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text 2017-08-04 10:29
4th August 2017
The Complete Poems - Percy Bysshe Shelley,Mary Shelley

The sunlight claps the earth, and the moonbeams kiss the sea: what are all these kissings worth, if thou kiss not me? 


Percy Bysshe Shelley


At the age of 16, English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (born August 4, 1792) was expelled from Oxford University and disowned by his father. The reason? A little pamphlet he wrote called "The Necessity of Atheism."

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review 2016-05-22 09:55
Shelley's Political Rant
Queen Mab: With Notes - Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was Shelley's first long poem and it was written initially to his first wife (the Queen Mab of the title) when he was 19. All I can say is that if this was his first poem then Shelley's ability is impressive. However, the nature and contents of this poem did actually get him into quite a lot of trouble, no doubt due to the attacks against the king and also the significant atheistic overtones, and it is not that the atheistic nature of the poem is subtle: it is quite blatant, though it is not as if Shelley was necessarily walking new ground, particularly since Blake and others were writing along these lines prior to him.


Mab of the title possibly comes from the reference to her in Shakespeare (which, according to Wikipedia, is the first major literary mention of her). No doubt Shelley would have been familiar with the reference, and in Romeo and Juliet, she is described as a fairy who grants dreams of wish fulfilment to those who are asleep. Maybe the nature of the title reflects Shelley's desire to see a better world where the lower classes do not live under the heel of the ruling class. Unfortunately this has not necessarily come about, even though since Shelley's time social welfare has moved significantly from where it was then and the poorer classes, at least in the Western World, live much more luxurious lives than they did back then. However, there is still a massive distinction between the haves and have-nots, and still an underlying goal in regards to the pursuit of wealth.


One of the interesting things that I have picked up while reading this poem is how political and social criticism is nothing new, which is obvious, but having lived through the period of the Bush administration where political and social criticism reached a level of popularity which I had not seen before, it is interesting to reflect on this style of commentary in ages past. In a way, this period of history also saw a rise in such commentary, particularly since Europe had just been through the French Revolution and the United States had formed a republic out of a rebellion against the English throne. However, it was not the American Rebellion that had been the counter-point of this agitation against the ruling class, simply because it was a rebellion of the wealthy merchant classes against the aristocratic classes. What France has signified was a rebellion of the lower classes (though the leaders of the rebellion were still bourgeoisie) against the aristocratic classes, and the desire for a real democracy, not based upon land ownership (as was the case in the United States) but based upon the fact that everybody is a human being and in that everybody is equal.


It wasn't as if Shelley was writing anything new because writers before him, such as Rousseau, had already been exploring these issues, and even then writers as far back as Jonathon Swift, had been writing allegorical criticism (since in those days writing in the style of Noam Chomsky would have got you in a lot of trouble). It is not even as if he was a Romantic poet in the style of Wordsworth and Colleridge (though we know that there was a lot of influence from that sector) though he does use the romantic style to forward his political agenda. Even then, one questions whether Shelley had much of an impact in his day, but then in many cases such agitators generally do not live to see the effect that they have during their lifetime (Martin Luther King didn't).


Another interesting thing that I have noticed is how Shelley rails against Christianity in this poem. The idea is that the concept of God the Father is a reflection of our understanding of our father from when we were children. However, the tyrant God, as many view him to be, is a reflection of the tyranny of the day. The tyrant God, which is what Shelley is attacking (and what many agitators have attacked before and since) is a means of control over the population. In the same way it is as the idea of the divine right of kings was a method to prevent rebellion against a king because to rebel against the king is the same as rebelling against God. This is something that is still practised today, particularly if you look at parts of Romans which indicate that rulers are raised and deposed at God's whim, and to attempt to remove a ruler yourself is to go against God.


However, I do not believe that such passages indicate that God is a tyrant God, but rather a God of order. Nor do I believe that the passage is saying that we have to accept the ruling of any authority without questioning or challenging it. What I believe that it is talking about is armed rebellion, not political agitation. We do see that in the New Testament that where governments order us to behave in a way contrary to the Gospel then we are to question and challenge that order. It is not challenging the government, but seeking to replace a government through rebellion. Further, there are reasons for this warning, and these reasons necessarily come out in other places, and I have written about these dangers elsewhere as well so I will not necessarily dwell on them here.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/580508169
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review 2016-03-25 08:10
The Legacy of Rameses
Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley,Theo Gayer-Anderson

This is a rather short poem, a sonnet to be precise, being a poem of sixteen lines with a specific metre. Now, while I like poetry, I would hardly call myself a poet in that my skill in writing metre is not the best, and in many cases I fall into a system of rhyme, which I find to be pretty corny (at least to my ears). This does not mean that I have not attempted poetry in my life, and many of the poems that I have written tend to be rather short (none of the epic poetry of Homer or Milton).


These days poetry does not seem to be a huge as it was in the past, though there are still quite a number of poets out there. However the modern image of a poet seens to be some guy sitting in a rotting apartment subsisting on a diet of whiskey and cigarettes (and for some reason Alan Ginsberg comes to mind in this regard, though I suspect his diet consisted of more than just whiskey and cigarettes). In my mind, these days (as has been the case in the past) there simply is no money in poetry. In the days of old though poets tended to survive on their own wealth (such as Emily Dickinson) or were patrons of the nobility (such as William Shakespeare) as as such many of their poems where simply praises of their patrons (once again William Shakespeare comes to mind).


That does not necessarily mean that poetry is dead, we do see it crop up in movies, and in a way songs these days are simply poetry put to music, but then again this was something that would have occurred in the past as well. Take the Greeks for instance, many of their poetical works (in particular Homer) were either sung, or at least had music playing in the background, which is interesting since it is believed that Ancient Greek drama developed from poetry readings.


I should make mention of Percy Shelly though. The truth is, Percy Shelly's claim to fame is not that he was a poet (though many of us in literary circles do recognise his poetic skill) but that he was the husband of Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein. They say that she went on to become quite famous while her husband, who was quite famous at the time, disappeared into the mists of obscurity. Personally I believe that that is a little unfair on poor Percy Shelley since this particular poem, and it is a very famous poem at that, is a lot more than simply something written by Mary Shelley's husband.


Ozymandias is one of those poems that seems to continue to crop up. I first encountered it in high school during one of my English classes when we were looking at (surprise, surprise) poetry. It seems that whenever the topic of poetry comes up in high school, this is one of the poems that is looked at, maybe because it is short (it is a sonnet), but maybe because despite its shortness, it actually does have quite a lot to say.


I won't reproduce the poem here, and anyway, it can easily be found on the internet. Anyway, it is a poem about Rameses II, one of the great kings of Egypt. It is generally accepted (though not by me) that he was the Pharoah of the oppression, that is the Pharoah that ruled Egypt during the period that the Jews were slaves and before Moses led them out of captivity to the promise land. However, this is not the time or the place for me to go into my historical theories on the Egyptian timeline. What this is the time is to comment that what Shelley is doing here is creating an image of a fallen statue in a windswept desert. In his time, Rameses could have been considered the most powerful person on Earth, however in Shelley's time, he was all but forgotten. His works and his buildings survive, but have long since been looted by grave robbers. The remains of his kingdom are still present, but its glory days a long since gone.



Shelley, however, wasn't writing about Ancient Egypt or some long dead king, but rather as a reminder to the people of his day. The year is 1818, and England had recently defeated Napoleon and they pretty much sat on the top of the world. The British Empire straddled the globe, there had been no empire since that had even come to compare to the might and the wealth of the British Empire. While Percey did not know it at this time, but it was the beginning of the Pax Brittania, a hundred years of relative peace where the wealth and the power of the British Empire would continue to expand, and their influence would reach out to all corners of the globe. It would not be until the early 20th Century that Britain would meet a rival that could even consider taking a shot at the title.


However, the concern is not so much that Britain was at the top of the world, but rather that this too will pass. Three thousand years in the future Queen Victoria will, so he believes, be another Ozymandias. Even now her statues can be found throughout the former British Empire, sitting in pride of place in many of the cities around the world. Here in Adelaide her statue sits in the middle of the city, as it does in Hong Kong. Everywhere you go in the former empire you encounter reminders of Victoria, whether it be the name of a state, a city, or some gentleman's club. However, like Rameses, this too will pass. The people at Shelley's time will not see it. Most of them would not be alive when Arch-duke Ferdinand is assassinated, and the only memories of Napoleon would be those in the books, or the stories that old men would remember their Grandfather's telling them when they were children. As with Rameses, so to will this pass.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/259800200
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review 2015-11-27 02:05
An Ode to Slaughtered Workers
The Mask of Anarchy Written On the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester - Percy Bysshe Shelley

This poem was written after what was known as the Peterloo Massacre which occurred in Manchester in 1819. It was four years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and England had fallen into recession, and the north of the country had been hit particularly hard. In response to this the working class began to stage a series of protests with culminated in Peterloo, and the response to these protests was a cavalry charged by the British army which left 15 dead and 700 wounded.


Shelley writes in a rather apocalyptic style in his response to the massacre and uses the imagery of the four horsemen of the book of Revelation, though he actually names three of the horsemen, with the forth horseman being named Anarchy. I suspected that this forth horseman related to the English government. I also suspect that it suggests that where the government is concerned there is no law that binds them and as such the country lives in a state of anarchy. While there is law that restricts the actions of those who live under it, the higher one goes, the less the law imposes restrictions on them. Mind you, the cavalrymen would have been just as much under the law as the people whom they charged.



This is not the only text in which Shelley explores the theme of the lawlessness of the government as he also explores it in The Cenci, where the antagonist rapes his daughter and gets away with it, but when the daughter and her brothers then seek revenge against him for his crime they are captured, tried, and executed for their participation in the deed. With regards to the Peterloo Massacre it is clear that the cavalry may have, on one hand, been attempting to keep the peace, but more likely than not it was acting to protect the interests of the masters of the land.



What Shelley laments a lot during his writing is the failure of the French revolution. Granted, Shelley was only a child at the height of the revolution, and would have entered his adult life during the reign of Napoleon, however it is not so much the failure of the revolution that is important, it is the ideas that it generated. Once the idea of freedom for the masses came to the fore in France, it began to filter throughout Europe, and even across the channel to England. In 1795 England was practically on the verge of revolution herself.


One particular line in the poem demonstrates the lawlessness of the government when Anarchy says 'I am God, King, and Law' indicating that all law stems from the government, but with government being Anarchy, there is no law because something cannot come out of nothing. To Shelley the government is illegitimate, and as such the law it creates is also illegitimate because there is nothing, other than brute force, that gives it legitimacy. Being an atheist himself, Shelley no doubt completely rejects the divine right of Kings.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/591837196
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review 2015-11-22 09:32
The Writings of Percy Shelley
The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) - Percy Bysshe Shelley,Zachary Leader,Michael O'Neill

Okay, this is more a collection of his works compiled by somebody else, and many of these works did not actually see the light of day until long after Shelley died, however this particular book does give you a very broad scope of the poems, and a couple of prose essays, of Percy Shelley. Mind you, I began reading this book while I was in London because I felt that being in that marvellous city I should immerse myself in the literature that was produced there. So, wondering into Hyde Park and sitting down beside the Round Pound with a cup of tea on what was an incredibly cold morning, I opened this book and began to read his poetry. However, as it turns out, most of his work was not written in England but rather when he was in Italy (still, there is something to be said about sitting by the round pond, with a cup of tea, on a cold morning, reading Percy Shelley).


Percy Shelley had the misfortune of dying quite young. He was 29 when he died, apparently in a boating accident in the Adriatic sea, and much of his work was written in the final stages of his life, between 1818 and 1821. However, considering the length and breadth of some of his writings, it is amazing what he actually produced in such a short space of time. Now, Shelley was not a poor man, rather he was a member of the upper class who could get away with whiling his time away in Italian villas writing poetry. In those days if you wanted to be a successful writer you needed two things, an education, and free time. These days education (at least here in Australia) is much more accessible than it was in Shelley's time, and even then, you do not need to be a member of the wealthy class to succeed as an author (my friend Peter managed to do it).


Now, many people consider Shelley to be a romantic poet, and in a sense while that may be true, and while I have only read a smattering of [author:Coleridge] and [author:Wordsworth], I must say that his poetry seems to be a lot more down to Earth than what we get from the other romantics. If [author:Gustav Flaubert] is anything to go by romantics tend to live with their heads in the clouds letting emotion pretty much rule the day, and rejecting reason and science. Shelley is somewhat different in that he is much more of a political critic, and much of his poetry demonstrates this. In fact, if he is not attacking the current government of the day, he is attacking the church, which, in a way, was very much one and the same.


For instance, he writes a poem about how during that battle of Austerlitz the Austrian and Prussian generals sat away from the battlefield in their tents directing the battle, while Napoleon was in there with his men fighting alongside them. In a way it is clear that Shelley had a great admiration for Napoleon because what Napoleon demonstrated was that he was willing to get his hands dirty, to stand with his men, and to be counted as one of them. Remember even when Napoleon was defeated and exiled to Elba, he managed to escape and return to France, and when he did this he was welcomed with open arms and once again made emperor. Even today the French still hold Napoleon on high regard.


However it is interesting that despite all of the mourning that Shelley pours out onto the page regarding the failure of the French Revolution, and the restoration of the French Monarchy in 1815, he unlikely ever actually could remember the revolution. The revolution began in 1789, though the root causes go back much further, and ended with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo. Shelley died in 1822, which means that he would have been born in 1793, which means that he would have been 7 years old when Napoleon was proclaimed emperor and during his teenage years all he would have known were the Napoleonic Wars. He would not have remembered (let alone been born) during Robespierre's reign of terror.


Further, we tend to see that Shelley has a rather idealistic view of revolution and progress, yet would fail to see how progress in itself is dialectical. All he knew was the failed French Revolution which came about full circle with the restoration of the Monarchy. Granted, he would have also known of the American Revolution, and even writes about the American Republic, considering it to be one of the freest nations in the world. However, what he does not know, and would have unlikely known, was that all the American Revolution did was simply change the faces of those in power. The position of the labourer in the United States, before and after the revolution, did not change, and in fact there was resistance from the ordinary person in the United States to actually join the fight against the British. The revolution have little to do with freedom and democracy and everything to do with free trade. If you look at the Declaration of Independence you will notice that while it will boldly proclaim that all men are created equal, the rest of the document deals primarily with economic issues with regards to trade and taxation, something which was of interest only to the landed aristocrats.


While today the United States proclaims itself as a beacon of democracy to the world, many of their wars are more about opening up markets in regions where the markets are closed. It is using the mantra of political freedom to promote not political freedom but economic freedom, that is the freedom for American corporations to come in, set up shop, and to drive out competition. It is not about justice and equality before the law, but rather about dismantling government regulation and barriers to trade. It is about driving the small, independent businessman to the wall as Walmart opens its doors across the street. It is about using patent law to ban generic drugs and to allow big pharma to provide life saving medicines at prohibitive prices.


However, we must remember the time in which Shelley was writing. This was before Marx, and the industrial revolution was only just beginning. It was still a period where the nobility held sway and the divine right of kings determined who would rule. However much had changed because the French revolution, and Napoleon, had spread the idea of political freedom across continental Europe, and the power of the king in England was giving way to the power of the Parliament. It was about spreading the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, and the growth in intellectual understanding of the world, and the dispelling of the superstitious myths that dominated the mind of the ordinary people. It was a world that was in flux, a world that had emerged with the superstition of the medieval ages, and was in the road to modernity, and Shelley was one of the guides who helped us move along that road.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/577360858
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