An Analysis: Love’s Philosophy

  • Throughout the poem Shelley refers to the speaker’s love by comparing it to natural imagery and the natural order. He uses this imagery in order to try and seduce the woman he is addressing: he is attempting to justify why the woman should be with him by referencing how nature works in the world.
  • Thus, he says that ‘fountains mingle with the river / And rivers with the ocean’ and as such the woman should also be with the speaker.
  • The same logic is applied to other aspects of nature: the mountains are described as ‘kissing’ Heaven and the ‘waves clasp one another’.
  • As part of this extended metaphor Shelley mimics in nature what the speaker desires to see in his relationship
  • Again, the argument being used follows the same logic: if such a thing happens in nature and nature is spiritual, beautiful and pure then there is no reason why we too should not ‘kiss’ and ‘clasp’ one another.
  • One might also notice in this first stanza the use of religious imagery such as ‘divine’ and ‘Heaven’: the poet is utilising the typically Romantic notion that nature is a spiritual entity in order to suggest that making love to him will also be spiritual.
  • It is also worth noting that each stanza is a single sentence that concludes with a rhetorical question.
  • As such, the poem is structured as a syllogism. It attempts to persuade by following a logical sequence: if the rivers mingle with the ocean then therefore the addressee should mingle with the speaker.
  • This style of logical argument leaves little room for the addressee to disagree: it is laid out so that it seems irrefutable.
  • This is further highlighted through the frequent use of enjambment: the poem does not give the addressee a chance to reply or to consider the proposition. Again, this emphasises how the poem is an attempt to seduce the addressee to be with the speaker.
  • Indeed, the form of the poem emphasises this also: it is short and has a regular ABAB rhyme scheme perhaps suggesting that what the speaker says is a simple truth and not to be argued with.
  • This said, the rhyme scheme is interesting for another reason and worth taking a closer look. All rhymes are full other than two, which are half-rhymes: ‘river’ / ‘ever’ and ‘Heaven’ / ‘forgiven’. One might infer from this that everything is harmonious aside from the speaker being with his lover.
  • This might also help to explain the title: a philosophy is a system of thought and what the speaker is attempting to do is outline and understand how love works and his answer, in this poem at least, is seduction and persuasion.
  • The poet also reinforces this through the use of hyperbole: the conclusion of the poem indicates that the world and everything within it is worth nothing unless the addressee kisses the speaker.
  • Whilst on the surface the poem appears to be a beautiful ode to a person and a traditional love poem the above might lead on to a more negative interpretation.
  • If the speaker’s aim is to gratify his own sexual urges through seduction and persuasion then it might be said he objectifies the addressee.
  • What the speaker is most interested in is ‘kissing’ the woman and uses natural imagery in order to justify the desire: there is little textual evidence to suggest the speaker wants anything other than physical union.
  • The entire poem is an elaborate attempt to persuade a woman to kiss the poet, but there is no sense that the relationship might move beyond that.
  • One could argue the poem subconsciously registers the hierarchical dynamic between men and women and might have been prevalent at the time, with the implication being women are viewed as objects to be sought after and controlled
  • However the speaker might be a consciously constructed persona designed by Shelley to poke fun at and underline the kind of chauvinistic attitudes outlined above. It is not a poem that upholds such views, in this interpretation, but rather holds them up to be questioned and challenged

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