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ADAM R. ROSENTHAL The Gift ofthe Name in Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” The wrecks and fragments of those subtle and profound minds, like the ruins ofa fine statue, obscurely suggest to us the grandeur and per­ fection of the whole. Their very language . . . —A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancients, Relative to the Subject of Love' i. Given Names T he title of Shelley’s “hymn to intellectual beauty,” as has often been pointed out, situates the poem within a tradition that it will at­ tempt to displace. Naming itself a hymn, Shelley’s poem invokes a Chris­ tian concept of divinity that it ironizes and thereby calls into question. As Earl Wasserman, Spencer Hall, and Richard Cronin have shown, the “Hymn” incorporates Christian thematics throughout, only to disfigure them by way of a series of reinscriptions of canonical doctrine.2 Not only does the poem’s speaker decry the “name of God,” but in championing the secularized virtues of “Love, Hope, and Self-esteem” (37), he also refers by negation to the love of God, hope of salvation, and faith in a transcendent divinity.3 1. PB Shelley, Discourse, 404. All citations from Shelley’s Discourse and Symposium are taken from The Platonism of Shelley, ed. James A. Notopoulos (Durham: Duke University Press, 1949), subsequently cited in the text as Shelley. 2. See Wasserman, Shelley: A Critical Study (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1971); Hall, “Power and Poet: Religious Mythmaking in Shelley’s ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,”’ Keats-ShelleyJournal 32 (1983): 123—49; and Cronin, Shelley’s Poetic Thoughts (Lon­ don: Macmillan, 1981), 224-30, on the relation between Shelley’s hymn and the Christian hymn. 3. See Hall, “Power and Poet,” 133. Whether these represent fully secularized deforma­ tions of Christian theology as Hall would have them, or virtues ofanother vision of divinity that would not succumb to monotheism’s pitfalls, as Wasserman sees it, or even the remnants of another type of transformation yet to be named, remains to be seen. All citations and line SiR, 55 (Spring 2016) 29 30 ADAM R. ROSENTHAL Ofcourse, the hymnic genre predates the Christian tradition’s appropria­ tion of it, and there are also many questions that remain unanswered con­ cerning the Greek influences in the poem: formally, that of the Greek hymnic tradition, and conceptually, that of a Platonic metaphysics.4 This latter, much derided hypothesis has received no shortage of criticism over the last sixty years, and mostly with due cause.5 Motivated largely by the Platonic resonances of Shelley’s title and his avowed interest in Plato’s thought, this position has been condemned not only for its oversimplifica­ tion of Shelley’s stance and tendency to reduce it to mere Platonism, but also for its neglect of Shelley’s “intellectual philosophy” and the sophistica­ tion of his reading of Plato, which would much better be expressed as reflective than merely mimetic. One need not look very hard to see extraPlatonic elements infiltrate the “Hymn,” most notably those empirical or utilitarian items such as the “world” that, as Pollin has pointed out, are to be consecrated alongside the transcendent ones.6 If, nevertheless, the question of Plato’s influence has remained persistent for readers ofthe “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” it is ultimately less by vir­ tue of any Platonism in the poem than by the title’s inscription of a more or less Platonic phrase—a phrase that Shelley himselfwould use to translate Plato. Yet critics of the “Hymn” seem destined to remain conflicted even on this point, for it was not until nearly two years after Shelley’s compo­ sition of the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” on the shores of Lake Geneva that he would translate that fateful line: dXA’ cm to ttoKv Tre\ayo§ Terpafj.p.evo§ tov koAov as, “but [he] would turn towards the wide ocean of references to Shelley’s “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” are taken from Shelley’s corrected Examiner text (1817), as printed in Shelley’s Poetry and Prose (New York: Norton, 2002), un­ less otherwise noted. When indicated, SDN refers to the Scrope Davies Notebook variant of the “Hymn,” dating from August 1816. 4. The relation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 29-50
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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