Percy Bysshe Shelley

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The Other Pages - Poet's Corner

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

by Percy Bysshe Shelley, "To A Skylark"


Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet and political thinker, was born August 4, 1792, at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, England. The eldest son of Timothy, a prosperous squire, and Elizabeth Shelley, with one brother and four sisters, he stood in line to inherit not only his grandfather's considerable estate but also a seat in Parliament. He attended Eton College for six years beginning in 1804, while at Eton he began writing poetry, but his first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi in 1810, in which he voiced his own heretical and atheistic opinions through the villain Zastrozzi. and then went on to Oxford University where he was expelled for his pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism in 1811, along with another student, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, of which the university authorities disapproved. This lead to a complete break between Shelley and his father and left him in dire financial straits for the next two years, until he came of age.

Shortly after his expulsion from Oxford, the 19-year-old Shelley eloped to Scotland with Harriet Westbrook, sixteen, and moved to the Lake District of England to study and write. Two years later, he published his first long serious work, Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem in 1813. The poem was one result of Shelley's friendship with the British philosopher William Godwin,( husband of Mary Wollstonecraft the author of Vindication of the Rights of Women), expressing Godwin's freethinking Socialist philosophy. Another result of their friendship was Shelley's relationship with Godwin's daughter Mary.
In 1814,
After separating from his wife, Shelley briefly toured Europe with Mary (whom he married in 1816 after learning that Harriet had apparently committed suicide, her body was recovered from a lake in a London park.) In November 1814 Harriet Shelley bore a son, and in February, 1815 Mary Godwin gave birth prematurely to a child who died two weeks later. The following January, Mary bore another son, named William after her father.
Mary Shelley
Picture courtesy: Wikipedia

In May the couple went to Lake Geneva, where Shelley spent a great deal of time with George Gordon and Lord Byron, sailing on Lake Geneva and discussing poetry and other topics, including ghosts and spirits, into the night. During one of these ghostly "seances," Byron proposed that each person present should write a ghost story. Mary's contribution to the contest became the novel "Frankenstein".
Shelley did not retain custody of his two children by Harriet, reportly, because of his adherence to the notion of free love.

In 1817, Shelley produced Laon and Cythna, a long narrative poem that, because it contained references to incest as well as attacks on religion, was withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam (1818). Shelley composed the "Hymn To Intellectual Beauty" and "Mont Blanc" and in 1817 Shelley published the much anthologized "Ozymandias". Among Shelley's popular poems are the "Odes To the West Wind" , "To a Skylark" and Adonais, an elegy for Keats. At this time, he also wrote revolutionary political tracts signed "The Hermit of Marlow." Then, early in 1818, he and his new wife left England for the last time.
From 1818 he lived in Italy, touring, and living in various Italian cities, with his family and friends. There he met Byron, and wrote the bulk of his poetry, including odes, lyrics, and the verse drama Prometheus Unbound. The Shelleys were also friendly with the British poet Leigh Hunt and his family.

Shelley was considered by many to be among the greatest, and one of the most influential leaders of the romantic movement. His work reflected the radical ideas and revolutionary optimism of the era.

On July 8, 1822, shortly before his thirtieth birthday, Shelley sailed to Leghorn to welcome his friend Leigh Hunt, during the stormy return voyage, his small schooner sank and Shelley drowned with Edward Williams. The bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio, where, in the presence of Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, they were burned on the beach. Shelley's ashes were buried in a cemetery in Rome.

Inscription on tombstone:




Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange


Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats
Music When Soft Voices Die
The Indian Serenade
A Lament
The Cloud
The Question


To view more of Shelley's poems:
Famous Poets and Poems
Representative Poetry On-line


Some more of his poems includes:

Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude, And like a Dying Lady, Lean and Pale, Archy's Song from Charles I (A Widow Bird Sate Mourning), Art thou pale for weariness , A Dream of the Unknown, A Lament, A widow bird sate mourning for her Love, The Cloud, England in 1819, Flight of Love , From the Arabic , Hellas, Hymn of Pan, Hymn to the Spirit of Nature, I fear thy kisses, gentle maiden, Invitation, Invocation, Lines, Lines to an Indian Air, Love's Philosophy, Moon, Music, Mutability, Night, One word is too often profaned, Ozymandias of Egypt, Poet's Dream, Recollection, Remorse, Time Long Past, To ----, To Jane: "The Keen Stars Were Twinkling", To Night, To the Moon , The Triumph of Life, The Two Spirits: An Allegory , To a Lady, with a Guitar,


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Reference, Research and Source Information

The History Channel

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