It's not that I disagree with Kirsch exactly. It's just that trying to apprehend so passionate, so instinctive, so almost visceral a poet as Shelley through the lens of reason strikes me as somewhat wrong-headed. It's like criticizing the rationality of Jimi Hendrix songs. Shelley is not, no matter what he himself may claim, a great thinker. He is a creature of urge and will, a poet of unpremeditated imagination, and his poems are valuable because they represent, like no others, the glory of pure force. We do not expect the powers of nature to answer to calculation or consequence, and we must not demand this of Shelley, if we are to appreciate his gift.
Kirsch calls Shelley a Manichaeist, but to my mind he is something finer, more innocent - it is not so much that he considers himself above consequence as that he accepts consequence unconsidered. It is instructive, I think, to remember (as Kirsch reminds us) that Shelley dreams of being incarnate as the "wild west wind", a wind that is both "Destroyer and Preserver". We do not ask that the wind be just, or claim that its actions are right, but we recognize that for the wind to show more discernment would compromise forever its essential force, and we bow to the necessity of the destruction this implies. "How couldst thou become new if thou have not first become ashes" Nietzsche writes, describing the way of the 'creating one'. More than half a century before Also Sprach Zarathustra, Shelley already understood, and lived, its ideal.
You can argue, of course, that this is not how Shelley saw himself ("poets are the unacknowledged legislators", etc. etc.), but just because he took himself seriously as a political thinker and philosopher is no reason for us to do so. Since when do we allow our literary heroes the luxury of defining the terms on which we engage them? And is a writer as instinctive as Shelley likely to be a reliable guide to his own meaning, his own value? Can the Superman ever be conscious of being the Superman?
Kirsch cites Matthew Arnold as criticizing Shelley for his "utter deficiency in humor" (a criticism, by the way, which seems hilarious coming from Arnold) and goes on to say that Shelley "could not step outside himself and look impartially at his own weaknesses, limitations and failures". This is true, but isn't a lack of self awareness, a fundamental inability to see oneself as ridiculous, the very essence of the Romantic? Could Shelley really have been half the poet he is if he had allowed himself to see the absurdity of his position, the impracticability of his dreams? "Lift not the painted veil that those who live call life" Shelley admonishes us, and can we fault him for this creed even as we admire the majesty and vision of the work it made possible?
Yes, Shelley is naive . Yes, his fanciful flights in the face of the impossible represent a kind of arrogance. But what poet, in his most secret heart, does not share this dream of power, this dream that, despite what Auden has told us and what we know ourselves to be true, our words will make something happen, will be "to the unawakened earth, the trumpet of a prophecy"? Is it even possible to write without such belief? And if believing this, and having the audacity to say it out aloud, makes Shelley arrogant and naive then it is an arrogance and a naivete we all share.
Kirsch's argument, it seems to me, is based on a misapprehension that is perhaps best captured in his describing Shelley as "a man who believes he is an angel". But it is not clear to me that Shelley did believe that he was an angel, at least not in anything other than a Blake-ian sense. The right word, I suspect, would be spirit, or, to borrow from Milosz, daimonion. In 'Ars Poetica?', Milosz writes:
This is the essence of Shelley's 'psychic' nature, his unreasonableness, his connection to primeval sources of energy and imagination that are neither angelic nor demonic, but simply a kind of life force. Graves, in the White Goddess, argues that a true poem is an invocation of "the ancient power of fright and lust", and it is surely these very powers that Shelley senses speaking through him .
"...poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though it's an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It's hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they're put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.
What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons"
It is time, I think, that we put to rest the name of Ariel, so often invoked when we speak of Shelley. The fault for this is chiefly Shelley's own, since it is a nickname he used in speaking of himself in his poems to Jane Williams, though the fact that it was also the name of the boat he drowned in, and its use by Maurois as the title of his quasi-biography may have cemented the damage.
I say damage because it's always seemed to me that the more apt figure for Shelley is his beloved Prometheus. Because Shelley is, truly, a rebel, a bringer of fire, a poet of "sparks and ashes": you have only to read his poetry to feel the passion blazing from every page. Sometimes it flickers, sometimes it burns with a melancholy glow, sometimes it rages out of control and makes us blanch, and sometimes - at its very best- it roars clear and triumphant in the magnificence of its tongues. But however it burns, it is the raw material of poetry at its most unadulterated, and if we continue to be both embarrassed and astounded by Shelley's gift, it is in the hope that some spark of that true fire may find its way into the dry kindling of our own words.
 Actually, I'm not so sure of this - his poems project a naive idealism, but how much of this is genuine misguidedness and how much of it is a willing suspension of knowledge in the interest of the message? Certainly there is enough melancholy in Shelley's poems to suggest that he didn't see the world as being particularly rosy. Couldn't one argue that the very high-handedness with which Shelley repeatedly evokes the triumph of life and liberty is proof of his knowledge that these visions of his were mere fantasy, impossible to achieve in the real world, and therefore all the more important to cling to in poetry, with the stubbornness of an adolescent who denies his own disillusion?
 Speaking of the Romantics, Graves writes: "The typical Romantic poet of the nineteenth century was physically degenerate, or ailing, addicted to drugs and melancholia, critically unbalanced and a true poet only in his fatalistic regard for the Goddess as the mistress who commanded his destiny".