cultures were poetic before they were rational.  The language of primitive cultures as of poets, Shelley writes in the Defence, is “vitally metaphorical” (Reiman, Fraistat 512).  Shelley breaks from nearly all other theorists when he states that poetry is essential for all innovation and that reason is valuable only insofar as it is poetical (Fry, 164-65).  In this respect Owen Barfield is indebted to Shelley when he makes his distinction between the poetic and scientific faculties:

 

If we must have a fundamental dichotomy, how much more real it is (though even this is properly a division of function rather than of person) to divide man as knower, from man in his other capacity as doer.  Then, as knower, we shall find that he always knows by the interaction within himself of these poetic (poietikos) and logistic principles; and so we can divide him again, according to which of the principles predominates.  If the poetic is unduly ascendant, behold the mystic or the madman, unable to grasp the reality of percepts at all - a being still resting, as it were, in the bosom of gods or demons - not yet man, man in the fullness of his stature, at all.  But if the passive, logistic, prosaic principle predominates, then the man becomes - what? the collector, the man who cannot grasp the reality of anything but percepts.  And here at last a real distinction between poet and scientist, or rather between poetaster and pedant, does arise.  For if the ‘collector’s’ interests happen to be artistic or literary, he will become the connoisseur, that is, he will collect either objets d’art or elegant sensations and memories.  But if they are ‘scientific’, he will collect - data; will, in fact, probably go on doing so all his life, to the tune of solemn warnings against the formation of ‘premature syntheses’ (139). 

To summarize Shelley and Barfield: if the poet must be capable of making accurate descriptions of his environment if he is not to exist entirely in a realm of fancy or madness he must also have the poetic faculty.  This involves the creation of metaphors, of bringing the objects of observation into fruitful relations with one another.  If the one is necessary for communication could it be said that the other is necessary for life? 


Credits from Master's Paper, D. Naggie

Barfield, OwenPoetic Diction: A Study in Meaning.  Middletown: Weslyan University Press

(1973).

----.  Saving the Appearances.  2nd Ed.  Middletown: Wesleyan University Press (1988).

 Fry, Paul.  “Shelley’s Defence of Poetry in Our Time.” Modern Critical Views: Percy Bysshe

Shelley. Bloom, Harold ed.  New York: Chelsea House Publishers (1985) 159-284.

 Reiman, Donald H.  “Structure, Symbol, and Theme in “Lines written among the Euganean

Hills.”  Shelley’s Poetry and Prose.  Norton Critical Edition. Reiman, Donald H., Fraistat,

Neil eds. 1st Ed. New York: Norton (1977) 579-596.

Reiman, Donald H., Fraistat, Neil eds.  Shelley’s Poetry and Prose.  Norton Critical Edition.  2nd

Ed. New York: Norton (2002).