#Shelley200 Roundtable: Epipsychidion

We are delighted to present the recording of our first #Shelley200 event, an Epipsychidion roundtable chaired by Dr Bysshe Inigo Coffey and featuring Dr Will Bowers, Professor Stuart Curran, Professor Michael Rossington, and Dr Valentina Varinelli.

This event was livestreamed on 20th May 2021 and includes an open Q&A with the audience following our speakers’ brilliant discussion of the poem, first published anonymously in May 1821. Along with the recording, we are pleased to include a summary of the event composed by Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper, Laura Blunsden.

The discussion was opened by Stuart Curran, who was asked what Epipsychidion (1821) is ‘about’; the speakers agreed with his observation that a biographical reading of the poem can be reductive in many respects. Michael Rossington and Valentina Varinelli suggested that analysis of the poem can benefit from viewing the work as part of a long continuum in Shelley’s oeuvre; one which reaches back to his translation of Plato’s Symposium in 1818 or even to his translation of Dante’s sonnet to Guido Cavalcanti in 1815. Will Bowers and Varinelli identified a distinct ‘Italian flavour’ to the poem, which is subtly present in both the structure and the phrases and expressions employed throughout. Varinelli expanded upon her own research into Teresa Viviani’s letters and provided insight into the metaphorical significance of the nickname ‘Emilia’ as a representation of love in other Italian poetry.

During the Q&A session, Robert Scott asked the panellists to comment on Epipsychidion’s self-professed status as ‘weak verse’, which sparked further questions about the preposition ‘Epi-’ in the poem’s title, the ephemeral nature of language, and the impossible ideals to which Shelley aspires. Mathelinda Nabugodi asked the speakers to sketch a political reading, and Bowers described the poem’s Utopian setting as being quintessentially post-Napoleonic. Ra Rishikavi Raghudas raised a question about whether Epipsychidion’s philosophy about love can be considered an early endorsement of polyamory. Varinelli acknowledged the common assumption that Shelley was adapting Dantean conceptualisations of love to his personal advantage in order to justify his extramarital affairs, but argued instead that Shelley’s invocations of the sun, moon and comet reflect aspirations beyond sensual love to a higher plane. Eric Lindstrom compared the dialectal relation between love and fear in Epipsychidion to Shelley’s earlier essay, ‘On Love’. In response, Rossington and Curran recalled Shelley’s fears surrounding the public reception of Epipsychidion, which he directed to be published ‘for the esoteric few’. The poem’s Advertisement, Rossington added, betrays his doubt and sensitivity about whether his words will be understood as he intended. Argyros Protopapas reminded us that this is also a love poem about pleasure. This assertion was supported by Bowers, who linked Epipsychidion with the Jane poems, and Curran, who suggested that Christopher Marlowe may have been an influence in some of the explicit passages about sexual climax. Merrilees Roberts asked how Shelley’s examination of his infatuation with idealised and idealising love in Epipsychidion is different from its treatment in his short lyric poems. Bowers stated that whilst the shorter poems sustain their conceit over fifty lines, Epipsychidion is able to regenerate and reinvent new forms over its much longer span, which Rossington referred to as layers of an elaborate superstructure. – Laura Blunsden, Shelley Conference Postgraduate Helper