In his essay, "A Defence of Poetry", Percy Bysshe Shelley defines poetry as the capacity of vision that "strips the veil of familiarity from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping beauty, which is the spirit of its forms" (par. 42). Shelley understood that it was impossible to apprehend the real world in its completeness, yet believed we can access to it through a creative faculty called imagination. To him, what we consider to be reality is only a "veil" that covers what lies beneath, so our knowledge about reality is abstruse and, since men perceive reality indirectly, its access has to be mediated through metaphors. According to Shelley, there are two kinds of mental action, reason and imagination. .
The former may be considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the latter, as mind acting upon those thought. Reason is the enumeration of qualities already known; imagination is the perception of the value of those qualities, both separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things. Reason is to imagination as the instrument to the agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the substance. (par. 1) Following Shelley's understanding of imagination in "A Defence of Poetry", I will observe how the metaphor "veil" operates in an integrative as much as separatist function, and how its twofold function produces a tension between two contradictory readings of the sonnet. My interest is to study the relationship between metaphor and imagination in the sonnet "Sonnet (Lift not the painted veil which those who live.)" in order to highlight the function of metaphor in Shelley's notion of poetry.
First of all, let us consider what Shelley declares in his essay "A Defence of Poetry": "Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be 'the expression of the imagination'" (par.