Shelley sets many of his poems in autumn, including “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” and “Ode to the West Wind.” Fall is a time of beauty and death, and so it shows both the creative and destructive powers of nature, a favorite Shelley theme. As a time of change, autumn is a fitting backdrop for Shelley’s vision of political and social revolution. In “Ode to the West Wind,” autumn’s brilliant colors and violent winds emphasize the passionate, intense nature of the poet, while the decay and death inherent in the season suggest the sacrifice and martyrdom of the Christ-like poet.
Ghosts and Spirits
Shelley’s interest in the supernatural repeatedly appears in his work. The ghosts and spirits in his poems suggest the possibility of glimpsing a world beyond the one in which we live. In “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” the speaker searches for ghosts and explains that ghosts are one of the ways men have tried to interpret the world beyond. The speaker of “Mont Blanc” encounters ghosts and shadows of real natural objects in the cave of “Poesy.” Ghosts are inadequate in both poems: the speaker finds no ghosts in “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” and the ghosts of Poesy in “Mont Blanc” are not the real thing, a discovery that emphasizes the elusiveness and mystery of supernatural forces.
From his days at Oxford, Shelley felt deeply doubtful about organized religion, particularly Christianity. Yet, in his poetry, he often represents the poet as a Christ-like figure and thus sets the poet up as a secular replacement for Christ. Martyred by society and conventional values, the Christ figure is resurrected by the power of nature and his own imagination and spreads his prophetic visions over the earth. Shelley further separates his Christ figures from traditional Christian values in Adonais, in which he compares the same character to Christ, as well as Cain, whom the Bible portrays as the world’s first murderer. For Shelley, Christ and Cain are both outcasts and rebels, like romantic poets and like himself.