I was reading a blog, which was shared to me on a virtual platform, where it was written that “XYZ called Shelley as ‘beautiful and ineffectual angel’”. I don’t remember who was that XYZ but that blog was quite reliable because the other profuse informations which in it were quite of intellectual level and hence the blogger wouldn’t just said anything and signed anybody’s name.

Why Shelley was called “beautiful and ineffectual angel”? The beautiful part could be understandable as his songs surpassed all the limits of beauty that were previously prevailing. But what the person meant by “ineffectual”?

1 Answer 1


The quote originates from Matthew Arnold's Essays in Criticism: Second Series, published in 1888, shortly after the author's death. The quote's context goes as follows (page 168)

I for my part can never even think of equalling them [Byron, Wordsworth and Keats] any other of their contemporaries;—either Coleridge, poet and philosopher wrecked in a mist of opium; or Shelly, beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain. Wordsworth and Byron stand out by themselves.

Elsewhere (page 204), Arnold says of Shelley:

It is his poetry, above everything else, which for many people establishes that he is an angel. (...) But let no one suppose that a want of humour and a self-delusion such as Shelley's have no effect upon a man's poetry. The man Shelley, in very truth, is not entirely sane, and Shelley's poetry is not entirely sane either. The Shelley of actual life is a vision of beauty and radiance, indeed, but availing nothing, effecting nothing. And in poetry, no less than in life, he is "a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain."

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