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Reading the elements of the romantic psyche in Percy Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas
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CitationAktar, M. (2019). Reading the elements of the romantic psyche in Percy Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas. 27th Annual Conference Romantic Elements, Chicago, USA, 8-11 August 2019.
Imagination, as in Coleridge’s mystical-philosophical “eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM” 1 , is a primary element of Romantic poetry, whose material substance is, I claim, the Spenserian romance form. They combine to form a composite, the Romantic psyche, that I close read in Percy Shelley’s The Witch of Atlas. This choice rests on Shelley’s representative position among his peers for having written the most fanciful poem that methodologizes this “esemplastic” 2 element. The titular Witch and her creation, the Hermaphrodite, allude to the story of False Florimell’s creation in Book III of The Faery Queene; yet, Shelley literalizes the metaphor of the “Imagination … (as) heady romance--an inspiring force, a dangerous seduction,” 3 but provocatively overturns its negative connotations. I read the Witch as spirit and the Hermaphrodite as her imagination, through which “She did unite [friends torn apart] again with visions clear/Of deep affection and of truth sincere” (LXXVII, 663-4). I illustrate how the “dilation” 4 of the romance mode of the poem, that contains no forward thrust and no conclusion, supports Shelley’s conceptualization of the Romantic psyche as made of the elements that in a very Blakean sense “unite again with visions clear” the hitherto fragmentary, conflicting meanings available through reason. Patricia Parker’s concept principally guides my close reading, and the leads me, and, I hope my listeners, to trace how the frustrations of “unawakened eyes” (XL, 361-68) is essential to the recovery of lost vision— the totality of experience.