The Pursuit of Death: A Study of Shelley's Poetry

The Pursuit of Death: A Study of Shelley's Poetry

The Pursuit of Death: A Study of Shelley's Poetry

The Pursuit of Death: A Study of Shelley's Poetry

Excerpt

Around death the human being gathers his records of life. The prehistoric dwellers in the world's great river-valleys deposited samples of their culture in the graves of their dead, a few feet underground. To-day, the artist places in a poem concerning death his understanding of reality. As from ancient graves archaeologists have learned much of the ways of thinking of races long since extinct, so in what a poet says about death critics may discover much of his attitude toward life.

If philosophy is the attempt to understand being, death is its great instigator; for death, having more than anything else made men aware of life, has especially forced them to ask, What is being? or reality? Realists, nominalists, intuitionists, dualists, monists, idealists, naturalists, pragmatists, mystics: all have been stimulated by death to try to answer this question. Some have endeavoured by looking beneath appearances, and beyond common sense, to conceive some otherness that is reality, or some synthesis of life and death that is being. Others, building upon common sense, while distrusting the absolute, have reinterpreted 'reality' as relative to belief and practicableness; death leaves them stoical or mournful -- in any case, wondering what may lie beyond their common sense. Socrates said: "The true disciple of philosophy . . . is ever pursuing death and dying."

The poets, too, have pursued death; but with a difference. The philosopher has employed concepts and skilful reasoning; his endeavour has been to achieve clear and precise statement. And he has entrusted his thought primarily to words, or to words alone; and particularly to one phase of words --

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