Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

Hymn to Intellectual Beauty

By Percy Bysshe Shelley


The awful shadow of some unseen Power

Floats though unseen among us; visiting

This various world with as inconstant wing

As summer winds that creep from flower to flower;

Like moonbeams that behind some piny mountain shower,

It visits with inconstant glance

Each human heart and countenance;

Like hues and harmonies of evening,

Like clouds in starlight widely spread,

Like memory of music fled,

Like aught that for its grace may be

Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery.


Spirit of BEAUTY, that dost consecrate

With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon

Of human thought or form, where art thou gone?

Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,

This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?

Ask why the sunlight not for ever

Weaves rainbows o’er yon mountain-river,

Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,

Why fear and dream and death and birth

Cast on the daylight of this earth

Such gloom, why man has such a scope

For love and hate, despondency and hope?


No voice from some sublimer world hath ever

To sage or poet these responses given:

Therefore the names of Demon, Ghost, and Heaven,

Remain the records of their vain endeavour:

Frail spells whose utter’d charm might not avail to sever,

From all we hear and all we see,

Doubt, chance and mutability.

Thy light alone like mist o’er mountains driven,

Or music by the night-wind sent

Through strings of some still instrument,

Or moonlight on a midnight stream,

Gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream.


Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart

And come, for some uncertain moments lent.

Man were immortal and omnipotent,

Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,

Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.

Thou messenger of sympathies,

That wax and wane in lovers’ eyes;

Thou, that to human thought art nourishment,

Like darkness to a dying flame!

Depart not as thy shadow came,

Depart not—lest the grave should be,

Like life and fear, a dark reality.


While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped

Through many a listening chamber, cave and ruin,

And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing

Hopes of high talk with the departed dead.

I call’d on poisonous names with which our youth is fed;

I was not heard; I saw them not;

When musing deeply on the lot

Of life, at that sweet time when winds are wooing

All vital things that wake to bring

News of birds and blossoming,

Sudden, thy shadow fell on me;

I shriek’d, and clasp’d my hands in ecstasy!


I vow’d that I would dedicate my powers

To thee and thine: have I not kept the vow?

With beating heart and streaming eyes, even now

I call the phantoms of a thousand hours

Each from his voiceless grave: they have in vision’d bowers

Of studious zeal or love’s delight

Outwatch’d with me the envious night:

They know that never joy illum’d my brow

Unlink’d with hope that thou wouldst free

This world from its dark slavery,

That thou, O awful LOVELINESS,

Wouldst give whate’er these words cannot express.


The day becomes more solemn and serene

When noon is past; there is a harmony

In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,

Which through the summer is not heard or seen,

As if it could not be, as if it had not been!

Thus let thy power, which like the truth

Of nature on my passive youth

Descended, to my onward life supply

Its calm, to one who worships thee,

And every form containing thee,

Whom, SPIRIT fair, thy spells did bind

To fear himself, and love all human kind.

About the author

The life and works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 1792 – 8 July 1822) exemplify English Romanticism in its extremes of emotion. Romanticism’s major themes were characterized by restlessness, brooding, rebellion against authority, communion with nature, imagination, the importance of poetry, pursuit of ideal love, and the wildness of one’s spirit always searching for freedom. Shelley exemplified these ideals in the way he lived his life.  Today, these ideals live on in the considerable body of work that he created.  Even his tragic death by drowning at age 29, when a ship upon which he was traveling was capsized in a storm, somehow fit with his legacy of romanticism.

About the poem

(from poetryfoundation.org)

Shelley was deeply impressed with the power of the natural scenery, brought on by the combination of the lake and the surrounding mountains, especially Mont Blanc.He was stimulated to write two of his finest poems: “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and “Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni.” The “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” reveals the influence of Wordsworth. As Wordsworth does in “Tintern Abbey,” Shelley in the “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” suggests how his imagination and poetic sensitivity were formed by nature, and more significantly, by visitations from the shadowy power of intellectual beauty and how, in turn, he dedicated his poetic powers to intellectual beauty.

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