Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Past

Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Radical English Poet of Social Change

Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Radical English Poet of Social Change

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792 in Sussex, England to a well heeled noble family and enjoyed a pleasant rural childhood. And although his father Timothy Shelley was a conservative member of the Whig party in Parliament, Percy himself grew up to be a politically radical writer and poet and a firebrand for equality between the classes. Thus, he would later be a seminal influence for such controversial historical figures as Karl MPercy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792 in Sussex, England to a well heeled noble family and enjoyed a pleasant rural childhood. And although his father Timothy Shelley was a conservative member of the Whig party in Parliament, Percy himself grew up to be a politically radical writer and poet and a firebrand for equality between the classes. Thus, he would later be a seminal influence for such controversial historical figures as Karl Marx and Leo Tolstoy. And shockingly for his day and time Shelley was also an atheist who became a disciple of William Godwin, his anarchist future father-in-law with his second wife, who also espoused equality and atheism.

So, although Shelley became a member of the Romantic poetry elite crowd, along with such greats as Byron, Keats, and Wordsworth. and wrote such classic poems as “Ozymandias”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “The Masque of Anarchy”, and “Queen Mab”, the nations publishers would avoid him for fear of being charged with the crimes of sedition and heresy themselves, Shelly was such a loose canon to them.

Shelley as a youth did not have it easy in school. As a child he was home schooled with a private tutor, but went on to Eton College in 1804 where he was relentlessly bullied by his peers for having socially backward ways. However, the young poet had a mischievous side himself and was an avid science buff so he found a way to get back on his tormentors by using his knowledge of science. He would use a frictional electric machine to charge the handle of his door in order to give an electric shock to any intruders. So both his pranks and his social awkwardness earned him the nickname of Mad Shelley among his peers, He had officially become the schools proverbial nerd.

Upon graduation from Eton, Shelley then matriculated at Oxford University, but was later expelled for allegedly writing a pamphlet espousing atheism, something he never admitted as being true. But it was also while he was at Oxford when his first Gothic novel was published expressing his atheistic leanings. arx and Leo Tolstoy. And shockingly for his day and time Shelley was also an atheist who became a disciple of progressive philosopher William Godwin, his anarchist future father-in-law with his second wife, who also espoused equality and atheism.

So, although Shelley became a member of the Romantic poetry elite crowd, along with such greats as Byron, Keats, and Wordsworth. and wrote such classic poems as “Ozymandias”, “Ode to the West Wind”, “The Masque of Anarchy”, and “Queen Mab”, the nations publishers would avoid him for fear of being charged with the crimes of sedition and heresy themselves, Shelly was such a loose canon to them.

Shelley as a youth did not have it easy in school. As a child he was home schooled with a private tutor, but went on to Eton College in 1804 where he was relentlessly bullied by his peers for having socially backward ways. However, the young poet had a mischievous side himself and was an avid science buff so he found a way to get back on his tormentors by using his knowledge of science. He would use a frictional electric machine to charge the handle of his door in order to give an electric shock to any intruders. So both his pranks and his social awkwardness earned him the nickname of Mad Shelley among his peers, He had officially become the schools proverbial nerd.

Upon graduation from Eton, Shelley then matriculated at Oxford University, but was later expelled for allegedly writing a pamphlet espousing atheism, something he never admitted as being true. But it was also while he was at Oxford when his first Gothic novel was published expressing his atheistic leanings.

Needless to say. Timothy Shelley was not happy with his rebellious son. And the estrangement became complete when Percy eloped and married a tavern owner’s daughter, a 16 year old by the name of Harriet Westbrook. The elder Shelley deemed the marriage into the family of a mere tavern keeper to be beneath the his station in life. But later, after the birth of two children, Shelly would divorce his first wife over friction between himself and his much older sister-in-law to marry Mary Godwin, a woman he considered more intelligent than Harriet, and an accomplished author in her own right. Mary Godwin would become the author of the world famous story of “Frankenstein”.

Shelley would later experience an untimely death as the result of a boating accident in the sinking of an un-seaworthy sailing vessel in Italy’s Gulf of La Spezia on July 8,1822.But his life and his works had a lasting effect on the world. His legacy touched off a movement in England to give suffrage to working class men called the Chartist movement and influenced such modern day luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi and Marin Luther King Jr.. And his views on tyranny were aptly expressed in the third versa of his famous poem entitled “Ode to Liberty”.

III.

Man, the imperial shape, then multiplied
His generations under the pavilion
Of Sun-s throne; palace and pyramid,
Temple and prison, to many a swarming
million
Were, as as to mountain-wolves their ragged
caves.
The human living multitude
Was savage, cunning, blind and rude.
For thou wert not; but o-er the populous
solitude
Like one fierce cloud over a waste of waves,
Hung Tyranny, sate deified
The sister-pest, congregator of slaves;
into the shadow of her pinions wide
Anarchs and priests, who feed on gold and
blood
Till with the stain their inmost souls are dyed,
Drove the astonished herds of men from
every side

I believe that the metaphor of “the sister-pest” is a reference to his first wife’s older sister whom he detested and shows the depth of his disdain over the condition of man under the tyranny of religion and governments.

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