From Atheism to Admiration: The Biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Spiritual Journey


Percy Bysshe Shelley is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Romantic era. Known for his powerful and provocative verses, Shelley was also an outspoken atheist, rejecting the conventional beliefs of organized religion. However, his spiritual journey was far from stagnant, and his views on spirituality evolved throughout his life.

Raised in a traditional and strict English household, Shelley was exposed to religion from a young age. He was sent to prestigious schools where he excelled academically, but his rebellious nature clashed with the strict rules and regulations of these institutions. This tension would later reflect in his poetic works.

During his time at Oxford University, Shelley was introduced to radical philosophical movements, such as atheism and the works of philosopher William Godwin. These ideas had a profound impact on the young Shelley, and he became a staunch advocate of atheism, rejecting the traditional beliefs of Christianity.

In 1810, Shelley eloped with 16-year-old Harriet Westbrook, causing a scandal among his conservative family. It was during this tumultuous relationship that Shelley’s beliefs on spirituality were put to the test. Despite his professed atheism, Shelley and Harriet were married in a traditional Anglican ceremony as a means of appeasing their families.

However, their marriage was short-lived, and Shelley embarked on a journey abroad, leaving behind his wife and newborn daughter. It was during this time that Shelley met Mary Godwin (later Mary Shelley), who would become his lover and eventually his wife. This relationship would also greatly influence his spiritual journey.

In the summer of 1816, Shelley and Mary, along with their friend Lord Byron, spent time in Switzerland where they engaged in discussions on the role of religion in society. The conversations, along with the backdrop of nature’s grandeur, had a profound effect on Shelley’s beliefs. He began to question his rigid atheism and started to explore the idea of a higher power, often referred to as the “Divine Spirit” in his later works.

Shelley’s exploration of spirituality did not end there. In 1818, he published Prometheus Unbound, which is considered one of his greatest works. In this poem, Shelley presents a utopian world where the revolutionary protagonist, Prometheus, overthrows the tyrannical rulers and creates a new society based on love and harmony. Some interpret this as a reflection of Shelley’s own spiritual journey as he moves away from atheism towards a more spiritual outlook.

In his later years, Shelley’s thoughts on spirituality continued to evolve. He delved deeper into Eastern philosophies and was greatly influenced by the works of ancient Hindu scriptures. This newfound interest in Eastern spirituality can be seen in his final major work, The Triumph of Life, where he explores the concepts of reincarnation and the interconnectedness of all beings.

In his final years, Shelley’s spiritual contemplations were also reflected in his personal life. He and Mary found solace in nature and spent much of their time exploring the natural world. Shelley often wrote of his admiration for the beauty and perfection of nature, which he saw as evidence of a higher spiritual power.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s spiritual journey was a constant evolution, from his strict religious upbringing to his rejection of organized religion to his eventual exploration of spirituality. His rebellious and free-thinking nature, paired with his deep contemplation of the world around him, allowed him to develop a unique and thought-provoking perspective on spirituality, leaving a lasting impression on the literary world.