Of course Shelley’s atheism is a famous part of his philosophical stance, so it may seem strange that he has written a hymn of any kind. He addresses that strangeness in the third stanza, when he declares that names such as “Demon, Ghost, and Heaven” are merely the record of attempts by sages to explain the effect of the Spirit of Beauty—but that the effect has never been explained by any “voice from some sublimer world.” The Spirit of Beauty that the poet worships is not supernatural, it is a part of the world. It is not an independent entity; it is a responsive capability within the poet’s own mind.
If the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” is not among Shelley’s very greatest poems, it is only because its project falls short of the poet’s extraordinary powers; simply drawing the abstract ideal of his own experience of beauty and declaring his fidelity to that ideal seems too simple a task for Shelley. His most important statements on natural beauty and on aesthetics will take into account a more complicated idea of his own connection to nature as an expressive artist and a poet, as we shall see in “To a Skylark” and “Ode to the West Wind.” Nevertheless, the “Hymn” remains an important poem from the early period of Shelley’s maturity. It shows him working to incorporate Wordsworthian ideas of nature, in some ways the most important theme of early Romanticism, into his own poetic project, and, by connecting his idea of beauty to his idea of human religion, making that theme explicitly his own.