Answer: Grierson did rightly say, “Classic and Romantic are terms no attempts to define which will ever seem entirely convincing to ourselves or others”. So everyone tries to attribute one’s own views to “Romanticism”. For, to Hein and Beers, Romanticism is synonymous with Medievalism; to Elton it is “thought confounding words”, to Victor Hugo, “Melancholy” is the distinguishing mark of romantic art; to Abercrombie “Romanticism is a withdrawal from outer experience to concentrate upon inner experience”; to Pater it is ‘an addition of strangeness to beauty’; to T.S. Eliot Romantic signifies, “The individual” and even ‘revolutionary’; to Herford ‘liberty or imagination’ So in short, we can say anything novel is romantic.
Romanticism against Classicism: For Pater, classic signifies measure, purity and temperance whereas romantic signifies an addition of strangeness to beauty. Abercrombie says Romanticism is an attitude of mind—an element of art. Classicism is not an element at all but a mode of combining elements in a just proportion. For him there is no antithesis between Romanticism and Classicism. Classicism includes the romantic element in its balance, for all good art is first romantic, and then becomes classical.
Of all the Romantics, Shelley is the one who most obviously possessed the quality of genius-quickness, grasp of intellect, the capacity for learning languages rapidly, ability to assimilate and place scientific principles and discoveries. Yet he is more criticized for his ‘falsity’ and ‘lack of grasp.
Love of Nature: Like the other Romantic poets, Shelley too was an ardent lover of Nature. Like Wordsworth, Shelley conceives of Nature as one spirit, the Supreme Power working through all things. “The one spirit’s plastic stress/ Sweeps through the dull dense world.” Again he personifies each object of nature as an individual life, a part of that Supreme Power, Nature. He celebrates nature in most of his poems as his main theme such as The Cloud, To a Skylark, To the Moon, Ode to the West Wind, A Dream of the Unknown.
In his treatment of nature, he describes the things in nature as they are and never colors it. It is true, he gives them human life through his personifications, but he does it unintentionally for he felt they are living beings capable of doing the work of human beings. His mythopoeic power had made him the best romanticist of his age. In Ode to the West Wind, he personifies Nature as the Destroyer and the Preserver, and in the Cloud, the cloud is a possessor of mighty powers.
He also believed in the healing aspect of Nature and this is revealed in his Euganean Hills in which he is healed and soothed by the natural scene around him and also the imaginary island. In The Recollection we see the same idea of healing power of Nature.
Love, Beauty and Thought Love: The idea of Love and Beauty in Shelley is greatly influenced by Plato. Love to Shelley, as to Plato is the perfection of all that is good and noble in life. In Epipsychidion, he says that love is not bound to one object at a time and when love fades away, we need not be faithful. He adds that love conquers death and beauty, and even goodness and truth originate in it:
True love differs in this from gold and clay
That to divide is not to take away.
In fact, Shelley was in love with love itself,
I love Love, though he has wings
And like light can flee.
Beauty: Beauty, to Shelley, is an ideal in itself and a microcosm of the beauty of Nature and he calls it ‘Intellectual Beauty’. He celebrates Beauty as a mysterious power. In the de arts, to Intellectual Beauty he says that when Intellectual Beauty departs this world becomes a “dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate” and if human heart is its temple, then man would become immortal and omnipotent:
Man were immortal and omnipotent
Did’st thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
Keep with thy glorious train firm state
within his heart.
Thought: Shelley not only believed in the eternity of love and beauty but in the eternity of thought too:
Above and its quick elements, Will, Passion,
Reason, Imagination cannot die………..
The form that Shelley gave to his thought was ideal and at times extremely visionary. Even Brooke admits that he is a poet of certain distinct human ideas and these ideas are not many. That world, “though its substance is grave and weighty, is often too idealized into a world of woven dreams. Substances are thinned out into a shadowy expression of them or seem to disappear in a multitude of fancies added to them”.
Imagination: ‘Facts’ said Shelley, ‘are not what we want to know in poetry, in history, in the lives of individual men, in satire or panegyric. They are the many diversions, the arbitrary points on which we hang and to which we refer those delicate and evanescent hues of mind, which language delights and instructs us in precise proportion as it expresses.’ Shelley calls poetry “the expression of Imagination,” because in it diverse things are brought together in harmony instead of being separated through analysis. In this he resembles Bacon and Locke, but differs from them in his idea of imagination as man’s highest faculty through which one realizes noblest powers.
Shelley made a bold expedition into the unknown and he felt reasons should be related to the imagination. His expedition was successful when he made the people understand that the task of the imagination is to create shapes by which reality can be revealed to the world and this is heralded as the best romantic note by his successors.
Idealism: Shelley’s idealism falls under three subheadings Revolutionary, religious and Erotic.
(i)Revolutionary Idealism: His revolutionary idealism is mainly due to the French Revolution. Through his Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam, and Prometheus Unbound he inspired people to revolt against tyranny by scorning at the tyranny of state, church and society and hoping for a golden age which too is not immune from pain or death. His political idealism makes him a prophet.
(ii) Religious idealism: Though Shelly was rebel, he wasn’t an atheist. He believed in the super power of God, and he imagined God as Supreme ‘Thought’ and infinite Love. His Platonic conception of Love was the base of his metaphysical idealism. He believed in the faith of one mind, one power and one all-pervasive spirit.
(iii) Erotic idealism: Just as he is a revolutionist and a pantheist, so also he is a theologist. He believed in the abstract quality of love and beauty-love as infinite and beauty as intellectual. He celebrates love as a creator and preserver in his Symposium, and beauty as Supreme Spirit with which man becomes immortal in his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.
Melancholy: Though Shelley was a man of hope and expectation and spiritualistic about the future of mankind, yet he represents himself in his poems as a man of ill luck, subject to evil and suffering. He expresses this in his Ode to the West Wind:
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud.
I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed !
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bound
one too like thee.
He experienced these sufferings because being a man of imagination; he was easily disappointed by any obstacle which stood in his way of a golden age. Again he always imagined himself as the target of critics and common people. So in Adonais, he explains his state as “a phantom among men, and a lonely man companionless.”
Poetic Style and Music: Shelley’s poetic style is also romantic. The series of gorgeous similes in The Skylark show the romantic exuberance of Shelley. He never uses any ornamental word and every word fits in its place and carries its own weight. They express the diverse feelings of the poet with the notes of music which appeal to every human being’s ears.
Conclusion: In brief we can say every bit of Shelley’s poetry is romantic— in temper and style. Whether they are short or long, whether they are lyrical or odes, with Shelley’s element of imagination they rise to an expectation which is far beyond our reach. No wonder Shelley is heralded as the best Romantic poet of his age.