The Things That Inspire Us
In the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, there is a guitar that once belonged to Jane Williams. The guitar was a present from Percy Bysshe Shelley, a close friend of Jane’s husband Edward, who drowned along with the poet shortly thereafter in July of 1822.
Shelley, who had many erotic and perhaps unconsummated affairs with women who were not his wife, gave Jane the guitar along with a note containing a playful, but personal love poem, “To Jane—With Guitar.” In this poem, Shelley writes:
Ariel to Miranda:—Take
This slave of Music, for the sake
Of him who is the slave of thee,
And teach it all the harmony
In which thou canst, and only thou,
Make the delighted spirit glow….
This poem and the guitar that accompanied it reveal not only the intimacy between Shelley and Jane but also the extent to which he was drawn to her through the medium of music.
This guitar, which remains on display at the Bodleian, shows how objects can represent our deepest feelings about ourselves and those around us. Objects can capture our attention and sway our emotions. This can be a source of great inspiration.
The poet Shelley, like many of his time, was actually quite conscious of the relationship between poetry and music and how this poetic-musical sensibility affected his readers. Indeed, the entire field of philosophy during the 18th to the 19th century was obsessed with aesthetics, which concerns the nature of beauty and art and how they affect us, because of what the subject reveals about the perceived origins and purpose of thought and imagination.
Yet, the art of appreciating beauty has somewhat disappeared or at least is accompanied by an endless stream of negative associations. Indeed, the entire concept of materialism generally has connotations of superficiality and greediness.
Yet, objects hold an important, if not central role in our lives, particularly ones that we choose, that are given to us, or that even perform a useful function in our day-to-day routine.
Also, the art of fashion constantly reminds us that objects themselves have the power to evoke meaning and to be inspirational. This seems important to remember, especially on the eve of New York Fashion Week and the international Fashion Weeks to come.
We should revel in our objects and embrace their capacity as an extension or representation of ourselves. Whether we are watching a designer’s creations on the catwalk or putting on a favourite watch or necklace when we get dressed, we should appreciate objects and how they make us think and feel.