Percy Bysshe Shelley

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True Love in this differs from gold and clay,
That to divide is not to take away.
Love is like understanding, that grows bright,
Gazing on many truths; 'tis like thy light,
Imagination! which from earth and sky,
And from the depths of human phantasy,
As from a thousand prisms and mirrors, fills
The Universe with glorious beams, and kills
Error, the worm, with many a sun-like arrow
Of its reverberated lightning.

Treeship, Saturday, 27 September 2014 03:53 (five years ago) link

this kind of optimism feels impossible now. maybe it was then too:

Thus suicidal selfishness, that blights
The fairest feelings of the opening heart,
Is destined to decay, whilst from the soil
Shall spring all virtue, all delight, all love,
And judgment cease to wage unnatural war
With passion's unsubduable array.

Treeship, Saturday, 27 September 2014 03:56 (five years ago) link

i like how shelley is overtly political and his poetry is inseparable from his role as a would be cultural revolutionary. he plays with myths and his longer poems can require some parsing, but there really was nothing mystical about his personality or outlook which distinguishes him from most other poets. rather than turning his attention to the mystery and ambiguity of the human experience, shelley seems much more interested in questions of justice... the quarrel with others rather than ourselves.

not a shelley scholar so this picture could very well be off the mark. but his sensibility seems very distinctive compared to the other English Romantics.

Treeship, Saturday, 27 September 2014 04:07 (five years ago) link

Byron came close (which makes sense -- they were bros).

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 27 September 2014 11:41 (five years ago) link

anyway he's classic: "Alastor," "Mont Blanc," "Epipsychidion," even Prometheus Unbound. I'd love to read a good feminist essay on "Epipsychidion."

My favorite of his lyrics. Dante Gabriel Rossetti obv studied it:


When passion's trance is overpast,
If tenderness and truth could last,
Or live, whilst all wild feelings keep
Some mortal slumber, dark and deep,
I should not weep, I should not weep!


It were enough to feel, to see,
Thy soft eyes gazing tenderly,
And dream the rest--and burn and be
The secret food of fires unseen,
Couldst thou but be as thou hast been.


After the slumber of the year
The woodland violets reappear;
All things revive in field or grove,
And sky and sea, but two, which move
And form all others, life and love.

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 27 September 2014 11:43 (five years ago) link

From an English surname, a variant of the surname Bush, which originally indicated a person who lived near a bush.

ogmor, Saturday, 27 September 2014 11:51 (five years ago) link

Ya Bysshe

, Saturday, 27 September 2014 12:42 (five years ago) link

the first post on this thread is some of my fav Shelley ever (even if 'Epipsychidion' as a whole is kind of a mess)

Your hippie magic has no effect on (bernard snowy), Saturday, 27 September 2014 12:52 (five years ago) link

"To the Lord Chancellor" is good too, hadn't read that one until recently

Thy country's curse is on thee! Justice sold,
Truth trampled, Nature's landmarks overthrown,
And heaps of fraud-accumulated gold,
Plead, loud as thunder, at Destruction's throne.

Your hippie magic has no effect on (bernard snowy), Saturday, 27 September 2014 12:56 (five years ago) link

His one trad verse play The Cenci is powerful.

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 27 September 2014 12:56 (five years ago) link

He is an odd one in terms of mysticism – so much of him points that way (world spirit, neo/platonism, visionary animism) but really he's of this world and it's like he's trying to redeem or crack through materialism (which he's v serious about early on iirc) with imagination & feeling. It all fits so well – tyranny is a kind of dead matter, dead heart, death, evil (The Cenci is great on this, the patriarchal-papal evil power).

His verse is a bit cloudy for me to really love him and I don't really get it on some scholarly/history of ideas level either – like I do not get his trip from Queen Mab to the Triumph of Life, where it comes from – but I always enjoy my bursts of reading him. I sometimes feel he's a bit neglected now.

(also fascinated by just how important he was for about a hundred years after his death – *the* radical inspiration till the full rediscovery of Blake)

woof, Monday, 29 September 2014 11:35 (five years ago) link

& yes Alfred otm about Byron – I don't know his work broadly (never read Childe Harold, Manfred, Cain, any serious gloomy Romantic Byron really) but he's got similar political lines and is a better poet of the rough-and-tumble world in some regards – more practical but less coherent and less truly radical maybe – remains the aristocrat – (though I like that moment in Juan where he tells the reader "I wish men to be free/As much from mobs as kings—from you as me"). His love of the Dryden/Pope line makes him a bit easier for me to get on with at length.

woof, Monday, 29 September 2014 13:06 (five years ago) link

tbf on his current public rep, the 20s working class radicals in BBC1's The Village seem to wander round reading the lions-after-slumber revolutionary bits of Shelley – was happy and surprised to notice that

woof, Monday, 29 September 2014 14:47 (five years ago) link

Don Juan isn't meant to be finished but reading any section in excerpt will bring the laffs. His serious work (Cain, Manfred) is professional but dull.

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 29 September 2014 14:53 (five years ago) link

yes, Don Juan + a good selection of the letters & journals give the best of Byron – brilliant, startling and fun, but also bursts of yawning-void melancholy – and there's another tone, an odd one that I can't quite put my finger on, it's partly the melancholy, partly a modern self-consciousness (having this strange life of fame and knowing how strange it is, and feeling tired by it). That's not quite it.

(but fun! It's the constant stream of doing stuff - ok, you're buying arms for partisans. ok, you've got massively into learning Armenian etc etc)

woof, Monday, 29 September 2014 15:33 (five years ago) link

Nature rejects the monarch, not the man;
The subject, not the citizen; for kings
And subjects, mutual foes, forever play
A losing game into each other's hands,
Whose stakes are vice and misery. The man
Of virtuous soul commands not, nor obeys.
Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate'er it touches; and obedience,
Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men, and of the human frame
A mechanized automaton.

^this is from Queen Mab. I love his completely un-cynical view of humanity. Rather than look at an unjust world and declare that it must be an expression of some selfish element within human nature, Shelley begins from the individual, and her inherent desire for freedom, and declares that this is the true human nature and society needs to accommodate it through fundamental transformation. I don't know if there are many other passages that reveal why the imagination and the individual were so sacred to Romanticism, and how this obsession could be emancipatory and social rather than solipsistic.

Treeship, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 00:12 (five years ago) link

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 08:58 (five years ago) link

Just radicalizing the thread.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 08:59 (five years ago) link

Thinking some more, I do prefer Blake as a poet of that kind of total psyche-and-nation Romantic revolution – more explosive and more nuanced, & sensitive to ambivalences from the beginning.

It's not really a fair comparison (Shelley was so young – dead by the age Blake even starts creating great books, & of course Blake a total artist, not just a poet), but it brings out things that nag at me about Shelley. I am wary of the long British tradition of aristocratic radicalism – on the one hand, it's great having someone who doesn't really have to work saying 'no, I am on your side and here are the ideals that you shouldn't forget in the grind' and it's a lot easier to shout at Castlereagh if you won't be hauled up for it; on the other, the fuckers don't have a clue about work. (Though actually that reversionary tradition of accumulating debts that they hope to clear with an inheritance or land sale might have some relevance now?)

There's also a generational thing – Blake belongs to the proper era of Revolution, old enough to see both America and France turn, and then to see the latter collapse. The Shelley generation are belated (so… Napoleon takes the crown somewhere in his early adolescence?) – I suppose his optimism is the more admirable for that, but also maybe slightly out of the real fiery era. (Shooting in the dark a bit here - my history is v sketchy in this stretch)

woof, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 09:41 (five years ago) link

I remember liking that Paul Foot book

woof, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 09:42 (five years ago) link

Shelley was around to write some memorably sarcastic lines 'On hearing the news of the death of Napoleon', if that helps you any

Vomit of a Missionary (bernard snowy), Tuesday, 30 September 2014 10:35 (five years ago) link

Right – but it's roughly what you'd expect – Napoleon's the betrayer of revolutionary ideals for a lot of radicals, & the younger gen only really saw the new-monarchy side of him. (Of the Romantics, it's only Hazlitt that I can think of who's pro-Napoleon into the 1810s).

woof, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 10:52 (five years ago) link

have you read Hazlitt's essay on Wordsworth?

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 30 September 2014 10:54 (five years ago) link

The Spirit of the Age one? Yes – it's very fair ambivalence, generous even (given he's writing when W has become a bore) – the mix of youthful personal acquaintance, political difference & early culture-revolutionary inspiration means he's in a delicate tangle when he's thinking about Wordsworth, I always enjoy it.

woof, Tuesday, 30 September 2014 11:20 (five years ago) link

six months pass...

What is the best (or 'your favorite' if that distinction matters to you) poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

Because I'm prreetttty sure my favorite is either Stanzas written in dejection or Ode to the West Wind, but I've not read everything the man wrote, not by a long shot -- so if anyone here has a(n e)special favorite among the longer works, I'd love to hear your take.

bernard snowy, Wednesday, 1 April 2015 00:32 (five years ago) link

"The Witch of Atlas," bits of Alastor, and the brief lyric "When Passion's Trance is Overpast."

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 1 April 2015 00:35 (five years ago) link

two years pass...

Got my copy of Paul Foot’s Red Shelley today. A completely banged up, partially moldy, certainly water damaged paperback but I’m stoked.

treeship 2, Saturday, 17 February 2018 18:36 (two years ago) link

Shelley and I have never played well together, largely because when I wished to learn how to be a poet I strenuously rejected both his style and his persona as examples I wanted to emulate. Under the circumstances, I could never read him for pleasure because I was constantly resisting him.

A is for (Aimless), Saturday, 17 February 2018 18:47 (two years ago) link

bysshe don't kill my vibe

F# A# (∞), Saturday, 17 February 2018 19:22 (two years ago) link

I read Richard Holmes' Shelley: The Pursuit in December: he was a horror as a husband and father but what a liberal. And I love "Mont Blanc," "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty," and the addled parts of Prometheus Unbound more than I did in college. The Cenci should be part of any lit class on tragedy.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 17 February 2018 19:27 (two years ago) link

two years pass...

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

treeship., Wednesday, 25 March 2020 21:36 (six months ago) link

is red shelley any good treesh, i have always avoided it (though i like the way paul foot wrote as a journalist and once saw him visiting a neighbour and then again in a hospital where i too was waiting to be seen abt something) (his thing turned out to be much more serious than mine tho)

mark s, Wednesday, 25 March 2020 21:50 (six months ago) link

two weeks pass...

this book is good. it's very straightforward and more about placing Shelley in his historical/political milieu than it is about opening up the texts in an innovative way. however, that's OK because it is a fascinating period -- England in the wake of the french revolution, when all the forces of reaction were being marshalled to quell workers' rebellions -- and you end up getting all the historical references in the poems.

the big takeaway is that almost all of shelley's poems are direct responses to current events and historical figures. sometimes he actually names the people he is calling out, like take this selection from the masque of anarchy:


I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:


All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.


Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.


And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.


Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.

castelragh, edon and sidmouth were real historical figures who oversaw repressive policies during shelley's lifetime.

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:36 (five months ago) link

sorry, that was a belated response to mark s

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:36 (five months ago) link

The Metternich bio I just finished treats his friendship w/Castlereagh as if they were two bros on a lawn sipping sparkling wine deciding whom to kill next.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 April 2020 17:37 (five months ago) link

wait, what?

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:38 (five months ago) link

lol I overplayed that but yeah they were bros

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 April 2020 17:39 (five months ago) link

That whole Napoleon thing, you know.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 April 2020 17:39 (five months ago) link

oh metternich as in klaus metternich. i thought someone with that last name wrote a bio of shelley.

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:40 (five months ago) link

Thanks for the Queen Mab reminder. I need a long poem to read this week.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 13 April 2020 17:40 (five months ago) link

np. it's a great one.

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:43 (five months ago) link

that opening

treeship., Monday, 13 April 2020 17:43 (five months ago) link

I have lost my (unread) copy of The Pursuit somehow. I've turned the house upside down looking for it; it's not like it's small. Maddening!

A little domestic drama, there. (My long poem is going to be the Wreck of the Deutschland.)

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Monday, 13 April 2020 18:22 (five months ago) link

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