The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” is written in seven twelve-line stanzas with an abbaaccbddee rhyme scheme. The word “intellectual” means nonmaterial, and “intellectual beauty” refers to an “unseen Power” that shines on “human thought or form.” As a mental phenomenon, intellectual beauty is an ideal that transcends “This various world,” which it visits like an “awful shadow.” The poem’s religious attitude toward this power is reflected in the use of the word “hymn” in the title.

In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem uses a series of similes to describe intellectual beauty to the reader. Its main characteristics seem to be universality and evanescence: Intellectual beauty visits “This various world” and “Each human heart and countenance,” but it is “inconstant” and fleeting, “Like memory of music fled.” The number of contrasting similes in the stanza suggests that this power is essentially ineffable, “yet dearer for its mystery.”

The second stanza mourns intellectual beauty’s inconstancy. The poem asks why this “Spirit of Beauty” is not always present to illuminate “our state,/ This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate,” but decides that this question is unanswerable. In the third stanza, the poet considers the sages and poets who use the names of “Gods and ghosts and Heaven” in a “vain endeavour” to explain away “Doubt,...

(The entire section is 484 words.)