"Spirit Of Beauty, That Dost Consecrate With Thine Own Hues All Thou Dost Shine Upon"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Shelley speaks of immortal spiritual beauty, in contrast to mortal physical beauty. From Plato Shelley got the concept of "Eternal Beauty," which is "virtue itself." This pure beauty pervades the whole universe: "The awful shadow of some unseen Power/ Floats though unseen among us . . . Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery." This Spirit of Beauty "alone . . . Gives grace and truth to life's unique dream." Spiritual beauty is nourishment to human thought. "While yet a boy" the poet saw the shadow of true beauty: "I shrieked, and clasped my hands in ecstasy!" He vowed that he would dedicate his powers to beauty, and he has always hoped that beauty "wouldst free/ This world from its dark slavery,/ That thou–O awful Loveliness,/ Wouldst give whate'er these words cannot express." Thanking Beauty for blessing his early years, Shelley asks it to "supply/ Its calm" to his future life. The "Spirit fair" has stimulated the poet to "love all human kind." The poet wonders why "intellectual" (spiritual) beauty seems so ephemeral:

Spirit of Beauty, that dost consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form–where art thou gone?
Why dost thou pass away and leave our state,
This dim vast vale of tears, vacant and desolate?
Ask why the sunlight not forever
Weaves rainbows o'er yon mountain-river,
Why aught should fail and fade that once is shown,
Why fear and dream and death and birth
Cast on the daylight of this earth
Such gloom–why man has such a scope
For love and hate, despondency and hope?