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He dines alone surrounded by reflections
of himself. Then after sleep and benzedrine
descends the Cinquecento stair his magic
wrought from hypochondria of the well-
to-do and nagging deathwish of the poor;
swirls on smiling genuflections of
his liveried chauffeur into a crested
lilac limousine, the cynosure
of mousey neighbors tittering behind
Venetian blinds and half afraid of him
and half admiring his outrageous flair.
Meanwhile his mother, priestess in gold lamé,
precedes him to the quondam theater
now Israel Temple of the Highest Alpha,
where the bored, the sick, the alien, the tired
await euphoria. With deadly vigor
she prepares the way for mystery
and lucre. Shouts in blues-contralto, ”He’s
God’s dictaphone of all-redeeming truth.
Oh he’s the holyweight champeen who’s come
to give the knockout lick to your bad luck;
say he’s the holyweight champeen who’s here
to deal a knockout punch to your hard luck.“
Reposing on cushions of black leopard skin,
he telephones instructions for a long
slow drive across the park that burgeons now
with spring and sailors. Peers questingly
into the green fountainous twilight, sighs
and turns the gold-plate dial to Music For
Your Dining-Dancing Pleasure. Smoking Egyptian
cigarettes rehearses in his mind
a new device that he must use tonight.
Approaching Israel Temple, mask in place,
he hears ragtime allegros of a ”Song
of Zion“ that becomes when he appears
a hallelujah wave for him to walk.
His mother and a rainbow-surpliced cordon
conduct him choiring to the altar-stage,
and there he kneels and seems to pray before
a lighted Jesus painted sealskin-brown.
Then with a glittering flourish he arises,
turns, gracefully extends his draperied arms:
”Israelites, true Jews, O found lost tribe
of Israel, receive my blessing now.
Selah, selah.“ He feels them yearn toward him
as toward a lover, exults before the image
of himself their trust gives back. Stands as though
in meditation, letting their eyes caress
his garments jewelled and chatoyant, cut
to fall, to flow from his tall figure
dramatically just so. Then all at once
he sways, quivers, gesticulates as if
to ward off blows or kisses, and when he speaks
again he utters wildering vocables,
hypnotic no-words planned (and never failing)
to enmesh his flock in theopathic tension.
Cries of eudaemonic pain attest
his artistry. Behind the mask he smiles.
And now in subtly altering light he chants
and sinuously trembles, chants and trembles
while convulsive energies of eager faith
surcharge the theater with power of
their own, a power he has counted on
and for a space allows to carry him.
Dishevelled antiphons proclaim the moment
his followers all day have hungered for,
but which is his alone.
He signals: tambourines begin, frenetic
drumbeat and glissando. He dances from the altar,
robes hissing, flaring, shimmering; down aisles
where mantled guardsmen intercept wild hands
that arduously strain to clutch his vestments,
he dances, dances, ensorcelled and aloof,
the fervid juba of God as lover, healer,
conjurer. And of himself as God.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.breaking. / When In A Ballad of Remembrance (1962), the line between these two lines reads: "and smell the iron and velvet bloom of heat." While this line was deleted, the version in A Ballad of Remembrance is still a sonnet. There are other variants between both versions; mostly relating to where the line breaks.
Whenbreaking. / When In A Ballad of Remembrance (1962), the line between these two lines reads:"and smell the iron and velvet bloom of heat." While this line was deleted, the version in A Ballad of Remembrance is still a sonnet. There are other variants between both versions; mostly relating to where the line breaks. the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who hadwho had In A Ballad of Remembrance: who’d driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austereaustere Grave, sober; and lacking adornment and lonely offices?
Then fled, O brethren, the wicked juba
and wandered wandered far
from curfew joys in the Dismal’s night.
Fool of St. Elmo’s fire
In scary night I wandered, praying,
Lord God my harshener,
speak to me now or let me die;
speak, Lord, to this mourner.
And came at length to livid trees
where Ibo warriors
hung shadowless, turning in wind
that moaned like Africa,
Their belltongue bodies dead, their eyes
alive with the anger deep
in my own heart. Is this the sign,
the sign forepromised me?
The spirits vanished. Afraid and lonely
I wandered on in blackness.
Speak to me now or let me die.
Die, whispered the blackness.
And wild things gasped and scuffled in
the night; seething shapes
of evil frolicked upon the air.
I reeled with fear, I prayed.
Sudden brightness clove the preying
darkness, brightness that was
itself a golden darkness, brightness
so bright that it was darkness.
And there were angels, their faces hidden
from me, angels at war
with one another, angels in dazzling
combat. And oh the splendor,
The fearful splendor of that warring.
Hide me, I cried to rock and bramble.
Hide me, the rock, the bramble cried. . . .
How tell you of that holy battle?
The shock of wing on wing and sword
on sword was the tumult of
a taken city burning. I cannot
say how long they strove,
For the wheel in a turning wheel which is time
in eternity had ceased
its whirling, and owl and moccasin,
panther and nameless beast
And I were held like creatures fixed
in flaming, in fiery amber.
But I saw I saw oh many of
those mighty beings waver,
Waver and fall, go streaking down
into swamp water, and the water
hissed and steamed and bubbled and locked
shuddering shuddering over
The fallen and soon was motionless.
Then that massive light
began a-folding slowly in
upon itself, and I
Beheld the conqueror faces and, lo,
they were like mine, I saw
they were like mine and in joy and terror
wept, praising praising Jehovah.
Oh praised my honer, harshener
till a sleep came over me,
a sleep heavy as death. And when
I awoke at last free
And purified, I rose and prayed
and returned after a time
to the blazing fields, to the humbleness.
And bided my time.
Runs falls rises stumbles on from darkness into darkness
and the darkness thicketed with shapes of terror
and the hunters pursuing and the hounds pursuing
and the night cold and the night long and the river
to cross and the jack-muh-lanterns beckoning beckoning
and blackness ahead and when shall I reach that somewhere
morning and keep on going and never turn back and keep on going
Many thousands rise and go
many thousands crossing over
O mythic North
O star-shaped yonder Bible city
Some go weeping and some rejoicing
some in coffins and some in carriages
some in silks and some in shackles
Rise and go or fare you well
No more auction block for me
no more driver’s lash for me
If you see my Pompey, 30 yrs of age,
new breeches, plain stockings, negro shoes;
if you see my Anna, likely young mulatto
branded E on the right cheek, R on the left,
catch them if you can and notify subscriber.
Catch them if you can, but it won’t be easy.
They’ll dart underground when you try to catch them,
plunge into quicksand, whirlpools, mazes,
turn into scorpions when you try to catch them.
And before I’ll be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
North star and bonanza gold
I’m bound for the freedom, freedom-bound
and oh Susyanna don’t you cry for me
Rises from their anguish and their power,
woman of earth, whipscarred,
a summoining, a shining
Mean to be free
And this was the way of it, brethren brethren,
way we journeyed from Can’t to Can.
Moon so bright and no place to hide,
the cry up and the patterollers riding,
hound dogs belling in bladed air.
And fear starts a-murbling, Never make it,
we’ll never make it. Hush that now,
and she’s turned upon us, levelled pistol
glinting in the moonlight:
Dead folks can’t jaybird-talk, she says;
you keep on going now or die, she says.
Wanted Harriet Tubman alias The General
alias Moses Stealer of Slaves
In league with Garrison Alcott Emerson
Garrett Douglas Thoreau John Brown
Armed and known to be Dangerous
Wanted Reward Dead or Alive
Tell me, Ezekiel, oh tell me do you see
mailed Jehovah coming to deliver me?
Hoot-owl calling in the ghosted air,
five times calling to the hants in the air.
Shadow of a face in the scary leaves,
shadow of a voice in the talking leaves:
Come ride-a my train
Oh that train, ghost-story train
through swamp and savanna movering movering,
over trestles of dew, through caves of the wish,
Midnight Special on a sabre track movering movering,
first stop Mercy and the last Hallelujah.
Come ride-a my train
Mean mean mean to be free.
Lord’s lost Him His mockingbird,
His fancy warbler;
Satan sweet-talked her,
four bullets hushed her.
Who would have thought
she’d end that way?
Four bullets hushed her. And the world a-clang with evil.
Who’s going to make old hardened sinner men tremble now
and the righteous rock?
Oh who and oh who will sing Jesus down
to help with struggling and doing without and being colored
all through blue Monday?
Till way next Sunday?
All those angels
in their cretonne clouds and finery
the true believer saw
when she rared back her head and sang,
all those angels are surely weeping.
Who would have thought
she’d end that way?
Four holes in her heart. The gold works wrecked.
But she looks so natural in her big bronze coffin
among the Broken Hearts and Gates-Ajar,
it’s as if any moment she’d lift her head
from its pillow of chill gardenias
and turn this quiet into shouting Sunday
and make folks forget what she did on Monday.
Oh, Satan sweet-talked her,
and four bullets hushed her.
Lord’s lost Him His diva,
His fancy warbler’s gone.
Who would have thought,
who would have thought she’d end that way?
Jesús, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy:
Sails flashing to the wind like weapons,
sharks following the moans the fever and the dying;
horror the corposant and compass rose.
voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
“10 April 1800—
Blacks rebellious. Crew uneasy. Our linguist says
their moaning is a prayer for death,
ours and their own. Some try to starve themselves.
Lost three this morning leaped with crazy laughter
to the waiting sharks, sang as they went under.”
Desire, Adventure, Tartar, Ann:
Standing to America, bringing home
black gold, black ivory, black seed.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
of his bones New England pews are made,
those are altar lights that were his eyes.
Jesus Saviour Pilot Me
Over Life’s Tempestuous Sea
We pray that Thou wilt grant, O Lord,
safe passage to our vessels bringing
heathen souls unto Thy chastening.
“8 bells. I cannot sleep, for I am sick
with fear, but writing eases fear a little
since still my eyes can see these words take shape
upon the page & so I write, as one
would turn to exorcism. 4 days scudding,
but now the sea is calm again. Misfortune
follows in our wake like sharks (our grinning
tutelary gods). Which one of us
has killed an albatross? A plague among
our blacks—Ophthalmia: blindness—& we
have jettisoned the blind to no avail.
It spreads, the terrifying sickness spreads.
Its claws have scratched sight from the Capt.'s eyes
& there is blindness in the fo’c’sle
& we must sail 3 weeks before we come
What port awaits us, Davy Jones’
or home? I’ve heard of slavers drifting, drifting,
playthings of wind and storm and chance, their crews
gone blind, the jungle hatred
crawling up on deck.
Thou Who Walked On Galilee
“Deponent further sayeth The Bella J
left the Guinea Coast
with cargo of five hundred blacks and odd
for the barracoons of Florida:
“That there was hardly room ’tween-decks for half
the sweltering cattle stowed spoon-fashion there;
that some went mad of thirst and tore their flesh
and sucked the blood:
“That Crew and Captain lusted with the comeliest
of the savage girls kept naked in the cabins;
that there was one they called The Guinea Rose
and they cast lots and fought to lie with her:
“That when the Bo’s’n piped all hands, the flames
spreading from starboard already were beyond
control, the negroes howling and their chains
entangled with the flames:
“That the burning blacks could not be reached,
that the Crew abandoned ship,
leaving their shrieking negresses behind,
that the Captain perished drunken with the wenches:
“Further Deponent sayeth not.”
Pilot Oh Pilot Me
Aye, lad, and I have seen those factories,
Gambia, Rio Pongo, Calabar;
have watched the artful mongos baiting traps
of war wherein the victor and the vanquished
Were caught as prizes for our barracoons.
Have seen the nigger kings whose vanity
and greed turned wild black hides of Fellatah,
Mandingo, Ibo, Kru to gold for us.
And there was one—King Anthracite we named him—
fetish face beneath French parasols
of brass and orange velvet, impudent mouth
whose cups were carven skulls of enemies:
He’d honor us with drum and feast and conjo
and palm-oil-glistening wenches deft in love,
and for tin crowns that shone with paste,
red calico and German-silver trinkets
Would have the drums talk war and send
his warriors to burn the sleeping villages
and kill the sick and old and lead the young
in coffles to our factories.
Twenty years a trader, twenty years,
for there was wealth aplenty to be harvested
from those black fields, and I’d be trading still
but for the fevers melting down my bones.
Shuttles in the rocking loom of history,
the dark ships move, the dark ships move,
their bright ironical names
like jests of kindness on a murderer’s mouth;
plough through thrashing glister toward
fata morgana’s lucent melting shore,
weave toward New World littorals that are
mirage and myth and actual shore.
Voyage through death,
voyage whose chartings are unlove.
A charnel stench, effluvium of living death
spreads outward from the hold,
where the living and the dead, the horribly dying,
lie interlocked, lie foul with blood and excrement.
Deep in the festering hold thy father lies,
the corpse of mercy rots with him,
rats eat love’s rotten gelid eyes.
But, oh, the living look at you
with human eyes whose suffering accuses you,
whose hatred reaches through the swill of dark
to strike you like a leper’s claw.
You cannot stare that hatred down
or chain the fear that stalks the watches
and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath;
cannot kill the deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will.
“But for the storm that flung up barriers
of wind and wave, The Amistad, señores,
would have reached the port of Príncipe in two,
three days at most; but for the storm we should
have been prepared for what befell.
Swift as the puma’s leap it came. There was
that interval of moonless calm filled only
with the water’s and the rigging’s usual sounds,
then sudden movement, blows and snarling cries
and they had fallen on us with machete
and marlinspike. It was as though the very
air, the night itself were striking us.
Exhausted by the rigors of the storm,
we were no match for them. Our men went down
before the murderous Africans. Our loyal
Celestino ran from below with gun
and lantern and I saw, before the cane-
knife’s wounding flash, Cinquez,
that surly brute who calls himself a prince,
directing, urging on the ghastly work.
He hacked the poor mulatto down, and then
he turned on me. The decks were slippery
when daylight finally came. It sickens me
to think of what I saw, of how these apes
threw overboard the butchered bodies of
our men, true Christians all, like so much jetsam.
Enough, enough. The rest is quickly told:
Cinquez was forced to spare the two of us
you see to steer the ship to Africa,
and we like phantoms doomed to rove the sea
voyaged east by day and west by night,
deceiving them, hoping for rescue,
prisoners on our own vessel, till
at length we drifted to the shores of this
your land, America, where we were freed
from our unspeakable misery. Now we
demand, good sirs, the extradition of
Cinquez and his accomplices to La
Havana. And it distresses us to know
there are so many here who seem inclined
to justify the mutiny of these blacks.
We find it paradoxical indeed
that you whose wealth, whose tree of liberty
are rooted in the labor of your slaves
should suffer the august John Quincy Adams
to speak with so much passion of the right
of chattel slaves to kill their lawful masters
and with his Roman rhetoric weave a hero’s
garland for Cinquez. I tell you that
we are determined to return to Cuba
with our slaves and there see justice done. Cinquez—
or let us say ‘the Prince’—Cinquez shall die.”
The deep immortal human wish,
the timeless will:
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image,
life that transfigures many lives.
Voyage through death
to life upon these shores.
When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
O masks and metamorphoses of Ahab, Native Son
The icy evil that struck his father down
and ravished his mother into madness
trapped him in violence of a punished self
struggling to break free.
As Home Boy, as Dee-troit Red,
he fled his name, became the quarry of
his own obsessed pursuit.
He conked his hair and Lindy-hopped,
zoot-suited jiver, swinging those chicks
in the hot rose and reefer glow.
His injured childhood bullied him.
He skirmished in the Upas trees
and cannibal flowers of the American Dream--
but could not hurt the enemy
powered against him there.
Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey in Detroit, Michigan to Ruth and Asa Sheffey (who separated before his birth). He was taken in by a foster family next door, Sue Ellen Westerfield and William Hayden, and grew up in a Detroit ghetto nicknamed "Paradise Valley". The Haydens' perpetually contentious marriage, coupled with Ruth Sheffey’s competition for young Hayden's affections, made for a traumatic childhood.Witnessing fights and suffering beatings, Hayden lived in a house fraught with chronic angers whose effects would stay with the poet throughout his adulthood. On top of that, his severe visual problems prevented him from participating in activities such as sports in which nearly everyone was involved. His childhood traumas resulted in debilitating bouts of depression which he later called "my dark nights of the soul."
Because he was nearsighted and slight of stature, he was often ostracized by his peer group. As a response both to his household and peers, Hayden read voraciously, developing both an ear and an eye for transformative qualities in literature. He attended Detroit City College (Wayne State University), and left in 1936 to work for the Federal Writers' Project, where he researched black history and folk culture.
He was raised as a Baptist, and later became a member of the Bahá'í Faith during the early 1940s after marrying a Bahá'í, Erma Inez Morris. He is one of the best-known Bahá'í poets and his religion influenced much of his work.
After leaving the Federal Writers' Project in 1938, marrying Erma Morris in 1940, and publishing his first volume, Heart-Shape in the Dust (1940), Hayden enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1941 and won a Hopwood Award there.
In pursuit of a master's degree, Hayden studied under W. H. Auden, who directed Hayden's attention to issues of poetic form, technique, and artistic discipline, and influence may be seen in the "technical pith of Hayden's verse". After finishing his degree in 1942, then teaching several years at Michigan, Hayden went to Fisk University in 1946, where he remained for twenty-three years, returning to Michigan in 1969 to complete his teaching career.
He died in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1980, age 66.
Hayden was elected to the American Academy of Poets in 1975. From 1976 - 1978, Hayden was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (the first African American holder of that post), the position which in 1985 became the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. Hayden's most famous and most anthologized poem is Those Winter Sundays, which deals with the memory of fatherly love and loneliness.
Other famed poems include The Whipping (which is about a small boy being severely punished for some undetermined offense), Middle Passage (inspired by the events surrounding the United States v. The Amistad affair), Runagate, Runagate, and Frederick Douglass.
Hayden’s influences included Wylie, Cullen, Dunbar, Hughes, Bontemps, Keats, Auden and Yeats. Hayden’s work often addressed the plight of African Americans, usually using his former home of Paradise Valley slum as a backdrop, as he does in the poem Heart-Shape in the Dust. Hayden’s work made ready use of black vernacular and folk speech. Hayden wrote political poetry as well, including a sequence on the Vietnam War.On the first poem of the sequence, he said, “I was trying to convey the idea that the horrors of the war became a kind of presence, and they were with you in the most personal and intimate activity, having your meals and so on. Everything was touched by the horror and the brutality and criminality of war. I feel that's one of the best of the poems.”
Thy dewy looks sink in my breast;
Thy gentle words stir poison there;
Thou hast disturbed the only rest
That was the portion of despair!
Subdued to Duty's hard control,
I could have borne my wayward lot:
The chains that bind this ruined soul
Had cankered then-but crushed it not.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
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,
Till joy denies itself again
And, too intense, is turned to pain.
For by permission and command
Of thine own Prince Ferdinand,
Poor Ariel sends this silent token
Of more than ever can be spoken;
Your guardian spirit, Ariel, who
From life to life must still pursue
Your happiness,-- for thus alone
Can Ariel ever find his own.
From Prospero's enchanted cell,
As the mighty verses tell,
To the throne of Naples he
Lit you o'er the trackless sea,
Flitting on, your prow before,
Like a living meteor.
When you die, the silent Moon
In her interlunar swoon
Is not sadder in her cell
Than deserted Ariel.
When you live again on earth,
Like an unseen Star of birth
Ariel guides you o'er the sea
Of life from your nativity.
Many changes have been run
Since Ferdinand and you begun
Your course of love, and Ariel still
Has tracked your steps and served your will.
Now in humbler, happier lot,
This is all remembered not;
And now, alas! the poor sprite is
Imprisoned for some fault of his
In a body like a grave -
From you he only dares to crave,
For his service and his sorrow,
A smile today, a song tomorrow.
The artist who this idol wrought
To echo all harmonious thought,
Felled a tree, while on the steep
The woods were in their winter sleep,
Rocked in that repose divine
On the wind-swept Apennine;
And dreaming, some of Autumn past,
And some of Spring approaching fast,
And some of April buds and showers,
And some of songs in July bowers,
And all of love; and so this tree,--
O that such our death may be!--
Died in sleep, and felt no pain,
To live in happier form again:
From which, beneath Heaven's fairest star,
The artist wrought this loved Guitar;
And taught it justly to reply
To all who question skilfully
In language gentle as thine own;
Whispering in enamoured tone
Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
And summer winds in sylvan cells;
- For it had learnt all harmonies
Of the plains and of the skies,
Of the forests and the mountains,
And the many-voiced fountains;
The clearest echoes of the hills,
The softest notes of falling rills,
The melodies of birds and bees,
The murmuring of summer seas,
And pattering rain, and breathing dew,
And airs of evening; and it knew
That seldom-heard mysterious sound
Which, driven on its diurnal round,
As it floats through boundless day,
Our world enkindles on its way:
- All this it knows, but will not tell
To those who cannot question well
The Spirit that inhabits it;
It talks according to the wit
Of its companions; and no more
Is heard than has been felt before
By those who tempt it to betray
These secrets of an elder day.
But, sweetly as its answers will
Flatter hands of perfect skill,
It keeps its highest holiest tone
For one beloved Friend alone.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I am drunk with the honey wine
Of the moon-unfolded eglantine,
Which fairies catch in hyacinth bowls.
The bats, the dormice, and the moles
Sleep in the walls or under the sward
Of the desolate castle yard;
And when ’tis spilt on the summer earth
Or its fumes arise among the dew,
Their jocund dreams are full of mirth,
They gibber their joy in sleep; for few
Of the fairies bear those bowls so new!
Percy Bysshe Shelley
He is most famous for such classic anthology verse works as Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind, To a Skylark, Music, When Soft Voices Die, The Cloud, and The Masque of Anarchy, which are among the most popular and critically acclaimed poems in the English language. His major works, however, are long visionary poems which included Queen Mab (later reworked as The Daemon of the World), Alastor, The Revolt of Islam, Adonaïs, and the unfinished work The Triumph of Life. The Cenci (1819) and Prometheus Unbound (1820) were dramatic plays in five and four acts respectively. Although he has typically been figured as a "reluctant dramatist" he was passionate about the theatre, and his plays continue to be performed today. He wrote the Gothic novels Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811) and the short prose works "The Assassins" (1814), "The Coliseum" (1817) and "Una Favola" (1819). In 2008, he was credited as the co-author of the novel Frankenstein (1818) in a new edition by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and Random House in the U.S. entitled The Original Frankenstein edited by Charles E. Robinson.
Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. Mark Twain took particular aim at Shelley in In Defense of Harriet Shelley, where he lambasted Shelley for abandoning his pregnant wife and child to run off with the 16 year old Mary Godwin. Shelley never lived to see the extent of his success and influence; although some of his works were published, they were often suppressed upon publication.He became an idol of the next three or even four generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets. He was admired by Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, William Butler Yeats, Upton Sinclair and Isadora Duncan. Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were apparently influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action, although Gandhi does not include him in his list of mentors.
A son of Sir Timothy Shelley — a Whig Member of Parliament — and his wife, a Sussex landowner, Shelley was born 4 August 1792 at Field Place, Broadbridge Heath, near Horsham, West Sussex, England. The eldest of seven children, he had 5 sisters and one brother. He received his early education at home, tutored by Reverend Evan Edwards of nearby Warnham. His cousin and lifelong friend Thomas Medwin, who lived nearby, recounted his early childhood in his "The Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley". It was a happy and contented childhood spent largely in country pursuits such as fishing and hunting.
In 1802, he entered the Syon House Academy of Brentford, Middlesex. In 1804, Shelley entered Eton College, where he fared poorly, subjected to an almost daily mob torment his classmates called "Shelley-baits". Surrounded, the young Shelley would have his books torn from his hands and his clothes pulled at and torn until he cried out madly in his high-pitched "cracked soprano" of a voice.
On 10 April 1810, he matriculated at University College, Oxford. Legend has it that Shelley attended only one lecture while at Oxford, but frequently read sixteen hours a day. His first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he vented his atheistic worldview through the villain Zastrozzi. In the same year, Shelley, together with his sister Elizabeth, published Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. While at Oxford, he issued a collection of verses (perhaps ostensibly burlesque but quite subversive), Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, with Thomas Jefferson Hogg.
In 1811, Shelley published his second Gothic novel, St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, and a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism. This latter gained the attention of the university administration and he was called to appear before the College's fellows, including the Dean, George Rowley. His refusal to repudiate the authorship of the pamphlet resulted in his being expelled from Oxford on 25 March 1811, along with Hogg. The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost 'Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things' — a long, strident anti-monarchical and anti-war poem printed in 1811 in London by Crosby and Company as "by a gentleman of the University of Oxford" — gives a new dimension to the expulsion, reinforcing Hogg's implication of political motives ('an affair of party'). Shelley was given the choice to be reinstated after his father intervened, on the condition that he would have to recant his avowed views. His refusal to do so led to a falling-out with his father.
Four months after being expelled, the 19-year-old Shelley eloped to Scotland with the 16-year-old schoolgirl Harriet Westbrook to get married. After their marriage on 28 August 1811, Shelley invited his college friend Hogg to share their household. When Harriet objected, however, Shelley brought her to Keswick in England's Lake District, intending to write. Distracted by political events, he visited Ireland shortly afterward in order to engage in radical pamphleteering. Here he wrote his Address to the Irish People and was seen at several nationalist rallies. His activities earned him the unfavourable attention of the British government.
Unhappy in his nearly three-year-old marriage, Shelley often left his wife and child (Ianthe Shelley, 1813–76) alone, first to study Italian with a certain Cornelia Turner, and eventually to visit William Godwin's home and bookshop in London. There he met and fell in love with Godwin's daughter, named Mary after her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
On 28 July 1814, Shelley abandoned his pregnant wife and child when he ran away with Mary, then 16, inviting her stepsister Claire Clairmont along for company. The three sailed to Europe, crossed France, and settled in Switzerland, an account of which was subsequently published by the Shelleys. After six weeks, homesick and destitute, the three young people returned to England. In late 1815, while living close to London with Mary and avoiding creditors, he wrote Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. It attracted little attention at the time, but has now come to be recognized as his first major achievement. At this point in his writing career, Shelley was deeply influenced by the poetry of Wordsworth.
In mid-1816, Shelley and Mary made a second trip to Switzerland. They were prompted to do this by Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, who had commenced a liaison with Lord Byron the previous April just before his self-exile on the continent. Byron had lost interest in her and so she used the opportunity of meeting the Shelleys to act as bait to lure him to Geneva. The Shelleys and Byron rented neighbouring houses on the shores of Lake Geneva. Regular conversation with Byron had an invigorating effect on Shelley's output of poetry. While on a boating tour the two took together, Shelley was inspired to write his Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, often considered his first significant production since Alastor. A tour of Chamonix in the French Alps inspired Mont Blanc, a poem in which Shelley claims to have pondered questions of historical inevitability and the relationship between the human mind and external nature.
After the Shelleys returned to England, Fanny Imlay — Mary's half-sister and Claire's stepsister — travelled from Godwin's household in London to kill herself in Wales in early October. In December 1816, Shelley's estranged wife Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, London. On 30 December 1816, a few weeks after Harriet's body was recovered, Shelley and Mary Godwin were married. The marriage was intended, in part, to help secure Shelley's custody of his children by Harriet, but the plan failed: the courts gave custody of the children to foster parents because he was an atheist.
The Shelleys took up residence in the village of Marlow, Buckinghamshire, where a friend of Percy's, Thomas Love Peacock, lived. Shelley took part in the literary circle that surrounded Leigh Hunt, and during this period he met John Keats. Shelley's major production during this time was Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City, a long narrative poem in which he attacked religion and featured a pair of incestuous lovers. It was hastily withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam in 1818. Shelley wrote two revolutionary political tracts under the nom de plume, "The Hermit of Marlow."
Early in 1818, the Shelleys and Claire left England in order to take Claire's daughter, Allegra, to her father Byron, who had taken up residence in Venice. Contact with the older and more established poet encouraged Shelley to write once again. During the latter part of the year, he wrote Julian and Maddalo, a lightly disguised rendering of his boat trips and conversations with Byron in Venice, finishing with a visit to a madhouse. This poem marked the appearance of Shelley's "urbane style". He then began the long verse drama Prometheus Unbound, a re-writing of the lost play by the ancient Greek poet Aeschylus, which features talking mountains and a petulant spirit who overthrows Jupiter. Tragedy struck in 1818 and 1819, when Shelley's son Will died of fever in Rome, and his infant daughter Clara Everina died during yet another household move.
A baby girl, Elena Adelaide Shelley, was born on 27 December 1818 in Naples, Italy and registered there as the daughter of Shelley and a woman named "Marina Padurin". However, the identity of the mother is an unsolved mystery. Some scholars speculate that her true mother was actually Claire Clairmont or Elise Foggi, a nursemaid for the Shelley family. Other scholars postulate that she was a foundling Shelley adopted in hopes of distracting Mary after the deaths of William and Clara. Shelley referred to Elena in letters as his "Neapolitan ward". However, Elena was placed with foster parents a few days after her birth and the Shelley family moved on to yet another Italian city, leaving her behind. Elena died 17 months later, on 10 June 1820.
The Shelleys moved around various Italian cities during these years; in later 1818 they were living in a pensione on the Via Valfonde. This street now runs alongside Florence's train station and the building now on the site, the original having been destroyed in World War II, carries a plaque recording the poet's stay. Here they received two visitors, a Miss Sophia Stacey and her much older travelling companion, Miss Corbet Parry-Jones (to be described by Mary as 'an ignorant little Welshwoman'). Sophia had for three years in her youth been ward of the poet's aunt and uncle. The pair moved into the same pensione and stayed for about two months. During this period Mary gave birth to another son; Sophia is credited with suggesting that he be named after the city of his birth, so he became Percy Florence Shelley, later Sir Percy. Shelley also wrote his 'Ode to Sophia Stacey' during this time. They then moved to Pisa, largely at the suggestion of its resident Margaret King, who, as a former pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft, took a maternal interest in the younger Mary and her companions. This "no nonsense grande dame" and her common-law husband George William Tighe inspired the poet with "a new-found sense of radicalism". Tighe was an agricultural theorist, and provided the younger man with a great deal of material on chemistry, biology, and statistics.
Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound in Rome, and he spent mid-1819 writing a tragedy, The Cenci, in Leghorn. In this year, prompted among other causes by the Peterloo massacre, he wrote his best-known political poems: The Masque of Anarchy and Men of England. These were probably his best-remembered works during the 19th century. Around this time period, he wrote the essay The Philosophical View of Reform, which was his most thorough exposition of his political views to that date.
In 1820, hearing of John Keats' illness from a friend, Shelley wrote him a letter inviting him to join him at his residence at Pisa. Keats replied with hopes of seeing him, but instead, arrangements were made for Keats to travel to Rome with the artist Joseph Severn. Inspired by the death of Keats, in 1821 Shelley wrote the elegy Adonais.
In 1821, Shelley met Edward Ellerker Williams, a British naval officer, and his wife Jane Williams. Shelley developed a very strong affection towards Jane and addressed a number of poems to her. This affection was pure and platonic, almost bordering on devotion. In the poems addressed to Jane, such as With a Guitar, To Jane and One Word is Too Often Profaned, he elevates her to an exalted position worthy of worship.
In 1822, Shelley arranged for Leigh Hunt, the British poet and editor who had been one of his chief supporters in England, to come to Italy with his family. He meant for the three of them — himself, Byron and Hunt — to create a journal, which would be called The Liberal. With Hunt as editor, their controversial writings would be disseminated, and the journal would act as a counter-blast to conservative periodicals such as Blackwood's Magazine and The Quarterly Review.
Leigh Hunt's son, the editor Thornton Leigh Hunt, when later asked whether he preferred Shelley or Byron as a man, replied:-
- "On one occasion I had to fetch or take to Byron some copy for the paper which my father, himself and Shelley, jointly conducted. I found him seated on a lounge feasting himself from a drum of figs. He asked me if I would like a fig. Now, in that, Leno, consists the difference, Shelley would have handed me the drum and allowed me to help myself."
On 8 July 1822, less than a month before his 30th birthday, Shelley drowned in a sudden storm while sailing back from Livorno to Lerici in his schooner, Don Juan. Shelley claimed to have met his Doppelgänger, foreboding his own death. He was returning from having set up The Liberal with the newly arrived Leigh Hunt. The name "Don Juan", a compliment to Byron, was chosen by Edward John Trelawny, a member of the Shelley-Byron Pisan circle. However, according to Mary Shelley's testimony, Shelley changed it to "Ariel". This annoyed Byron, who forced the painting of the words "Don Juan" on the mainsail. This offended the Shelleys, who felt that the boat was made to look much like a coal barge. The vessel, an open boat, was custom-built in Genoa for Shelley. It did not capsize but sank; Mary Shelley declared in her "Note on Poems of 1822" (1839) that the design had a defect and that the boat was never seaworthy. In fact the Don Juan was seaworthy; the sinking was due to a severe storm and poor seamanship of the three men on board.
There were those who believed his death was not accidental. Some said that Shelley was depressed in those days and that he wanted to die; others say that he did not know how to navigate; others believed that some pirates mistook the boat for Byron's and attacked him, and others have even more fantastical stories. There is a mass of evidence, though scattered and contradictory, that Shelley may have been murdered for political reasons. Previously, at Plas Tan-Yr-Allt, the Regency house he rented at Tremadog, near Porthmadog, north-west Wales, from 1812 to 1813, he had allegedly been surprised and apparently attacked during the night by a man who may have been, according to some later writers, an intelligence agent. Shelley, who was in financial difficulties, left forthwith leaving rent unpaid and without contributing to the fund to support the house owner, William Madocks; this may provide another, more plausible explanation for this story.
Two other Englishmen were with Shelley on the boat. One was a retired Navy officer, Edward Ellerker Williams; the other was a boatboy, Charles Vivien. The boat was found ten miles (16 km) offshore, and it was suggested that one side of the boat had been rammed and staved in by a much stronger vessel. However, the liferaft was unused and still attached to the boat. The bodies were found completely clothed, including boots.
In his 'Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron', Trelawny noted that the shirt in which Williams's body was clad was 'partly drawn over the head, as if the wearer had been in the act of taking it off [...] and [he was missing] one boot, indicating also that he had attempted to strip.' Trelawny also relates a supposed deathbed confession by an Italian fisherman who claimed to have rammed Shelley's boat in order to rob him, a plan confounded by the rapid sinking of the vessel.
Shelley's body washed ashore and later, in keeping with quarantine regulations, was cremated on the beach near Viareggio. The day after the news of his death reached England, the Tory newspaper The Courier gloated: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is God or no." A reclining statue of Shelley's body, depicting him washed up onto the shore, created by sculptor Edward Onslow Ford at the behest of Shelley's daughter-in-law, Jane, Lady Shelley, is the centerpiece of the Shelley Memorial at University College, Oxford. An 1889 painting by Louis Edouard Fournier, The Funeral of Shelley (also known as The Cremation of Shelley), contains inaccuracies. In pre-Victorian times it was English custom that women would not attend funerals for health reasons. Mary Shelley did not attend but was featured in the painting, kneeling at the left-hand side. Leigh Hunt stayed in the carriage during the ceremony but is also pictured. Also, Trelawney, in his account of the recovery of Shelley's body, records that "the face and hands, and parts of the body not protected by the dress, were fleshless," and by the time that the party returned to the beach for the cremation, the body was even further decomposed. In his graphic account of the cremation, he writes of Byron being unable to face the scene, and withdrawing to the beach.
Shelley's ashes were interred in the Protestant Cemetery, Rome, near an ancient pyramid in the city walls. His grave bears the Latin inscription, Cor Cordium ("Heart of Hearts"), and, in reference to his death at sea, a few lines of "Ariel's Song" from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange." The grave site is the second in the cemetery. Some weeks after Shelley had been put to rest, Trelawny had come to Rome, had not liked his friend's position among a number of other graves, and had purchased what seemed to him a better plot near the old wall. The ashes were exhumed and moved to their present location. Trelawny had purchased the adjacent plot, and over sixty years later his remains were placed there.
Shelley was eventually memorialized at the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, along with his old friends, Lord Byron and John Keats.
Shelley’s widow Mary bought a cliff top home at Boscombe, Bournemouth in 1851. she intended to live there with her son, Percy and his wife Jane, and had her own parents moved to an underground mausoleum in the town. The property is now known as Shelley Manor. When Lady Jane Shelley was to be buried in the family vault, it was discovered that in her copy of ‘Adonis’ was an envelope containing ashes, which she had identified as belonging to Shelley the poet. The family had preserved the story that when Shelley’s body had been burned, his friend Edward Trelawny had taken the ashes of his heart and kept them himself; some more dramatic accounts suggest that Trelawny snatched the whole heart from the pyre. These same accounts claim that the heart was buried with Shelley’s son Sir Percy Florence Shelley. All accounts agree, however, that the remains now lie in the vault in Saint Peter’s churchyard in Bournemouth.
For several years in the 20th century some of Trelawny’s collection of Shelley ephemera, including a painting of Shelley as a child, a jacket, and a lock of his hair were on display in ‘The Shelley Rooms’ a small museum at Shelley Manor. When the museum finally closed these items were returned to Lord Abinger, who descends from a niece of Lady Jane Shelley.
Shelley was a seventeenth-generation descendant of Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel, through his son John Fitzalan, Marshal of England (d. 1379). John was married to Baroness Eleanor Maltravers (1345 – 10 January 1404/1405). Their eldest son succeeded them as John FitzAlan, 2nd Baron Arundel (1365–1391). He was himself married to Elizabeth le Despenser (d. 1 April/ 10 April 1408).
Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of Hugh the younger Despenser by his second son Edward Despenser of Buckland (d. 30 September 1342). Her parents were Sir Edward Despenser, 1st Lord Despenser (24 March 1336–11 November 1375) and Elizabeth Burghersh (d. 26 July 1409).
The eldest son of Elizabeth by Baron Maltravers was John Fitzalan, 13th Earl of Arundel. Their third son was Sir Thomas Fitzalan of Beechwood. His own daughter Eleanor Fitzalan was married to Sir Thomas Browne of Beechworth Castle. They had four sons and one daughter, Katherine Browne, who in 1471 married Humphrey Sackville (1426–24 January 1488), a member of the powerful Sackville family that had been living at Buckhurst, near Withyham, Kent, since 1068.
Their oldest son, Richard Sackville (1472–18 July 1524), was married in 1492 to Isabel Dyggs. Their oldest son, Sir John Sackville,(1492 – 5 October 1557) was married to Margaret Boleyn, a member of the Boleyn family at nearby Hever, Kent. Margaret was a sister to Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire. His younger brother Richard Sackville had a less prominent marriage which resulted in the birth of Elizabeth Sackville. Elizabeth herself was later married to Henry Shelley.
Henry became father to a younger Henry Shelley. This younger Henry had at least three sons. The youngest of them Richard Shelley was later married to Joan Fuste, daughter of John Fuste from Itchingfield, near Horsham, West Sussex. Their grandson John Shelley of Fen Place, Turners Hill, West Sussex, was married himself to Helen Bysshe, daughter of Roger Bysshe. Their son Timothy Shelley of Fen Place (born c. 1700) married widow Johanna Plum from New York City. Timothy and Johanna were the great-grandparents of Percy.
Percy was born to Sir Timothy Shelley (7 September 1753 – 24 April 1844) and his wife Elizabeth Pilfold following their marriage in October 1791. His father was son and heir to Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring (21 June 1731 – 6 January 1815) by his wife Mary Catherine Michell (d. 7 November 1760). His mother was daughter of Charles Pilfold of Effingham. Through his paternal grandmother, Percy was a great-grandson to Reverend Theobald Michell of Horsham.Through his maternal lineage, he was a cousin of Thomas Medwin — a childhood friend and Shelley's biographer
Percy was the eldest of six children. His younger siblings were:
- John Shelley of Avington House (15 March 1806 – 11 November 1866; married on 24 March 1827 Elizabeth Bowen (d. 28 November 1889));
- Mary Shelley (NB. not to be confused with his wife);
- Elizabeth Shelley (d. 1831);
- Hellen Shelley (d. 10 May 1885);
- Margaret Shelley (d. 9 July 1887).
Shelley's uncle, brother to his mother Elizabeth Pilfold, was Captain John Pilfold, a famous Naval Commander who served under Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar.
Three children survived Shelley: Ianthe and Charles, his daughter and son by Harriet; and Percy Florence, his son by Mary. Charles, who suffered from tuberculosis, died in 1826 after being struck by lightning during a rain storm. Percy Florence, who eventually inherited the baronetcy in 1844, died without children. The only lineal descendants of the poet are therefore the children of Ianthe.
Ianthe Eliza Shelley was married in 1837 to Edward Jeffries Esdaile of Cothelstone Manor. The marriage resulted in the birth of one daughter, Una Deane Esdaile, who married Campbell Carlston Thurston Several members of the Scarlett family were born at Percy Florence's seaside home 'Boscombe Manor' in Bournemouth. The 1891 census shows Lady Shelley living at Boscombe Manor with several great nephews.
Shelley's unconventional life and uncompromising idealism, combined with his strong disapproving voice, made him an authoritative and much-denigrated figure during his life and afterward. He became an idol of the next two or three or even four generations of poets, including the important Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite poets Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, as well as Lord Byron, Henry David Thoreau, William Butler Yeats, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and poets in other languages such as Jan Kasprowicz, Jibanananda Das and Subramanya Bharathy.
Henry David Thoreau's civil disobedience and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's passive resistance were influenced and inspired by Shelley's nonviolence in protest and political action. It is known that Gandhi would often quote Shelley's Masque of Anarchy, which has been called "perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance."
Shelley wrote several essays on the subject of vegetarianism, the most prominent of which were "A Vindication of Natural Diet" (1813) and "On the Vegetable System of Diet".
Shelley, in heartfelt dedication to sentient beings, wrote: "If the use of animal food be, in consequence, subversive to the peace of human society, how unwarrantable is the injustice and the barbarity which is exercised toward these miserable victims. They are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery"; "Never again may blood of bird or beast/ Stain with its venomous stream a human feast,/ To the pure skies in accusation steaming"; and "It is only by softening and disguising dead flesh by culinary preparation that it is rendered susceptible of mastication or digestion, and that the sight of its bloody juices and raw horror does not excite intolerable loathing and disgust." In Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem (1813) he wrote about the change to a vegetarian diet: "And man ... no longer now/ He slays the lamb that looks him in the face,/ And horribly devours his mangled flesh." In Frankenstein (1818), the Being, who is a vegetarian, expresses a similar sentiment: "My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford my sufficient nourishment."
Shelley was a strong advocate for social justice for the 'lower classes'. He witnessed many of the same mistreatments occurring in the domestication and slaughtering of animals, and he became a fighter for the rights of all living creatures that he saw being treated unjustly.
Shelley's mainstream following did not develop until a generation after his passing, unlike Lord Byron, who was popular among all classes during his lifetime despite his radical views. For decades after his death, Shelley was mainly appreciated by only the major Victorian poets, the pre-Raphaelites, the socialists and the labour movement. One reason for this was the extreme discomfort with Shelley's political radicalism which led popular anthologists to confine Shelley's reputation to the relatively sanitised 'magazine' pieces such as 'Ozymandias' or 'Lines to an Indian Air'.
He was admired by C. S. Lewis, Karl Marx, Henry Stephens Salt, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan, Upton Sinclair and William Butler Yeats. Samuel Barber, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Roger Quilter, Howard Skempton, John Vanderslice and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed music based on his poems.
Critics such as Matthew Arnold endeavoured to rewrite Shelley's legacy to make him seem a lyricist and a dilettante who had no serious intellectual position and whose longer poems were not worth study. Matthew Arnold famously described Shelley as a 'beautiful and ineffectual angel'. This position contrasted strongly with the judgement of the previous generation who knew Shelley as a skeptic and radical.
Many of Shelley's works remained unpublished or little known after his death, with longer pieces such as A Philosophical View of Reform existing only in manuscript till the 1920s. This contributed to the Victorian idea of him as a minor lyricist. With the inception of formal literary studies in the early twentieth century and the slow rediscovery and re-evaluation of his oeuvre by scholars such as K.N. Cameron, Donald H. Reiman and Harold Bloom, the modern idea of Shelley could not be more different.
Paul Foot, in his Red Shelley, has documented the pivotal role Shelley's works — especially Queen Mab — have played in the genesis of British radicalism. Although Shelley's works were banned from respectable Victorian households, his political writings were pirated by men such as Richard Carlile who regularly went to jail for printing 'seditious and blasphemous libel' (i.e. material proscribed by the government), and these cheap pirate editions reached hundreds of activists and workers throughout the nineteenth century.
In other countries such as India, Shelley's works both in the original and in translation have influenced poets such as Rabindranath Tagore and Jibanananda Das. A pirated copy of Prometheus Unbound dated 1835 is said to have been seized in that year by customs at Bombay.
The 1970s and 1980s Thames Television sitcom Shelley made many references to the poet.
In 2005 the University of Delaware Press published an extensive two-volume biography by James Bieri. In 2008 the Johns Hopkins University Press published Bieri's 856-page one-volume biography, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography.
The rediscovery in mid-2006 of Shelley's long-lost 'Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things', as noted above and in footnote 6 below, has not been followed up by the work's being published or being made generally available on the internet or anywhere else. At present (November 2009), its whereabouts is not generally known. An analysis of the poem by the only person known to have examined the whole work appeared in the Times Literary Supplement: H. R. Woudhuysen, "Shelley's Fantastic Prank", 12 July 2006.
In 2007, John Lauritsen published his book The Man Who Wrote "Frankenstein" in which he argued that Percy Bysshe Shelley's contributions to the novel were much more extensive than had previously been assumed. It has been known and not disputed that Shelley wrote the Preface — although uncredited — and that he contributed at least 4,000–5,000 words to the novel. Lauritsen sought to show that Shelley was the primary author of the novel.
In 2008, Percy Bysshe Shelley was credited as the co-author of Frankenstein by Charles E. Robinson in a new edition of the novel entitled The Original Frankenstein published by the Bodleian Library in Oxford and by Random House in the U.S. Charles E. Robinson determined that Percy Bysshe Shelley was the co-author of the novel: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'."
Julian Rathbone's 2002 novel A Very English Agent, about a 19th century government spy Charles Boylan, carries a lengthy section on Shelley's time in Italy, in which Boylan tampers with Shelley's boat on orders from the British government, thus causing his death. Rathbone though has stated that he is "a novelist, not a historian" and that his work is very much a piece of fiction.
Shelley also features prominently in The Stress of Her Regard, a 1989 novel by Tim Powers which proposes a secret history connecting the English Romantic writers with the mythology of vampires and lamia.
He also makes an appearance in Jude Morgan's 2005 novel Passion, along with Byron, Keats, Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and a wealth of other English Romantic figures, although the novel's main focus is the lives of the women behind the famous poets: Lady Caroline Lamb, Augusta Leigh, Mary Shelley, and Fanny Brawne. Mary and Percy Shelley also appear in a 2006 novel AngelMonster, by Veronica Bennet. This book is a fictional version of Mary's and Percy's elopement and the series of depressing events.
Shelley appears in Frankenstein Unbound by Brian Aldiss. The book is a time-travel romance featuring Mary Shelley. A movie was made, based on the novel, directed by Roger Corman and starring John Hurt and Bridget Fonda, in 1990. Shelley makes an appearance in the alternative history novel The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Referenced only in passing by another character, in the novel's story he does not drown in Italy, but lives to become a fierce critic (and perhaps saboteur) of Lord Byron's pro-industrial 'Radical party' government, for which he is arrested, declared insane, and placed in a madhouse.
Shelley is portrayed as befriending cavalry officer Matthew Hervey while the latter is in Rome with his sister trying to cope with the death of his wife, in the 4th of Allan Mallinson's novels in the Hervey canon, A Call to Arms (2002). A friendship between Shelley (social subversive, moral outcast) and Hervey (pattern of martial loyalty and religious rectitude, albeit questioned in his bereavement) seems at first view unlikely. But each sees in the other a good man, and ultimately their agreement, often unspoken, on the travails and truths of the human condition cements the bond between them.
Events in Shelley's and Byron's relationship at the house on Lake Geneva in 1816 have been fictionalized in film three times. He is played as a minor character in: a 1986 British production, Gothic, directed by Ken Russell, and starring Gabriel Byrne, Julian Sands, and Natasha Richardson; and a 1988 Spanish production, Rowing with the Wind (Remando al viento), starring Lizzie McInnerny as Mary Shelley and Hugh Grant as Lord Byron. Both these movies deal mostly with Mary Shelley's creation of the Frankenstein novel, while Percy tends to be quite a minor character in both films.
Shelley is the main character in a movie entitled Haunted Summer, made in 1988, starring Laura Dern and Eric Stoltz.
Howard Brenton's play, Bloody Poetry, first performed at the Haymarket Theater in Leicester in 1984, concerns itself with the complex relationships and rivalries between Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and Byron. Shelley's cremation at Viareggio and the removal of his heart by Trelawny are described in Tennessee Williams' play Camino Real by a fictionalized Lord Byron.
Percy, Mary and her sister Claire are some of the main characters in the novel, The Vampyre: The Secret History of Lord Byron, by Tom Holland (1995). The story concerns Lord Byron, poet and friend of Percy Shelley. Their meeting and the growth of their friendship are described, along with a hypothetical account of the time the foursome shared in Switzerland. Holland provides a fictional conclusion to the mysteries that surround Shelley's death.
Shelley's death and his claims of having met a Doppelganger served as inspiration for the 1978 short story "Paper Boat", written by Tanith Lee. Shelley is also the main character in Bulgarian poet Pencho Slaveykov's philosophical poem, Heart of Hearts. Shelley's Prometheus Unbound is quoted by Captain Jean Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in the episode "Skin of Evil". "A great poet once said, All spirits are enslaved that serve things evil."
Shelley's strong views on vegetarianism are a major plot device in P.G. Wodehouse's Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963).
Shelley appears as himself in Peter Ackroyd's novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein. In this, Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein is portrayed as one of Shelley's close friends during his early life and marriage to Harriet, in an entertaining fictional nod to the doppelganger rumour.
Shelley is also the principal model for Marmion Herbert, one of the two male protagonists in Benjamin Disraeli's novel Venetia (1837); the other protagonist Lord Cadurcis is based on Lord Byron. Shelley's poem, "The Indian Serenade", is recited in Chosen, a House of Night novel by P.C. Cast.
In the 1995 novel "Shelley's Heart" by Charles McCarry, Shelley is the inspiration for a secret society that operates at the highest levels of government and is responsible for stealing a presidential election. The members of the society identify each other with the question and answer: What did Trelawny snatch from the funeral pyre at Viareggio? ¬– Shelley’s heart.
Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters mentions Shelley in the poem "Percy Bysshe Shelley" as the namesake of the speaker and that his ashes "were scattered near the pyramid of caius cestius / Somewhere near Rome."
In Video Games
A serial killer, in L.A. Noire, uses excerpts from Shelley to play with detectives and provide clues that ultimately lead to the killer.
- (1810) The Wandering Jew (published 1877)
- (1810) Zastrozzi
- (1810) Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire
- (1810) Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson: Being Poems Found Amongst the Papers of That Noted Female Who Attempted the Life of the King in 1786
- (1811) St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian
- (1811) The Necessity of Atheism
- (1812) The Devil's Walk: A Ballad
- (1813) Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem
- (1814) A Refutation of Deism: In a Dialogue
- (1815) Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude
- (1815) Wolfstein; or, The Mysterious Bandit (chapbook)
- (1816) The Daemon of the World
- (1816) Mont Blanc
- (1817) Hymn to Intellectual Beauty (text)
- (1817) Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century
- (1817) The Revolt of Islam, A Poem, in Twelve Cantos
- (1817) History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland (with Mary Shelley)
- (1818) Ozymandias (text)
- (1818) The Banquet (or The Symposium) by Plato, translation from Greek into English
- (1818) Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (Preface)
- (1818) Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue
- (1818) Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills, October 1818
- (1819) The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts
- (1819) Ode to the West Wind (text)
- (1819) The Masque of Anarchy
- (1819) Men of England
- (1819) England in 1819
- (1819) A Philosophical View of Reform (published in 1920)
- (1819) Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation
- (1819) Peter Bell the Third (published in 1839)
- (1820) Prometheus Unbound, A Lyrical Drama, in Four Acts
- (1820) To a Skylark
- (1820) The Cloud
- (1820) Oedipus Tyrannus; Or, Swellfoot The Tyrant: A Tragedy in Two Acts
- (1820) The Witch of Atlas (published in 1824)
- (1821) Adonaïs
- (1821) Hellas, A Lyrical Drama
- (1821) Ion by Plato, translation from Greek into English
- (1821) A Defence of Poetry (first published in 1840)
- (1821) Epipsychidion
- (1822) The Triumph of Life (unfinished, published in 1824)
Short prose works
- "The Assassins, A Fragment of a Romance" (1814)
- "The Coliseum, A Fragment" (1817)
- "The Elysian Fields: A Lucianic Fragment"
- "Una Favola (A Fable)" (1819, originally in Italian)
- Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things (1811)
- The Necessity of Atheism (1811)
- Declaration of Rights (1812)
- A Letter to Lord Ellenborough (1812)
- A Defence of Poetry
- A Vindication of Natural Diet (1813)
- On the Vegetable System of Diet (1814–1815)
- On Love (1818)
- On Life (1815)
- On a Future State (1815)
- On The Punishment of Death
- Speculations on Metaphysics
- Speculations on Morals
- On Christianity
- On the Literature, the Arts and the Manners of the Athenians
- On The Symposium, or Preface to The Banquet Of Plato
- On Friendship
- On Frankenstein
Collaborations with Mary Shelley
- (1817) History of a Six Weeks' Tour
- (1818) Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus
- (1820) Proserpine
- (1820) Midas
A school still in session
irritable restless but exercising restraint
I sleep beside it
my breath just reaching the next
lesson in the textbook: how to fly
when the arrogance of strangers
sends down March snow
a tree takes root in the sky
a pen to paper breaks the siege
the river declines the bridge invites
the moon takes the bait
turning the familiar corner
of the stairs, pollen and viruses
damage my lungs damage
an alarm clock
to be let out of school is a revolution
kids jump over the railings of light
and turn to the underground
other parents and I
watch the stars rise
The landscape crossed out with a pen
what I am pointing to is not rhetoric
October over the rhetoric
flight seen everywhere
the scout in the black uniform
gets up, takes hold of the world
and microfilms it into a scream
wealth turns into floodwaters
a flash of light expands
into frozen experience
and just as I seem to be a false witness
sitting in the middle of a field
the snow troops remove their disguises
and turn into language