The fountains mingle with the river and the rivers with the ocean…Love’s Philosophy – Percy Shelley
Welcome back to Beyond English’s AQA Love and Relationships poetry bonanza. This week, we’re exploring Love’s Philosophy poem, by mad lad Shelley. We’ll be focusing on:
Buckle up…it’s going to be one hell of a poetic ride…
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Love’s Philosophy Context
‘Love’s Philosophy’ is a poem by the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was written in 1820, when he was living with Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley), who wrote ‘Frankenstein’. Shelley was a renegade of his times: he left his wife for Mary Godwin, and he believed in revolutionary ideas about the world, including atheism. He had to live outside Britain for much of his adult life to avoid scandal. Shelley was a poet of the Romantic movement. This was a movement of poetry begun in the late 1700s by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge and their friends.
Romantic poets believed in the importance of the natural world and aimed to show the beauty and supremacy of nature at all times. Emotion above all else was important. In the poem ‘Love’s Philosophy’, Shelley tries to explain how the young woman should be involved romantically with him because it goes against the laws of nature for her not to.
- Love’s Philosophy was written in 1820
- Shelley, the poem’s author, was a member of the Romantic movement
- Romantics believed in the importance of the natural world and in the virtues of emotion
Love’s Philosophy Structure
The poem consists of two 8-line stanzas which use direct speech to address the woman at the heart of the love poem. It uses a strong ABAB rhyme scheme, although there is a place in each stanza where the rhyme isn’t exact, reflecting how all things in nature come together except for the poet and his loved one.
The poet uses the majority of each stanza to be persuasive. Only at the end of each stanza does he pose a short, rhetorical question to his lover. Since these lines are questions directed to the loved one, they stand out from the rest of the text, and this emphasises their importance.
- Two eight-line stanzas
- Direct speech
- ABAB rhyme scheme (everyone’s favourite)
- The final lines in each stanza pose a rhetorical question
Love’s Philosophy Poem Analysis
‘Love’s Philosophy’ is a poem written in the first person. It is a direct appeal to a young lady of the poet’s acquaintance. Like many Romantic poets, Shelley uses the language of nature to talk about other things – in this case, love. He puts forward the argument (philosophy) that, since all things in nature combine and come together, the woman should consider him a suitable suitor and kiss him. It is interesting to note that he speaks of a ‘law divine’ making this God’s will, although Shelley was an atheist.
Philosophy means ‘love of wisdom’ and it tries to make sense of the meaning of life. In this poem, Shelley is trying to make sense of the meaning and purpose of love. The poet speaks directly to his love in the poem. We, the readers, are simply observers of this intimate persuasion. The poem is about both longing, on the part of the poet, and playfulness. It can be read rather light-heartedly and is a rather simple expression of the ideas of love. Simply because things in nature come together in the way that they do, does that mean this couple should, too?
Shelley uses language throughout the poem to persuade his loved one to kiss him. Most often, he uses the technique of personification (describing something that is not human as having human emotions and attributes) to accomplish this. He speaks of ‘fountains mingl(ing) with the river’, and ‘waves clasp(ing) one another’ in an effort to show that all things in nature come together in a sublime and passionate embrace. He speaks of the ‘winds of heaven’ mixing with ‘sweet emotion’, as though the wind is never biting or cold. All of the effects he chooses are passionate but enjoyable, such as ‘kiss’ and ‘clasp’, and they reflect what he would like to do with his lover. The consideration of both the ‘sunlight’ and the ‘moonbeams’ shows that this love and affection is not simply a daytime thing but should expand into the night as well. Also, by turning his phrases towards the celestial sphere, Shelley shows that these ‘laws of nature’ are not simply earthly but eternal. Even the Sun and Moon are affected by them.
In the phrase ‘No sister-flower would be forgiven/ If it disdain’d its brother’ we see that Shelley is showing the presence of a divine force again – what is it that will be unforgiving? If the woman does not give into his love for her, Shelley suggests that she is going against nature and against God. Each stanza ends with a plea, a rhetorical question for the lover to consider her position. The final words of each stanza are short and monosyllabic. They have an increased impact upon the reader and are separated from the rest of the poem by hyphens, just as Shelley is separated from his lover.
- 1st person narration
- Personification is used throughout in an attempt to persuade the subject of the poem to kiss the poet
- ‘Fountains mingl(ing) with the river’, and ‘waves clasp(ing) one another’ show that all things in nature come together in a sublime and passionate embrace
- ‘Sunlight’ and the ‘moonbeams’ shows that love and affection is not simply a daytime thing but should expand into the night as well
- ‘No sister-flower would be forgiven/ If it disdain’d its brother’ implies divinity
Love’s Philosophy Poem Revision from Beyond
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What is all this sweet work worth if thou kiss not me?Love’s Philosophy – Percy Shelley
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