Journal Article

‘A Double Face of False and True’: Poetry and Religion in Shelley

Michael O’Neill

in Literature and Theology

Volume 25, issue 1, pages 32-46
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online January 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
‘A Double Face of False and True’: Poetry and Religion in Shelley

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In the wake of important readings by Robert M. Ryan and Geoffrey Hartman, among others, this essay examines Shelley’s poetic treatment of religion. It takes its title and cue from the poet’s assertion in ‘A Defence of Poetry’ that ‘all original religions are allegorical or susceptible of allegory, and like Janus have a double face of false and true’. In the first section, it argues that Shelley is a pivotal figure for any reflections on poetry and belief because he emerges as a chief exemplar of that moment when Romanticism explicitly secularises religion, when poetry discovers and celebrates its onerous, significant role as unmasker of the claims of dogma. In the second section, close readings of passages seek to demonstrate the ways in which Shelley subsumes religion into forms of poetic imagining. The third section explores The Triumph of Life as a poem in which Shelley offers one of his most demanding and fascinating investigations of spiritual value. It argues that the poem, like much of Shelley’s greatest poetry, never wholly disallows the possibility that what it calls ‘the realm without a name’ is a potentially numinous space.

Journal Article.  6547 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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