Treatment of Nature.—Shelley was not interested in things themselves, but in their elusive, animating spirit. In the lyric poem, To Night, he does not address himself to mere darkness, but to the active, dream-weaving “Spirit of Night.” The very spirit of the autumnal wind seems to him to breathe on the leaves and turn them—
“Yellow, and black, and pale, and
In his spiritual conception of nature, he was profoundly affected by Wordsworth; but he goes farther than the older poet in giving expression to the strictly individual forms of nature. Wordsworth pictures nature as a reflection of his own thoughts and feelings. In The Prelude he says:—
“To unorganic natures were transferred
My own enjoyments.”
Shelley, on the other hand, is most satisfying and original when his individual spirit forms in night, cloud, skylark, and wind are made to sing, not as a reflection of his own mood, but as these spirit forces might themselves be supposed to sing, if they could express their song in human language without the aid of a poet. In the lyric, The Cloud, it is the animating spirit of the Cloud itself that sings the song:—
“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
* * * * *
I sift the snow on the mountains below
And their great pines groan aghast.”
He thus begins the song, To a Skylark—
“Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,”
and he likens the lark to “an unbodied joy.”
He peoples the garden in his lyric, The Sensitive Plant, with flowers that are definite, individual manifestations of “the Spirit of Love felt everywhere,” the same power on which Shelley enthusiastically relied for the speedy transformation of the world.
“A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew.”
The “tulip tall,” “the Naiad-like lily,” “the jessamine faint,” “the sweet tuberose,” were all “ministering angels” to the “companionless Sensitive Plant,” and each tried to be a source of joy to all the rest. No one who had not caught the new spirit of humanity could have imagined that garden.
In the exquisite Ode to the West Wind, he calls to that “breath of Autumn’s being” to express its own mighty harmonies through him:—
“O wild West Wind, thou breath of
* * * * *
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness.”
We may fancy that the spirit forms of nature which appear in cloud and night, in song of bird and western wind, are content to have found in Shelley a lyre that responded to their touch in such entrancing notes.