Poets And Poetry
Percy Bysshe Shelley, portrayed by Amelia Curran

Poetry Analysis Loves Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley



Percy Bysshe Shelley, portrayed by Amelia Curran
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"Poetry Analysis Loves Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley"
Caption: Percy Bysshe Shelley, portrayed by Amelia Curran
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Image by: Amelia Curran (artist)

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is renowned as one of the greatest poets of the English Romantic movement and one of a trio of intense young men (the others being Keats and Byron) who led short and unconventional lives and expressed themselves with passion and openness. Shelley wrote a number of long poems and dramas that made his 19th century reputation but is better known today for his shorter lyrical pieces such as "To a Skylark", "Ode to the West Wind" and "Ozymandias". "Love's Philosophy" is one of these shorter poems.

This is a simple little love poem in two 8-line stanzas with an ABABCDCD rhyme scheme. It is, at heart, a plea for his girlfriend to kiss him, but his persuasion takes the form of pointing to a range of natural and cosmic conjunctions that involve, on a "macro" scale, what he wishes to do on a "micro" one. The first stanza begins:

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;

The logic points, in his view, to the inevitability of mingling and mixing "by a law divine" which applies to what his girlfriend should do as well, because "Nothing in the world is single".

The second stanza is, in effect, a repetition of the first, although here "mingle" and "mix" are replaced by "kiss" and "clasp" as the keywords. It should also be noted that the examples move up a gear from rivers and winds to sunlight and moonlight in the lines:

And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;-

Shelley does not mince his words when he relates mountains kissing the sky and moonbeams kissing the sea directly to his personal circumstances in the final lines:

What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me? 

As a "philosophy", Shelley's poem might lack something in terms of its rigour, especially as his argument from the universal to the specific is logically unsound, but that does not matter when the poem is considered for what it is, namely a cleverly constructed love poem that is typical of its kind in that the lover's regard of the universe is entirely coloured by his emotions. He can see nothing around him that does not back up his argument and ignores everything that does not, of which there would be plenty of examples if he chose to look for them.

There is also the message that the natural world is on the side of love, which is true in a sense but not quite the one that Shelley is stressing here. For him, the mingling, clasping and kissing is "sweet work" that would be worthless if his girlfriend does not succumb to him. This is, of course, an absurd position to take but it is again typical of someone who is deeply in love and single-minded in their quest.

This short poem throws so many examples at the reader that he or she might almost be taken in by its faulty logic. If the reader is in the throes of love themselves, they might indeed accept the argument. This is, after all, "Love's Philosophy", which does not have to follow the rules that apply in all other circumstances. 

More about this author: John Welford

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