Hymn to Intellectual Beauty


In "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty", Shelley describes his realisation of the power of human intellect. In seven carefully-constructed stanzas, he outlines the qualities of this power and the e ect it has had on him, using the essential themes of Romantic poetry with references to nature and the self.

In the first stanza, the concept of the "unseen Power" ? the mind ? is put forward, and Shelley states his position on the subject. Throughout the stanza, extensive use is made of profluent similes. "As summer winds? | Like moonbeams? | Like hues? | Like clouds? | Like memory?"; these intangible elements of nature and, significantly, memory (which here is a human quality) is aiming to create the air of this Power as something beautiful that is at one with nature and yet is transient and somehow beyond human reach and grasp. Similes such as "Like hues and harmonies of evening" are used to state that this Power has an equilibrium, an intrinsic, inevitable concordance. The five similes in this stanza are all intangible; the first four are all an intrinsic part of the Romantic?s love of, and preoccupation with, nature. Through these similes Shelley constructs an image of the Power?s awesome and intense status.

The second stanza is a question Shelley asks of the Power. Lines 2 and 3 are particularly important, as it is where he says the Beauty (another form of the Power) "shine[s] upon | ?human thought". On line three, the question is posed to Beauty: "where art thou gone?" However, he recognises the futility of such a question with lines 4?8, which are a series of even more rhetorical questions. At the same time, he asks why it is that humanity remains disinterested in worshipping or deifying the human intellect, which he believes is the reason for our "scope | For love and hate, despondency and hope". Of course, the impact of nature is intense, as is shown by the ongoing figurative language involving it: "Ask why sunlight not for ever | Weaves rainbows o?er yon mountain-river". This shows how Shelley sees a divine being as integral in nature. And yet, he is despondent because humanity will not worship it.

Stanza three is how Shelley attacks traditional views of the divine being or beings. It relates to the second stanza because it goes partially to answering these questions. This stanza says that, because no one has yet to be physically proven to have returned from death, it is presumptuous for people to believe in gods. Indeed, Shelley says that "the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven, | Remain the records of their vain endeavour", and that their "uttered charms" ? referring to dogmata and religious documents ? that amount to nothing without the proof of the living dead. The purpose of this, as well as an opportunity to attack organised religion, is to suggest why the force of human intellect (which we can all detect, manipulate, and recognise) is the true "religion". Shelley says that worshipping (and hence "Hymn" in the title) human intellect would give "truth to life?s unquiet dream".

The fourth stanza consists of two principle ideas ? that death would have no hold over us if humanity were to worship the Power, and that of further deifying and celebrating this intellecutal Power. The stanza opens with exceptionally transient concepts ? "Love, hope, and Self-esteem" ? with which Shelley associates clouds? evanescence and reappearance. He suggests that, if the Power stayed firmly "within his [mankind?s] heart", then humanity would become "immortal and omnipotent". He implores the Power to stay within people, so that death may itself become as a "dying flame" ? something without power, where the power instead lies with human thought, to which the Power "art nourishment". He concludes the stanza with "Depart not as thy shadow came, | Depart not?lest the grave should be, | Like life and fear, a dark reality" ? in other words, he says to the Power to come into humanity so that we may forevermore be immortal. Stanza four is e ectively the promotion of his belief in the Power?s ability to grant humanity immortality.

Stanza five, a reflective one, tells how Shelley came to worship intellectual beauty. Obviously, the change in emphasis from humankind in general to himself is made clear by the personal pronoun. He tells how he spent