2015 年 39and40 巻 p. 67-80
Frederick Jones suggested in his notes to Shelley’s letter to John Gisborne that the poet’s own description of Epipsychidion as a mysterious poem written only for the Synetoi, the initiated, was an intentional mystification. In spite of critics who agree with Jones’s view considering either Shelley’s anxiety about finding an audience for the poem or the need to protect himself from attacks based on misconstrued relationships, it seems worthwhile to see the poem as indeed an “esoteric” poem.
Shelley always felt like a Synetoi as part of an intellectual minority carrying, like Prometheus, secret wisdom as their only weapon against the powerful and repressive establishment. Shelley’s increasing sense of disappointment in finding audience in his later years led him to the idea of poetic tradition in which the best poetic spirit is disseminated across time as he eloquently argued in A Defence of Poetry. He saw himself as participating in that great tradition. Epipsychidion has characteristics as an esoteric text with its assumed distinction between the initiated and the uninitiated. Reading the poem as an exoteric text with ritualistic elements answers a number of questions, including the issues of its elaborate Renaissance style, the ambiguous identity of the “Sweet Spirit,” the relevance of the philosophic statement on love to the idealized history of the poet, its concern with poetry and language, the reason for the apparently escapist message of the envoi to get away from the ignorant mass, and finally, the political implications this poem may possibly have. The ideal esoteric audience for Shelley would appreciate the imaginative poetic language of the poem, understand the poetic tradition that celebrates love as exemplified by Dante, and share Shelley’s view that the social institution of marriage sustains the sexual discrimination, the property system, and inequality. The poem is supposed to provide a ritual for the purpose of inspiring visionaries to unite and follow the imagination and the love principle so that, despite the adverse time, the tradition of imaginative poetry can be transmitted to future generations.