1. How does Shelley’s treatment of nature differ from that of the earlier Romantic poets? What connections does he make between nature and art, and how does he illustrate those connections?
2. How and why does Shelley believe poetry to be an instrument of moral good? What impact does this belief have on his poems, if any?
3. Many of Shelley’s poems include a climactic moment, an instant when the poet’s feelings overwhelm him and overwhelm his poem. What are some of these moments? How do they relate to the poems as wholes? How are they typical of the poetic personality Shelley brings to his writing?
4. Think about Shelley’s use of the sonnet form in “England in 1819” and “Ozymandias.” How does he shape the form to his own purposes? How does his use of the sonnet form break from the established traditions of the early 1800s?
5. Shelley was a political radical who never shied away from expressing his opinions about oppression and injustice—he was expelled from Oxford in 1811 for applying his radicalism to religion and arguing for the necessity of atheism. What do we learn about Shelley’s ideal vision of the human condition, as based on his political poems? With particular attention to “Ode to the West Wind,” how might a sense of his social hopes emerge from even a non-political poem?
6. In some ways Shelley is a creature of contradictions: he was an atheist who wrote hymns, a scandalous and controversial figure who argued for ethical behavior, an educated aristocrat who argued for the liberation of humankind, and a sensuous Romantic poet whose fondest hope was that his poems would exert a moral influence over the human imagination. How can one resolve these contradictions? (Are they even resolvable?) How do they manifest themselves in his poetry?
7. Shelley lived a fascinating and turbulent life among fascinating and turbulent people, from Lord Byron, the most famous, controversial, and popular poet of the era, to his wife Mary, the author of Frankenstein. How does a knowledge of Shelley’s biography (and early death) affect your appreciation of his poetry? Or does it affect it at all? Is it necessary to know about Shelley’s life and times in order to fully understand the poetry?
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