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(7) HUMAN TO NATURAL—145 similes. “ The imagery which I have employed will be found, in many instances, to have been drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed. This is unusual in modern poetry, although Dante and Shakespeare are full of instances of the same kind : Dante indeed more than any other poet, and with greater success.

But the Greek poets, as writers to whom no resource of awakening the sympathy of their contemporaries was unknown, were in the habitual use of this power; and it is the study of their works (since a higher merit would probably be denied me), to which I am willing that my readers should impute this singularity.” (Shelley, Preface to Prometheus Unbound.”) The similes in this category require no special comment.

(8) Human To Human—112 similes. Of these I reserve only seven as containing an element of Nature description.

(9) HUMAN TO ANIMAL (or the reverse) -72 similes. Romanticism implies for English poetry primarily a vast widening of the sympathies which embrace now not only man in all the hidden recesses of his nature, but extend to a compassionate pity for the dumb creation, and an emotional love for the inanimate world of natural beauty. In all these respects Shakespeare had foreshadowed the modern attitude of mind, but after his death until Thomson, or even until Cowper, we do not find these qualities again united.

Shelley's treatment of the animal world is not entirely sympathetic. His attitude of compassion or the reverse is determined by the one significant fact as to whether the animal in question is carnivorous or not. This fact in itself expresses Shelley's deeprooted disgust for flesh-eating in man or beast.

Thus he speaks of dogs habitually in a tone of loathing, and makes them the symbol of a base and treacherous character, e.g., 1223, 1229, 1255, 1271.

Even in 1251, 1282, where his sympathies for the oppressed in any form might have influenced him, he abates nothing of his habitual loathing for the friend of man. A reference to Ellis' “Concordance” will give other examples of Shelley's antipathetic feeling for dogs. (See also Hounds.) The only notable exception occurs in “Rosalind,” 1069f.

This same reason for his hatred of dogs inspires his sentiments towards the fiercer wild animals, e.g., Wolvrs, 1226, 1437, (see Ellis), Tigers, (see Ellis). This hostile treatment of beasts of


need not, however, astonish us. It is only within the last few years that the splendid creatures of the jungle or the desert have entered as an element of beauty into artistic creation, and Leconte de Lisle and Rudyard Kipling have alone sought to enter sympathetically into the meaning that lurks within their savage and unshaped intelligence.

With Fish the same principle holds. Shark, Dog-fish, 1279.

Serpents. Here the symbolical idea attaching to the serpent intervenes, and by a capricious reversal of Biblical teaching, Shelley identifies in “Laon and Cythna” the Serpent with the Spirit of Good. On the whole, however, he regards the serpent as inspiring loathing or disgust, e.g., 1215, 1218, 1220, 1221, 1227, 1281.

Turning now to animals for which Shelley manifests compassion or affection, we find that The Horse is never harshly mentioned. In 1240 and 1260 a sympathetic feeling for the horse suffering oppression is shown (contrast Dogs above), and readers of “Laon and Cythna” will not forget the vigorous description of the Tartarean horse that bears Cythna and her lover to a refuge from the disastrous battle. (“L. & C.” VI. xixf.)

Antelopes, Deer, Fawns, etc. These animals as representing at once the claims of grace and swiftness, and innocency trembling beneath the harsh oppression of the strong, are treated by the poet with compassionate sympathy. 1244, 1246, (and see Ellis).

Birds. Here only the more grossly carnivorous are subjects of aversion.

Vultures. 1233, 1252, 1255, 1284, (and Ravens).

Eagles. The Eagle is saved by his very sublimity, as evident from 1248, 1272, 1273.

But in “Laon and Cythna” he is regarded as the symbol of the Evil Spirit, and other passages in the poems refer to him in his rapacious character, e.g., " Arethusa," III. 16; "Hellas," 307 ; "Laon

, and Cythna," VII. xxvii. 4.

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(10) HUMAN TO ABSTRACTIONS, ETC. —40 similes. Of these three only are retained. 1288 and 1289 are subtly imaginative, and reveal Shelley's primitive tendency to create living essences, as it were the presiding spirits or divinities of beautiful places.

(11) NATURAL to NATURAL-119 similes.
Gruesome, 1336.
Reflected Light, 1346; Reflected Form, 1378.
Colour, 1382, 1383.

Cloud or Vapour Imagery, 1290, 1292, 1293, 1296, 1305, 1342, 1347, 1348, 1349, 1363, 1361, 1373, 1403.



Shairp insisted that Shelley was incapable of direct forcible description, because, while contemplating a landscape, his thoughts evaporated into fantastic and unreal conceptions.

“So entirely at home is he in this abstract shadowy world of his * own making, that when he would describe common visible things he does so by likening them to those phantoms of the brain, as though with these last alone he was familiar. Virgil likens the ghosts by the banks of Styx to falling leaves—Shelley likens falling leaves to ghosts : The dead leaves · Are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing. We see thus that nature as it actually exists has little place in Shelley's poetry.” (Shairp in Fraser's, N. S., XX.)

This is weak and insipid criticism with but a grain of truth in it. The similes, for example, wherein Shelley expresses nature in terms of the human or spiritual world, are rare indeed by comparison with those in which human conditions are illustrated by a reference to the external world. Descriptions of the last-named kind prove, moreover, that Shelley could write when he would with his “eye upon the object”; and many detailed descriptions besides would attest his powers of a concrete and definite presentation of beauty. Bearing this reservation in mind, we may admit that the Quarterly Review, Vol. CLXIV., makes a nearer hit at the truth. "Except in the distinct descriptions contained in Julian and Maddalo,' or the distinct studies of atmospheric effects, everything is allegorized and idealized. Substance fades when the characteristics of nature change with his moods, and the ‘orbed maiden with white fire laden' becomes a 'dying lady, lean and pale.' Shelley, with his quivering sensibility, his fresh imagination, his intense and simple nature, treats stream and fountain cloud and bird, in the true spirit of a mythological poet. He associates inanimate matter with the attributes of sentient mind; endows it with his own passions ; tinges it with the hues of his own life. His pictures are so charged with supernatural life that he seems unable to observe without personifying. .

In point of fact, Shelley in this figurative type merely conforms to the usage of the great idealistic poets. He represents Nature as a living symbol. And whereas the majority of poets materialize their ideas by images drawn from the external world, Shelley spiritualizes inanimate nature by a vivid symbolical interpretation of natural phenomena translated into the language of the intellect. Lamartine, the great idealist in French literature, as Shelley in English literature, affords innumerable examples of this faculty.

He speaks of a white corolla

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“ Elle est pâle comme une joue

Dont l'amour a bu les couleurs.”

Or again

“De l'astre de la nuit un rayon solitaire,

A travers les vitraux du sombre sanctuaire,
Glissait comme l'espoir à travers le malheur,
Ou dans la nuit de l'âme un regard du Seigneur.”

Gruesome Similes. Shelley's inevitable tendency to revel in gruesome ideas in the midst of beauty (cf. Hugo's employment of the grotesque) shows itself in the following similes : 1426, 1428, 1430, 1432.

(13) NATURAL TO ANIMAL—27 similes. Gruesome, 1497.

Number 1474, and the whole poem from which it is taken, admirably reveal Shelley's mythopæic power.


These similes are of great value for the characteristic expression which they give to an important side of Shelley's genius. Endowed with faculties of perception attuned to the highest pitch of intensity, and with emotional desires ever fleeting beyond the reach of attainment, his poetry vibrates with eager vehemence of speed, incomparable surely within the range of literature; and there is always present amid all the ardours of emotional pursuit an ineffable sense of loss or unattained desire, poignantly expressed again and again by the confession of the transiency of earthly joys, and by the evanescence of those insecure delights which crumble in the hand stretched out to seize them. I have therefore classed together the similes of speed and of evanescence as representing two closely related expressions of the same qualities of mind.

In his similes of swiftness Shelley stands alone. His similes of evanescences are at one with the traditions of poetry in all ages and in every land. No great poet has ever been blind to the fleeting character of earthly beauty, nor to the perilous tenure by which we hold the transient gifts of time. Isaiah was not the first to give utterance to this confession of human impotence in that splendid passage in the thirty-fourth chapter :


“ And all the host of heaven shall waste away :

And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll ;
And all their host shall wither ;
As the withered leaf falleth from the vine,
And as the blighted fig from the fig-tree;'

and while poetry exists there will be heard this human cry voicing the dumb protest of the world against the relentless march of change.

An analysis of these similes will show us Shelley's favourite comparisons.

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Swiftness represented by

Cloud(s), 1477, 1485, 1491, 1497, 1519, 1520, 1534, 1545, 1556, 1567, 1578, 1596.

Shadow(s), 1516, 1552, 1571, 1579, 1584, 1587, 1621.

Thought(s), 1504, 1521, 1541, 1543, 1560, 1592; Wind, 1538, 1573, 1583. .

Whirlwind, 1503; Tempest-vapour, 1502, 1542.
Storm, 1572, 1601; Leaves in tempest, 1487; Insects in gale, 1493.
Mist, 1621; Volcano-smoke, 1490; Earthquake, 1599.
River-foam, 1479; Foam from ship, 1550; Gossamer, 1517.
Light, 1518, 1605; Morning, 1515; Fire, 1537, 1611.
Moon, 1523; Meteor, 1561; Star, 1580; Dream, 1563, 1590.

Eagle, 1498, 1505, 1581; Antelope, 1597; Tiger, 1582; Horse,. 1602.

Evanescence represented by
Cloud(8), 1482, 1485, 1508, 1509, 1528, 1553, 1558, 1564, 1613.
Dew, 1481, 1488, 1536, 1546, 1566, 1576, 1609.
Mist, 1495, 1510, 1531, 1542, 1595, 1614.
Shadow(s), 1499, 1506, 1511, 1514, 1539, 1565, 1575.
Smoke, 1486, 1507, 1512; Foam, 1588; Wave, 1615.
River (in Sand), 1501, 1549, 1570. Bubbles on River, 1562.
Spray, 1540. Wind, 1513, 1620, 1593. Taper, 1554.


, .
Dream, 1569, 1574. Moonlight, 1594. Embers, 1604.
Corpse, 1591. Dust, 1577. Insect, 1555.
Child's Legend in Sand, 1585 (and cf. 1589).

(15) SIMILES OF Love—55 similes. Of these, 41 bear upon Nature, and are retained. Shelley usually approaches love after the manner of the mystics, regarding it as the. vital. creative principle and the indissoluble band which knits the universe. Love and beauty in Shelley's half formless philosophy are so merged one in the other, that it is frequently difficult to dissociate them, and a discussion of the one topic would involve an investigation of the other. Here it need only be observed as a matter of curiosity that Love for the most part is figuratively expressed by an image of Light, e.g., 1623, 1624, 1625, 1626, 1627, 1630, 1632, 1637, 1646, 1649, 1650.

Is this a reflection of the Neo-Platonic philosophy? Plotinus, it will be remembered, attached mystical significance to light.

(16) SIMILES OF DREAM–51 similes.

(Five retained.)

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