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Shelley's Golden Wind: Zen Harmonics in A Defence of Poetry and "Ode to the West Wind"

Early in his Defence of Poetry, Shelley undertakes to define art in relation to a "principle" of "harmony" that "acts otherwise than in the lyre," the Aeolian image he deploys to explicate his thesis that poetry is "the expression of the Imagination" and that it is "connate with the origin of man." This principle of harmony undermines all notions of perspective in art, all presumptions of there being anything like a separate poetic self or a separate cosmic force creative in itself and inaugural of human productivity. The aesthetic base of this harmony, if it can be said to have a base at all, is meditative unfolding rather than hermeneutic perception. Art for Shelley is a journey from selfhood (a relational mode of subject-object dissociation) to full personhood (an opening process aligned with interdependent origination). The method of this journey is not self-affirmation or self-projection, as the term "expression of the Imagination" may imply, but self-emptying exposure to a prior Buddhistic oneness with all beings, an "origin" dislocated in time and space yet forever emergent in the moment and accessible through poetry as a mode of spiritual practice. This article explores the theoretical features, the practical functions, and the critical implications of this "origin" through a Zen Buddhist reading of A Defence of Poetry and "Ode to the West Wind."
February 2007


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