Percy Bysshe Shelley as Sonneteer

When the poetic form made the translation into English, new rhyme schemes were developed and thematic structures sometimes changed to reflect these changes. An example of this is the Spenserian sonnet, which generally follows a rhyme scheme of abab bc cdcd ee. The thematic structure has a less defined skeleton, but generally, allows three consecutive quatrains to contribute to the development of an idea and a concluding couplet that summarizes the concept thus presented. The traditional definition of a sonnet also indicates that the poem should be written in iambic pentameter, meaning it has five stressed syllables within the line, generally spaced by five unstressed syllables. This seems to be true of each of the above-mentioned sonnet forms. A quick glance at Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry, however, provides no immediate clues, such as quatrain or octet physical division, that these are sonnets. The rhyme scheme does not match with any of the well-known adaptations that have been passed down. However, a close look at two of his poems, To Wordsworth and Ozymandias reveal Shelley’s own experimentation with the sonnet form coupled with a more traditional approach to the thematic structure as he discusses the destructive powers of death.In each of these poems, Shelley examines the destructive powers of death by approaching it from two many different viewpoints. In To Wordsworth, Shelley laments the loss of a greatly admired poet. Shelley is able to empathize with Wordsworth’s many nature poems because he, too, has experienced these things: Those things depart which never may return. / Childhood and youth, friendship and love’s first glow, / Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn, / These common woes I feel (2-5). This close identification felt by Shelley helps to establish the degree of respect and admiration he has felt for Wordsworth for some time.

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