Percy Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” is a poem which reflects impeccably on the swift comings and goings of beauteous thoughts and pure states of consciousness. It describes the happening almost as a phantom, appearing suddenly and planting immediate inspiration within whomever it appears to before disappearing just as promptly and unexpectedly as it arrived. So quick, in fact, that it is impossible to fully grasp, and as a result you are only left with a shadow version of the state of being that you first experienced in its purest form. It is a phenomenon difficult to grasp, yet an occurrence one never forgets. The poem also holds strong themes of nostalgia and longing throughout. Shelley’s descriptions of mindful and intellectual beauty are both poetically beautiful and arguably accurate while the vocabulary in the poem fails to relate or connect fully to his description of ‘The mind in creation‘ (Part of his piece: “A defence of poetry“).
In his work titled “A defense of Poetry“, Percy refers to a phenomenon he called “The Mind in Creation”. He begins by describing the sensation as something self-forged and fleeting yet divine with lasting authority over the mind: “For the mind in creation is a fading coal with some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness, this power rises from within” This description tells of a fading state of beauty that comes from your own pure state of consciousness and the power it harnesses to behold such fleeting light. This idea is divergent to Percy’s poem titled “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” when he writes: “The awful shadow of some unseen Power/ Floats though unseen amongst us-visiting/ This various world with as inconstant wing/ As summer winds that creep flower to flower.” Here Percy describes an unseen source of energy, a traveller, which brings brightness and inspiration to those it visits. There is a clear conflict between the two concepts, whereas the first described the ability to achieve a state of purity and beauty from within, the second described an external force as the culprit phantom of light…though both are written as inconsistent and ephemeral.
In the following verses of “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, Percy finds parallels with his description of The Mind in Creation when he reports on the erratic behavior and invisibility of this state of beauty: “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,” Though Percy puts it to much simpler terms in The Mind in Creation by using the term: “fading coal” to describe the fleeting state. There is melancholy and nostalgia in his vocabulary, suggesting sadness in the phenomenon’s truth: whether you’re ready or not, inspiration or new forming thoughts and state of mind can appear and vanish without warning. A sadness lies in this, and Percy demonstrates it well within his language.
Though Shelley’s grasp on intellectual beauty and the mind in creation hold contradictory concepts, he nevertheless succeeds to enthrall with his language and literal flow. His views on ethereal thinking and forming inspirations are both engaging and thought-provoking.