Shelley’s Mont Blanc is one of the most philosophical of all landscape poems; it is also among the greatest. It is partly a reply to William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” (1798), in which both the type of landscape described and the implications suggested by it are much cozier. Both poems deal with the human mind, but Shelley (unlike Wordsworth) is not concerned with its development through childhood to maturity. Instead, he takes for granted a richly endowed adult mind that simultaneously perceives and abstracts. Unlike Wordsworth, he is not fundamentally concerned with memory. Thus, one not only sees the poet’s mind at work, creating the very poem one is reading, but one also sees his mind analyzing itself. It is clear that the mind in question is both rational and creative.
Besides analyzing itself, the poet’s mind also analyzes nature, particularly in its relations to humankind. That nature strongly influences human thought is both implied and assumed; for one thing, nature is often beautiful and therefore attracts one’s attention. Shelley records no evidence to suggest that natural beauty is in any way purposeful, however; for him, no divine being deliberately created an aesthetically pleasing world for the enjoyment of its human inhabitants. Nor is nature a moral teacher (as Wordsworth held), except in ways that typical nature-lovers had never recognized.
The world of Mont...
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