An Odyssey of the Soul, Shelley's Alastor

By Harold Leroy Hoffman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
ALLEGORY

"Alastor," Shelley tells us, "may be considered as allegorical of one of the most interesting situations of the human mind." In this the first statement of the Preface the nature of the poem is suggested. If the Preface is found to be considerably "briefer and clearer"1 than the poem (the phrase is one which Professor Havens uses in comparing the two), the fact is no novelty, especially in connection with those "dark conceits" of allegory of which Spenser speaks. That poet's letter to Sir Walter Raleigh is considerably "briefer and clearer" than "The Faerie Queene."2 To understand the poem one must grapple with much which is not in the letter, and this is entirely reasonable, for poetry is matter of detail, line upon line if not precept upon precept, and its chief excuse for being is that it cannot satisfactorily be reduced to prose.

We should, however, beware of attaching to the word "allegorical" too precise a significance. Shelley does not say that the poem is an allegory, and his use of the adjective allows for a less strictly defined intention than the use of the noun would have done. The allegory of "Alastor," if for convenience we agree to call it that, is obviously not the allegory with which we are familiar in "The Faerie Queene," in "Pilgrim's Progress," or in "The Divine Comedy." In all of these there is an element of moral conflict and development not found in Shelley's

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An Odyssey of the Soul, Shelley's Alastor
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Chapter I - Introduction 1
  • Chapter II - Allegory 9
  • Chapter III - Imagery 59
  • Chapter IV - Conclusion 126
  • Notes 135
  • Bibliography 159
  • Index 165
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