Study Help Essay Questions


"Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"

1. Compare Shelley's concept of deity in the "Hymn" to his concept of deity in Adonais.

2. Consult Shelley's biography for an account of his early reading.

3. Trace Shelley's spiritual development.

4. Why does Shelley call beauty "intellectual"? Can it be experienced only through the mind?

5. In what way is Shelley's "Hymn" related to his social and political ideals?

6. Is Shelley's Intellectual Beauty abstract or concrete?


1. Look up a brief account of Rameses II (Ozymandias).

2. What point in regard to tyranny is Shelley making in the sonnet?

3. Why is "Ozymandias" said to be an irregular sonnet?

"Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples"

1. Is Shelley yielding to self-pity in "Stanzas"?

2. Compare this dejection poem with dejection poems written by other romantic poets.

3. Is a poet necessarily unmanly in complaining about the hardships of his life and wishing it were over?

4. Are poems like "Stanzas" dispiriting to the reader? Explain.

5. Read the account of Shelley's stay in Naples in Newman Ivey White's biography of Shelley.

"Sonnet: England in 1819"

1. Shelley's sonnets "Ozymandias" and "England in 1819" are among Shelley's most forceful poems. Is there anything about the sonnet form that might account for this fact?

2. Read an account of the state of England following the Napoleonic wars. Was there real danger of a revolution in England?

3. Is Shelley lacking in charity and justice in describing George III as he does?

4. Does the main interest of the poem lie in its account of the condition of England in 1819? Is it also a work of art and therefore of permanent interest?

5. Does Shelley use figurative language in "Sonnet: England in 1819"?

"Ode to the West Wind"

1. Do you think that Shelley uses too much figurative language in the "Ode to the West Wind"?

2. What makes an ode different from any other type of lyric?

3. Is Shelley indulging in self-pity in the "Ode"?

4. Is Shelley's west wind in reality both a destroyer and a preserver?

5. Is the simile of seeds lying like corpses in their graves a good one?

"The Cloud"

1. Is there any reason to believe that Shelley's "The Cloud" is a symbolic poem; that is, not really about clouds but about something else?

2. Is "The Cloud" in any way a confessional poem about Shelley himself?

3. Is there too much imagery in "The Cloud"?

4. Is the imagery always accurate, functional, and effective?

5. Do the rimes occur too frequently in "The Cloud"?

"To a Skylark"

1. "To a Skylark" has been criticized as a structurally loose poem; it has been said that the order of some of the stanzas could be changed without making any essential change in the poem. Is the criticism a just and valid one?

2. Shelley, in the first two lines of the poem, denies that the skylark is really a skylark: "Bird thou never wert." Later he admits that the skylark may really be a bird after all: "Teach us, Sprite or Bird, / What sweet thoughts are thine." Is the admission to be considered a weakness in the poem?

3. Is elevating the skylark to the rank of spirit a weakness in the poem?

4. Is "Ode to the West Wind" a better poem than "To a Skylark" in the arrangement of its parts?

5. If Shelley shared half the happiness he feels the skylark possesses, readers would read his poems with greater attention. Do you think he refers to the poems he has written or to the poems he would write? If the latter, what might their subject matter be?

"To Night"

1. Is it to be regarded as a defect in "To Night" that Shelley doesn't tell his readers why he is waiting for night to come?

2. In line 11, Shelley makes day feminine; in line 19, masculine. How is this inconsistency to be accounted for?

3. Why is death called the brother of night?

4. Do you think that Shelley is referring to one particular night or night in general in the poem?

5. Does the poem contain any hint of the "boon" he asks of night?

6. Investigate the theme of night in late eighteenth-century poetry.


1.     Read Bion's "Lament for Adonis" and Moschus' "Lament for Bion" and compare them with Adonais.

2. Compare and contrast Milton's Lycidas and Shelley's Adonais.

3. Draw up a set of standards for an ideal elegy and apply them to Adonais.

4. Can Adonais be considered a pastoral elegy?

5. What parts of Adonais can be called digressions? Can the presence of these digressions be defended successfully?

6. Compare Shelley's deity in "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" with his deity in Adonais.

7. Look up the myth of Venus and Adonis and determine how much of it Shelley has embodied in Adonais.

8.     Make a comparative reading of the chapters on Adonais in Carlos Baker's Shelley's Major Poetry, Edward B. Hungerford's Shores of Darkness, James A. Notopoulos' The Platonism of Shelley, and Earl R. Wasserman's The Subtler Language.

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