By Paul Coates
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Additional info for Words After Speech: A Comparative Study of Romanticism and Symbolism
Because terza rima is so mucb barder to sustain in Englisb tban in Italian, its usage evokes something of tbe painful obsessiveness and magicality of avision: obsessiveness, for the repetition of tbe rbyme transports it beyond its normal limits; and magicality, because tbe sbeer technical virtuosity that acbieves sucb a longevity of rbyme seems almost to suspend normal poetic reality. Mucb of Sbelley's work appears to be a quest for tbe right metre. It is surely no accident that tbe two works most commonly conceded to have been bis most successful (The Triumph of Life and 'Ode to the West Wind') sbould possess tbe same metre.
Suspended between writing as a secondary activity, the handmaiden ofspeech, and ecriture, between the aesthetics ofthe eighteenth century and those ofSymbolism, between rhetoric and musicality, Shelley's verse became a network of contradictions. Dut of course the contradictoriness of the poetry embodied an awareness of the contradictions of the social system he sought to see as a whole, first by entering an internal exile and then by actually departing the country. For Shelley, to be part ofEnglish society was to be of one party witbin it, subject to the consequences of an aristocratic background.
This thirst for oblivion (for the metaphor's extinction ofthe situation from which it arises, its original referent) runs through the following passage from a letter to Peacock: here too the quest for transcendence is frustrated. The curse of this life is that whatever is once known, can never be unknown. Y ou inhabit a spot, which before you inhabit it, is as indifferent to you as any spot on earth, and when, persuaded by some Archaeology: Roots 0/ Symbolism 33 necessity, you think to leave it, you leave it not; it clings to you - and with memories of things, which, in your experience of them, gave no such promise, revenges your desertion.