Shelley’s Preface to Prometheus Unbound

Shelley’s preface to Prometheus Unbound is well worth reading in understanding the something of the nature Shelley …

It is interesting to see what he has to say about his hero Prometheus compared to Satan detailed in ‘Paradise Lost’ (Milton) …

‘… the only imaginary being resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgement, a more poetical character than Satan because, in addition to courage and majesty and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the traits of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandisement, which is the hero of ‘Paradise Lost’… … Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature, impelled by the purest and truest motives to the best and noblest ends.’

The only thing I can say to that … Satan can’t be perfect can he …but seriously, again we see Shelley (= Prometheus) willing to stand-up … even against omnipotence

On the imagery – ‘ … drawn from the operations of the human mind, or from those external actions by which they are expressed’… Shelley says this is unusual in the poetry of his day … with the exception of Shakespeare and Dante (especially Dante) … he also applauds the Greek poets who had no antecedent

He pays homage to the way literature fuelled a better interpretation of the Christian Religion …

We owe the great writers of the golden age of our literature to that fervid awakening of the public mind which shook to dust the oldest and most oppressive form of the Christian Religion’

I agree that in one sense ‘poetry is a mimetic art’ … the influence of others is unavoidable … Shelley states the following generalisation …

‘A Poet, is the combined product of such internal powers as modify the nature of others, and of such external influences as excite and sustain these powers; he is not one but both. Every man’s mind is in this respect modified by all the objects in nature and art, by every word and every suggestion which he ever admitted to act upon his consciousness; it is the mirror upon which all forms are reflected, and in which they compose one form. … Poets, not otherwise than philosophers, painters, sculptors, musicians, are in one sense the creators and in another the creations of their age.’

… finding similarity between Homer with Hesiod, Aeschylus and Euripides, Virgil and Horace, Dante and Petrarch, Shakespeare and Fletcher and Dryden and Pope … and in the need to read the work of others …

‘He might as wisely and as easily determine that his mind should no longer be the mirror of all that is lovely in the visible universe, as exclude from his contemplation the beautiful which exists in the writings of a great contemporary’

Footnote …

from Wikipedia on Prometheus Unbound … Prometheus Unbound is a four-act lyrical drama by Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1820.  It is concerned with the torments of the Greek mythological figure Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humanity, for which he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus.

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