Aestheticising the Abstract: The Self-Conscious Speaker in Percy Shelley’s Poetry
Much attention is given to Percy Shelley’s distinctly self-reflexive poetic voice; however this essay attempts a direct approach at understanding why such self-consciousness is necessary in understanding the Poem in conceptual terms, as it is addressed as such through Shelley’s presentation of his speaker as a Poet, and through his characters’ self-reflexivity. I argue that his focus on the speaker, through self-reflexivity, is a productive means through which Shelley approaches the transcendental philosophy that is present in the core of his poetry, his reconciliation between the ‘universe’ and the ‘mind’. Though a common device, I compare the use of the poet-speaker in Shelley’s lyric ‘Mont Blanc’ (1816) and lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound (1820). With a substantial time-lapse between composition of these two works, I argue that Shelley’s approach to the composition of his speaker is refined across his literary career and in writing the latter of these two as a lyrical drama, the force behind the distinctions between the different dramatic voices elucidates the significance of the poetic voice as central to the poem’s philosophical reckoning all the more. This essay concerns how Shelley carves a space in his writing in which the Poem is interrogated both as object and through form. The overarching argument my close reading works towards is that this attention to the Poetic form is a means through which the speaker is able to understand the world, through aestheticizing it. Sharing his anxiety over mimesis and representation, I understand Shelley’s investment in Poetry as an aesthetic form. The driving force behind this essay is a focus on more minute details, and what might appear a neglect of the content or narrative of these two poems, particularly Prometheus Unbound, is in fact my effort to refocus attention towards the workings of the Poet (Shelley) in action.