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An autobiographical poem by P. B. Shelley, published 1821.

Composed in couplets of breathless energy, the poem celebrates Shelley's lifelong search for the eternal image of Beauty, in the earthly form of his various wives, mistresses, and female friends: notably Harriet Westbrook, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Emilia Viviani—to whom the work is addressed. Though drawing on the courtly love and planetary imagery of Petrarch and Dante, the work is passionately sexual as well as platonic: it ends with an invition to Emilia to elope to ‘an isle under Ionian skies, | Beautiful as a wreck of Paradise’. There is an attack on conventional marriage, ‘the dreariest and longest journey’, and praise of ‘Free’ or ‘True’ Love (ll. 148–73). The poem is also a study of the creative process itself.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792—1822) poet