“Poets, the best of them, are a very chameleonic race.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

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?
— Percy Bysshe Shelley, from “Ode to the West Wind”

Shelley was born on this day in 1792.

He was born into wealth and went to top schools (Eton and then Oxford), but was expelled after he wrote a treatise on the glories of atheism. He got into huge trouble with his father when he eloped with the teenage Harriet Westbrook. (Harriet’s father owned a tavern, making her beyond the pale to Shelley’s privileged family.) Shelley and Harriet traveled about England, Wales and Ireland, political rabble-rousing. Around this same time, he started publishing poetry, poems reflecting his political radicalism and atheism.

Then he met Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of the feminist political writer Mary Wollstonecraft and anarchist William Godwin (quite a genetic match-up THERE. No wonder Frankenstein came out of it). Shelley’s marriage to Harriet was on the fritz by that point (but you get the feeling Shelley wouldn’t have let anything stop him, good marriage or no). Shelley and Mary ran away together, leaving poor Harriet behind. Mary’s stepsister Claire came with the scandalous couple on their exile, causing all sorts of salacious rumors about what was going on. The three finally returned to England, and Shelley learned Harriet had drowned herself.

Harriet is a somewhat haunting figure in this whole saga. (Mark Twain wrote an essay called “In Defense of Harriet Shelley” excerpt here, a wonderful act of chivalry, really, where he defended her from slanderous comments in a recent – at the time – biography of Shelley, where she was blamed for everything bad that happened to her husband. If only she had been nicer to poor Shelley … was the main thrust of the book. Mark Twain went to TOWN on that one.)

Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who became Mary Shelley (now famous the world over – arguably more famous than Shelley himself). They had a son who died when he was two. Shelley was devastated.

Shelley, Mary and Claire joined up with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva. Byron slept with Claire. Because why wouldn’t you. Shelley wrote poems. Mary wrote Frankenstein on a dare. It was a productive trip.

Shelley was famous in his own time. Rare for a poet. Rumors followed him everywhere. He had a reputation for sexual sadism, depravity, etc., and his poems did nothing to dispel these rumors. His work is filled with incest and violence and revolt. He was obsessed with ancient times (many were then after the opening of Egypt to the world). He wrote a five-act tragedy called Cenci, taking place in 16th century Rome.

1818 was a prolific year for Shelley. The Shelleys and the Byrons and their entourages traveled to Rome, to Pisa. The Shelleys settled down in La Spezia on the Bay of Lerici. Shelley bought a sailboat. He called it Don Juan, after Byron’s poem. Shelley was not a competent sailor, and he could not swim. In July, 1822, a storm came up during one of his outings, and he drowned. When he washed ashore, his body had already deteriorated. Famously, he had a book of Keats’ poems in his pocket. (Shelley had invited Keats to join him and his merry band in Italy. Keats said No. When Keats died, Shelley wrote an extraordinary poem as a tribute.)

Feelings of a Republican on the Fall of Bonaparte

I hated thee, fallen Tyrant! I did groan
To think that a most unambitious slave,
Like thou, should dance and revel on the grave
Of Liberty. Thou mightst have built thy throne
Where it had stood even now: thou didst prefer
A frail and bloody pomp, which Time has swept
In fragments towards oblivion. Massacre,
For this, I prayed, would on thy sleep have crept,
Treason and Slavery, Rapine, Fear, and Lust,
And stifled thee their minister. I know
Too late, since thou and France are in the dust,
That Virtue owns a more eternal foe
Than Force or Fraud: old Custom, legal Crime,
And bloody Faith, and foulest birth of Time.

When the Lamp is Shattered (a later poem: you can feel his growing difficulties:)

I
When the lamp is shattered
The light in the dust lies dead—
When the cloud is scattered
The rainbow’s glory is shed.
When the lute is broken,
Sweet tones are remembered not;
When the lips have spoken,
Loved accents are soon forgot.

II
As music and splendor
Survive not the lamp and the lute,
The heart’s echoes render
No song when the spirit is mute:—
No song but sad dirges,
Like the wind through a ruined cell,
Or the mournful surges
That ring the dead seaman’s knell.

III
When hearts have once mingled
Love first leaves the well-built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possessed.
O Love! who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home, and your bier?

IV
Its passions will rock thee
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
Bright reason will mock thee,
Like the sun from a wintry sky.
From thy nest every rafter
Will rot, and thine eagle home
Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.

As it probably was for most people, “Ozymandias” was my main introduction to Shelley. We had to read it in high school. The poem spoke to me, God knows why. What on earth could a 15-year-old girl get out of that poem? Today, teenagers are raised on dystopian literature. They are already softened up for “Ozymandias.” But there was something about it that opened up the vastness of time to me – the transience of life, of power, of buildings, of everything – and it haunted me.

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

QUOTES:

Harold Bloom:

Shelley’s posthumous poetic reputation is the most volatile and hardest-fought-over of the last 150 years.

Michael Schmidt:

Shelley advances the art of English poetry by an original approach to language and an original – if fanciful – view of poetic vocation and character.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

There is, despite his courage, a pattern of deepening despair in the cycle of Shelley’s poetry. From the dead end of Alastor, Shelley rose to the highly qualified hope of Prometheus Unbound, and then came full circle again to the natural defeat of imaginative quest in Adonais and in the unfinished but totally hopeless The Triumph of Life, which is not a Purgatorio but an Inferno. Shelley’s heart, when he died, had begun to touch the limits of desire. A tough but subtle temperament, he had worn himself out, and was ready to depart.

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn, on “Ozymandias”:

Like Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us” and “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” “Ozymandias” is a traditional sonnet but also a spontaneous Romantic effusion, reportedly written straight out in less than an hour on the flyleaf of a borrowed book.

Robert Graves compared Shelley and Keats in this unforgettable passage:

Shelley was a volatile creature of air and fire: he seems never to have noticed what he ate or drank, except sometimes as a matter of vegetarian principle. Keats was earthy, with a sweet tooth and a relish for spices, cream and snuff, and in a letter mentions peppering his own tongue to bring out the delicious coolness of claret. When Shelley in Prometheus Unbound mentions: “The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom”, he does not conjure up, as Keats would have done, the taste of the last hot days of the dying English year, with over-ripe blackberries, ditches full of water, and the hedges grey with old man’s beard. He is not aware of the veteran bees whirring their frayed wings or sucking rank honey from the dusty yellow blossoms of the ivy.

W.H. Auden, in a review of a biography of Shelley (whom he disliked):

I cannot believe that any artist can be good who is not more than a bit of a reporting journalist … To the journalist the first thing of importance is subject. In literature I expect plenty of news… Abstractions which are not the latest flowers of a richly experienced and mature mind are empty and their expression devoid of poetic value.

Clive James, London Review of Books, 1980:

The essence of classical composition is that no department of it gets out of hand. After aberrations in artistic history the classic principle reasserts itself as a balancing of forces … The same contrast and balance of perception and rhetoric was demonstrated by Shelley–a romantic with irrepressible classic tendencies–when he used the same stanza in “Adonais”. Shelley obtains some of his most gravid poetic effects by deploying what sounds like, at first hearing, a prose argument.

Mary Shelley, on the birth of Frankenstein:

Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life, and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated. They talked of the experiments of Dr. Darwin (I speak not of what the doctor really did or said that he did, but, as more to my purpose, of what was then spoken of as having been done by him), who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case till by some extraordinary means it began to move with voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn, on “Ozymandias”:

Modern readers may find the clarity of conception and execution of “Ozymandias” especially compelling because Shelley’s technique resembles that of the motion picture camera. The poem begins in medium range with a chance encounter between two men, probably in Europe. Then the scene dissolves to a North African desert where the truncated legs of a statue, brutal and totemic, loom up at center screen. Now our gaze is drawn down to small details in close-up, such as the “wrinkled lip” of the fallen head and the pedestal’s ambiguous inscription. At the phrase “Look on my works,” we nearly feel the spectral king gesturing, as the camera obediently pulls back and up to make a 160-degree pan of the “boundless and bare” landscape.

Matthew Arnold, one of Shelley’s greatest champions:

[Shelley was] a beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating his wings in a luminous void in vain.

A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature
By Dorothy Parker

The Lives and Times of John Keats,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of Lyrical treats.
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn’t impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Shelley, letter to Thomas Peacock: (This is just a short excerpt but I am including because the opening paragraph so perfectly expresses the Romantic sensibility, complete with self-mythologizing Shelley reading Herodotus, nude, on the rocks. lol.)

Bagni di Lucca, 2 July, 1818.

My dear Peacock,
…I take great delight in watching the changes of the atmosphere. In the evening Mary and I often take a ride, for horses are cheap in this country. In the middle of the day, I bathe in a pool or fountain, formed in the middle of the forests by a torrent. It is surrounded on all sides by precipitous rocks, and the waterfall of the stream which forms it falls into it on one side with perpetual dashing. Close to it, on the top of the rocks, are alders, and, above, the great chestnut trees, whose long and pointed leaves pierce the deep blue sky in strong relief. The water of this pool, which, to venture an unrhythmical paraphrase, is “sixteen feet long and ten feet wide,” is as transparent as the air, so that the stones and sand at the bottom seem, as it were, trembling in the light of noonday. It is exceedingly cold also. My custom is to undress and sit on the rocks, reading Herodotus, until the perspiration has subsided, and then to leap from the edge of the rock into this fountain–a practice in the hot weather exceedingly refreshing. This torrent is composed, as it were, of a succession of pools and waterfalls, up which I sometimes amuse myself by climbing when I bathe, and receiving the spray over all my body, whilst I clamber up the moist crags with difficulty…

“Frankenstein” seems to have been well received, for although the unfriendly criticism of the “Quarterly” is an evil for it, yet it proves that it is read in some considerable degree, and it would be difficult for them, with any appearance of fairness, to deny it merit altogether . . .

P. B. Shelley

Michael Schmidt, in Lives of the Poets, writes on the Keats/Shelley connection, as well as on the Shelley/Byron connection:

Shelley does things Keats never attempted. He does things no other English poet has achieved. Perhaps he is, as Grave suggests, a spiritual hermaphrodite. Perhaps his philosophy is, in some respects, off the wall, though not so zany as Blake’s… If Shelley is not quite so effective a name [as Byron] to conjure with, if his biography and beliefs – in free love, revolution, and so on – are less celebrated, it is because Shelley had a better mind, capable of exploring ideas as well as expressing memorable opinions. He did not pay court to an audience. He did not pose at the heart of his best poems. There is no equivalent to the Byronic hero in Shelley. He was a poet first and last, and if a man of vision, a man of specifically poetic vision. He is, as C.H. Sisson has said, “The last English poet to write as a gentleman.” What blurs his work are in fact the “modern ideas” [Matthew] Arnold attributes to him ideas that are no longer modern and no longer apply, and a conscious distance from what Arnold means by “life”.

Shelley’s roots in specific landscape and community are as shallow as Byron’s were. Perhaps we should say that the aristocratic milieu into which he was born could not contain him. It did provide him with a voice, but at heart he is a disciple of Goethe, a European. The Mediterranean irresistibly called to him. He learned from classical philosophy and literature, Italian and Spanish culture. Dante was his master and he translated some of the Divine Comedy. He translated passages of Homer, Euripides, Virgil, Cavalcanti, Calderon and Goethe.

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae:

When in Geneva Byron recited some memorized passages [from Coleridge’s Christabel], Shelley shrieked and rushed from the room. He was found trembling and bathed in sweat. During the description of Geraldine, he saw eyes in the nipples of Mary Godwin, his future wife…Shelley’s vision of the archetypal phallic-woman shows that the poem’s amoral essence was instantaneously transmitted from one great poet to another.

Robert Lowell, letter to Elizabeth Bishop, November 22, 1964

Now I must go and read through Shelley’s Prometheus, a task for me, I’m afraid, though scattered through it are many of his lovely verses. I like his politics well enough, but that universal European romantic rhetoric, grand without observation, humor, or the heartbreaking loving-kindness of Hardy, wearies.

Tennessee Williams, letter to his grandfather, Nov. 22, 1928:

Since then I have read several others of celebrated literary personages. I have one at home now about Shelley, whose poetry I am studying at school. His life is very interesting. He seems to have been the wild, passionate and dissolute type of genius: which makes him very entertaining to read about.

Harold Nicolson:

It is customary for very gifted writers to see spectres and to hear voices calling … Shelley saw a baby rise from the sea and clap its hands at him … It is clear from the writings of his friends that these sounds and visions were of not infrequent occurrence. And yet Shelley was certainly not mad.

Camille Paglia, Break Blow Burn, on “Ozymandias”:

The last line, with its “lone and level sands” stretching to the horizon, seems simple but isn’t. The scene is “lone” (lonely) because devoid of people as well as emotional consolation. It’s as if, with no witnesses left, the poem itself is about to self-distruct…For the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, with their fashionable “grand tour,” Rome’s picturesque ruins were a melancholy parable of the evanescence of fame, wealth and power. But contemporary Rome, for all its rubble, was still a living town, with cottages, churches, markets, and cows grazing in the half-buried Forum. With its pitilessly grinding sands of time, “Ozymandias” is far more extreme: it wipes out history and humanity in a godless apocalypse that prefigures modern nihilism.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, letter to Robert Bridges, May 26, 1879:

I agree with you that English terza rima is (so far as I have seen it) badly made and tedious and for the reason you give, but you are mistaken in thinking the triplet structure is unknown: Shelley’s West Wind ode (if I mistake not) and some other ones are printed in detached 3-line stanzas.

Matthew Arnold:

Wordsworth, Scott, and Keats have left admirable works; far more solid and complete works than those which Byron and Shelley left. But their works have this defect – they do not belong to that which is the main current of the literature of modern epochs, they do not apply modern ideas to life. They constitute, therefore, minor concerns… [Shelley and Byron will be remembered] long after the inadequacy of their actual work is clearly recognised, for their passionate, their Titanic effort to flow in the main stream of modern literature; their names will be greater than their writings.

George Santayana:

Shelley really has a great subject matter: what ought to be; and … he has a real humanity — though it is a humanity in the seed, humanity in its internal principle, rather than in those deformed expressions of it which can flourish in the world.

F.R. Leavis:

Shelley, at his best and worst, offers the emotion in itself, unattached, in the void.

William Butler Yeats:

Keats and Shelley, unlike Wordsworth, intermixed into their poetry no elements from the general thought, but wrote out of the impression made by the world upon their delicate senses.

Elizabeth Bishop, letter to Robert Lowell, June 30, 1948:

I really feel you should struggle against your feelings about children. I suppose it’s better than drooling over them like Swinburne. But I’ve always loved the stories about Shelley going around Oxford peering into baby carriages, and how he once said to a woman carrying a baby, “Madame, can your baby tell us anything of pre-existence?”

Arthur Henry Hallam, on Keats and Shelley, 1831:

So vivid was the delight attending the simple exertions of eye and ear, that it became mingled more and more with trains of active thought, and tended to absorb their whole being into the energy of sense.

During William Carlos Williams’s final illness, he said to his friend Robert Lowell (nickname “Cal”):

“Tell me honestly, Cal. Am I as good a poet as Shelley?”

Speaking of Robert Lowell, he was voluminous on Shelley:

Shelley can just rattle off terza rima by the page, and it’s very smooth, doesn’t seem an obstruction to him — you sometimes wish it were more difficult. Well, someone does that today and in modern style it looks as though he’s wrestling with every line and may be pushed into confusion, as though he’s having a real struggle with form and content.

T.S. Eliot, from “Andrew Marvell”, 1921:

The wit of the Caroline poets is not the wit of Shakespeare, and it is not the wit of Dryden, the great master of contempt, or of Pope, the great master of hatred, or of Swift, the great master of disgust. What is meant is some quality which is common to the songs in Comus and Cowley’s “Anacreontics” and Marvell’s “Horatian Ode.” It is more than a technical accomplish meet, or the vocabulary and syntax of an epoch; it is, what we have designated tentatively as wit, a tough reasonableness beneath the slight Iyric grace. You cannot find it in Shelley or Keats or Wordsworth.

Ernest Hemingway:

Great poets are not necessarily Girl Guides nor scoutmasters nor splendid influences on youth. To name a few: Verlaine, Rimbaud, Shelley, Byron, Baudelaire, Proust, Gide should not have been confined to prevent them from being aped in their thinking, their manners or their morals, by local Kaspers. I am sure that it will take a footnote to this paragraph in ten years to explain who Kasper was.

F.R. Leavis:

There is a general tendency of the images to forget the status of the metaphor or simile that introduced them and to assume an autonomy and a right to propagate, so that we lose in confused generations and perspectives the perception or thought that was the ostensible raison d’etre of imagery.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

Shelley is a central influence upon Beddoes, Browning, Swinburne, Yeats, Shaw, and Hardy. His urbane control is the crucial element in his poetry. He is a superb craftsman, a lyrical poet without rival, and surely one of the most advanced skeptical intellects ever to write a poem. He can be seen as a blend of an English Pindar and an English Lucretius. His poetry has never had total appeal among literary people, because it is idiosyncratic enough to be menacing.

Matthew Arnold:

The English poetry of the first quarter of this century, with plenty of energy, plenty of creative force, did not know enough. This makes Byron so empty of matter, Shelley so incoherent, Wordsworth even, profound as he is, yet so wanting in completeness and variety.

John Keats, letter to Shelley:

You I am sure will forgive me for sincerely remarking that you might curb your magnanimity and be more of an artist, and “load every rift” of your subject with ore. The thought of such discipline must fall like cold chains upon you, who perhaps never sat with your wings furl’d for six Months together. And is this not extraordinary talk for the writer of Endymion? whose mind was like a pack of scattered cards–

Michael Schmidt:

Shelley rejects a rationalist tradition of normative and conventional art. He stresses emotional fluency, the mystical source of poetry (the dying coal); he believes in the centrality of the poet. Such views have not been popular in England since the First World War, though they have retained or gained currency in other anglophone lands. That poetry is “not subject to the control of the active powers of the mind,” that there is no “necessary connection” between it and “consciousness or will” – such views can cause offense if taken seriously. We do well to distrust Shelley. But within the vast realm of his poetry, plays and prose exist, apart from masterpieces to be valued, lessons to be learned, even if only by reaction. His imaginative strategies cannot be borrowed, any more than Milton’s can, but they remain in a deep sense exemplary. A young poet keen to attract a popular audience can ask Byron for a master class. A serious and questing poet will recognize in Shelley a more challenging mentor, and one who will give only private instruction.

T.S. Eliot:

“Good poetry, according to my view, should be written by good Catholics and good atheists: not by a man with a religion of his own. Shelley’s didactiveness compares unfavorably with Dante’s for that reason. Dante assumes that we accept the scheme of the Catholic Church; Shelley tries to convince us of the scheme itself. The poet cannot afford to teach; he is quite at liberty to expound ideas, so long as they aren’t his own ideas, for then there is a chance that he will make poetry of it.”

Dunbar
By Anne Spencer

Ah, how poets sing and die!
Make one song and Heaven takes it;
Have one heart and Beauty breaks it;
Chatterton, Shelley, Keats and I—
Ah, how poets sing and die!

From H.L. Mencken’s essay “The Artist in Society”:

The more the facts are studied, the more they bear it out. In those fields of art, at all events, which concern themselves with ideas as well as with sensations it is almost impossible to find any trace of an artist who was not actively hostile to his environment, and thus an indifferent patriot. From Dante to Tolstoy and from Shakespeare to Mark Twain the story is ever the same. Names suggest themselves instantly: Goethe, Heine, Shelley, Byron, Thackeray, Balzac, Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, Dostoevsky, Carlyle, Moliere, Pope – all bitter critics of their time and nation, most of them piously hated by the contemporary 100 per centers, some of them actually fugitives from rage and reprisal.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

He stands as the modern lyrical poet proper. The design of Shelley’s poetry is remorseless quest for a world where Eros is triumphant. Shelley loved Plato’s work but was no Platonist. Rather, he was a skeptic, who came to understand that head and heart could not be reconciled.

Shelley to a friend:

Lord Byron is an exceedingly interesting person, and, as such, is it not to be regretted that he is a slave to the vilest and most vulgar prejudices, and as mad as a hatter?

Michael Schmidt:

Shelley proves that an idea can be as actual and poetically viable as an image: what matters is its realization.

Harold Bloom, The Best Poems in the English Language:

What Yeats called the antithetical quest, undertaken against the natural man and his human affections, which Shelley had begun to pursue in Alastor, [in “The Triumph of Life”] attains its shattering climax…This vision is not nihilistic, for all its hopelessness, not because anything in the text suggests that Shelley will clamber out of the abyss, but because he will not join the dance, will not be seduced by Nature as his precursor Rousseau was. And yet he stands in the hell of life’s triumph, and sees around him all men who have lived, save for a sacred few of Athens and Jerusalem, whom he declines to name.

Amid this frightening splendor, two elements stand forth: the chastening of Shelley’s idioms and mythic inventiveness, and the provocative distinction between three realms of light–poetry (the stars), nature (the sun), life (the chariot’s glare).

Newspaper headline when Shelley died:

Shelley the Atheist is dead. Now he knows whether there is a Hell or not.

 
 
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14 Responses to “Poets, the best of them, are a very chameleonic race.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley

  1. Kent says:

    You are quite right, Sheila, Ozymandias is powerfully cinematic, yet brief, and still inspiring artists today. I have a collage based on the poem using the imagery of Rapa Nui in the shadow of the moon. It is very beautiful, appropriate and mysterious. Eternal.

  2. Paul H. says:

    I love this post and how you jump from one thing to the next – Shelley married Harriet, then he met Mary and Claire, and there were rumours about them, then they went to France, then they returned and Harriet committed suicide etc. It’s great stuff, like a plot from some crazy soap opera. Just how he lived. Reading journals and letters of people who lived with him (especially Claire Clairmont – what a fantastic woman she was), there is a sense after Shelley dies of everything slowing down. None of them are any longer being driven by his enormous appetite for life, and they all seem lost without him.

    Byron was a superb poet, in fact I might give him the edge over Shelley, but I imagine he was a bit of a bore after a while – so cynical. Shelley, however, must have been fun to be with. So many people who knew him describe his laugh (which was a bit like Tom Hulce’s in Amadeus), that you dismiss the image of brooding Romantic poet. He loved life, and people, but he wouldn’t let people stop him loving life, and the mystery of life.

    Mentioning Claire Clairmont (and do get hold of her letters if you can, she was the best letter writer of that circle and, after Shelley’s death led a much more interesting and independent life that Mary Shelley – who became a conventional victorian) she was the subject of some of my favourite lines of Shelley and which I now have an excuse to quote, from Epipsychidion:

    Thou too, O Comet, beautiful and fierce
    Who drew the heart of this frail Universe
    Towards thine own; till, wrecked in that convulsion,
    Alternating attraction and repulsion,
    Thine went astray and that was rent in twain;
    Oh float into our azure heaven again!

    *goosebumps*

  3. Shelley says:

    My namesake.

    Hard to live up to.

  4. sheila says:

    Paul – hahaha I cannot keep track of Shelley’s shenanigans. it’s like following the exploits of Brangelina in the tabloids or something. It doesn’t even seem real. Thanks for the tip on Claire – I actually didn’t know that much about her and you have totally piqued my interest.

  5. sheila says:

    Kent – your collage sounds absolutely amazing, my friend!!

    I have Ms. Paglia to thank for her observation that the poem works cinematically. I wonder if that’s why I responded to it so deeply when I first read it at 14. Because I could SEE It.

  6. PaulH says:

    Well, if you read up on Claire and become obsessed, come and find me. I am no longer allowed to talk to people about Claire Clairmont as I have bored them all to distraction. The first draft of this comment was, honestly, six paragraphs long until I began to feel sorry for you having to read it and pared back. I may have to start a blog.

  7. sheila says:

    Paul – hahahahaha

    Please don’t ever “pare back” here. I want it all! I know nothing about this fantastic woman.

  8. You know the phrase from the skylark poem:
    Like a Poet hidden
    In the light of thought,
    Singing hymns unbidden,
    Till the world is wrought
    To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not…
    It seems like she likes the second part so much, she pays almost no attention to the first part, about the light of thought & how it conceal the poet…

  9. Melanie says:

    I was forced to get out my old English Lit book and refresh my memories. ‘Ode to Intellectual Beauty’ there are so many gorgeous and quotable lines, but as a whole a bit too much for me. I far prefer ‘Ozymandias’, long enough to be provocative but not so long as to be dragging. I really like that quality in poetry of dashing off a few lines or stanzas as the spirit moves and not quite finished. It is like one of my other very favorites, ‘Kublai Khan’ by Coleridge. I should also credit it with introducing me to one of my favorite words in the English language – OXYMORON. Not only is it fun to say, but the concept is slightly mindblowing as well. My teacher pointed out the phrase “collossal wreck” as being an oxymoron. I wrote it boldly in the margin and was very enchanted by the idea.

    I also ran across some highlighted lines in ‘Adonais’, his elegy to Keats, which bear a curse on critics like you, Sheila.

    “As Albion wails for thee: the curse of Cain
    Light on his head who pierc’d thy innocent breast,
    And scar’d the angel soul that was its earthly guest!”

    Apparently many believed a bad review of Keats’ “Endymion” to be the cause of his ultimate decline. They were a sensitive bunch, weren’t they?

    • Aslan'sOwn says:

      Hope this isn’t too much of a stretch, but you mentioned enjoying SAYING the word “oxymoron” which reminded me that I love the sound of the word “Prometheus” (which was on my mind because Shelley wrote Prometheus Unbound.) “Prometheus” – isn’t it funny how just the sound of certain words are pleasant?

  10. Melanie says:

    “Curse of Cain”, “angel soul”, Frankenstine – Hiatus Hell!

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