Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Happy Birthday, Percy Bysshe Shelley



Percy Bysshe Shelley is most famous for the poem "Ozymandias" but that was just the tip of this man's creative iceberg. He also penned the poems "To a Skylark" and "Ode to the West Wind" as well as entire plays in verse such as "Prometheus Unbound" and "The Cenci" and novels like "Zastrozzi". He inspired everyone from Browning to Byron in poetry and his acts of civil disobedience were copied by Gandhi. He managed to get himself kicked out of Oxford for writing a pamphlet entitled "The Necissity of Atheism" and refusing to recant any of it. He was a radical reformer too, campaigning for better treatment of the lower classes and for animal rights (before there was even an idea of animal rights.) He did all this and more before dying by drowning at age 29. He also married Mary Woolstonecraft, the author of Frankenstein, and she must have liked him all right since she retrieved his heart from the cremation pyre, kept it with her all her life and had it buried with her when she died. Even though his name was Percy, he was much feared by the conservatives of his day, hated too. One of them eulogized him thusly: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned, now he knows whether there is a God or not."


One thing Shelley does not get credit for is for creating the absolute best pick-up line ever.

"Nothing in the world is single,
All things by a law divine
In one another's being mingle
—Why not I with thine?"

Had he taken better care of himself, Percy Shelley would have been 217 years old today.

Ozymandias

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler 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.

2 comments:

india said...

Wow. 29? Makes one feel quite inadequate.

Norrin2 said...

I know, right. When I was 29 my biggest talent was making funny mouth sounds.