Understanding Percy Shelley Through Timothy Morton's W Within You Without You

1378 words - 6 pages

Nature and civilization have always shared a strong bond and; as seen throughout history, when human interaction challenges this bond a tension between Mother Nature and humankind arises. One job of the poet is to reveal this tension through his or her poetry in an attempt to quell the quarreling. Percy Shelley was one such poet that viewed society as being fractured from nature and throughout his poetry one can find examples of this as well as of the benefits from society becoming synchronized with the world. Timothy Morton’s “Within You Without You”; a section within The Cambridge Companion to Shelley, attempts to summarize Shelley’s argument in his poetry that mankind and Mother Nature are in a state of disagreement and need to reconcile to be harmonious. Although Morton accurately analyses the majority of Shelly’s works, which leads to theories that can apply universally in his poetry, some of the statements Morton presents challenge what the poet wrote.
Morton’s interpretations of Shelley’s A Defense Against Poetry, The Revolt of Islam, Alastor, To A Balloon Laden With Knowledge, Ode To The West Wind, and On Launching Some Bottles Filled With Knowledge Into The Boston Channel support his views on the poet while creating a loose manifesto to the poet’s writing. Morton starts out his paper by explaining the similarities between culture and nature, “‘culture’ can mean the growth of a plant, or of bacteria in a laboratory, or ‘cultivation’, as in ‘agriculture’” (Cambridge 185). This literal connection is a connection Shelly practices through the motif of several of his poems, what Morton refers to as, “[avocation of] an anti-dualist idea of the mind as embedded in nature … [through] continuity between the mind and its environment” (Cambridge 185-186). Evidence provided by Morton can be found within several of Shelley’s works.
Morton provides more than a few examples within Shelley’s works that support his theory of the mind and the environment having a connection. In A Defense Against Poetry Shelley states that, “Man is an instrument over which a series of external and internal impressions are drive, like the alternation of an ever changing wind over an Aeolian lyre” (Defense 1233). Morton explains that the harp presented here, “evokes the idea that human beings in some sense are the environment… For Shelley, the mind is not just formed by the ambient medium in which it finds itself, but interacts with the medium so as to reform it in turn” (Cambridge 187). Morton furthers this motif by connecting it to Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind’s opening, “Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is” (Ode 1133). Here Morton explains, “The wind becomes the poet… [One] may conclude that Shelley is declaring a faith in his ‘verse’ as a validating environment for his radical illocutionary prayer…” (Cambridge 193). It is clear after examining the interaction between culture and nature presented through Morton’s analysis of Shelley’s works that...

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