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In Shelley's famous sonnet, which begins 'Lift not the painted veil', the "turn" is placed - unusually - in the seventh line.

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread,—behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it—he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love,
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.

In this line, the poet mentions 'one who had lifted it', and then goes on to describe some of the miseries of that person's unhappy life. Are there any interesting theories as to who that person might have been? From the little I know of Shelley's life, John Keats seems like a good candidate, but Shelley's descriptions are vague enough that they could be made to fit several figures.


On a side note: Shelley refers to 'the Preacher' in the poem's last line. Is this a reference to Ecclesiastes? (I presume it's not a reference to Poltergeist II: The Other Side!)

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    It seems to me that the person who lifted the veil was not unhappy, but was separated from others, but special. What do you think? Also, who is the Preacher? I'm writingabout the different versions of The Painted Veil (film). Thanks for commenting on this sonnet. – Christina Johns Dec 2 '20 at 22:08
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    Could Shelley have been talking about himself? He was an atheist. – Peter Shor Dec 2 '20 at 22:28
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    "not any specific historical personage, but a generic quester" — Ronald Tetreault (1991). "Shelley: Style and Substance". In G. Kim Blank, ed. The New Shelley: Later Twentieth-Century Views, p. 18. Palgrave Macmillan. – Gareth Rees Dec 3 '20 at 15:12
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    As to the side note: I'd be super-surprised if "the Preacher" weren't the author of Ecclesiastes. – Gareth McCaughan Dec 3 '20 at 15:26
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    Yes, Tetreault can't be certain, but since he is an expert on Shelley I think his opinion is worth knowing -- if there were a well-known referent we would expect Tetreault to be aware of it. – Gareth Rees Dec 7 '20 at 14:04

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