Sunday, April 08, 2012

Poem of the Week 4/8/2012: England in 1819

Sonnet: England in 1819

 An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king,--
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who
Through public scorn,--mud from a muddy spring,--
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,--
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,--
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield,--
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless--a book sealed;
A Senate, Time's worst statute unrepealed,--
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Percy Bysshe Shelley 1819

Who knew Shelley was such a radical? Such a revolutionary?  (aren't poets supposed to be dusty and locked in books these days?) Probably most Shelley scholars could have told one otherwise, and many casual readers, but I constantly find his vigor surprising. One can feel breathing through the poem the spirit of revolution, the true and vital political longing for change, as keen as many feel now. Indeed, it mimics that breath he hopes comes out of the "graveyard" of politics; he once said that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world," and in this case he may be legislating, in a way.

A bit of background - as Shelley is writing this poem, George III, the king of England, has literally been mad since 1810. This madness was the final stroke of a reign than spanned the American Independence (losing the Americas), the French Revolution and the subsequent Terror under Robespierre, and finally wars against Napoleon for more than a decade.

Just a few suggestions of a very few things to pay attention to in this poem: Shelley's diction - (listen to the consonants in the opening line), to his syntax (try to figure out the sentence) - I must leave it to this very scant reading, perhaps to be returned to at a later date.

Good evening, viva la revolucion!

1 comment:

Sarah Smith said...

But poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar; it reproduces all that it represents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian light stand thenceforward in the minds of those who have once contemplated them, as memorials of that gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all thoughts and actions with which it coexists. The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food.

from "A Defence of Poetry," Shelley, 1822