Essays In Criticism, Second Series "A Beautiful And Ineffectual Angel"
by Matthew Arnold

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"A Beautiful And Ineffectual Angel"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Arnold, on the publication of the Dowden two-volume life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, issued his estimate of the poet in the light of the new biographical material. Praising the excellent biography, Arnold finds that he is appalled by much of Shelley's life and that he is forced to change his concept of the poet. Still, he says, the "ideal Shelley, the angelic Shelley, subsists." He ends the essay with:

. . . It is his poetry, above everything else, which for many people establishes that he is an angel. . . . But let no one suppose that a want of humour and a self-delusion such as Shelley's have no effect upon a man's poetry. The man Shelley, in very truth, is not entirely sane, and Shelley's poetry is not entirely sane either. The Shelley of actual life is a vision of beauty and radiance, indeed, but availing nothing, effecting nothing. And in poetry, no less than in life, he is "a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain."