The Meaning of the Witch of Atlas

The Meaning of the Witch of Atlas

The Meaning of the Witch of Atlas

The Meaning of the Witch of Atlas

Excerpt

To write a book, even though a small one, to elucidate a light and fanciful poem of but seventy-eight stanzas demands of its author some justification or apology. The most pedantic mind might blush at so gross a redundancy. Or, if the poem is difficult, its laborious interpretation should be at least simple and clear. An obscure book, though short, is a thankless annotation upon an obscure poem. These criticisms I foresee and can only reply, in mitigation of my offense, that I had hoped at the outset to write a much simpler book than this, but found that it was impossible for me to do so. Let me explain why.

The obstacle to brevity and simplicity lies in the present state of Shelleyan criticism. Shelley's language of symbol, his background of neo-Platonism and science, and the character of his creative imagination are all as yet little apprehended even by specialists. It is they, first, who must be converted to a new point of view, before they will concede, in their annotations to Shelley, meanings which the general reader and lover of poetry may accept. The general reader may dislike the specialist and denounce him as one who destroys the poetic character of poetry, but the specialist is nevertheless a necessity. He it is who does the grubbing underground and lays the foundations for the aesthetic edifice of criticism. No doubt he becomes often somewhat of a mole in the pursuit of his business and his aesthetic judgments are not to be relied upon. His business is not primarily to tell why a line of poetry is beautiful but to show what it means—often a difficult matter and one involving the history of human thought. There are, to be sure, readers of poetry who seemingly wish not to know what a poem means and who extract from it only some vague emotional titillation. Critics of this order fell upon an earlier . . .

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