Shelley has been considered as a poet of the younger generation in Romantic Literature. Scholars and critics agree that he is one of the supreme poets of Romantic Movement. French Revolution and its ideals failed to create positivism in the society but its ideas and passions gave wings to writers like Shelley and Byron. Walter Raleigh has remarked that-
“Shelley was the inheritor and the exponent of the ideas of the French Revolution…the ideas of the revolution and the passion of the revolution glitter and vibrates in Shelley’s poems.”
It is needless to say that he was a visionary poet. His visions were not momentary because it was neither illusion nor hallucination. It was a prophetic vision. It seems that he was dissatisfied with the stately affairs. He wanted to reshape the world like a reformer. He believed that man is capable for bringing change in the society. By nature Shelley was a humanitarian. He loved all the creatures equally. This is one of the reasons that he celebrated nature. He never supported any kind of tyranny and oppression. He loved liberty and carved for equality. It can be found in his verses where he values democratic movements. In To the Republicans of North America he paid his tribute to the new republic which found its roots in Mexico. Ode to Liberty is considered as one of the best political poems of Shelley. It was inspired by the Spanish Revolution. In this poem Shelley has described the condition of world which was like the evil state before the birth of liberty. Liberty was initiated in Athens and followed in Rome but later it was deserted. Shelley talks about liberty in detail that how it again flourished during the time of Alfred. This is one of the reasons that he welcomed the constitutional government in Naples in Ode to Naples. He celebrated Greek war against the Turks in 1822 in his poem Hellas. He considered this war important for the evolution of civilization and moral achievement. In A Defense of Poetry he writes that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” It is in fact the last sentence of this book. This quotation proves that poets are dutiful and responsible towards the society. Shelley never cared for unjust institutions and he was not scared to rebel against them. He is successful in establishing a virtuous enthusiasm that positivity and goodness cannot be destroyed totally by brutal force, prejudice and misrepresentation In The Revolt of Islam which came in 1818. It is actually a doctrine of hope and faith which makes us optimistic. It suggests that love can only be the guiding force for humanity. It is love of the mankind for life which is beautiful. It is beautiful because it is unique and uniqueness is maintained only by the purity of the soul. In Prometheus Unbound which came in 1820 Prometheus is the protagonist. He represents goodness in suffering humanity. Jupiter is the antagonist in the play. He is associated with evil and represents negativity of life. He is tyrannous and his nature is of oppressing mankind. One of his other writings entitled Cenci also presents heroic resistance to oppression and tyranny. Thus it becomes clear that Shelley was against oppression and tyranny of all kinds. He wrote for positivity and liberation of humanity. His poetry presents a kind of quest between the world as “it is” and the world as” it ought to be.” Elimination of religious superstitions and right political intervention can bridge the gap existing between these two kinds of world. It can reform the society which is the demand of the time even today. He has successfully generated a hope that millennium is not far off where we will celebrate democratization of society and culture. It is like a dream project of the poet’s imagination. In several poems of Shelley we can figure out a sense of failure. This is one of the reasons that in his poems we can find a sad tone and melancholic appeal. It is needless to say that his poems are highly optimistic covered with melancholy. He talks about the regeneration of mankind in one of his most celebrated poems entitled Ode to the West Wind. His hope is undying because he talks about the future of the human race. His cry is piercing and heart rending as if it is personal. He says-
“Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed !
A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.”
At the end of the poem Shelley wished that the West Wind might be able to awake the “unawakened earth” with a tone of sadness. It can be felt through the following lines-
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?
The use of ‘if’ and ‘can’ illuminates our heart with some ray of hope that bright light is approaching humanity. It can also be witnessed in poems like Hellas where the poet says that-
“Another Athens shall arise,
And to remoter time
Bequeath, like sunset to the skies,
The splendor of its prime”
It is a kind of hope against hope when humanity will be guided through positivity. Negative ideas, tyranny, evil, lust and injustice will be eliminated. Shelley was a kind of poet who shared the ills and sorrows of his life along with his contemporaries. Walter Bagehot once remarked about Shelley that-
“There is a legend of Shelley, during an early visit to London, flying along the street, catching sight of a new microscope, buying it in a moment ; pawning it the instant afterwards to relieve someone in the same street in distress. The trait may be exaggerated, but it is characteristic.”
The future of mankind will be glorious was the hope Shelley always prophesied. He knew that optimism is the only key to succeed in life. He himself suffered a lot in his life yet he presents positivity. He thought that there were germs of perfection inside every heart. He presents a kind of lamentation in Stanzas Written in Dejection Near Naples–
“Alas! I have nor hope nor health,
Nor peace within nor calm around
Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure,
Others I see whom these surround—
Smiling they live, and call life pleasure;
To me that cup has been dealt in another measure.
It is interesting to find that most of his poems have been inspired by evils. He wanted to save his fellowmen from those evils and negativity. It is one of the reasons that Shelleyan ideas are admired even today.