Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry

By Neville Rogers | Go to book overview

8. The Veil. Mutability

THE Veil, one of the most subtle and complex of all Shelley's poetical concepts, is a symbol to which other symbols have already led us several times. Though it appears most characteristically and prominently as a part of the general pattern of his Platonic system it derives, to start with, from something deeper than mere philosophical thinking. Like other symbols, it had its origin in intuitive founts of imaginative feeling.

As an image for something dividing the seen from the unseen, the known from the unknown, the Veil suggests itself quite naturally to poets. Early apparent in Shelley is the feeling of something veiled in human existence: we may detect it as growing first out of his childhood visions of an ideal object of love- visions bright to the imagination yet dimmed at the same time by their distance, being beyond the range of experience. The consciousness of such a dimmed brightness, giving the idea of a Veil, is discernible in his choice of the motto from St. Augustine which he prefixed to the adolescent Mary-poems, of 1810:

Nondum amabam et amare amabam, quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare.

Very soon, as he matures, the Veil becomes a natural accoutrement of the ideal object of love, and it is as a Veiled Maid that the Beloved appears in various poems, e.g. in Alastor where she is heralded by the same tag from St. Augustine. By this time, like other creatures of Shelley's imagination, she has found her counterpart more than once in his reading: in Wieland, for instance, and in Spenser, with him, as with Keats, a favourite poet. From these writers her figure acquires indirectly more and more of a Platonic shape and colouring. The Faerie Queene, in particular, is steeped in Platonism: Una, the Spenserian incarnation of Platonic Love and Heavenly Beauty, appears herself as a Veiled Maid and the Red Cross Knight, in whom, together with his Christian-chivalric virtues Spenser sets forth that Platonic ideal from the Symposium the quest for Beauty and the One, is as fitting a soul-mate for Shelley's Veiled Maids in general as he is

____________________
1

Esdaile MS., cf. above, p. 38.

-120-

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Shelley at Work: A Critical Inquiry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Preface v
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xiii
  • MANUSCRIPTS xv
  • Bibliography xvii
  • Part One - 'The Wanderings of Careful Thought' 1
  • 1. Shelley's Notebooks: 'Method in his Madness' 1
  • 2. The Mind and Its Path. Philosophy and Symbolism in Shelley's Poetry 15
  • 3. Thought, Feeling, and Symbols. Necessity and the New Birth 24
  • 4. 'Ariadne'. Love and Intellectual Beauty; Virtue and Power 37
  • 5. Daemons and Other 'Monsters of His Thought' 64
  • 6. Boats. Isles 91
  • 7. The Dome. The Eye and the Star. The Philosophic Imagination 105
  • 8. The Veil. Mutability 120
  • 9. The Cave 147
  • 10. The Dream of Life 169
  • Part Two - The Wind, the lyre, and the Labour 195
  • 11. Shelley at Work: A Closer View 195
  • 12. Shelley and the West Wind 211
  • 13. Italian Platonics and Epipsychidion 230
  • 14. 'Ginevra': Emilia to Keats 249
  • 15. Adonais: Keats to Intellectual Beauty and the One 255
  • 16 From Hellas to 'the Triumph of Life' 273
  • 17. Poetry and the Power of Mind 305
  • APPENDIXES 327
  • Appendix I 328
  • Appendix II 329
  • Appendix III 334
  • Appendix IV 339
  • Appendix V 340
  • Index 344
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