The Spirit of Classical Hymn in Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty".
The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" exemplifies how Shelley employs genre and genre-linked features in innovative and figurative ways. The poem is in dialogue with the classical hymn, a genre to which tradition grants unusual structural flexibility and in which writers, including Shelley, find both a positive support and a challenge to their innovative skill. The classical hymn presupposes fundamental separation while aspiring to unity, and so provides Shelley with inherent contrary pulls, or inherent dialectics, congenial with his aim to contain an effusive, inspiring power in poetic form. That "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" struggles between containment and effusion is not disputed by critics today, but Shelley's modern readers recognize that dialectic as working primarily in language itself. Questions of genre are frequently passed over, and, despite the generic claim of Shelley's title and the features of classical hymn that appear in the poem, critics are reluctant to come to terms with hymn. In fact, critical discussions of the generic resonances of the "Hymn" often rest on misapprehensions about genres that Shelley himself did not share, particularly that genres exist immutably and apply equally to all past and present literary works. Adopting a vague exemplar of the Christian hymn, for instance, recent readers of Shelley conclude that the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is an ironic hymn or simply an ode (Cronin 224; Curran 58; Fry 8; Hall 136). Observing the critical confusion surrounding its genre, Stuart Curran writes that the poem "seems to present us with a generic crux" (58). But largely overlooked by commentators, the tradition of classical hymn can be brought to bear in ways that both supplement our understanding of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" and illustrate Shelley's shrewd employment of genre to oppose its potential to become fixed and inert.
Modern critics of Shelley discern a dialectic of containment and effusion in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." Primarily, they understand that dialectic as operating in language itself. For Tilottama Rajan, it is the mechanism of a "Romantic deconstruction" that "unfixes," "disseminates," "disarticulates," and "disrupts" ostensible meaning and unity, so that the poem "survives not as what it originally was but as a series of [indeterminate] self-transformations" (292, 283, 296). Shelley's language "unravels the statement to be illustrated through it" and intimates his profound uneasiness with the relationship of poetic conception and representation (Rajan 281-82). According to Rajan, "illustration and repetition make expression a differential process" in Shelley's writing "by creating crevices between the parts of any analogy or between the different [conceptual and figurative] planes." The resultant "Hymn" is a "fissured" text that "cannot contain its meaning" and that "can become 'poetry' only with the aid of a reader, who will save it from the disfigurations of history or representation" by supplying "a unity not in the text" (280-81, 2). For Rajan, the dialectic of containment and effusion in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is detectable in places of linguistic indeterminacy or gaps in representation that call for additions by the reader beyond the features of the original. She claims her approach "paradoxically renews the originality of the text by liberating it from the tyranny of the original intention behind it" (293).(1)
In his detailed analysis of Shelley's perpetual transference from a state of containment to a state of effusion, Jerrold E. Hogle, like Rajan, conceives literary context in terms of linguistic indeterminacy. For Hogle, transference "is a preconscious invasion of awareness" that prompts in Shelley "a conscious will to write that can never recover the original impulse exactly as it was" (24). Since it "impels Shelley's peculiar language," he writes, "transference must finally be put in linguistic terms" (12). Hogle's "remarkably abstract" approach (Wallace 17) nevertheless sheds light on an "inherently iconoclastic and revolutionary" poetic impulse in Shelley that constantly criticizes "any limits that try to confine it" and exploits the "tension between established and experimental" methods of composition (Hogle 14). That mobile impulse can be examined in relation to genre as well as language. Surely, as Hogle points out, Shelley strives to modulate "canonical thinking about the 'proper' style and themes of poetry," and he is drawn toward "a peculiar combination of traditional and rebellious techniques of writing, toward modes of characterizing, image shifts, genre choices, stanza arrangements, rhyme schemes, [and] stances of address" (vii) that frequently "explode the most established, conventional thought-relations into interconnections with others that were rarely thought to be analogous before" (26-27). But Shelley's conception of genre is of secondary interest to Hogle, who develops his theory of transference along different lines. Like Rajan, Hogle considers linguistic indeterminacy "the basis of every stage of Shelley's thinking and writing" (18). Generic and stylistic consistencies in Shelley's poetry become antithetical foils in Hogle's subsuming process of transference. His reading of Shelley nevertheless leaves room for a critical approach to Shelley's writing that conceives the dialectic of containment and effusion in generic terms and locates a work's individuality in relation to generic conventions.
The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" has, of course, a linguistic order. But as Alastair Fowler points out, "literary order need not inhere primarily in words" (5). In the "Defence," Shelley acknowledges a sublexical literary order: "The language of poets has ever affected a certain uniform and harmonious recurrence of sound, without which it were not poetry, and which is scarcely less indispensable to the communication of its influence, than the words themselves, without reference to their particular order" (484). Critics who inventory the lexical and sublexical features of a literary work - its repertoire - can recover patterns, structures, and meanings that help to illustrate coherence and communicate meaning. Ascertaining a work's repertoire is also useful to critics who would relate that work to literary tradition, for repertoires often are generically organized. As Fowler explains, "superstructural" (57) features (rhyme, closure, topic, metrical forms, stanzaic scheme) and common linguistic features (rhetoric, idiom, presentational mode) have a "privileged status unqualified by subsequent sound-changes, semantic changes, or changes in convention" (256). When marked by a traditionally recognized "complex of substantive and formal features" (74) that includes a distinctive linear sequence of parts (whether organized typographically or by contents), a literary work can be associated with at least one genre and, thus, will maintain the continuity of generic descent (60).
This is not to say that a single set of characteristics can define a genre, that genre boundaries cannot change, or that a work can belong to one genre only. Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" includes generic features that suggest it is in dialogue with the classical hymn, but it is not a Homeric hymn, despite family resemblances. "The character of genres is that they change," writes Fowler; "only variations or modifications of convention have literary significance" (18). A genre, for Shelley, is not crudely prescriptive. It is "a historical process, that is, a set of conventions subject to the flux of history" (Cronin 33). In Shelley's view, genres are mobile and ever-changing; they are bound up in perpetual transference. A poem has artistic significance for Shelley only if it modulates or departs from its generic conventions and restyles them for the future: "[E]very great poet must inevitably innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the exact structure of his peculiar versification" ("Defence" 484).
Shelley remains suspicious of the communicative efficacy of traditional genres, however, and he adopts a particular form only after considerable deliberation. As a number of critics have observed, Shelley's assertion in the "Defence of Poetry," "when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline," underscores his ambivalence about poetry as a medium of transmission (504).(2) For Shelley, writing poetry necessarily involves the degradation or distortion of inspiration; inspiration is inevitably compromised when it takes material form. Indeed, Paul Cantor points out, he regards "the collapse of imaginative vision into fixed form" as "the fundamental fall" (92-93). Shelley's view makes the status of genre in his writing problematic, but he is far from regarding poetry, or indeed the entire history of literature, as a mere record of failures. Nor does he regard the examples of literary history as necessarily fixed. Composition begins despite declining inspiration, and in a few remarkable cases the result is enduring poetry.
Shelley explains in the "Defence" that, at least in part, efficient communication relies on the appropriation of a suitable poetic structure. Only "supreme poets" can subdue the "evanescent visitations" of divinity under the "light yoke" of poetic form without complete devitalization (485, 505). Such writers are, in Shelley's view, "spirits of the most refined organization," whose poetry "thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters abide" (505). Shelley's objective as a poet is to redeem from decay these "visitations of the divinity in man" and thereby to join the ranks of foremost poets. Despite acknowledging the existence of elite poets and enduring poetry, however, Shelley questions the communicative efficacy of the established literary forms. Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, and other "supreme poets" capable of "perceiving and teaching the truth of things" have "employed traditional forms" in order to communicate that truth (485). But how viable would traditional forms be in Shelley's own hands? In the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," Shelley wrestles with a literary tradition for which he has great esteem, of which he desires to be a part, and upon which he aims to innovate.
Appropriately, Shelley's poem is in dialogue with classical hymn, one of the oldest and most neglected genres in that tradition, which conveys the singer's reverence for his subject, desire to do it justice, and, often, anxiety about his own compositional skill. Because Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and other contemporary poets had failed to revitalize the dormant classical hymn, Shelley would test his resuscitative and innovative skills unhindered by competition. Shelley's knowledge of Greek literature "allowed him to realize the heterogeneity" of ancient writers and to "reflect that variation in his own writing" (Wallace 4). His familiarity with classical hymn is confirmed by his translations of the Homeric Hymns, begun roughly a year after the composition of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." And Shelley is attracted to the genre for a number of reasons. Tradition grants wide latitude to composers of classical hymns; as a result, the genre is unusually flexible. Works in the genre "are not characterized by meter or length" and are often mixed with other genres, including epic and elegy (Cairns 92). All classical hymns address gods, but the composer or singer is by no means bound to believe in them, nor is the writer precluded from syncretizing them, obscuring them, or altering religious or philosophical doctrine associated with them. Callimachus, who takes his gods seriously only as literary figures, provides Shelley with a firm atheistic precedent. Since classical hymn must reckon with fundamental separation (of singer and deity, of human and divine, of temporal and eternal) while aspiring to return and integration, the genre is congenial to the dialectic of containment and effusion that Shelley develops in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." Even in prose, Shelley describes the influx of inspiration in the terms of hymn, as the union of divinity and humanity: "It is as it were the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our own" ("Defence" 504). Shelley's gods exist and can be worshipped only in, or by means of, poetry. In the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," he presents himself as a modern classical hymnist who will expand the tradition by apostrophizing, describing, and praying to a unique migratory divinity in an innovative way. He also figures the brief visitations and departures of that divinity (or activates the dialectic of containment and effusion) structurally and stylistically by employing and by altering a number of the classical hymn's generic conventions.
The only classical hymns that survive before the year 400 BC are ascribed to Homer; Shelley translated seven of these between 1817 and 1820. The thirty-three extant Homeric Hymns are hexameter oral compositions that were preserved later in writing. There is "little firm knowledge about the circumstances surrounding [their] composition and performance," but critics generally agree that the hymns were presented at public feasts, festivals, and religious occasions (Clay 6-7). Thucydides refers to the Homeric "Hymn to Apollo" as a prelude, which would have been chanted by a rhapsode before an epic recitation, and a number of the Homeric Hymns presumably served such a function (Evelyn-White xxxiv). Although they range in length from a handful of lines to several hundred, and address numerous divinities, the Homeric Hymns share recognizable linguistic and superstructural features that organize the works and establish a distinct generic repertoire.(3) They are predominantly narrative pieces with subsidiary lyric sections. They appear in a linear sequence of parts: exordium, exposition, and peroration. A firm decorum of subject relates the hymns to the actions and attributes of the Olympian gods. The hymns presuppose a special stylistic attitude of inferior to superior, particularly of supplicant to deity. They follow an interlaced or discontinuous pattern of action. Their epideictic, elaborate, and elevated rhetorical style is fitting for the honoring of gods. Most of these features "are not discrete aspects but function together in the poetic context with other characteristics" (Rollinson 22). Of course, there is nothing like exact equivalence from hymn to hymn. The great disparity merely between the length of the Homeric hymns "To Zeus" and "To Hermes" precludes any one-to-one correspondence. Nevertheless, there is a kinship about the Homeric Hymns and a sequence of influence and imitation that proceed from them to the hymns of Callimachus, Cleanthes, and the Roman Emperor Julian, all the way to Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty." This tradition connects the works generically while allowing wide variation.
Philip Rollinson outlines the tripartite structure of exordium, exposition, and peroration introduced in the Homeric Hymns and shows that it is among the most pervasive and influential characteristics in subsequent classical hymns (16). The Homeric Hymns generally begin with an exordium, which includes an invocation and often an apostrophe to the god praised, proceed to an exposition describing some of the deity's basic attributes or acts, and close with a perorational prayer or salutation to that deity. Even the shorter Homeric Hymns tend to follow this pattern, as the hymn "To Hephaestus" illustrates:
Sing, clear-voiced Muse, of Hephaestus famed for inventions. With bright-eyed Athene he taught men glorious crafts throughout the world, - men who before used to dwell in caves in the mountains like wild beasts. But now that they have learned crafts through Hephaestus the famed worker, easily they live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year round.
Be gracious, Hephaestus, and grant me success and prosperity! (Hesiod 447)
The tripartite structure of the Homeric Hymns organizes and incorporates other genre-linked features, including the singer's reference to himself in the first person, a catalog of epithets describing the god, and recurring rhetorical formulae that introduce narrative sections and close the hymns. Like the Homeric epic, familiar features in the Homeric Hymns make it easier for listeners to pay attention while simultaneously educating and instructing them. Further, consistent patterns in the individual Homeric Hymns confirm the works as members of a particular genre, one that aims to instruct listeners in the propriety of invoking and worshipping the Olympian gods. Formal patterns and generic identification, therefore, bear upon the meaning of the Homeric Hymns.
In his six "imitations and adaptations" of the longer Homeric Hymns, the Alexandrian poet Callimachus modulates and varies the generic conventions he inherited (Rollinson 22). The Callimachean hymns range in length from 95 ("To Zeus") to 326 lines ("To Delos") and follow the pattern of exordium, exposition, and peroration. They include descriptive epithets for the gods, first person references to the singer, and sections narrating rituals or myths associated with the deity praised, and they instruct listeners in the proper means of praise. But as Rollinson points out, Callimachus's hymns are "very skillfully constructed artifice[s]" that reveal the composer's distinctly literary ambition (25). Their "structural details," "rhetorically ornamented formality," and "emphasis on the display of historical, geographical, and mythological erudition" sharply distinguish them from their Homeric predecessors.
For instance, Callimachus abandons strict hexameter lines for elegiac couplets in "On the Bath of Pallas" (Hymn 5). At one point he introduces contemporary persons and events in "To Delos," lavishing praise on his patron, Ptolemy Philadelphus, "another god, the most highest lineage of the Saviours" (Hymn 4, lines 165-66). In "To Apollo," Callimachus gives a genealogy of his native Cyrene, and lists the city among the most blessed of Apollo (Hymn 2). The status of the Olympians becomes problematic in the Callimachean hymns. Callimachus, Rollinson writes, "did not take his Olympians seriously at all, except as literary tools" (32). He gives them a "new relevance" that is not religious, but "purely literary" (26). The gods are imaginative springboards for Callimachus. He exploits their rich mythological associations in order to showcase his learning, to question the veracity of previous accounts, and to ornament the formal patterning of the hymns. Reflecting an Alexandrian literary appreciation of the gods and achieving a "very high degree of structural organization and technical finish" in his hymns, Callimachus consequently alters the conventions of classical hymn for the future (22).
Cleanthes, a contemporary of Callimachus, also makes use of the genre-linked features of the Homeric Hymns to break new ground. His only extant work, the fifty-one-line "Hymn to Zeus," adopts a tripartite pattern of exordium, exposition, and peroration in the manner of the Homeric and Callimachean hymns. It opens with an apostrophe and a list of epithets addressed to Zeus: "God most glorious," "Nature's great King," and "Omnipotence" (lines 1-3). The singer then describes some of the god's primary attributes and acts, including, for example, how Zeus "didst harmonize/Things evil with things good" (24-25). The hymn closes with a prayer for enlightenment and protection, and with the singer's pledge that he will praise Zeus's "works continually with songs" (47).
The Zeus of Cleanthes, however, takes on new proportions and represents different values: he is neither the literal god of the Homeric Hymns nor the literary god of Callimachus. Cleanthes fills Zeus with "genuine philosophical implications" and identifies him with the whole of "metaphysical reality" (Rollinson 26-27). For Cleanthes, Zeus is an ethereal "vehicle of the universal Word, that flows/Through all," enlightening his devotees despite being shrouded in darkness (lines 16-17). "Knowledge" of Cleanthes' Zeus and of his "universal law" are derived from human reason rather than religious tradition (44, 5 l). Only persons properly attuned are able to detect the subtle omnipresence of the god, "whose deathless might / Pulsates through all Nature" (14-15). "The rest," writes Cleanthes, "Yet seeing see not, neither hearing hear," and "for an idle name / Vainly they wrestle in the lists of fame" (33, 30, 34-35). Cleanthes' Zeus is an immanent world-force to whom human beings may still "yield/Glad homage" if they are "By reason guided" (11-12, 32). Like Callimachus, Cleanthes uses the resources of the hymn genre to modify the values it has traditionally embodied and communicated. The "Hymn to Zeus" retains most of the classical hymn's generic repertoire (sequence of parts, lyrical aspect, supplicatory attitude, decorum of subject, elaborate rhetorical style) while reorienting its traditional values and enlarging its scale to encompass both religion and Stoic philosophy.
The Roman Emperor Julian, surnamed by Christian writers "The Apostate," composed two Greek prose hymns in the fourth century AD, "To King Helios" and "To the Mother of the Gods" (Orations 4 and 5). Structurally, these hymns resemble the Homeric, Callimachean, and Cleanthean hymns. The exordium of the hymn "To King Helios" contains invocations as well as personal references of the singer to himself. In the extended exposition, the singer describes the powers and actions of Helios. The hymn concludes with a prayer for grace "in recompense for this my zeal" and for "more perfect wisdom and inspired intelligence" (158C).(4) Julian makes use of Homeric and Callimachean rhetorical formulae, including what Rollinson terms the "what or how may I sing thee" formula (Rollinson 17), in which the singer questions his own ability, as a composer, to communicate the divine: "Now it is hard, as I well know, merely to comprehend how great is the Invisible, if one judge by his visible self, and to tell it is perhaps impossible, even though one should consent to fall short of what is his due" (132A).
Like Cleanthes, Julian gives the time-worn Olympians new life by imbuing them with philosophical significance. But Julian sets out to elucidate the obscure philosophy of his model, Iamblichus, and as a result the hymns "To King Helios" and "To the Mother of the Gods" are much more didactic than the "Hymn to Zeus." He writes in prose. He expands the narrative expositions to include philosophical interpretations of traditional myths. Further, Julian syncretizes Greek, Egyptian, and Persian myths so that Helios (an amalgam of Zeus, the Egyptian god Serapis, and the Persian god Mithras) and Attis (an amalgam of Mithras and Persephone) take on manifold significance.(5) An Homeric audience would scarcely recognize their Zeus in Julian's Helios. As Wilmer Cave Wright explains, Helios is at once the "supreme principle [of] the One," the intermediate "intellectual god" who bestows upon human beings "intelligence and creative forces," and the governor of the world of sense-perception (349). Julian's syncretic hymns problematize the status of the traditional Greek gods praised in the Homeric Hymns and already transformed in the hymns of Callimachus and Cleanthes. The genre challenges and provokes Julian to transcend the limitations of these examples, and in the hymn "To King Helios," he calls attention to his skill as a literary innovator (147C). Julian's hymns are further examples of the way classical hymn has changed with time, "so that its boundaries cannot be defined by any single set of characteristics" (Fowler 38).
Post-classical, Christian, and Renaissance writers alter the boundaries of classical hymn to such a degree that by the nineteenth century the genre is not easily distinguishable. Modern readers have a difficult time tracking the generic development and compositional innovation of classical hymn after Spenser and Marullo.(6) As a result, the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" has remained generically enigmatic despite its title. Ignoring the genre of the "Hymn" altogether, some critics inadvertently accept generic conventions prescribed by fashion. Others, including Hogle and Stuart Curran, discuss the hymn genre and its assumed conventional "verse-form" without specification or definition (Hogle 62; Curran 63). Generally, modern readers conclude that the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is not a hymn at all, but an ode (Cronin 224; Curran 58; Fry 8; Hall 136). This conclusion typically rests on at least one of the following critical misconceptions related to genre. First, that genres are fixed forms with little variability, defined by a single set of characteristics "such as would determine a class" (Fowler 38). Modern critics tend to measure literary hymns by strict standards that are rarely explained or clarified. Romantic odes, on the other hand, are an exception, for modern critics tend to give odists unusually free compositional reign. The second misconception is that the common meter Christian hymn, exemplified by Watts and the Wesleys in the eighteenth century, is the model of the English literary hymn. Although its form is somewhat variable, this model would restrict composers to subjects prescribed by religious doctrine. And last, many critics insist that Shelley's atheism precludes his composing anything but an ironic or "Satanic" hymn (Fry 9). The argument for intended irony is undercut, however, by Shelley's own claim that "the poem was composed under the influence of feelings which agitated me even to tears" (Letters 529-30). Readers of Shelley may avoid these misconceptions and may reach a different conclusion regarding the genre and perhaps the meaning of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" by recalling Shelley's distrust of fixed form, his familiarity with and translations of Greek literature, and his earnest desire both to expand literary tradition and to be counted among its "supreme poets" ("Defence" 485). In terms of the tradition of classical hymn, these and further dimensions of genre and meaning in Shelley's "Hymn" become apparent.
To say that Shelley's poem is in dialogue with the classical hymn does not mean that the poem is an imitation of a specific locus classicus. Like many literary innovators, Shelley is in part a mediator of literature of a much earlier period. But his dialogue with the classical hymn takes on a life of its own. To transcend the limitations of these examples, Shelley employs genre-linked features of the Homeric, Callimachean, Cleanthean, and Julian hymns. The eighty-four-line "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is a lyric piece with a subsidiary narrative section. It follows the linear sequence of exordium, exposition, and peroration. Shelley observes a decorum of subject that relates the "Hymn" to the attributes and actions of the object of praise. The poem reflects the stylistic attitude of singer to deity and includes epithets describing that deity: "Messenger of sympathies," "O awful Loveliness," "Spirit Fair" (lines 42, 71, 83). The singer's rhetoric is elaborate, elevated, and solemn, and he refers to himself in the first person.
In the exordium in stanzas 1-4, the singer invokes the Spirit of Beauty and then apostrophizes the Spirit for thirty-five lines:
Spirit of Beauty [. . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . .] - where art thou gone?
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Thy light alone [. . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream.
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Man were immortal, and omnipotent,
Didst thou [. . .]
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
Thou messenger of sympathies,
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Thou - that to human thought art nourishment,
[. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .]
Depart not [. . .]
Depart not [. . .] (13-48)
Shelley's exordium illustrates the singer's reverence for and devotion to the divinity praised, in the manner of the Homeric Hymns and, subsequently, of Callimachus, Cleanthes, and Julian. The exordium points up both the fundamental separation between singer and deity ("where art thou gone?") and the singer's desire for that deity's continued presence ("Keep with thy glorious train firm state").
In the exposition in stanza 5, the singer recounts a story associated with the Spirit of Beauty. Shelley modulates the Homeric exposition, which describes an "epoch-making moment in the mythic chronology of Olympus" and "inaugurates a new era in the divine and human cosmos," by presenting it on a much smaller scale (Clay 15). We are informed that the Spirit descended on the singer himself while he was "yet a boy" ("Hymn" 49). The introduction of contemporary persons and events into the classical hymn has its precedent in the Callimachean hymns; the singer's relation of a personal encounter with the divinity praised has its precedent in Julian's hymn "To King Helios." Like Shelley's singer, Julian's describes an "extraordinary longing" for metaphysical knowledge that overcame him during his "earliest years" ("To Helios" 130C). "I walked abroad in the night season," explains the singer, and "abandoned all else without exception and gave myself up to the beauties of the heavens; nor did I understand what anyone might say to me, nor heed what I was doing myself" (130D). At last a "heavenly light shone all about me," and "it roused and urged me on to its contemplation," Julian writes, so that now "I regard the god [. . .] as the father of all mankind" (131B-C). Similarly, Shelley's singer wanders "through many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin, / And starlight wood," futilely pursuing metaphysical knowledge, until the Spirit of Beauty descends suddenly and unexpectedly upon him ("Hymn" 50-51).
Following the narrative section, Shelley's "Hymn" closes with an earnest peroration in stanzas 6-7 that includes another apostrophe, a prayer for future grace, and the singer's pledge of continued devotion. The singer's reference to himself as "one who worships thee, / And every form containing thee" maintains both the poem's supplicatory style and the dialectic of separation and integration that most classical hymns require (81-82). Shelley uses genre-linked features to prevent genre from becoming fixed and lifeless. He keeps the dialectic of containment and effusion alive by suggesting that the Spirit of Beauty can be worshipped both within and without "containing" forms.
The status of divinity is problematic in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" because of Shelley's atheism. Critics have wondered at the uncharacteristically supplicatory and solemn attitude Shelley adopts in the poem, and frequently they conclude that he intends irony. But Shelley's poem is neither a hymn to Apollo nor a Christian hymn. For Shelley, the divinities of these traditions represent vital poetic ideas that have hardened into dogma. The singer of the "Hymn" rejects all such "poisonous names with which our youth is fed" (53). Traditional divinities have degenerated into mere names or "Frail spells" whose "uttered charm[s]" are powerless against immanent "Doubt, chance, and mutability" (29, 31). Shelley would be hesitant to compose a solemn hymn to a traditional divinity or to endorse a particular method of worship.
In the manner of Julian and Cleanthes, Shelley, therefore, eschews Christian and classical deities for a "classical semi-philosophical" object of praise (Rollinson 134). Julian's Helios, described by the epithet "the Invisible," is a world-force occupying at once and separately the three "worlds" of pure reason, consciousness, and sense perception ("To Helios" 132A-B). He is an amalgam of Greek, Persian, and Egyptian religion and a complex embodiment of Iamblichean philosophy accessible only to the indoctrinated (158A). Cleanthes' Zeus is an immanent world-force that "Pulsates through all nature," bringing "To birth, whate'er land or in the sea/Is wrought" (Cleanthes 15, 20-21). For Cleanthes, only those "By reason guided" (32) are capable of discerning the omnipresence, and deriving knowledge, of Zeus; one who is unable to compute the subtle movements of Zeus is "Self-prompted" to pursue a "fruitless" and "idle name" (34, 38). Shelley's Spirit, similar to the philosophical divinities of Cleanthes and Julian, is an immanent world-force, an "awful shadow of some unseen Power" that "Floats though unseen amongst us" ("Hymn" 1-2). But unlike Zeus and Helios, the Spirit of Beauty makes itself known to the "musing" rather than the reasoning devotee (Cleanthes 55). For Cleanthes, musing or "unreasoning" persons are "[f]or ever seeking good and finding ill" (39). Shelley's Spirit of Beauty cannot be apprehended rationally. Indeed, to underscore divinity's remoteness from reason Shelley emphasizes the inconstancy of the Spirit's visits, the futility of the singer's determined quest for the Spirit, and the surprise with which the Spirit finally descends. While the Spirit of Beauty has philosophical implications, Shelley is far from using it to elucidate philosophical doctrine as Julian does. He innovates on the examples of his predecessors by praising an "intellectual" deity whose presence is made known to human beings by unanticipated influxes of inspiration, without recourse to reason, doctrine, or tradition. The Spirit of Beauty chooses to reveal and conceal itself as the god of the Bible does. But, like the gods of Callimachus, Shelley's god exists only in poetry.
Twentieth-century critics are often reluctant to acknowledge Shelley's "Hymn" as a hymn because they mistakenly measure it against a vague, and yet unyielding, model of the Christian hymn. Louis Benson offers his criteria for hymn in The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship: "The Literary Hymn may be described as one in which heightened feeling seeks to confine an impression of some reality of religion within the limits of the hymn form [. . . and] in which the spirit of pure devotion, apart from didactic and utilitarian ends, reveals the essential poetry of our infinite relationships" (437). Benson recognizes that literary hymns must reckon with the paradox of confining the infinite, but he suggests that such "essential poetry" must always be revealed through a fixed form. For Benson, the "hymn form" is largely restricted to the four-beat rhythms of short, long, and common meter, exemplified by the eighteenth-century Christian hymns of Watts and the Wesleys (207). An implicit reason for Benson's exclusion of Shelley's "Hymn" from the genre, therefore, is that the poem strays from common measure. But he also regards Shelley's elevated rhetoric, supplicatory attitude, and non-Christian object of praise as irreverent and wholly inappropriate for a literary hymn: "If Shelley's unmoral attitude of artistic elevation had been the standpoint of the new [Romantic] movement, it might doubtless have come and gone with no perceptible influence on Hymnody" (435-36).
Recent critics who conclude, with Benson, that Shelley's "Hymn" is an ironic or anti-hymn, or an ode, and do not take account of the rich, influential "pagan" examples of Homer, Callimachus, Cleanthes, Julian, or even of Spenser and Marullo, often are judging by an ill-defined model of Christian hymn. They contend that because Shelley's atheism is antithetical to the values of the genre he ostensibly embraces, his adoption of hymn suggests a "Satanic" motivation (Fry 9). Paul Fry points to the interiorization taking place between the singer's reliance on the "grace"-bestowing Spirit in the first two stanzas and his burgeoning "Self-esteem" at the opening of stanza 4 as evidence of the "Satanic" overthrow of hymn by the originary voice of the Romantic odist ("Hymn" 36-37; Fry 9). Fry associates the shift from general to personal concerns almost exclusively with the Romantic ode. The ode, he writes, "is never a hymn" (9). Rather, the odist attempts to "recover and usurp the voice to which hymns defer" (9).
In terms of the tradition of classical hymn, however, the internal transition that Fry observes in stanzas 3 and 4 of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" parallels the poem's structural transition from exordium to exposition. "Grace" and "Self-esteem" are complementary and interrelated, as are the "Word" of Zeus and the divine "knowledge" it imparts in Cleanthes' hymn (Cleanthes 16, 44). That is, they are bestowed upon attuned human beings by the divinity praised and are compromised by that divinity's departure. In stanza 4 of Shelley's poem, the singer dutifully celebrates the migratory Spirit of Beauty in the same manner that Julian celebrates his Helios, as a catalyst of the imagination ("To Helios" 140B-C):
Man were immortal, and omnipotent,
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.
Thou messenger of sympathies,
That wax and wane in lovers' eyes -
Thou - that to human thought art nourishment,
Like darkness to a dying flame! ("Hymn" 39-45)
Rather than depicting a "Satanic" impulse, the poem's central image associates the "nourishment" provided to "human thought" with "darkness to a dying flame": visitations of the Spirit of Beauty intensify the human imagination, making it appear to burn brighter. The singer has experienced such a visitation, and he proceeds from exordium to exposition with the hope for another.
Like Fry, Stuart Curran argues that "the major hymn of British Romanticism is, in fact, an ode" (63). In Curran's view, Shelley is following the same pattern of defiance in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" that he institutes in "Mont Blanc," that is, Shelley is attempting to establish a prophetic poetic voice from a myriad of dialectical pressures (62-63). The drive to extend the capacity of discernment and to figure that extension in a suitably unhindered poetic form characterizes the Romantic odist, Curran suggests, whereas the Romantic hymnist aims for complete absorption in his object of praise. The hymn "insists on the veritable existence of the being it calls upon," assumes that "the space between" singer and deity can close, and consequently sets up expectations of tidy containment and assured future grace, none of which, according to Curran, can be found in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (56-57). Curran does not conclude that the hymn is a fixed form. But he resolves that Shelley's poem is not a hymn because of the stylistic variation within its uniform stanzas. Furthermore, other dialectics in the "Hymn" collapse into union only briefly: singer and Spirit, inspiration and representation, and the temporal and the eternal. The reconciliation of these dialectics is deferred; only "unresolved tensions" endure (78). For Curran, the deferral of union in the "Hymn" figures Shelley's realization that "to be absorbed by pure beauty is to lose the capacity of discernment, to become one with the cause and unconscious of its effect" (62). Pulling back from this identification, Curran claims, Shelley takes up instead the "dialectical condition of humanity" that is played out in the Romantic ode, and therefore is "purely ironic in subverting the form he invokes" (63).
But if we see the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" as a dialogue with the classical hymn genre, our response will not be the same as if we saw it as a Christian hymn or an ode. The examples of Callimachus and Julian demonstrate that, for the most part, literal belief in the praised object passed with the Homeric Hymns. Moreover, the hymns of Callimachus, Cleanthes, and Julian are aimed at expanding both the inherited generic boundaries of hymn and the artistic and philosophical horizons of singer and listener. To be sure, Shelley's Spirit has aesthetic and philosophical aspects. But these aspects are deliberately vague and require particularly fine discernment on the part of both singer and reader, for unlike his predecessors, Shelley offers no supporting or code-breaking dogma.
Like Shelley's "Hymn," classical hymns acknowledge fundamental separation while aspiring to reunion. After invoking a god, or muse, and relating an event to exemplify that god's power, works in the genre often conclude with a perorational prayer that is necessary precisely because a breach remains between god and singer. Affirming the basic separation of singer and deity, the rhetorician Menander prescribes the following topos in his treatise on hymns: "It is also necessary that a prayer should be made [to the god] asking him to come back and stay again" (qtd. in Cairns 160). The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" approaches its conclusion with such a prayer:
Thus let thy power, which like the truth
Of nature on my passive youth
Descended, to my onward life supply
Its calm - to one who worships thee [. . .]" (78-81)
As many hymns do, Shelley's "Hymn" takes up the "dialectical condition of humanity," a condition that Curran and others associate with ode, and the poem is in partial dialogue with contemporary odes and their lyric assumptions (Curran 63). Because generic mixture is to be expected in Shelley's poetry, it should be no mystery. It is inevitable that Shelley's distrust of fixed form and his view of genre as ever-changing should entail generic combination and innovation. But while an old generic label like "hymn" cannot be taken at face value in his poetry, it still can be brought to bear in a way that enhances our understanding of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty."
Like many classical hymns, including the Homeric Hymns translated by Shelley, the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" follows a linear sequence of exordium-exposition-peroration, maintains a supplicatory stylistic attitude, includes a prayer for future grace, and observes a decorum of subject that connects the poem with the object of praise. The dialectics of containment and effusion, of separation and union, and of singer and Spirit, which suggest humanity's general dialectical condition, are additional features of classical hymns that Shelley develops in the poem. Perhaps it is appropriate that, attempting to join tradition by subduing the brief visitations of inspiration and harboring suspicions about the transmissive efficacy of traditional poetic forms and genres, Shelley should compose a poem in dialogue with a genre fraught with dialectics. Shelley brings to the genre a nontraditional divinity that is accessible by means of neither doctrine nor reason, but by poetry only. He does not intend to teach or elucidate divinity's principles, but to show that its principles cannot be taught or elucidated. Because classical hymn grapples fundamentally with the problem of containing and expressing the divine and the ineffable, the genre proves to be a positive support and building-block for Shelley.
Genre-linked features of classical hymn also reinforce Shelley's stylistic troping of containment and effusion, to which we now turn. Even before reading it, readers are aware of the unique stanzaic form of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," merely because of the way the poem appears on the page. Shelley appropriates a homostanzaic (one recurrent stanza) pattern with a rigid program of indentation instead of the irregular strophes and verse paragraphing he uses in other poems of this period, including "Alastor" and "Mont Blanc." Shelley's translations of the Homeric Hymns, most of which are written in heroic couplets, suggest that he believes classical hymn adhere to a systematic formal pattern. His original works bearing the title of hymn or ode also demonstrate Shelley's tendency toward typographical regularity. Of Shelley's eight multi-stanza hymns, five are stanzaically uniform; of his five poems designated as odes, only the "Ode to Naples" is stanzaically irregular (although it is composed in repeating Pindaric triads of strophe, antistrophe, and epode). In the remaining odes he employs a single, recurrent stanza. Since Shelley composes homostanzaic hymns and odes with such frequency, it is difficult to ascertain the structural distinction he draws between the two genres. Indeed, many commentators assume that Shelley makes no distinction.(7)
The elaborate typography of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" suggests that it is a contained whole, its continuity fully in Shelley's control. He never veers from the poem's stanzaic uniformity. The twelve-line stanza of the "Hymn," which appears to be original with Shelley, employs three different line lengths, a distinct pattern of indentation, and a strict abbaaccbddee rhyme scheme.(8) For Shelley, it is a beneficial support. It offers a "proportioned space" in which to write and by which to order his experience by during composition (Fowler 31). The stanza also offers a challenge by enticing Shelley to transcend its boundaries stylistically. As stanza 6 illustrates, Shelley seems to show off the very form by which he intends to contain the Spirit of Beauty:
I vowed that I would dedicate my powers
To thee and thine - have I not kept the vow?
With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now
I call the phantoms of a thousand hours
Each from his voiceless grave: they have in visioned bowers
Of studious zeal or love's delight
Outwatched with me the envious night -
They know that never joy illumed my brow
Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free
This world from its dark slavery,
That thou - O awful Loveliness,
Wouldst give whate'er these words cannot express. (61-72)
Shelley uses a rigid pattern of indentation to exploit the contrary pulls of formal continuity and discontinuity. The first five lines emphasize regularity and containment. Indentation corresponds to rhyme. The first, fourth, and fifth lines are left-justified and rhyme; the second and third lines are indented identically and rhyme. Only the fifth line, a hexameter, varies from the pentameter norm. As the stanza develops, the symmetry of the initial lines is compromised by a sudden elasticity in line-length and indentation. Indentation for the last seven lines corresponds to meter, with tetrameter lines indented the farthest. The sixth, seventh, ninth, and tenth lines are tetrameters and rhyme. The eighth line rhymes with the second and third, and is likewise pentameter, but a string of intervening rhyming couplets enfeebles that correspondence. Structural symmetry is compromised as the stanza develops; in the lower half of each "Hymn" stanza, Shelley's lines expand and contract like a "beating heart" (63).
Looking at the mechanisms of prosody that operate within the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," one gains a broader view of how Shelley structures the genre-linked dialectic of containment and effusion. Since the classical hymn does not have a fixed form, Shelley need not adhere to a particular meter, rhyme scheme, or stanzaic arrangement. Nevertheless, he composes the poem in a demanding metrical and structural pattern. Shelley uses rhyme, varying line-length, repetition, and assonance to emphasize the poem's structural boundaries and to suggest visual and aural integrity. These devices help establish sublexical order in the poem, including a "uniform and harmonious recurrence of sound," which, for Shelley, is indispensable to any poetry capable of "communicating its influence" ("Defence" 484). At the same time, Shelley enfigures effusion by use of enjambments and caesurae (which disrupt the poem's syntax) and by use of what John Hollander calls the "bridging, associating, linking function" of rhyme and other prosodic devices (119). Linking words, lines, and stanzas, Shelley establishes an expanding chain of figures and sounds that often seems to extend and operate outside of poetic form. Shelley is thus able to approximate the passing of the migratory Spirit of Beauty. As Harold Bloom remarks, the "Hymn" communicates "a vision whose reality is, and can only be, embodied in a chain of metaphors"; a "single metaphor could not fit the evanescent nature of the phenomenon that is the poem's theme" (37). Shelley activates lexical and sublexical figures to produce this intricate chain.
Numerous enjambments and caesurae in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" offset the primary typographical metaphor of containment and magnify the impression of effusion, not through any linking function, but by jarring the poem's syntax and opening up alternative, short-lived syntactic strains. In their very abruptness, the structural impositions of enjambment and caesurae figure the sudden disappearance of the Spirit of Beauty from the grasp of the singer. Over a third of the poem's eighty-four lines are enjambed, producing periodic disjunctions between syntax and line boundaries. In nearly half of the "Hymn," caesurae break the syntax within line boundaries. An overview of this dispersion shows Shelley moving further away from uninterrupted syntax as the "Hymn" proceeds. Whereas stanza I contains only two caesurae within line boundaries, central stanza 4 and concluding stanza 7 contain nine syntactic interruptions apiece.
From the poem's opening lines, the dialectic of containment and effusion in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is apparent, structurally and stylistically:
The awful shadow of some unseen Power
Floats though unseen amongst us, - visiting
This various world with as inconstant wing
As summer winds that drift from flower to flower. (1-4)
This is a power that transcends the tangible landscape, making its very materiality seem false (Watson 206). The power itself is thrice removed, an invisible shadow further distanced through simile. In the above quatrain, enjambment works to extend the separation between singer and Spirit to the verge of imperceptibility. Shelley stresses the transitory by cutting off his lines at "unseen Power" (1), "visiting" (2), and "inconstant wing" (3), and then leaving these already transitory terms to dissolve quickly into the empty space beyond each line. The linking function of rhyme here destabilizes the quatrain. Although "Power" and "flower" rhyme, the intervening and feebler "visiting" / "wing" rhyme, along with the repetition of "flower" in line 4, weaken the resonance of the envelope rhyme.
In the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," Shelley establishes a sense of stability in the first stanza by means of repetition, but it is immediately compromised because the repeated words, "unseen," "inconstant," and "visit," are not associated with stability (1-3, 6). He uses the word "like" five times in the first stanza, and each time it introduces a temporal simile. Summer winds, moonbeams, shades of evening, clouds, and memories of music come and go, like the Spirit of Beauty, without regard for human desire (5, 8-11). In this series of similies, as Bloom notes, instead of creating an impression of containment, "all of the natural citation is wavering" (37). In the stanza's last line, the singer stresses and repeats how "dear" the Spirit is to him, "Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery" ("Hymn" 12). But his use of the comparative suggests that the inscrutability of the Spirit is more precious than any of its temporary avatars. In addition to suggesting the Spirit's inscrutability, the final word in stanza 1, "mystery," leaves both reader and singer uncertain of their ability to apprehend the Spirit within the poetic trappings of the "Hymn."
Containment and continuity are reasserted in the opening lines of stanza 2, but these qualities fail and fade as quickly as they appear. It is as if readers were expected to share the singer's hopelessness upon each disappearance of divinity:
Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought and form, - where art thou gone?
Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate? (13-17)
Shelley continues to enfigure containment and evanescence by employing indentation, enjambment, caesurae, line length, and assonance. The first quatrain again displays the symmetry produced by indentation. But its initial line, split by a medial caesura into two segments syllabically equal, undermines this symmetry. The Spirit of Beauty and its consecrating power are separated: linear disruption compromises the Spirit's integrity. In lines 14-15, Shelley's enjambment of "all thou dost shine upon / Of human thought" creates at least two interpretive strains without disrupting the stanza's syntax. One might read line 14 as a description of the Spirit's infinity: it makes sacred every single thing it shines upon. But the syntax spills rapidly into line 15, making it evident that the Spirit of Beauty specifically illuminates human beings and their produced forms. The Spirit consecrates "all . . . / . . . of human thought and form" on which it shines: "all" is qualified by "human" in lines 14-15. Shelley's enjambment here suggests that the Spirit of Beauty is uncontainable at one moment and confined to human minds and art forms at another. To make the status of divinity even more problematic, Shelley allows neither of these strains to prevail. Created and sustained by enjambment, the first dissolves as the next line is read. The second strain is abruptly cut off by a medial caesura in line 15. Just as the singer apprehends divinity, it evaporates: "where art thou gone?"
Shelley employs the hexameter in stanza 2 with particular figurative efficacy. Following the light pentameter of line 16, which approximates the swift departure of the Spirit of Beauty, the hexameter's heavily accented monosyllables "dim vast vale of tears," top-heavy disyllabic "vacant" and trisyllabic "desolate," /a/ assonance, and repeating phonemes /v/, /d/, and /t/ underscore and prolong the singer's hopelessness upon the Spirit's abrupt departure. The accumulation of syllables in the hexameter gives way, just as abruptly, to the tetrameter of line 18 ("Ask why the sunlight not forever"), calling attention again to the linear elasticity of the lower half of the "Hymn" stanza and to the brevity of the Spirit's visit.
The closing couplet of stanza 2 - "why man has such a scope / For love and hate, despondency and hope?" (23-24) - offers another example of how Shelley exploits the implications of line and stanza-ending to undermine structural continuity. Shelley weakens the stanza's and couplet's effects of closure by ending with a question. The question reverberates across the stanzaic break before the singer informs us that it cannot be answered in any poetry or by any metaphysical inquiry: "No voice from some sublimer world hath ever / To sage or poet these responses given" (25-26). Shelley has actually intimated the unanswerability of this question in the asking, by playing off its "scope" (23). At the end of line 23, the question appears to be an inquiry into the (presumably vast) extent of human intellect and is left open by the enjambment after "scope." But Shelley abruptly restricts that "scope" to the non-rational qualities of "love and hate, despondency and hope" in line 24. The seemingly unhindered range of human beings is thus reduced to a view determined by irrational powers and very limited in extent. Shelley implies that the possibilities for a return to or union with the "sublimer world" are diminished by humanity's misreading of its own "scope" (25).
In the manner of Julian's hymns, the singer narrates in stanza 5's exposition his personal experience of union with divinity. Shelley reinforces the union by figuring it in meter and rhyme. The Spirit of Beauty descends on the singer unexpectedly, in swift tetrameter, and dissolves along with the singer's "extacy" in the very next line (60). Shelley places this brief rhapsodic union (the sheer sublimity of which obliterates all of the "Frail spells" and "poisonous names" that can be squeezed into a hexameter) within stanza 5's closing couplet, that is, within a mere two of the "Hymn'"s eighty-four lines: Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;! I shrieked, and clasped my hands in extacy!" (29, 53, 59-60). The associative chain produced by the provocative feminine off-rhymes, "ruin" / "pursuing" / "wooing" / "blossoming," parallels the growing intensity of action in stanza 5 leading up to the climactic final couplet (50, 51,56, 58). It also traces the developmental stages of the singer that led to his encounter with the Spirit of Beauty.
Just as the singer's devotion to the Spirit reaches a new level following the Spirit's descent, the poem's syntax takes on a new degree of accommodation in the peroration in stanza 7. The Spirit of Beauty is somewhat more subdued, for it now inspires "calm" instead of "extacy" (81, 60). The singer, too, seems more at ease. His focus is on his "onward life" rather than the "dark reality" of the grave, and he recognizes a "serene" "harmony" and "lustre" where he once saw a"dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate" (80, 47-48, 73-75, 17). The "passive youth" who once wandered the "starlight wood" now appreciates the "harmony" of an autumn afternoon (79, 51,74-75). The final couplet in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," however, upsets this tranquillity:
Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bind
To fear himself, and love all human kind. (83-84)
This is a tightly-knit ending, predominantly iambic and reinforced by rhyme. But the sense of formal containment is countered by a subtle sense of disruption. Three caesurae interrupt the syntax of the couplet. The break at line 83, like those at lines 14 and 23, establishes at least two interpretive strains: the first associates human beings with metaphysical power; the second revokes this power and circumscribes human beings within very particular earthly limits. Shelley frees his syntax from a single strain by paradoxically using "bind" at the point of enjambment. At the end of line 83, the singer is bound to a boundless Spirit. In the next line, however, we find that the singer is not bound to the Spirit of Beauty after all. He is specifically bound "To fear himself, and love all human kind" (84). This, it appears, is the obligation of singer, devotee, and reader; one might be tempted to interpret this as atheistic doctrine. But as we have seen, Shelley aims in the "Hymn" to avoid the didacticism of previous classical hymns. He does not wish to add to the long line of "Frail spells" and "uttered charms" that distort the vital poetic ideas inspiring them (29). The final line of the poem, which may appear to be doctrinal, is ambiguous. Shelley does not specify whether "fear" denotes mistrust, respect, doubt, or reverence. As the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" ends, the syntax again begins to open up. Yet Shelley's "solemn and serene" and congregational final image, of human unity in the service of an inspiring Spirit and in the face of transience, is another reminder of the classical hymn's peroration and a sign that Shelley's dialogue with that genre is open until the end of the "Hymn" (73).
Shelley has managed both to mediate a number of opposing qualities in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" and to keep his "synthesizing consciousness" intact (Curran 78). The poem is a precarious mediation of enclosure and effusion, separateness and union, innovation and convention - one that leaves many tensions unresolved. Appropriately, the "Hymn" is in dialogue with the classical hymn, a genre linked by convention to such dialectics and granted wide structural variability by literary tradition. Shelley does not imitate a particular example of classical hymn, but employs a number of its genre-linked features to transcend the limitations established by previous works in the genre. In the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," just as Callimachus, Cleanthes, and Julian restyle the Homeric Olympians and the genre-linked features of the Homeric Hymns, Shelley also employs the resources of hymn to restyle time-worn values associated with the genre. Shelley introduces a personal, non-traditional deity that exists only in poetry. Knowledge of this deity is derived neither by doctrine nor reason, but only through patterns of internal consistencies and disruptions in the poem itself. As the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" demonstrates, patterns brought to light through the analysis of genre affect meaning in Shelley's poetry, and while genre criticism is not the whole of criticism, it makes an invaluable contribution to Shelley studies because it helps to illustrate the coherence of works that might otherwise appear enigmatic or indeterminate.
1 Rajan points to the association in the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" of "darkness to a dying flame" (45) as a paradigmatic instance of a Shelleyan representational gap or place of indeterminacy. In this instance, she writes, "[A]n idea is embodied in a figure whose subtext generates a different and autonomous idea" (Rajan 286). The figure of darkness "can seem to continue the idea of beauty as fostering human development," but Rajan regards this reading as secondary to the one that suggests "darkness smothers the dying flame" (286). The point is well-raised, but if Shelley's meaning is vacuous, as Rajan argues it is, attending to primary connotation seems to compromise the aim to be free of "the tyranny of the original intention" (293).
2 See esp. Cantor 92-93 and Wolfson 912.
3 For a discussion of the major Homeric Hymns ("To Apollo," "To Hermes," "To Aphrodite," and "To Demeter") as a genre that bridges archaic Greek theogonic and epic poetry, see Clay 3-16.
4 I cite Julian by manuscript section number as presented in the Loeb Classical Library edition of his works.
5 For a helpful explanation of Julian's syncretized and philosophical gods, see Wilmer Cave Wright's introductions to Julian's hymns (348-51; 439-41). Rollinson also provides useful information on Julian's hymn innovations (28-32).
6 For an extensive survey of the classical hymn tradition during the Renaissance, with particular emphasis on Spenser and Marullo, see Rollinson (50-155). See also Schlueter (esp. 214-50), who claims that a "secondary tradition" of classical hymn, with a particular "hymnic model," was introduced during the Renaissance by Sidney and Milton and continued by Gray, Collins, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats (244). Drawing on the rhetorician Menander's description of the hymnos kletikos, Schlueter conceives this model as a tripartite structure similar to the one posited by Rollinson and discussed here. Schlueter provides few examples, however, to buttress his argument that Shelley's "To Night" is in dialogue with, or innovating upon, the primary tradition of classical hymn.
7 Shelley's hymns include the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," the "Hymn of Pan," and "Hymn of Apollo," and translations of seven Homeric hymns. His odes include "Ode to Heaven," "Ode to the West Wind," "Ode to Spain," "Ode to Naples," and "Ode to Liberty." Shelley's "Hymn to the Sun" consists of two twelve-line stanzas in heroic couplets, and the "Hymn to Mercury" is presented in ninety-seven stanzas of ottava rima. Of Shelley's remaining hymns, two are composed in irregular strophes ("To the Moon" and "To the Earth, Mother of All"), two are a single stanza long ("To Castor and Pollux" and "To Mercury"), and one is incomplete ("To Venus").
8 Critical notice of the form of Shelley's "Hymn," particularly of its twelve-line stanza, has been cursory. In their respective studies of the poem, Harold Bloom, Stuart Curran, Paul Fry, and Susan Wolfson do not investigate the unique "Hymn" stanza. Among the few references to this stanza, Ernst Haublein observes merely that "stanzas of ten, eleven, or twelve lines hardly occur in English poetry [. . .] Shelley has a twelve line stanza in 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'" (33). David Robertson, in his comparison of Shelley's hymn and Psalm 90, notes that Shelley "chooses a very demanding stanzaic form (twelve iambic lines, the first four of which are pentameter, the fifth hexameter, the next six tetrameter, and the last pentameter, with rhyme scheme abbaaccbddee) and invariably adheres to that form" (63). Shelley's stanza is in fact pentameter at line eight; only in the first stanza is line eight tetrameter. Curran suggests, as Bloom does to a lesser degree, that Shelley's "Hymn" "responds antithetically to Coleridge's 'Hymn Before Sunrise,'" written in 1802 (Curran 58; Bloom 11; 35). Formally, the two works are quite different. Coleridge's "Hymn" is written in blank verse and appears in eight irregular strophes; Shelley's "Hymn" is homostanzaic and follows strict rhyme and indentation schemes. Although the twelve-line stanza of Shelley's "Hymn" is unique, similar structures are used elsewhere by Coleridge, Thomas Gray and Sir William Jones. Coleridge's "Ode to the Departing Year" (1796) contains a twelve-line strophe that appears twice and is very similar to Shelley's "Hymn" stanza. The single difference in rhyme scheme shows at line 5, where Coleridge has a b rhyme, Shelley an a. Coleridge's alexandrine is placed at stanza's end, while Shelley's is placed at line 5. Only two tetrameter lines (a couplet) appear in the Coleridge strophe, their indentation matching the two previous rhyming couplets. To illustrate the similarity of Shelley's and Coleridge's typography, here is the first strophe from "Ode to the Departing Year":
SPIRIT who sweepest the wild Harp of Time!
It is most hard, with an untroubled ear
Thy dark inwoven harmonies to hear!
Yet, mine eye fixed on Heaven's unchanging clime,
Long had I listened, free from mortal fear,
With inward stillness, and a bowed mind;
When lo! it folds far waving on the wind,
I saw the train of the DEPARTING YEAR!
Starting from my silent sadness
Then with no unholy madness
Ere yet the entered cloud foreclosed my sight,
I raised the impetuous song, and solemnized his flight. (lines 1-12)
One of Gray's strophes from "The Progress of Poesy, A Pindaric Ode" (1751) is also twelve-lined, but like Coleridge's "Ode" it appears in a different sequence of tetrameter, pentameter, and alexandrine lines, and in a different typographical pattern. Sir William Jones, whose works Shelley ordered in 1812, wrote a number of hymns to Hindu deities, some of which are homostanzaic. His "Hymn to Ganga" (1785) is a regularized derivation of Gray's "Progress of Poesy." By his own admission, Jones adopts Gray's twelve-line strophe, "enlarges" it by adding a fourteen-syllable line (so that it is thirteen lines long), and then repeats the stanza thirteen times (58-62). Changing the irregular ode of Gray to a homostanzaic hymn, Jones may have provided Shelley with a formal example for his own "Hymn."
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John Knapp (email@example.com) is a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia. He is interested in the generic resonances of classical poetry in mid-eighteenth and nineteenth-century English poetry. With an eye on the lyrics of the major Romantics, he is working currently on Sir William Jones, Bishop Robert Lowth, and the revival of the classical sacred poem.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 1999|
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