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Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)


English Romantic poet who rebelled against English politics and conservative values. Shelley was considered with his friend Lord Byron a pariah for his life style. He drew no essential distinction between poetry and politics, and his work reflected the radical ideas and revolutionary optimism of the era. Like many poets of his day, Shelley employed mythological themes and figures from Greek poetry that gave an exalted tone for his visions.

"The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

(from 'Ode to the West Wind', 1819)

Percy Bysshe Shelley, the heir of a rich estate, was born at Field Place, near Horsham in Sussex, into an aristocratic family. Field Place had once been a Tudor farmhouse; the new part was Georgian. Shelley's father, Timothy Shelley, was a Sussex squire and a member of Parliament. When he was six years old his father sent him to a day school run by the vicar of Warnham church. The first ten years of his life were happy and healthy. At the age of 24 he wrote in Switzerland in a poem: "Dear Home, thou scene of earliest hopes and joys, / The least of which wronged Memory ever makes / Bitterer than all thin unremembered tears."

Shelley attended Syon House Academy and Eton and in 1810 he entered the Oxford University College. One of his schoolmates at Syon House later told, that Shelley was a sleep walker: "We did not sleep in the same dormitory, but I shall never forget one moonloght night seeing Shelley walk into my room. He was in a state of somnambulism. His eyes were open, and he advanced with slow steps to the window, which, it being the height of summer, was open. I got out of bed, seized him with my arm, and waked him...."  

In 1811 Shelley was expelled from the college for publishing The Necessity of Atheism, which he wrote with Thomas Jefferson Hogg. They both refused to answer any questions about the pamphlet, which had been sent to the heads of the colleges and a number of bishops. Shelley's father renounced his inheritance in favor of a small annuity, after he had eloped with the 16-year old Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a London tavern owner. The pair spent the following two years traveling in England and Ireland, distributing pamphlets and speaking against political injustice. Shelley tried to set up a small community of free spirits At Lynmouth in Devon. He moved to Wales after finding out, that he was watched by Home Office spies because of his radical activities and writings. While living at Tanyrallt in Carnarvonshire he was attacked by a shepherd who fired three shots at him.

Shelley continued his nomadic living and published in 1813 his first important poem, the visionary Queen Mab, which later became known as the "Chartist's Bible". In its prose notes Shelley dealt with such subjects as free love, atheism, Christianity, and vegetarianism. In his essay 'A Vindication of Natural Diet' (1813), partly inspired by Plutarch's Peri sarkofagias, Shelley mentioned that he has been a vegetarian for a period. At least George Bernard Shaw and Gandhi knew Shelley's defence of vegetarianism.

"How wonderful is Death,
Death and his brother sleep!"

(from Queen Mab, 1813)

The poet's first marriage turned to be failure. In 1814 Shelley traveled abroad with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, the daughter of the philosopher and anarchist William Godwin (1756-1836). Also Mary's young stepsister Jane (Claire) Clairmont was in the company. During this journey Shelley wrote an unfinished novella, The Assassins (1814). The combined journal, Six Weeks' Tour, reworked by Mary Shelley, came out in 1817. After their return to London, Shelley came into an annual income under his grandfather's will. Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft and his favorite son William was born in 1816  William died a few years later in Rome.

"The heart that loves, the brain that contemplates,
The life that wears, the spirit that creates
One object, and one form, and builds thereby
A sepulchre for its eternity."

(from 'To Divide is Not to Take Away')

The summer of 1816 Shelley spent with Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, where Byron had an affair with Clairmont. Shelley composed Hymn to Intellectual Beauty and Montblanc. Mary Wollstonecraft started her famous novel Frankenstein. In 1817 Shelley published his political pamphlet The Revolt of Islam, a poem, where the principal characters, originally brother and sister, become lovers. Cynthna, a maiden, joins forces with revolutionary Laon. They are burned alive as a sacrifice to the famine and pestilence which follows the people's revolt. In the poem 'Ozymandias' (1818) Shelley commented the fleeting nature of fame and power. Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II of Egyp. His ruined statue is in the desert. On the pedestal is written: "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" but there is nothing to see but sand.

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 strech far away.
(from 'Ozymandias')

The Shelleys and Clairmount moved in 1818 to Italy, where Byron was residing. In 1819 they went to Rome and in 1820 to Pisa. Shelley's works from this period include Julian and Maddalo, an exploration of his relations with Byron, Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama drawn from Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound. "Peace is in the grave. / The grave hides all things beautiful and good: / I am a God and cannot find it there." This deeply personal work about Titan Prometheus who brings fire to humanity is often considered Shelley's greatest lyrical drama. The Cenci was a five-act tragedy based on the history of a 16th-century Roman family, and The Mask of Anarchy was a political protest which was written after the Peterloo massacre. "One by one, and two by two / He tossed them human hearts to chew."

In 1822 the Shelley household, which now included Jane and Edward Williams, moved to the Bay of Lerici. There Shelley began to write The Triumph of Life. To welcome his friend Leigh Hunt, he sailed to Leghorn. As much as he was near and on the water Shelley never learned to swim or navigate. He also forecasted many times his death by drowning. During the stormy return voyage to Lerici, his small schooner the Ariel sank and Shelley drowned with Edward Williams on July 8, 1822. The fisheaten bodies were washed ashore at Viareggio, where, in the presence of Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt, they were burned on the beach  his heart was given to his wife, who carried it with her in a silken shroud everywhere she went for the rest of her life. Shelley's ashes was later buried in Rome. There is a rumor that an old Italian seaman confessed on his deathbed that he had been a crewmember on a boat that collided intentionally with Shelley's ship in order to steal money hidden on board.

For further reading: Ariel: The Life of Shelley by Andre Maurois (1924); Life by E. Blunden (1946); Shelley: The Critical Heritage by J.E. Barcus (1975); Shelley: A Voice Not Understood by T. Webb (1976); The Magic Circle by O.J. Allsup (1976); Destroyer and Preserver by L. Abbey (1979); Shelley and the Sublime by A. Leighton (1984); Red Shelley by P. Foot (1980); The Transforming Image by J. Hall (1980); The Unacknowledged Legistlator: Shelley and Politics by P.M.S. Dawson (1980); Shelley: Shorter Poems, ed. by P. Swinden; The Poems of Shelley by K. Everest; The Poetry of Life by R. Tetreault (1987); Percy Bysshe Shelley by Michael O¨Neill (1989); Craddled into Poetry by Ernie Trory (1991); Percy Busshe Shelley by Harold Bloom (1991); In the Household of Percy Bysshe Shelley by Robert Cooperman (1993); Percy Bysshe Shelley by Timothy Webb (1998); Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 by James Bieri (2004); Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Exile of Unfulfilled Reknown, 1816-1822 by James Bieri (2005); The Cambridge Companion to Shelley, edited by Timothy Morton (2006); Shelley and the Romantic Imagination: A Psychological Study by Thomas R. Frosch (2007); Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography by James Bieri (2008); The Unfamiliar Shelley, edited by Alan Weinberg, Timothy Webb (2009); Shelley's Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family by Stephen Hebron and Elizabeth C Denlinger (2010)  - See also: Thomas Moore - Suomeksi on julkaistu mm. valikoima Shelleyn runoja, suom. Jaakko Tuomikoski (1929) 

Selected works:

  • Zastrozzi: A Romance, 1810
  • Original poetry by Victor and Cazire, 1810
  • Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson, 1810 (with Thomas Jefferson Hogg)
  • St. Irvyne, or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance by a Gentleman of the University of Oxford, 1811
  • The Necessity of Atheism, 1811
  • Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem: With Notes, 1813
  • A Vindication of Natural Diet Being One in a Series of Notes to Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem , 1813
  • A Refutation of Deism: In a Dialogue, 1814
  • Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude, 1815
    - 'Alastorin alkusäkeet' (teoksessa Shelleyn runoja, suom. Jaakko Tuomikoski, 1929)
  • Hymn to Intellectual Beauty, 1816
    - 'Hymni sisäiselle kauneudelle' (suom. Jaakko Tuomikoski, teoksessa Shelleyn runoja, 1929)
  • Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni, 1816 (first published in History of a Six Weeks' Tour, 1817)
  • History of a Six Weeks' Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, 1817 (with Mary Shelley)
  • Laon and Cythna; or, the Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century, 1817 (as The Revolt of Islam: A Poem in Twelve Cantos, 1817)
  • Ozymandias, 1818 (first published in The Examiner)
    - 'Ozymandias' (suom. Jaakko Tuomikoski, teoksessa Shelleyn runoja, 1929)
  • Rosalind and Helen: A Modern Eclogue, 1818
  • The Cenci: A Tragedy in Five Acts, 1819
  • The Masque of Anarchy, 1819 (published in 1832 with a prefacwe by Leigh Hunt)
  • OEdipus Tyrannus; or, Swellfoot the Tyrant: A Tragedy in Two Acts. 1820 (translator)
  • The Witch of Atlas, 1820 (first published in Posthumous Poems, 1824)
  • Ode to Liberty, 1820 (published with Prometheus Unbound, 1820)
  • Ode to Naples, 1820
  • Prometheus Unbound, 1820 (contains 'To a Sensitive Plant,' 'Ode to West Wind,' 'To a Skylark' )
    - 'Mimosa,' 'Leivoselle,' 'Oodi länsituulelle' (suom. Jaakko Tuomikoski, teoksessa Shelleyn runoja, 1929)
  • Epipsychidion, 1821
  • Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, 1821
  • Defence of Poetry, 1821 (first published in Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, 1840)
  • Hellas: A Lyrical Drama, 1822
  • The Triumph of Life, 1822 (unfinished)
  • Charles the First, 1822 (unfinished)
  • Poetical Pieces of the Late Percy Bysshe Shelley: Containing Prometheus Unmasked, Hellas, The Cenci, Rosalind and Helen, with Other Poems, 1823
  • Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1824 (4 vols., edited and published by Mary Shelley)
  • The Beauties of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1830
  • The Shelley Papers; Memoir of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1833 (by T. Medwin, esq.)
  • The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, with His Life, 1834 (2 vols.)
  • Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1839 (edited by Mary Shelley)
  • Song to the Men of England, 1839
  • Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments, 1840 (2nd ed., 1845, edited by M.W. Shelley)
  • The Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1847 (a new edition, edited by Mary Shelley)
  •  The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1870 (rev. ed., with with notes and a memoir by William Michael Rossetti)
  • Select Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1882 (ed. Richard Garnett)
  • The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: From the Original Editions, 1888 (ed. Richard Herne Shepherd)   
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1890 (edited by Edward Dowden)
  • Poetical Works, Given from His Own Editions and Other Authentic Sources, 1892 (3rd. ed., with the notes of Mary Wollstonecraft; edited by H. Buxton Forman)    
  • The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1904 (edited by Thomas Hutchinson)
  • With Shelley in Italy:A Selection of the Poems and Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley Relating to His Life in Italy, 1907 (edited by Anna Benneson McMahan)
  • The Best Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1909 (ed. Shirley Carter Hughson)
  • Literary and Philosophical Criticism, 1909 (edited with an introduction by John Shawcross)
  • Poems Published in 1820, 1910 (ed. with introduction and notes by A. M. D. Hughes)
  • The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Containing Material Never before Collected. Vol. 1, 1914 (edited by Roger Ingpen)
  • The Dramatic Poems: Arranged in Chronological Order, 1922 (with a preface by C. H. Herford)
  • [Shelley's] Lost Letters to Harriet, 1930 (ed. with an introd by L. Hotson)
  • Shelley in Italy: An Anthology, 1947 (selected with an introduction by John Lehmann)
  • New Shelley Letters, 1948 (edited by W S Scott)
  • Selected Poetry, Prose and Letters, 1951 (edited by A. S. B. Glover)
  • Shelley: Selected Poems and Prose, 1964 (chosen and edited by G. M. Matthews)
  • The Poetical Works of Shelley, 1974
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley: Selected Poems, 1983 (notes by Alasdair DF Macrae)
  • The Prose Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Vol. 1, 1993 (edited by E. B. Murray)
  • Shelley's 1819-1821 Huntington Notebook: A Facsimile of Huntington MS HM 2176, 1994 (edited by Mary A. Quinn)
  •  Poems and Prose, 1995 (edited by Timothy Webb, critical selection by George E. Donaldson) 
  • The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume I, 2000 (edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat)
  •  The Major Works, 2003 (edited with an introduction and notes by Zachary Leader and Michael O'Neill)
  • The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Volume II, 2004 (ed. by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat)
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley: Collected Poems, 2008 (edited by Neville Rogers, introduction by Richard Holmes, engravings by Simon Brett)  

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