Explanation of Percy Shelley’s Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty is a poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Stanza-Wise Explanation

Lines 1-7

Intellectual Beauty, which is invisible, pervades this whole universe. But its visits are inconstant. Just as summer winds that blow from flower to flower inconstantly, just as moonbeams that fall on pine-covered mountains, so also Intellectual Beauty visits each human heart and face with a suddenness and uncertainty. It is a temporary visitation and people suffer its loss once it disappears.

Lines 8-12

Just as the colours and sounds of the evening, as well as the clouds scattered widely in the starlit sky, are enchantingly beautiful and charming, so also Intellectual Beauty possesses an unearthly loveliness and charm. It is also inconstant, like the hues of the evening and the clouds in the sky. A delicate impression of the music is left in the memory long after the music has ceased. So also even if the Intellectual Beauty departs, its delicate and vague impression is retained in human hearts. In spite of its temporary existence, it is dear to the heart. It is like something dear to us by its grace; and even more dear because of its mysterious and indefinable nature.

Lines 13-17

The poet questions why the Spirit of Beauty departs after sanctifying or lending a sacred character to all human thoughts and human shapes on which it shines. He is puzzled at its departure and asks why it passes away so suddenly, leaving the soul, which once enjoyed the bliss of this Spirit, in utter misery. With its departure life at once becomes barren, dark, and empty. Its presence makes life beautiful and attractive, but its sudden departure causes the world to become a place of tears and suffering.

Lines 18-24

The poet emphasises the fact that the Spirit of Beauty is not constant. Hence, he questions its inconstancy. He asks in wonder why sunlight does not forever weave beautiful rainbows over that mountain. Why should the beautiful and the virtuous have so uncertain and transient an existence? Why should the earth be made miserable by fear, dreams of evil, the cycle of birth and death? Why should a man have the capacity to feel such contrary things as love and hate, hope and despair which make human life unhappy and miserable? The poet is lost in such futile ques- toning for which there are no satisfactory answers.

Lines 25-36

The question of life still remains a mystery and no answer to these baffling problems of life and death have ever been given to poets and philosophers from the higher world. Hence their attempts to find a solution results in the invention of such myths as Demon, Ghost, and Heaven. But this soly. ton is unsatisfactory for even religions which Shelley calls “frai spells” (futile charms or incantations) cannot secure human life against the operation of chance, doubt and change. Only Intellectual Beauty, which appears fitfully can impart the grace of beauty and Wuth to lives full of fever and fret. But the Spirit makes a fléeting appearance like mist spread over the mountains, or like music pro duced by the night wind blowing upon the strings of some still in. strument and awakening it into a thrilling music throbbing through tine mystic silence of the night, or like moonlight sleeping quietly upon a stream at midnight.

Lines 37-41

Like the flitting clouds, Love of humanity, Hope for its future, and Self-esteem are uncertain and unstable. Shelley believes that man will indeed be im- mortal and all-powerful, if only this awful Spirit of Beauty with all its glorious accompaniments, whose Nature we hardly know, takes a permanent abode within the human heart.

Lines 42-43

The poet addresses the Spirit of Beauty as the messenger that brings to man the message of mutual sympathy. It is this Spirit of Beauty that binds two human souls together with ties of sympathy and love. According to Shelley, the union of two loving souls is brought about by mutual recognition of the Beautiful.

Lines 44-48

Intellectual Beauty nourishes human thought just as darkness seems to nourish the dying flame. The greater the darkness, the brighter does the dying flame look. The Spirit of Beauty helps and stimulates human thought. Hence the poet asks or requests the Spirit not to fade away even before casting its shadow upon us. For he fears that once it vanishes, human hearts lose the hope of life and they fear death just as they fear misfortunes of life. Shelley has great faith in the power of Intellectual Beauty which is a source of courage and solace and helps man to face the problems of life and death.

Lines 49-54

While yet a boy. I saw them not. Here Shelley gives an account of his futile efforts to hold communion with ghosts in his youth. When he was still a boy he made every possible attempt to communicate with ghosts. He ran through many vacant chambers, caves and ruins in search for ghosts. He pursued in his search, with fearful steps through the woods lit up by starlight, with high hopes of communicating with the ghosts. He tried all the wild incantations which he had been told as a young boy, would summon gnosis. But they proved fruitless, for neither did any ghost appear before him nor did any make efforts to communicate with him.

Lines 55-60

Shelley relates the thrilling experience of how he encountered the awareness of Intellectual Beauty. He was brooding over the nature of life and on human destiny in the sweet spring time, when winds were blowing to wake up all vital things and when birds and blossoms make an appearance. sud- deny he became aware of the presence of Intellectual Beauty. Having experienced the splendid vision, he cried out in joy and clasped his hands emotionally. His very awareness of Intellectual Beauty was joyful for him.

Lines 61-72

When Shelley became aware of the presence of Intellectual Beauty, he vowed that he would dedicate his powers to the worship of Beauty and of all beautiful things. He has kept his vow. Even now with his heart throbbing and his eyes filled with tears, he calls upon the ghosts of a ‘thousand hours’ to come out of their silent graves to bear witness to his resolution not to forget Intellectual Beauty. In the beautiful groves where he had seen glorious visions or in the joy of love or in the hours of deep study, he had never forgotten the existence of the Spirit of Beauty. Those hours would know that he felt joy because he had the hope that the Spirit of Beauty would free mankind and end all its sufferings. He hoped that the mysterious Spirit would bestow benefits upon the world which cannot be expressed in words.

Lines 73-84

The day becomes more solemn and serene after the hour of noon. There is a harmony and a lustre with the approach of autumn, which cannot be heard or experienced in summer, when it is even impossible to imagine them. For the poet too the hour of noon has passed and the season of summer is over. Now it is his time to enjoy the harmony and lustre of Intellectual Beauty. Hence, he appeals to the power of the Spirit of Beauty to descend on his receptive youth, operating like a law of Nature and supply its calm and quiet to his mature life. He confesses that he has become a worshipper of Intellectual Beauty as Well as every form of Intellectual Beauty. He has completely fallen under the spell of the awful Spirit of Beauty and the power of its magic spell makes him fear himself and love all humankind. Under the Spirit’s influence, he is free from arrogance and self-conceit, and he loves all mankind.

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