Saturday, August 04, 2012

Happy Birthday, Percy

Percy Bysshe Shelley, born this day 1792. He drowned while sailing, in 1822, before his thirtieth birthday, but still managed to produce many poetic masterpieces. He was twice married, the second time to Mary (neè Godwin), who wrote Frankenstein.

He spent one year at Oxford University, but in 1811 he and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg published their pamphlet, The Necessity of Atheism, which resulted in their immediate expulsion from the university. Many of his poems are not only lyrical, but progressive, even revolutionary, in their politics.

Here's one such:

from Queen Mab, a philosophical poem

'Then grave and hoary-headed hypocrites,
Without a hope, a passion or a love,
Who through a life of luxury and lies
Have crept by flattery to the seats of power,
Support the system whence their honors flow.
They have three words--well tyrants know their use,
Well pay them for the loan with usury
Torn from a bleeding world!--God, Hell and Heaven:
A vengeful, pitiless, and almighty fiend,
Whose mercy is a nickname for the rage
Of tameless tigers hungering for blood;
Hell, a red gulf of everlasting fire,
Where poisonous and undying worms prolong
Eternal misery to those hapless slaves
Whose life has been a penance for its crimes;
And Heaven, a meed for those who dare belie
Their human nature, quake, believe and cringe
Before the mockeries of earthly power

'These tools the tyrant tempers to his work,
Wields in his wrath, and as he wills destroys,
Omnipotent in wickedness; the while
Youth springs, age moulders, manhood tamely does
His bidding, bribed by short-lived joys to lend
Force to the weakness of his trembling arm.
They rise, they fall; one generation comes
Yielding its harvest to destruction's scythe.
It fades, another blossoms; yet behold!
Red glows the tyrant's stamp-mark on its bloom,
Withering and cankering deep its passive prime.
He has invented lying words and modes,
Empty and vain as his own coreless heart;
Evasive meanings, nothings of much sound,
To lure the heedless victim to the toils
Spread round the valley of its paradise

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