Hymn to Intellectual Beauty is a hymn, a prayer written by Percy B. Shelley. The word "hymn" itself reflects that it has some religious connotations. Intellectual beauty is not about beauty and intellect, but may be a combination of both. So let's start the explanation of each stanza.
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.
The poet is talking about the beautiful world of nature and how we perceive it. We should perceive it by our aesthetic intellect. In Christian tradition, the shadow of the part will be known as spirit - Holy Spirit. This power keeps on changing like summer winds. Moonbeam falling on the peak of mountains - Pine trees. Sometimes we can see the light, sometimes we can't. This is what the poet is trying to say. This power affects everyone's soul in the world. We should have the capacity to grasp it. This power is like all those things which are mysterious in nature. At the same time, it tells us that all is transitory. In this stanza, the poet has introduced us to the power which is very momentary and it totally depends on the reader as to how they perceive it. It all creates sublime in our mind, more sublime emotions in us. It doesn't depend on intellect but it needs the balance between senses and intellect.
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?
He talks about the spirit of beauty. It totally hints towards our existential crisis. He is talking about the transitoriness of beauty, of our external nature aestheticism. Everything consists of the spirit of beauty, the poet perceives this as he had intellectual beauty. Why don't you become permanent? As we all know that permanent become or lead to a lack of importance of that particular thing. Ask the sun that can it stay away from the rainbow and why does the beauty fade away as rainbow vanishes rapidly. This can also tell us how human beings are broken pieces. We do not get our answer. Humans are weighed down by opposites- unstable lives of people. We try to gather up and try to make sense of our existence. Permanency itself is the reflection of humankind. Beauty is not permanent.
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.
In this stanza, the poet is going to give an answer to those questions which he had raised in above 2 stanzas. The implication here is that nobody knows the answer to these questions neither sage not poet. People have tried to find their existence through religion but religion has failed to provide relief or solace to the degrading civilization. Religion is not going to save humanity. Through this poem, the poet is questioning the orthodox structure of religion. The poet has made his own religion of nature and he says that if you are in trouble or you are in tension then only Intellectual beauty has the power to heal us. The irony is that the poet is critiquing religion and writing hymns.
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.
The poet is urging Intellectual beauty not to depart. It is not going to stay with you but the poet is in such a state that he is requesting Intellectual Beauty to stay with him. Clouds are not static in the same way they also come and go. Man would be immortal if you would have been permanent in man's heart and mind then the man will become immortal and omnipotent. Only under the influence of Intellectual Beauty, man can achieve anything. There is a notion of love and hope present in a lovers eyes. With the help of Intellectual Beauty, a human mind can create good poetry. You can add value to the dying humanity, you are the last hope. To appreciate the world around you also means one human appreciating another. We have the only shadow which we are experiencing and that shadow is so strong. Without Intellectual Beauty, our life is terrible, it's 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!
The poet remembers when he was affected by Intellectual Beauty for the first time. It is personal. Things in the external world are interesting to us more as it has a mystery. He is running and he wants to know about the mystery of the world. As a boy, he wonders and asks questions about this but he didn't get any answers. Nothing helped him in finding the answer. He clasps his hands in ecstasy, he encountered the world of spirit. He was practicing religion but he didn't get any solution, he suddenly comes in contact with Intellectual Beauty. He encountered power on his own. Now he clearly understands the world. He was deep in thought, musing his life and at that time religion didn't help him but Intellectual Beauty comes to rescue him.
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 poet is expressing certain hope. It has the capacity to substitute all the sorrows. He is taking a vow and calling the phantoms of time, time as past. The poet has spent hours writing this poem on Intellectual Beauty or with it. A testimony that I have kept my vow and take hours to praise Intellectual Beauty. He calls phantom as time as proof. If I'm not able to appreciate the text then it's your duty to fill the gaps in it. I have always believed that Intellectual Beauty can free the world from all the negativity.
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.
The poet is talking about the transition in the day. As the day ends and night comes it becomes more solemn and serene as we grow mature and old. Harmony in autumn also means maturity. When we were in youthful days- summer, we hardly give any importance to Intellectual Beauty as it never existed. My youth spent in passivity and you converted it in maturity so, please do not leave me. I will worship you in any other thing in which you are present. You have taught me to be a better human being. Now I'm able to understand the nature and life in a better way.