Shakespeare
35 Topics | 35 Quizzes
19th Century Novels
25 Topics | 25 Quizzes
Drama
38 Topics | 38 Quizzes
Prose
25 Topics | 23 Quizzes
Poetry
45 Topics | 45 Quizzes

Love’s Philosophy: Love and Relationships Analysis

Written by the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley during the early 1800s, Love’s Philosophy is a poem in which he tries to persuade a prospective lover to kiss him. As was typical of romantic poets at the time, he uses nature to entwine his feelings and explore the vast sense of passion he feels.

  • In the first stanza, the speaker of the poem expresses the human need for togetherness.
  • In the second stanza, the tone becomes more intimate, ending with the question, “If thou kiss not me?”

Poem

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle—
Why not I with thine?

See the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdain’d its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea—
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822

Context

Shelley was born into a wealthy family and he was educated at Eton and Oxford. Whilst at Oxford, he was expelled for producing a pamphlet about atheism, which was a very controversial thing to do during the 1800s.

Percy Shelley died at age 29, and therefore Love’s Philosophy is considered a poem describing a very youthful, passionate sense of romance. The first-person perspective of the poem suggests that this might be a personal poem, with Shelley speaking from first-hand experience.

Language

  • Natural imagery
  • Religious imagery
  • Symbolism
  • Paradox
  • Monosyllabic lines
  • Personal pronoun
  • Pathetic fallacy
  • Sibilance
  • Antithesis

The poem features natural imagery, opening with the line: “The fountains mingle with the river” to describe a sense of flowing passion. The verb “mingle” emphasises the idea of two entities joining together. Shelley builds on this concept with the line, “And rivers with the ocean”, he portrays a natural flow and union in nature, drawing a parallel to human relationships. Also, in poetry, the ocean is often symbolised with femininity and is typical Romantic style imagery.

Despite being an atheist, Shelley uses religious imagery, as seen in “the winds of Heaven mix for ever” and “all things by a law divine”. This may suggest a timeless nature to his romantic feelings and could also resonate with his readers in a predominantly Christian society.

By the end of the first stanza, the speaker poses:

“In one another’s being mingle—
Why not I with thine?”

Here, he seems to be ironically and paradoxically arguing against the poem’s title by breaking down the philosophy of love. Instead, he is saying he only has a simple wish for his feelings to be requited.

It is at the end of this first stanza, ending with this monosyllabic line (one syllable words) “why not I with thine?”, where the personal pronoun “I” reveals the speaker’s human intentions.

In the second stanza, some pathetic fallacy is used to symbolise the simplicity that the speaker proposes:

“See the mountains kiss high Heaven,
And the waves clasp one another

No sister-flower would be forgiven”

These lines show how natural and straightforward the speaker feels this romance could be. These lines also contain sibilance (repeated soft ‘s’ sounds) to provide a soft tone, and the verb “clasp” illustrates a desire for physical or close intimacy. There is reference to a “sister-flower”, another traditionally feminine image signifying youth and growth.

Towards the end of the poem, Shelley writes:

“And sunlight clasps the earth,
and the moonbeams kiss the sea—”

His use of “sunlight” (representing day) and “moonbeams” (representing night) as antithesis (contrasting elements) indicates that the speaker’s feelings remain consistent day and night. The final stanza ends monosyllabically again, with ‘If thou kiss not me?’ showing the speaker’s final plea, and persuasive nature.

Structure

  • Stanzas
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Lines
  • Repetition

The poem is structured into two stanzas, each building an argument for the reciprocation of the speaker’s feelings. Each stanza ends with a rhetorical question (interrogatives) displaying his persuasive manner. The last lines of each stanza bring the poem back to more concrete, human desire, compared with the opening lines of each stanza, where aloof, natural imagery is used.

Repetition in ‘Love’s Philosophy’ represents the speaker’s longing and persistence. The verb “clasp” is used twice in the second stanza, perhaps to emphasise how he is becoming more convincing or getting closer to a physical intimacy. Similarly, the repetition of “mingle” in the first stanza amplifies the theme of unity and connection, although in a subtler manner.

Form

  • Trochaic meter
  • Ballad form similarities
  • Rhythm

The poem adopts a trochaic meter, with four beats in the first three lines and three in the fourth. While this doesn’t exactly mirror the traditional ballad structure, Shelley’s approach retains the emotive resonance commonly associated with ballads, which many romantic poets preferred for their love-themed works.

Compare it to:

  • This poem compares well with “Sonnet 29 – I think of Thee” for natural imagery, physical intimacy, the concise structure and the two stanzas used.
  • This poem compares well with “When We Two Parted” as they are both by Romantic era poets, intense emotions are displayed, and both speakers seem unsuccessful in their romantic pursuits.
  • You could also compare Love’s Philosophy with “The Farmer’s Bride“, for the display of frustration, desire, rejection and sibilance verses fricatives (friction-based sounds like ‘f’ and ‘v’) creating different tones.

You’ve used 0 of your 10 free revision notes for the month

Sign up to get unlimited access to revision notes, quizzes, audio lessons and more

Sign up