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The gift of the name in Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty".

The wrecks and fragments of those subtle and profound minds, like the ruins of a fine statue, obscurely suggest to us the grandeur and perfection of the whole. Their very language ...

--A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancients, Relative to the Subject of Love (1)

I. Given Names

THE TITLE OF SHELLEY'S "HYMN TO INTELLECTUAL BEAUTY," as has often been pointed out, situates the poem within a tradition that it will attempt to displace. Naming itself a hymn, Shelley's poem invokes a Christian concept of divinity that it ironizes and thereby calls into question. As Earl Wasserman, Spencer Hall, and Richard Cronin have shown, the "Hymn" incorporates Christian thematics throughout, only to disfigure them by way of a series of reinscriptions of canonical doctrine. (2) Not only does the poem's speaker decry the "name of God," but in championing the secularized virtues of "Love, Hope, and Self-esteem" (37), he also refers by negation to the love of God, hope of salvation, and faith in a transcendent divinity. (3)

Of course, the hymnic genre predates the Christian tradition's appropriation of it, and there are also many questions that remain unanswered concerning the Greek influences in the poem: formally, that of the Greek hymnic tradition, and conceptually, that of a Platonic metaphysics. (4) This latter, much derided hypothesis has received no shortage of criticism over the last sixty years, and mostly with due cause. (5) Motivated largely by the Platonic resonances of Shelley's title and his avowed interest in Plato's thought, this position has been condemned not only for its oversimplification of Shelley's stance and tendency to reduce it to mere Platonism, but also for its neglect of Shelley's "intellectual philosophy" and the sophistication of his reading of Plato, which would much better be expressed as reflective than merely mimetic. One need not look very hard to see extra-Platonic elements infiltrate the "Hymn," most notably those empirical or utilitarian items such as the "world" that, as Pollin has pointed out, are to be consecrated alongside the transcendent ones. (6)

If, nevertheless, the question of Plato's influence has remained persistent for readers of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," it is ultimately less by virtue of any Platonism in the poem than by the title's inscription of a more or less Platonic phrase--a phrase that Shelley himself would use to translate Plato. Yet critics of the "Hymn" seem destined to remain conflicted even on this point, for it was not until nearly two years after Shelley's composition of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" on the shores of Lake Geneva that he would translate that fateful line: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] as, "but [he] would turn towards the wide ocean of intellectual beauty," in his rendering of Plato's Symposium (Shelley 449). (7) The translation would then be a transcription from his "Hymn" to Plato's Symposium, and this in the most literal sense of the word. For it would here be a matter of writing across texts, from one context to another, from one body, title, or text to another, but also from one language to another. We could call this a trans-crib-lation, for it departs at the same time from Plato's textual source and his own "Hymn," which ought to be, but is not, foreign to it.

"Intellectual Beauty" (as a phrase) is then both more and less Platonic. For, as is evinced by the chronology of the poem's composition, it is born out of Shelley's own work, only to converge with Plato at a later date. That the phrase "Intellectual Beauty," moreover, only appears in the "Hymn's" title, as though it were a leftover or supernumerary of the text, further exacerbates this already tenuous relation between the poem and the Platonic tradition. Yet for all of these difficulties, Shelley's title nevertheless suffices to articulate a bond that no amount of disapproval, dissuasion, or disavowal would be capable of fully denying, and not only because of the possibility that Shelley had read Plato's Symposium prior to composing the "Hymn," nor, conversely, simply because he may have translated the Symposium with his "Hymn" in mind. (8) Nor, moreover, is this even because of the potential that "Intellectual Beauty"--again as a phrase--seems to offer for the Platonic idiom. None of these hypotheses is sufficient to account for the bond, itself productive of these speculations, constituted by the sheer coincidence of these two inscriptions of "Intellectual Beauty." This coincidence, which may or may not simply be coincidental, has the potential to exceed all given contexts. Indeed, it forces us to raise the very question of context, or contexture, through the perplexing bearing of the "Hymn" on the Symposium, and vice versa. It forces us to ask how, or even whether, the problematic of Intellectual Beauty--as well as its translating, transcribing, citing, or naming--speaks through these texts. This is a question for which all hypotheses are possible and many of the wildest, no doubt, have already been conjectured. (9)

Any reading of Shelley's "Hymn" must then account for this coincidence, if only in order to dismiss it as just that. And so, whether we follow Wasserman, who argues that the term "Intellectual Beauty" does not implant a Platonic concept into Shelley's poem, but rather inscribes Shelley's own reading and interpretation of Plato into the Platonic text, (10) or follow any of the other numerous critics who have attempted to trace the sources for Shelley's compelling title outside of Plato, "Intellectual Beauty," for better or worse, seems destined to link these two works.

Concerning these other sources for "Intellectual Beauty," critics have shown that Shelley could not simply have invented the phrase, at least in any straightforward sense of invention. Shelley would have been hard pressed to trademark the term, "Intellectual Beauty," and convincing cases have been made to show that he neither discovered nor produced it from oblivion or non-existence. And yet, to assume for "Intellectual Beauty"--and by extension, for the poem itself--a derivative nature simply because it may refer to, cite, or recall another term or name, or another use of the same term, would be, perhaps, to miss the point. For it would be to miss what remains of invention between the absolutely new and the repetition of the same, but also between invention as production and invention as discovery.

Research by N. I. White, McNiece, Notopoulos, and Pollin has shown the prevalence of the term in Shelley's day. It was, as Notopoulos indicates, a "leitmotif of Platonism," although, to all appearances, it does not actually appear in the dialogues of Plato. (11) In his attempts to locate the origins of Shelley's title, Notopoulos identifies a number of prior occurrences of "Intellectual Beauty," both within the English tradition and beyond it. The most obvious source, although one that does not actually contain the phrase, is Spenser's "An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie," which Mary Shelley, at least, is known to have read in 1818, and Percy to have purchased in Spenser's Works in 1812. For the first actual occurrence of the phrase, however, one must look to Plotinus, who entitles section v, viii of his Enneads, "Concerning Intellectual Beauty [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." While Notopoulos does not condone the assumption of a hypothetical reading of Plotinus by Shelley--for which, he admits, there is no evidence--he nevertheless identifies the repetition of the phrase in a number of works Shelley would have read prior to the summer of 1816 that he finds "sufficiently attractive in presentation to influence Shelley's choice of the title of a poem embodying a personal Platonic experience." (12) These sources include Lord Monboddo's Of the Origin and Progress of Language, Wieland's Agathon in Pernay's French translation, Histoire d'Agathon, where it appears twice as "Beaute Intellects elle" according to N. I. White, and Robert Forsyth's The Principles of Moral Science. (13) Additional research by McNiece notes that it appears not only in the first edition of Godwin's Memoirs and Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (an observation Pollin also makes), but also in Blake's "Descriptive Catalogue," as well as Coleridge's notebook, as "perfect Intellectual Beauty or Wholeness." (14) Matthews and Everest, finally, in their annotations to the poem in the Longman edition, The Poems of Shelley, identify the phrase in Opie's Adeline Mowbray, evidently read by Shelley in 1811, and in Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (15)

The research of these scholars is more than adequate to demonstrate that Shelley's inventiveness does not lie in the production of the term. But even if Shelley's poetic naming of "Intellectual Beauty" reflects earlier influences, and even if a number of these sources supply rich contextual material that might have informed the sense of Shelley's usage, something remains lacking in their accounting for the appearance of "Intellectual Beauty" within the "Hymn." For no prior determination can do justice to the way in which the naming of "Intellectual Beauty" nevertheless, and out of this relation of iteration, names the act of naming and the singularity of a poetic gesture of name-giving. In reading Shelley's poem, and in attempting to come to terms once more with its uncanny relation to his Symposium translation, it behooves us to attend to the ways in which the "Hymn" renders unstable the propriety of the patent and the pretension to naming rights.

"Intellectual Beauty," then, is not simply one phrase among others when it enters the economy of Shelley's poem. But neither is it a phrase at all, if by "phrase" one understands a set of words forming a conceptual unit with a more or less definable content. As becomes evident in reading the "Hymn," "Intellectual Beauty" is a name, given to the personified subject of the poet's verse. This subject, moreover, as the source of beauty and truth, embodies that which is itself beyond all appearance, knowledge, and representation, and therefore also beyond the order of the concept. (16) "Intellectual Beauty" is the first name that the poem gives for this unnameable non-being. It is the first name, and one that is never repeated, but only replaced and displaced through the introduction of a series of equally uniterated names for the name. (17) Shelley's "Hymn," which recounts the passage of this ungraspable non-being and its diverse effect on the world, is then above all a poem about naming: about the necessity and impossibility of giving a name, and the economy of poetic name-giving that results thereby.

In all, the poem--or its speaker--gives five names for the unnameable, beginning with "Intellectual Beauty" and following with "Power" (i), "Spirit of Beauty" (13), "Loveliness" (71), and "Spirit" (83). As becomes clear in the "Hymn," these names are spoken on the condition of the absence of the "Spirit," whose further denial of any gift of a name for itself--or even any word, voice, or response capable of consolidating itself into some(thing) given--constitutes the position from which the poet speaks. The uttered names therefore at once supplement this absence and recall it. They mark and remark this absence and thereby raise the question of its essence: of that which conditions and unconditions name-giving, be it divine, human, or poetic. Although "Intellectual Beauty" is the first name given, it does not simply name itself. Or rather, we should say, it does not name itself as the univocal, given name for itself; it is not, simply, a given name. For given (or named) by the poet in the absence of a name, and above all the name or gift of this god, this gift (name) anticipates its replacement by other names. (18) Each of the given names for "Intellectual Beauty" (including "Intellectual Beauty" itself) is then given as the trace--in the Derridean sense of the term--of every other; which is to say that the presence of each name is only constituted by its specific difference from the others. Without the (divine) gift, the name cannot be present to itself. (19)

The naming of "Intellectual Beauty," and, as a consequence, the name "Intellectual Beauty," therefore inaugurates another kind of naming and another kind of gift, and its name names this unnaming and renaming--but also this regifting--as the poem's subsequent naming-acts testify. As a consequence, what the gift of the name of "Intellectual Beauty" gives (and names) is a concept of the gift as something not given, something that is given despite and on the condition of its absence, something made possible on the condition of its impossibility. The gift of "Intellectual Beauty" marks both the necessity and impossibility of giving names: a double condition that falls to the poet and that determines the economy of his relation with this other that, not giving its name, yet remains, and remains to be named.

The difference between the divine gift that is conceived as a fully present and self-sustained whole, and the poet's gifts--given in the absence of the divine, and therefore unable to attain to the self-identity and presence of the word of God--corresponds to the division, articulated by Derrida in Given Time, between the metaphysical concept of the gift and the deconstructive, disseminatory notion of giving that is marked by its impossibility. (20) For Derrida, as soon as the gift becomes a "present," as soon as someone presents it to someone else, it runs the risk of being repaid or returned, or what amounts to the same thing for him, of being recuperated by the giver, whether consciously or unconsciously. In each case the gift is annulled when, as with an exchange, it loses its excessiveness and becomes implicated within a restricted economy. If what makes the gift possible, Derrida explains, is its presentation by one subject to another, then its possibility is also its condition of impossibility, or what he calls its "double bind," for in giving the gift one also annuls it. Like Shelley, however, Derrida does not see this aporia as a stopping point, but takes it as his point of departure. It is only because the gift is impossible (i.e. not fully present and unable to be calculated or named) that the event of a gift can be thought as no longer based in an intersubjective relation, but instead as the surprise or excess of a text. Poetic naming, for Shelley, serves precisely to put us in touch with an order of language that no longer consists of present meanings or referents, but that un-writes, or un-names itself, as it is written.

The unnaming of the Name coincides in Shelley's "Hymn" with the lyric act par excellence--poetic apostrophe. Marked both in the poem's title--"Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"--and within the poem itself--"To thee and thine" (62, my emphasis)--the act of address both complements and further problematizes the naming gesture, whose names therefore are supplemented by a series of deictics. As a consequence, any consideration of the name must take into account its ramifications for hymnic address--and vice versa--as each systematically posits and disrupts reference. The Symposium, although not a hymn in form, concerns just such an event of address, as it stages the prayer to or praise of a god. It is the Platonic dialogue most concerned with the possibility of something like the hymnic gesture, and recounts a series of speeches that are proposed on the condition of the absence of sufficient poetic attention for Love:

Is it not strange, Eryximachus, that there are innumerable hymns and paeans composed for the other gods, but that not one of the many poets who spring up in the world have ever composed a verse in honour of Love, who is such and so great a god? Nor any one of those accomplished sophists, who, like the famous Prodicus, have celebrated the praise of Hercules and others, have ever celebrated that of Love.... That so much serious thought is expended on such trifles, and that no man has dared to this day to frame a hymn in honour of Love, who being so great a deity, is thus neglected, may well be sufficient to excite my indignation. (Shelley 418-19)

Truly to compare or to come to terms with the relation of the "Hymn" to the Symposium, one would have to ask how Shelley's and Plato's works both treat, and bring into question, the possibility of hymnic prayer. For at its most radical, Shelley's poem does not merely engage with the generic conventions of the hymnic genre, but problematizes the logic of identity and the concept of reference on which the hymn depends. By asking the question of the name, the poem touches on the question of language itself: the word, and the relation of word to thing. What does language, or the name, articulate? What is the being of the thing prior to its naming, and how could the measure of this act of naming be taken without the further use of linguistic acts that make possible our apprehension in the first place? The "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" both names and problematizes the order or law of the name. It comments on and attempts to perform another kind of naming, and it does so while admitting that there are better or worse, or more or less "poisonous" names (53). At bottom, because for Shelley the name is involved in more than mere reference, because the name names, and in naming gives some thing, one must be attentive to names and naming, to more and less "poisonous" or "false" names (SDN 53). The extent to which the poetic gesture of Shelley's "Hymn" may be said not simply to live up to that which it names (adequation), nor even to ground its addressee through the text itself, but, at its most extreme, to problematize the process by which language fulfills both of these functions, will play a large role in determining just what is meant by the "name," as well as what the poet's relevance as ersatz name-giver is.

If, then, "Intellectual Beauty" is neither a phrase, nor even simply a name, but a name for that which gives naming as a gift that will never be present, a properly improper name that is always losing itself by being found, and finding itself by being lost; if "Intellectual Beauty" names the poetic act of naming par excellence, as the impossibility of naming, and an impossibility that is its very condition of possibility, then it may pose a few problems for any reading hoping to determine the precise relation of the "Hymn" to Plato's Symposium, by way of "Intellectual Beauty." (21) This is not, of course, to say that it would be impossible to determine the meaning of "Intellectual Beauty" as it appears in each text--at least to a reasonable degree of certainty--and then to analyze the extent to which the one coincides or diverges from the other. Rather, what becomes difficult is reducing the inscription of "Intellectual Beauty" to any mere signification, or signifying function. It becomes difficult to delimit, at the expense of what we might call its naming function, its signified without remainder. Something remains in "Intellectual Beauty" as a name that will not be reduced to hermeneutical or exegetical determinations. Or as Shelley's poet proclaims:
   No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
      To sage or poet these responses given--Therefore
      the name of God and ghosts and Heaven,
   Remain the records of their vain endeavour,
   Frail spells--

The name remains. Names remain. Being given nothing, all that remains is a remainder of the name. But in the wake of this vacancy, how do we read such frail spells?

2. Re-naming/Remaining

First, then, human beings were formerly not divided into two sexes, male and female; there was also a third, common to both the others, the name of which remains, though the sex itself has disappeared. The androgynous sex, both in appearance and in name, was common both to male and female; its name alone remains, which labours under a reproach.

--The Banquet (Shelley 429)

Truth is not an intent which realizes itself in empirical reality. The state of being, beyond all phenomenality, to which alone this power belongs, is that of the name. This determines the manner in which ideas are given. But they are not so much given in a primordial language as in a primordial form of perception, in which words possess their own nobility as names, unimpaired by cognitive meaning.

--The Origin of German Tragic Drama (22)

It is in the second and third stanzas of the "Hymn" that the most explicit account of the name is given. Not simply of what the name is, but of how it has come to pass that names are. Or as the poet explains, how it is that the name remains. What is thought here is not then simply a critique of a few particular names, or even a historical account of these names, but an exploration of the ontological bearing of the name as remainder, by way of a certain sending--or lack thereof--that precedes being, and in preceding being opens it. While in the second stanza the poet addresses the "Spirit of Beauty" in order to question both its being and bearing on the world, in the third he responds to his own questioning stance and the meaning of the spirit's failure to offer any more perceptible response to these and similar queries:
   Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
      With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
      Of human thought or form,--where art thou gone?
   Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
   This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
      Ask why the sunlight not forever
      Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain river,
   Why aught should fail and fade that once is shewn,
      Why fear and dream and death and birth
      Cast on the daylight of the earth
   Such gloom,--why man has such a scope
   For love and hate, despondency and hope?

The second stanza, addressed to the "Spirit of Beauty," begins like the first stanza by positing this spirit's singular nature: that dost consecrate. This time, however, the uttered qualities do not merely participate in an act of veneration, but become the grounds for an interrogation of the absentee entity. That the spirit's presence consecrates will only add intensity to the interrogation, for it makes that much more regrettable its disappearance, and in turn, the poet's affective response to it.

This is no simple suite of queries, either, and at least one major division separates the first two from the latter four. First and foremost, the opening inquiries, "where art thou gone? / Why dost thou pass away and leave our state, / This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?" are phrased as questions, posed in an explicitly interrogatory mood and addressed to the spirit itself ("thou"), while the following four are grammatically grouped within a single sentence and abandon the questioning grammar. Indeed, although the latter four continue along the same questioning vein and even retain the question mark, their queries diverge from the being of this spirit to its various effects, ceasing to be phrased explicitly as questions and abandoning any explicit reference to their addressee. (23) Nor is it entirely clear that they still refer to or address this spirit--or its by-products--and concluding such requires assuming that the passage from "human thought or form" and "our state" to "yon mountain river" is a direct and unproblematic one. There is nothing in the poem to prevent one, alternatively, from reading these four follow-up exhortations as being wider in scope than the spirit's domain, whose limits might yet come to encompass--or produce--"sunlight" and "fear," but yet might not.

One may be tempted to take the culminating queries of stanza two at face value and to read them as mere rhetorical questions. As questions, in other words, for which there simply would be no answer and to which no answer is therefore expected. At the level of the letter, however, their grammar forces a more nuanced interpretation. For if the stanza's opening lines call for a spirit's response, the latter call for a spirit's questioning: "Ask why the sunlight not forever / Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain river" (my emphasis). The poet begins by calling to the spirit to answer, but he seems to pursue his questions by rendering overt the already coercive nature of the question, by calling--or imploring--the spirit to call in its turn. He tells the spirit "Ask," as if to give an account of itself to itself. Alternatively, the imperative of this Ask need not, necessarily, call directly to the spirit, but by way of parabasis might signal a self-exhortation of the poet, as he, shaken, must reassure himself of the very questioning gesture here at play. In this way, instead of asking, he would command himself to ask, and call to himself to call, because upholding the apostrophe he has just opened to the spirit has become too onerous a task. He must tell himself to ask because, the spirit being absent, it is no longer self-evident that he should address it at all. Why address an absent spirit, especially one whose absence brings into question both its bearing on the world and its very existence? Why address this absent spirit when the hymn may not reach its vacant ears? What if, like the Ask, these questions only question themselves, only return in the repetition of their pronouncement to their own sounding, never arriving outside or beyond the linguistic gesture? Ask.

In order to put an end to these questions, the third stanza does not respond to them, but rather responds to the lack of response they have elicited:
   No voice from some sublimer world hath ever
      To sage or poet these responses given--Therefore
      the name of God and ghosts and Heaven,
   Remain the records of their vain endeavour,
   Frail spells--whose uttered charm might not avail to sever,
      From all we hear and all we see,
      Doubt, chance, and mutability.
   Thy light alone--like mist o'er mountains driven.
      Or music by the night wind sent
      Through strings of some still instrument,
      Or moonlight on a midnight stream,
   Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream.

These questions, which the poet is not the first to ask, have received no response from the voice of "some sublimer world." In qualifying his comments in this way, however, the poet is careful not to dismiss categorically the possibility that there have been responses of some kind. Rather, what he claims is that no response given by a "voice" has been received. Responses there may be, but none in the form of a sublimer voice's gift.

By denying that a voice has given responses to poet or sage, the poet thereby denies the presence of a speaking subject. The voice, which speaks in the name of its speaker and as the sign of that speaker's presence, gives the name for its speaker, or more precisely, it appears to name its speaker as nameable, and it does so before any name need actually be spoken. The gift of a voice's response is inseparable from the gift of its name, as the present that only a named or nameable subject would be capable of bestowing. When the poet denies the voice's present he therefore also denies the distinction of subjecthood that comes with a voice, along with its naming power. In doing so, he severs his own vocation, with its vocalizations, from the character of the spirit. Voices, with their names--both given and received--are the things of poets and sages. (24) To name, to call, in short to voice, are the poet's givens. Whatever the spirit may then be said to be, the radical denial of its voice--which can be taken either as the poet's denial of a voice to the spirit, or the spirit's denial of its voice to the poet--is the fundamental starting point from which language, or the voice, begins. This is what the "Therefore" proclaims, when it establishes a logical connection of consequence between the voice's absence and the state of the name as remainder: "Therefore the name of God and ghosts and Heaven, / Remain the records of their vain endeavour, / Frail spells--." Denied the voice and coordinate response of some sublimer being, it falls to poet and sage to endeavor to respond to these questions, but also, to endeavor to name. In the absence of these gifts, poet and sage must supply this lack by giving names themselves.

But this is a vain endeavor, the poet tells us. It is vain, empty, or idle to utter these frail spells. It remains a question, however, how we are to understand the transition from the absence of a sublimer response to the circumstance of the sage's and poet's endeavor. Although it is clear that what is missing is some firmer knowledge concerning the being of this spirit and/or concerning the metaphysical conditions contributing to such a high variance of worldly events and experiences, it is less evident how this corresponds to a poetic or sage-worthy endeavor, or even what "endeavour" itself here means. This being their endeavor, it is both what they strive for and what binds them: what puts them in a state of responsibility to which they respond by endeavoring. "Endeavour," from the French en-devoir, literally means to be in a state of obligation. It is from this state of being obliged that the colloquial sense of endeavor, as a striving, emerges. "Their vain endeavour," in short, names not the endeavor that they possess or will, but the endeavor, indebtedness, or duty, that possesses them, and to which they can only respond by endeavoring. What then, exactly, is the poet's vain task?

With respect to this question, the events of the fifth and sixth stanzas may prove instructive. There it is also a matter of poetic debt, which the poet, flashing back to his youth, reflects on as the origin of his poetic vocation. This latter debt is also one of the main sources for traditional interpretations of the "Hymn," as it apparently recounts the autobiographical experience of a divine visitation. Supported by accounts of Shelley's youth and a reported moment of epiphany he underwent while a student, this experience, along with the phrase "Intellectual Beauty" itself, stand as two of the more stabilizing elements used to interpret the poem: (25)
   While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped
      Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,
      And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing
   Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.
   I called on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;
      I was not heard--I saw them not--
      When musing deeply on the lot
   Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing
      All vital things that wake to bring
      News of buds and blossoming,--
      Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;
   I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!
   I vowed that I would dedicate my powers
      To thee and thine--have I not kept the vow?

While yet a boy and all too eager to meet ghosts of the dead, "thy shadow," the poet recalls, "fell on me." From that moment on he was fixated by the spirit and he reports in the following stanza how he "vowed that I would dedicate my powers / To thee and thine--Although the poet immediately thereafter asks, "have I not kept the vow?" as though acknowledging a lingering doubt that may have arisen between the moment narrated and narrating moment, this gesture does not generate any real uneasiness as the "Hymn" itself stands as a monument to his experience and vow, affirming each through its presence. The "Hymn," which bears the poet's experience inscribed on its body, itself appears as the culmination of his vow--a vow that should have made the "Hymn"'s writing possible in the first place, by supplying the conditioning moment of poetic conception.

And yet, if the depicted relationship between recounted experience and occasion of recounting appears all too felicitous, it nevertheless cannot entirely mollify the ambivalence of the encounter thereby described. Access to divinity is nothing short of rending, as the shadow's fall results in a less than poetic shriek: "Sudden, thy shadow fell on me; / I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!" If the clasping of hands "in ecstasy!" indicates an exuberant rapture, the shriek that precedes it less easily conforms to this joyful, lyrical tone. Certainly one can shriek with joy, but as an expression of the shock of visitation, the shriek sounds and resounds the uncertainty and unaccountability of what is occurring prior to its reflection as positive or negative, and prior to the clasping of hands that signals the rejoining of self with itself. The encounter with the other that interrupts the speaker's communion with "life" and "All vital things" takes him by surprise and it makes him shriek, and it is precisely this rupture that in turn opens the experience of poetry. The shriek here recounted therefore represents the origin and end of poetic praxis, whose limits the "Hymn" embodies and recounts, achieves yet falls short of, and circumscribes yet is also excluded from, as we shall see. (26)

It would be tempting, then, to relate the poetic and sagacious endeavor of the third stanza to the vow of the sixth. In the sixth we find both a vow and a dedication: the origin of a debt, and one that can only be repaid, if at all, through a lifetime's work. The poet here does not dedicate any thing to the spirit--nothing, that is, that could be simply or immediately repaid--but rather his "powers" themselves. Yet as these are his ("my") powers they remain of a personal nature, a possessed or possessive power that becomes the possession of the spirit through the poet's vow. The debt, in sum, is the debt of a self, an "I," who claims it through the performance of a speech-act reported in the poem. As a consequence, this latter autobiographical account aligning the poem's composition and its poetic origins along a temporal axis must be read against, and not with, the impersonal account offered in the third. For the endeavor of the third stanza, by contrast, is born out of the denial of a sublimer voice. The consequence of the endeavor is not, merely, some thing, nor even a disposition of the poet, but is the name itself and the being of the name as what remains: "Therefore the name of God and ghosts and Heaven, / Remain the records of their vain endeavour." The poet here contracts nothing, nor does he take anything on himself. He finds only that he is already oriented by the prior denial of a sublimer voice, and by this same denial that had already conditioned the "name," and by extension language as such. (27) The endeavor is not vain because it fails to name, then, but to the contrary, because naming succeeds. Succeeding to name, the endeavor fails. That the endeavor results in the name is the failure, and it is one born out of the absence of some sublimer gift, as becomes evident in the fourth stanza. (28)

The scope of the endeavor, then, should be understood to comprehend not only the questions the poet poses in the second stanza, but also, and more fundamentally, the very necessity of speech, question, and knowledge that underlies these questions and eventually leads to them. The endeavor is not any specific endeavor---just as it is not to write any particular poem, nor any specific treatise--but rather describes being, life, or existence as so many consequences of the spirit's denied presence. The absence of the spirit opens life as endeavor, and as such, the question and the name, responding to this fundamental lack and therefore emblematic of it, become possible in the first place.

Names, therefore, remain. These names: the name of God and ghosts and Heaven, remain. But as every reader of Shelley's poem will have noticed, the poet's grammar is at odds with the line's most clearly intelligible sense. It requires a slight misreading, or at least a neglect of the ambiguities of the phrasing, in order to come away with the simple assimilation of God, ghosts, and Heaven to names, which then would serve as the collective subject of the verb remain in the next line. The problem is not insoluble, but it is challenging enough to require discussion. Simply put, whereas "name" is singular and clearly refers to "God," the verb "Remain" requires a plural subject, which must then be understood to be the collection of "name of God," "ghosts," and "Heaven." However bizarre an assemblage it creates, given the singular form of "name," the most literal way to understand the line would be as the name of God, followed by the beings ghosts and Heaven. Moreover, the earlier version of the "Hymn" in the Examiner (1817), as well as that published in Rosalind and Helen (1819), read: "Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven, / Remain" (27-28). Whereas these earlier versions both explicitly name "Demon, Ghost, and Heaven" as names and give each name in the singular form of a proper name, the later, corrected draft, drops the plural "names" and in addition to replacing "Demon" with "God," pluralizes and uncapitalizes "Ghost," as though reinforcing the divided being of the phenomena, rather than the singular idealizing form of the name. (29) Everything Shelley altered, in other words, serves to problematize the direct assimilation of the line to a mere collection of names.

This is not to say that reading "God and ghosts and Heaven" as names is simply incorrect. Despite the ambiguity, it would be entirely possible to take the form "name of" as implicitly repeated for each item of the list. This reading is further reinforced by the second half of the sentence, which calls these subjects "Frail spells" and again refers to their "uttered charm." However, even if the force of the line ultimately pulls towards this interpretation, the phrasing's striking ambiguity calls for interpretation.

The problem, of course, amounts to knowing what the difference between a name and a thing is, and thus understanding how it could be that both might "remain," and do so as similar consequences of the non-event of the absence of the spirit's gift. As I have already indicated, if the endeavor is vain, it cannot be because poet and sage fail to name, but conversely, because naming happens; because--perhaps--not only the name of God, but also ghosts and Heaven, remain. But what is the remaining of the name of God, this "frail spell"? The endeavor, which results from the absence of the spirit's gift or presence, leaves as its records these traces, and it is the being of these traces as remaining that Shelley's hymn enables us to think. That is, it enables us to think the history of a certain routing of the traces of God, ghosts, and Heaven, through the problematic figure of the name.

The name of God remains. This means, first and foremost, that God, or God's name, persists, idles, or hangs on. (30) As the record of the poet's vain endeavor to respond to the question of being--to the gloom of death and birth, and the scope of despondency and hope--this name of God is the poet's gift. Of all names, however, that of God identifies what is both most and least bound to the word. For the name of God names an origin, and a conception of origin--and origination--that presents a condition of possibility for naming as such. To name God is to name the origin of the poet's ability to name. The gift of the name of God therefore not only gives a name, but gives a conception of naming that exceeds the word and derives it from the presence of this transcendent being whose words the poet, in his turn, would only relate. What the name of God names, then, is already in excess of the domains of the name and of language. The name of God posits an entire conception of language, and, in so doing, a relation of word to thing, and of being to non-being.

That the name of God remains, moreover, is not because it is the first name given, but on the contrary, because the "name of God" names language in general. Or rather, it is the opposite that holds. The endeavor, responding to the absence of the spirit, does not result in the proper name of God, but begets language and therefore also poets. There is no poet without the denial of the spirit's gift, and likewise no language. But language, insofar as it is then given, gives the name, and in each name it gives, it gives the name of God as the ineluctable consequence of the word. The name of God names the excess of name (or word) beyond the purely linguistic. The name cannot remain what it is because it cannot but give being and the difference between beings and language. That the name of God remains, then, points to the persistence of name and Heaven and ghosts, the latter two of which are bound to the word (of God), yet irreducible to it, no longer simply words. They are in a state of undecidable difference from the word and from the theological system that the word posits before articulating theology as such--that is, before signifying God, ghosts, or Heaven.

Remaining, then, articulates the resistance of name to be what it is. It articulates a restlessness, but also a remnant. For the name of God, however outmoded, outdated, and even surpassed, remains and is ever again renamed. Remaining, we might say, is--but also names--the being of being as the consequence of the absence of the spirit's gift and of the presence of its voice.

In commenting on the character of these "Frail spells--whose uttered charm might not avail to sever, / From all we hear and all we see, / Doubt, chance, and mutability," Forest Pyle has astutely pointed out the ambivalence of the poet's judgment. (31) Pyle observes that these lines do not simply articulate a dismissal of the power of these spells, as would be the case were the poet to have said that they do not avail to sever, but instead that they call for a necessary critique of them. That they "might not avail to sever," indeed touches on the danger posed by the word, which can always fail to be read as spell (or word), and be taken instead for a God (or another present being). And this danger too remains, so long as does language and the name(s) of God it bears with it.

Pyle links the danger presented by the misreading of the word in the "Hymn" with Shelley's critique of the nation-state generally. It is because of a similar mystification of national character, he argues, that Shelley's poet must maintain a critical distance with respect to actual political forms. The poet, that "unacknowledged legislator" of the "Defence of Poetry," is determined by his ability to remain true to an idea that is itself in "perpetually ironic relation"--as Pyle puts it--to the nation and its clerisies. (32) The poet's "unacknowledged" character, in this sense, does not simply refer to the contingent condition of being unknown, but describes a writing or poetics resistant to forms of acknowledgement, which are otherwise bound to the presence of institution and law. Poetry, in other words, retains an ironic relation to actualized or present forms, or as I have said above, it is engaged with ""writing itself, even if it (necessarily) may always fail to retain this ironic distance or to sufficiently undermine its own presumptuousness. To cultivate something like a poetics of unacknowledgement, or as Pyle ultimately argues in his conclusion to "Frail Spells," to cultivate irony as the permanent parabasis of "spelling," (33) is, in the case of Shelley's "Hymn," to think the name as remainder.

Against the assumption, then, that the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" concerns a (personal) experience or a (poetic) intuition of the deified spirit, the present argument asks us to consider whether the problem of the name--raised thematically by the poem's third stanza--is not precisely per formed by the naming gestures of the poem. Naming gestures that would then perform a certain failure of the name to name, or to be present to itself and its referent. The names given for "Intellectual Beauty" (including "Intellectual Beauty") would then have the potential to engage with the gesture and problem of the gift, which makes any name as such possible in the first place. A name, as name, must be given. It must be present and present to itself and its referent. To disrupt the logic of the gift (of the name) is then likewise to question the structure of reference. To emphasize the re-giving of names to this spirit, as Shelley's "Hymn" does, is also then to emphasize the allegorical and non-symbolic nature of these names, both their arbitrariness with respect to that which they name, and their materiality, as differing inscriptions whose difference ought to be, but is not quite, effaced. Neither mere signifiers, nor naming symbols, these names remain and resound as the memory of an articulation of language that cannot but be mistaken for the one or the other. And it is in this way that they offer a vision of poetry's gift.

Texas A&M University


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(1.) PB Shelley, Discourse, 404. All citations from Shelley's Discourse and Symposium are taken from The Platonism of Shelley, ed. James A. Notopoulos (Durham: Duke University Press, 1949), subsequently cited in the text as Shelley.

(2.) See Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Study (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971); Hall, "Power and Poet: Religious Mythmaking in Shelley's 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'" Keats-Shelley Journal 32 (1983): 123-49; and Cronin, Shelley's Poetic Thoughts (London: Macmillan, 1981), 224-30, on the relation between Shelley's hymn and the Christian hymn.

(3.) See Hall, "Power and Poet," 133. Whether these represent fully secularized deformations of Christian theology as Hall would have them, or virtues of another vision of divinity that would not succumb to monotheism's pitfalls, as Wasserman sees it, or even the remnants of another type of transformation yet to be named, remains to be seen. All citations and line references to Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" are taken from Shelley's corrected Examiner text (1817), as printed in Shelley's Poetry and Prose (New York: Norton, 2002), unless otherwise noted. When indicated, SDN refers to the Scrope Davies Notebook variant of the "Hymn," dating from August 1816.

(4.) The relation of the "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" to the Greek hymnic tradition has received relatively little attention. One critic who treats the influence of the classical hymn on Shelley's poem is John Knapp in "The Spirit of the Classical Hymn in Shelley's 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'" Style 33, no. 1 (1999). Shelley, in fact, translated seven of the surviving Homeric hymns between 1817 and 1820. Additionally, Leigh Hunt had published a number of translations of Greek odes and hymns in his 1815 The Feast of the Poets.

(5.) For proponents of Shelley's Platonism, and in particular that of his "Hymn," see William Temple, "Plato's Vision of the Ideas," Mind 17 (1908); Notopoulos, The Platonism of Shelley; C. H. Grabo, The Magic Plant (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1936), 179; and Benjamin Kurtz, The Pursuit of Death (London: Oxford University Press, 1933). Opponents are Wasserman, Shelley; Judith Chernaik, The Lyrics of Shelley (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1972), 36; Gerald McNiece, "The Poet as Ironist in 'Mont Blanc' and 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,"' SiR 14, no. 4 (1975); Burton R. Pollin, "Godwin's 'Memoirs' as a Source of Shelley's Phrase 'Intellectual Beauty,'" Keats-Shelley Journal 23 (1974); and Harold Bloom, Shelley's Mythmaking (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 36.

(6.) Pollin, "Godwin's Memoirs," 14.

(7.) Plato, Symposium, 210d. W. R. M. Lamb in the Loeb translation, Lysis; Symposium; Gorgias (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), gives: "and turning rather towards the main ocean of the beautiful" (203).

(8.) Thomas Medwin, The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. H. B. Forman (London, 1913), 33, recounts that Shelley had first read the Symposium while at Eton with Dr. James Lind around 1810. N. I. White repeats Medwin's assertion, although he casts doubt on Medwin's justification for it in his biography, Shelley, vol. 1 (New York: Knopf, 1940), 50, 5761172.

(9.) On the problem of Shelley's title, see especially Notopoulos, "The Platonic Sources of Shelley's 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'" PMLA 58, no. 2 (1943): 582-84, and Pollin, "Godwin's Memoirs."

(10.) Wasserman, Shelley, 192.

(11.) Notopoulos, Platonism of Shelley, 198.

(12.) Notopoulos, Platonism of Shelley, 197.

(13.) See James Burnett Monboddo, Of the Origin and Progress of Language, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1774), 105-6; Christopher Martin Wieland, Histoirc d'Agathon, trans. Francois Daniel Pernay (Paris: Maradan, 1802); and Robert Forsyth, The Principles of Moral Science, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1805), 513-14.

(14.) McNiece, "Poet as Ironist," 328n30. See William Godwin, Memoirs and Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, vol. 1 (Dublin, 1798), 115; Blake's "Descriptive Catalogue," in Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman (New York: Doubleday, 1965), 535; and Coleridge's The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), Item #2012.

(15.) The Poems of Shelley. Volume One: 1804-1817, ed. Geoffrey Matthews and Kelvin Everest (London: Longman, 1989), 522-31; Amelia Alderson Opie, Adeline Mowbray, or the Mother and Daughter, vol. 1 (London, 1805), 121; and Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (Dublin, 1795), 54.

(16.) This theme is particularly prominent in the first and fourth stanzas. The visitations of the "Power" in the first stanza are at a double remove--the shadow of some unseen Power being itself unseen--highlighting that apprehension of this force is possible neither as a sensible nor as an intelligible entity. In the fourth stanza, the spirit's resistance to keeping "firm state within [the] heart" (41), again figures its incomprehensibleness.

(17.) On the problem of "Intellectual Beauty "'s relation to "the name" or the name of god, see Richard Isomaki, "Interpretation and Value in 'Mont Blanc' and 'Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,'" SiR 30, no. 1 (1991): 57-69; Cronin, Shelley's Poetic Thoughts, 227-30; and McNiece, "Poet as Ironist," 330. Isomaki, following Cronin, takes "Intellectual Beauty" as a substitution for the "'poisonous names' of 'God and [Holy] ghosts and Heaven.'" But this is not entirely accurate. From the perspective of Christianity "Intellectual Beauty" does indeed substitute for the name of god, hence for the name. Nevertheless, insofar as the "Hymn" circumscribes the very appearance of the name of god within its more originary movement, this cannot simply be considered a substitution.

(18.) The given name of god, which is here absent, is so not simply because it is unknown, but because the god has not given it to the poet. The name of god serves to recall both the name, and the gift of the name, which are here denied.

(19.) Deborah Elise White, in her "Shelley and the Proof of History" in Romantic Returns: Superstition, Imagination, History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), has identified a similar set of issues at work in The Revolt of Islam. White argues for the centrality of the name within the passage from "eye to star," a passage that allegorizes the allegedly transcendent, pre-linguistic, communion of "kindling" or "speechless beauty" (133). Similar to "Intellectual Beauty," this "speechless beauty" lies at the edge of phenomenality and in fact makes the experience of beauty (or any experience tout court) possible in the first place, through the communion of its intuition. What White shows, however, through her reading of the Dedication ("To Mary--") and its thematization of names, is that the passage from "eye to star turns on the name. The perfected aesthetic communion that kindles the encounter between text and reader thus includes a perfected language: the language of names" (137). This "perfected," symbolic language of names, nevertheless is confronted with its own partiality in Canto T as names become distorted by "the deceptive variability of signification. Abstracting or particularizing, they remain merely allegorical.... The world in which evil triumphs ... is one in which appearances deceive because unified identities have been dispersed into a multiplicity of forms.... Even the holiest name, when mediated by particular, historical names (Greece, France), risks partaking of evil's metamorphic powers unless those names are understood correctly to be mere names--signs that derive from and point toward the power of holiest name, but are themselves no more than the bare remainder" (137-38). When "Intellectual Beauty" can be read as just such a "bare remainder" it will be possible to put into perspective its relationship both to signification and naming.

(20.) Jacques Derrida, Given Time, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

(21.) Critical here and elsewhere is that the name "Intellectual Beauty" can refer both to the words or phrase in the poem, and to the unnameable force that conditions and makes possible its own naming, precisely by not giving its name.

(22.) Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (New York: New Left Books, 2003), 36.

(23.) This is not, however, the case in the earlier SDN version of the poem, where the question mark is replaced by a mere period.

(24.) SDN here reads: "To wisest poets these responses given" (26).

(25.) As is not surprising with respect to an experience of this nature, critics are conflicted over the precise date of its occurrence. Most believe it occurred either while Shelley was a student at the Syon House Academy, or at Eton. See Notopoulos, Platonism of Shelley, 15, and James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Newark: University of Delaware, 2004), 75, for representatives of each position.

(26.) In particular, this is what is at stake in the final lines of the sixth stanza: "They know that never joy illumed my brow / Unlinked with hope that thou wouldst free / This world from its dark slavery, That thou ... / Wouldst give whate'er these words cannot express" (67-72). Just as the "Hymn" puts us in touch with the origin of poetic conception that is the scene of visitation of stanza five, so too does it present its end, which is the expression beyond expression of words, the "gift" that the "Hymn" identifies as the culmination it yearns for, but that it cannot attain on its own. Although origin and end are staged in linear chronological fashion in these two stanzas, with the grammatical opposition of past to present, and the conditional "Wouldst give" marking futurity, the earlier stanzas, I will show, bring into question the narrativization of these "events," and their separation into linear chronological moments.

(27.) The denial of the voice would be both the condition of possibility, and impossibility, for language and the name. The possibility of the name is opened by its absence. Yet insofar as this gift is not given, language, and the name, are rendered equally impossible, unable to consolidate into something given or present.

(28.) This is the sense of those cryptic lines: "Man were immortal, and omnipotent, / Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art, / Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart" (39-41). This "firm state," like the presence of a voice from some sublimer world that would give the gift of its response, is not contingently denied, but constitutively so. That the spirit does not make firm state in the heart (does not make itself present there), is what separates mortality from immortality, or the poet's name (gift) from the spirit's. For an alternative reading of the "firm state," see Forest Fyle's excellent reading in "'Frail Spells': Shelley and the Ironies of Exile," in Irony mid Clerisy, ed. Deborah Elise White, Romantic Circles Praxis Series (August 1999),, accessed 5 October 2015.

(29.) SDN shows the corrected Examiner edits, with the sole exception being that both "God" and "Ghosts" are capitalized there.

(30.) On the problems of the "rest" or "remainder" as that which exceeds the presence of the present, see especially Derrida's "The Time of the King" in Given Time, where he develops the relation of remainder to the gift (1-33).

(31.) Pyle, "Frail Spells," 2. See also Pyle's recent Art's Undoing: In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), where he explores the implications of this reading for what he calls "radical aestheticism"--the ability of a work, in reflecting on its aesthetic character, to undermine the very possibility of an autonomous aesthetic domain (3).

(32.) Pyle, "Frail Spells," 3-4.

(33.) Pyle, "Frail Spells," 20.
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