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Style Elements And Themes In Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Poetry

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One of the style elements that Shelley used often in his poetry was imagery. For example, in “Alastor” there is a lot of imagery, particularly nature imagery that helps to create the background and also shows the perspective from which the narrator views nature. The nature imagery creates a setting for the poem that shows how the poet’s journey has affected him and the lengths he is willing to go for his ideal. The poet goes to great lengths to find his ideal, as evidenced by the different landscapes and landmarks he sees on his journey.

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The use of nature imagery in “Alastor” also reflects the poet’s inner thoughts and desire for love and his ideal mate through his reflections about how nature seems to be in “love”. He sees nature in these way because of his own longings and desires for the perfect love that complements him completely, but is outside of nature, instead desiring human compansionship. This is an example of how Shelley’s use of imagery helped to set the tone and create the scene in the reader’s mind. Shelley’s imagery connects with another style element that Shelley employed frequently in his poetry, symbolism.

One of the style elements Shelley used often in his poetry is symbolism. For example, the poem “Alastor” is a narrative that is symbolic of the theme of the futile pursuit for an ideal. The narrative poem demonstrates how people may try to find their ideal, but no matter what, it is futile because that ideal exists in their imagination. Thus, the young poet’s journey is symbolic of the consequences warning towards embarking on this quest. There are also various important symbols within the poem, such as the veiled woman and the imagery of nature which reflect the poet’s emotions and thoughts. The veiled woman in “Alastor” is a concept of a perfect partner who is uniquely suited to one’s traits except the unsatisfactory ones within one’s self called the “antitype”. The poem’s theme of the futility and danger of this quest is revealed through the poet’s efforts to find his desire, but when he finds her she is implied to be a doppelganger, an echo of the man’s desires. Shelley’s use of symbolism ties in with many of his themes, which is shown most prevalently with the theme of an impossible quest to find one’s love within one of his known poems “Alastor”.

One of Shelley’s main themes is the theme of desire for a self-generated ideal or to discover one’s purpose, find happiness, or obtain spiritual freedom. For example, “Alastor” is a symbolic narrative of a young poet’s futile undertaking on a journey to find his self-generated ideal woman, who doesn’t exist (O’ Connor). Consequently, his desire can never be fulfilled, yet the poet did not understand that his ideal did not exist, so he searched fruitlessly, only to die in the end. “Alastor” is a warning towards readers to beware of going on a fruitless quest to seek their ideal self or mate that is a figment of the imagination, lest they become detached from others and die in isolation.

Shelley’s poetry often had a theme of longing and desire for something that is not real or tangible but idealized and fictionalized. The poet does not recognize the Arabian woman’s feelings for him, instead pursuing someone that is not real, but fiction from his imagination. “Alastor” is one example of the human soul longing for an something idealized, in this case, a woman, but Shelley’s poetry also had longings for freedom, happiness, peace, equality, etc. This longing for other themes is interlinked to the theme of rebellion against authority and oppression because that was one of Shelley’s main concerns that he wrote about in his poetry. Shelley’s poetry focused largely on themes of rebellion and the fight for freedom from power and authority like in “Queen Mab, ” for example. In “Queen Mab, ” Shelley attacks the oppressiveness of those in authority, for example the monarchy, or rigid traditions such as religious dogma. This poem is one example of Shelley’s thoughts about the misuse of authority and power that were radical and widely controversial. He wanted to incite change within his readers to fight back and break free from the traditional “shackles” and traditions with which they were bound. Power and its use was a major theme in Shelley’s works partly as a result of own his experience of victimization during his youth and partly because of what he read and witnessed. Shelley was thus concerned with power and authority and his poetry was a response to circumstances that were occurring at the time.

Shelley’s writing centered around themes of rebellion and freedom from oppression because he wanted to incite a change to fight and not be passive to abuse of authority and other powers. Shelley’s poetry that expressed his radical ideals about power, authority, the misuse leading to oppression, and the rebellion against it sometimes focused more specifically on politics and events that were occuring at the time. Another one of Shelley’s prevalent themes in his poetry was a political theme, which also ties in with the theme of fighting for freedom from oppression. An example is of a poem with a political theme was “The Revolt of Islam”, which was written in response to the turbulent political climate during the disastrous events of the French Revolution.

Shelley’s intent with “The Revolt of Islam” was to teach that the struggle for rights and a better future is worth it despite the failures and loses. The sacredness that had surrounded past beliefs become doubted, absolute authority is broken, and people know that they have inalienable rights that cannot be taken away. Poetry with political themes like that was written as a response to events to incite change within his readers by conveying his radical, controversial ideals and illustrating the consequences of staying the same. This poem is one of Shelley’s controversial poems that expressed his radical ideals concerning power, authority, and events occurring at the time, overall resulting in his estrangement from his family and society. This willingness to sacrifice his comfortable life rather than compromise his ideals and beliefs shows his idealistic personality that defied expectations. These different style elements and themes that feature prominently in Shelley’s poetry show Shelley’s radical idealism and his unwillingness to compromise his beliefs for a secure life.

15 July 2020

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