Heroes of Learning: Shelley and the ultimate epitaph

This year sees the bicentenary of the death of the great Romantic Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) We won’t dwell here on many things: his rockstar lifestyle: most Romantic poets could claim that. His applecart upsetting and getting chucked out of Oxford -no one minded atheists who kept their mouths shut. His irregular sexual habits-Byron could Trump him there. Or even his collaboration with lover Mary on the first part of the Frankenstein franchise-she rightly gets most of the credit. Because all is much better said and done in this link to a Conversation article by Amy Wilcockson.[1]

No, what grabs us at LSS is his realisation that there is such a thing as society. Because while such luminaries as Jane Austen were writing complicated novels about pretty ladies in rather comfortable country houses, with not a thought as to what was going on outside, Byron, Shelley and the others were passionately committed to reform, progress and freedom, even to the point of death. The wrote about the State and the people who run it. The ruler with the puffed up pride, overweening narcissism, and ultimately short shelf life was as relevant to them as it is to us now. And look how Shelly captured it in Ozymandias (you will know him as Rameses II, gentle reader, the one who probably chucked Moses out of Egypt) We hope the superb Poetry Foundation will forgive us if we repeat a large chunk of their page, we’ll link to the lot below[2] Because this one is so very good, we don’t want you to miss it

  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.”

We’ve seen more than one mighty ruler fall recently. There may other soon to come. But before you put in your candidates for who’s next, ask this with Shelley: why do they bother in the first place?

[1] https://theconversation.com/percy-bysshe-shelley-at-200-how-the-poet-became-famous-after-his-death-186616?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest%20from%20

[2] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46565/ozymandias

#shelley #byron #keats #romantics #poetry #rulers

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