English Language and Literature ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 12-3-1971


The repeated use of the journey motif and the extended descriptions of landscape in Shelley's major poems suggest that journey and landscape are either allegorical or symbolic, or both. Furthermore, biographical evidence indicates that Shelley was particularly attracted to quest literature, and that he responded strongly to specific modes of travelling and to particular types of landscape.

The analysis of landscape imagery in Shelley's shorter poems reveals that natural settings such as forests, caves, bodies of water, and mountains are habitually used as images for the human mind. The journey through landscape thus becomes logically a mental journey. It is for this reason that Shelley's characters in the longer poems are often passive occupants of immaterial boats or winged chariots which carry them to remote and unearthly places. Such journeys are irrational experiences and suggest that, for Shelley, the quest for ultimate truths is a mystic rather than a consciously logical pursuit. Three types of forest setting in the longer poems represent three separate stages of the mental journey. Thus, man receives his first vague intimation of truths yet to be discovered in the "forest of youth," and he explores fully the potential of his own mind in the "forest of regeneration and insight." Only the exceptional few may eventually achieve the blissful harmony of the "Elysian Isle."

Since Shelley's major poems deal with spiritual quests for ideals and insights, and since Shelley repeatedly expresses his faith in irrational mental experiences, his major poems offer abundant material for archetypal criticism. His works are rich in archetypal symbols familiar from Jung's studies of dreams, from Eliade's compilation of religious symbolism, and from Campbell's analysis of hero and quest in folklore. The application of such discoveries in the field of archetypes aids greatly in the understanding of Shelley's imagery and links his works with all quest literature and with religious and mystic ideas.

Such a symbolic or allegorical reading of Shelley's landscapes is further supported by the results of an analysis of the description. Critical opinions that Shelley's imagery lacks logic, concreteness, and actuality had been based on the criterion of verisimilitude and are inadequate since the landscapes are not of the earthly variety, but rather states of mind. Shelley proves to be a consummate artist in his renditions of the natural" world of the mind, in which the visual and tangible qualities of the universe are often reduced to essential "realities" which are beyond physical or even rational conception.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Marcia Tillotson

Second Committee Member

Katherine Simons

Third Committee Member

James Ruff

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