This week we’d like to introduce you to the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Widely regarded as one of the finest lyrical poets of English literature, Shelley has also been highly respected by many theosophists for the depth and insight of his works. In an early edition of the Theosophist, an article appeared that celebrated Shelley as an “Aryan Thinker”, noting that:
“The secret of Shelley’s success lies in the fact that he sang under the influence of intuition and inspiration, and thus was always nearer the truth than those who seek to gratify the same ardent longing by something outside themselves and by laborious study.”
The article goes on:
“It is an old saying that if what you seek is not within you it will never be found without you. This truth was eminently verified in the case of Shelley. From his own intuitional perceptions he concluded that the first step to bring about the “millennium” — the golden age — was universal love and brotherhood. Indeed, his philosophy — and he was a philosopher with a system — was based on Love. But his Love was not the selfish and narrow passion for one object or individual or community. It knew no limits; it embraced all mankind. In that magnificent poem — Epipsychidion — he says in the genuine platonic spirit:
. . . Narrow
The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
The life that wears, the spirit that creates
One object, and one form, and builds thereby
A sepulchre for its eternity!
But he went still further. One of his poems opens with this splendid line:
Earth, Ocean, Air, beloved brotherhood!
Throughout his poetry, Shelley explores many theosophical ideas. The idea of pre-existence can be found scattered through his works. He is considered to have made one of the first modern statements of the philosophy of non-violence in his work Masque of Anarchy, which was often quoted by Mahatma Gandhi. He wrote of vegetarianism (see A Vindication of Natural Diet, etc.) long before the idea would gain any foothold in western nations. But it’s his view of humanity and our essential oneness that reaches straight for our hearts.
Who can deny the profound theosophical thought in his final stanza of The Cloud, which we may view as his symbol of human life:
I am the daughter of earth and water
And the nursling of the sky
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of heaven is bare
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.
And in Prometheus Unbound we find this profound statement on Man:
Man, one harmonious soul of many a soul,
Whose nature is its own divine control,
Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea;
This latter is his finest work in the view of many a theosophist. It is a masterful lyrical drama exploring the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, bound by Zeus for bringing fire to man. The story is treated of in many theosophical writings, including The Secret Doctrine, where its allegorical meaning is explored at length: “Prometheus, who steals the divine fire so as to allow men to proceed consciously on the path of spiritual evolution, thus transforming the most perfect of animals on earth into a potential god, and making him free to ‘take the kingdom of heaven by violence.'” (SD 2:244).
This outstanding work we present in full on Universal Theosophy:
The complete poetry of Shelley can be found online here:
To close, we’d like to present a beautiful poem on Love, with a video inspired by it.
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Fountains mingle with the Rivers
And the Rivers with the Oceans,
The winds of Heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?
See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother,
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?