Power, necessity and the imagination - Andrew Welburn power...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

Andrew Welburn: power, necessity and the imagination in Queen Mab i) The inhuman universe of materialism Objective awareness of the boundaries dividing the self from its world is normally.. unproblematic. But. Shelley is a visionary poet. He is a Romantic who strives to experience everything in life in its greatest possible intensity, and as such he is constantly probing the outermost limits of ordinary awareness. Hence it is that his style, as one critic has put it, is a continual 'gamble with the limits of poetry'. When the dominant mood of either pole becomes an established temperament, it may generate a philosophy. Both extremes of perception seem to point beyond ourselves to an ultimate foundation of experience, and prompt the invention of a metaphysic. They point, however, in diametrically opposite directions. The mood of the first, 'alienated' pole will generally find expression in a world seen as external, independent of the cognising mind, governed by laws of inflexible outward necessity. Such was Shelley's prevailing philosophy in his youth, although it co-existed in his mind with many alarmingly inconsistent elements suggesting a very different view of the world. His juvenile poem Queen Mab is a propaganda piece in which he was determined to force together his opinions into a scheme of dogmatic materialism.2 He gladly hailed there the Spirit of Nature! all-sufficing Power, Necessity! thou mother of the world! He found a first intellectual vocabulary in the writings of the French materialists of the Enlightenment, in the work of rationalist thinkers like La Mettrie and the Baron d'Holbach, who argued that the world was a vast machine. In such a universe the destiny of human consciousness, of man's desires and hopes, can only be a final submission to the existing: an ideal which slowly made the materialist world-conception come to look to Shelley somewhat less than 'all-sufficing' for a fully human vision of life. Indeed, already in Queen Mab the imagination cuts through the didactic flow of the propaganda with a powerful glimpse of industrialised, mechanised humanity, 'living pulleys of a dead machine, / Mere wheels of work and articles of trade'.The picture of a living figure trapped in an inanimate landscape was to persist into his mature poetry. Above all there was to be the grand metaphor of Prometheus, shackled to the 'icy rocks' in an inert universe, a landscape Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb, Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Image of page 1

Info icon This preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern