“Man is of soul and body, formed for deeds Of high resolve;
on fancy’s boldest wings.”
Here is a very small excerpt taken from the lyrical drama ‘Hellas’ by Shelley, which he dedicated to the Prince Alexander Mavrocordato of Wallachia. This drama is rich in historic imagery, taking influence from a fascinating period in humanities great adventure; when God kings waged wars, blood, wine and romance were thick on the ground; Greek, Persian, Arab and Oriental imagery and characters all merge and mingle on the page.
Shelley is certainly a western seer, a sage with fabulous gifts of insight into the mystic and most of all, a brilliant story teller, renegade poet, political thinker and bizarrely, devout atheist (or someone who opposed organised religion and its norms at the time). Shelley died at the tender age of 29, he led what you could call ‘a full life’ (which seems a distinct underestimation). He was outrageously talented and fearless, a true free spirit who embraced the burgeoning ‘free love’ movement (which only seemed to influence a handful of poets and artists at the time!) Shelley attacked monarchy, war, commercial practices and religion whilst championing republicanism, vegetarianism, free love and atheism.
“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.”
Every poet of the romantic persuasion should have a bit of Shelley in them. Its the part that wishes to stay up all night long, lamenting the open, pale moon, sipping wine with Dionysus and making love with Sirens and Faeries. The hopeless (and ever hopeful) romantic. We all need a little genuine, joy based debauchery, carefree expressions of exuberance, if in word and image alone. As Shelley once said ‘the poet is both a Creator and a Destroyer’ surely insinuating that the poet rides the waves of spontaneous creation which rise and fall of their own accord. This poet wishes only to be with that which speaks through them in formless, uninhibited and timeless love. Poets feel an unspeakable obligation to transmit the ethereal, the otherwordly, the unimagined beauty of existence via ball point, quill or keyboard. Like divine spokespeople, they have an essential role in any civilised society and Shelley’s words speak as vibrantly and as intensely as they did all those years ago. He creates great vistas in our minds which cannot be washed away; conjures unknown emotions, challenges and soothes with tenderness and guile. Shelley wished to be remembered in such a way:
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!….
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!……
Here is a flavour of Hellas, one of the choruses that inspired this post:
Worlds on worlds are rolling ever
From creation to decay,
Like the bubbles of a river,
Sparkling, bursting, borne away.
But they are still immortal
Who, thought birth’s orient
And death’s dark chasm hurrying to
Clothe their unceasing flight
In the brief dust and light
Gathered around their chariots as
New shapes they still may
New gods, new laws receive,
Bright or dim are they, as the robes
On Death’s bare ribs had cast.
This is an incredible passage and is a succinct description of what some would call a very ‘spiritual’ description or insight into our conscious state of being. There seems some esoteric understanding being exhibited here and it is fascinating to think of what influenced Shelley or his reactions to such reflections. A form of fertile inspiration and eloquence which is awe inspiring! They certainly don’t make atheist like they used to!!!!