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About this poet

Percy Bysshe Shelley was born August 4, 1792, at Field Place, near Horsham, Sussex, England. The eldest son of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley, with one brother and four sisters, he stood in line to inherit not only his grandfather's considerable estate but also a seat in Parliament. He attended Eton College for six years beginning in 1804, and then went on to Oxford University. He began writing poetry while at Eton, but his first publication was a Gothic novel, Zastrozzi (1810), in which he voiced his own heretical and atheistic opinions through the villain Zastrozzi. That same year, Shelley and another student, Thomas Jefferson Hogg, published a pamphlet of burlesque verse, "Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson," and with his sister Elizabeth, Shelley published Original Poetry; by Victor and Cazire. In 1811, Shelley continued this prolific outpouring with more publications, including another pamphlet that he wrote and circulated with Hogg titled "The Necessity of Atheism," which got him expelled from Oxford after less than a year's enrollment.  Shelley could have been reinstated if his father had intervened, but this would have required his disavowing the pamphlet and declaring himself Christian. Shelley refused, which led to a complete break between Shelley and his father. This left him in dire financial straits for the next two years, until he came of age.

That same year, at age nineteen, Shelley eloped to Scotland with sixteen-year-old Harriet Westbrook. Once married, Shelley moved to the Lake District of England to study and write. Two years later he published his first long serious work, Queen Mab: A Philosophical Poem. The poem emerged from Shelley's friendship with the British philosopher William Godwin, and it expressed Godwin's freethinking Socialist philosophy. Shelley also became enamored of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary, and in 1814 they eloped to Europe. After six weeks, out of money, they returned to England. In November 1814 Harriet Shelley bore a son, and in February 1815 Mary Godwin gave birth prematurely to a child who died two weeks later. The following January, Mary bore another son, named William after her father. In May the couple went to Lake Geneva, where Shelley spent a great deal of time with George Gordon, Lord Byron, sailing on Lake Geneva and discussing poetry and other topics, including ghosts and spirits, into the night. During one of these ghostly "seances," Byron proposed that each person present should write a ghost story. Mary's contribution to the contest became the novel Frankenstein. That same year, Shelley produced the verse allegory Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude. In December 1816 Harriet Shelley apparently committed suicide. Three weeks after her body was recovered from a lake in a London park, Shelley and Mary Godwin officially were married. Shelley lost custody of his two children by Harriet because of his adherence to the notion of free love.

In 1817, Shelley produced Laon and Cythna, a long narrative poem that, because it contained references to incest as well as attacks on religion, was withdrawn after only a few copies were published. It was later edited and reissued as The Revolt of Islam (1818). At this time, he also wrote revolutionary political tracts signed "The Hermit of Marlow." Then, early in 1818, he and his new wife left England for the last time. During the remaining four years of his life, Shelley produced all his major works, including Prometheus Unbound (1820). Traveling and living in various Italian cities, the Shelleys were friendly with the British poet Leigh Hunt and his family as well as with Byron.

On July 8, 1822, shortly before his thirtieth birthday, Shelley was drowned in a storm while attempting to sail from Leghorn to La Spezia, Italy, in his schooner, the Don Juan.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Posthumous Poems of Shelley: Mary Shelley's Fair Copy Book, Bodleian Ms. Shelley Adds (1969)
A Letter to Lord Ellenborough (1812)
A Philosophical View of Reform (1920)
A Proposal for Putting Reform to the Vote Throughout the Kingdom, as The Hermit of Marlow (1817)
A Refutation of Deism: in a Dialogue (1814)
Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Author of Endymion, Hyperion etc. (1821)
Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude; and Other Poems (1816)
An Address, to the Irish People (1812)
Epipsychidion (1821)
Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments (1840)
Hellas: A Lyrical Drama (1822)
Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century (1818)
Note books of Percy Bysshe Shelley, From the Originals in the Library of W. K. Bixby (1911)
Oedipus Tyrannus; or, Swellfoot the Tyrant. A Tragedy. In Two Acts (1820)
Original Poetry (1810)
Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson (1810)
Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1824)
Prometheus Unbound. A Lyrical Drama in Four Acts, With Other Poems (1820)
Proposals for An Association of those Philanthropists (1812)
Queen Mab; a Philosophical Poem: with Notes (1813)
Rosalind and Helen, A Modern Eclogue; with Other Poems (1819)
Shelley's Poetry and Prose (1977)
Shelley's Prose; or The Trumpet of a Prophecy (1954)
St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian. A Romance, as a Gentleman of the University of Oxford (1811)
The Complete Poetical Works of Shelley (1969)
The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1926)
The Esdaile Notebook. A volume of early poems (1964)
The Esdaile Poems (1966)
The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics (1985)
The Masque of Anarchy. A Poem (1832)
The Necessity of Atheism (1811)
The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1839)
The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1870)
The Wandering Jew. A Poem (1887)
Zastrozzi (1810)

Prose

Letters From Percy Bysshe Shelley to Elizabeth Hitchener (1890)
Letters from Percy Bysshe Shelley to William Godwin (1891)
Select Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1882)
Shelley and His Circle, 1773-1822 (1961)
The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1964)
The Shelley Correspondence in the Bodleian Library: Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley and others (1926)

Drama

The Cenci. A Tragedy, in Five Acts (1819)

An Exhortation

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 - 1822

Chameleons feed on light and air:
   Poets' food is love and fame:
If in this wide world of care
   Poets could but find the same
With as little toil as they,
   Would they ever change their hue
   As the light chameleons do,
Suiting it to every ray
      Twenty times a day?

Poets are on this cold earth,
   As chameleons might be,
Hidden from their early birth
   In a cave beneath the sea;
Where light is, chameleons change:
   Where love is not, poets do:
   Fame is love disguised: if few
Find either, never think it strange
      That poets range.

Yet dare not stain with wealth or power
   A poet's free and heavenly mind:
If bright chameleons should devour
   Any food but beams and wind,
They would grow as earthly soon
   As their brother lizards are.
   Children of a sunnier star,
Spirits from beyond the moon,
      Oh, refuse the boon!

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 4, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 4, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose literary career was marked with controversy due to his views on religion, atheism, socialism, and free love, is known as a talented lyrical poet and one of the major figures of English romanticism. 

by this poet

poem
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
poem
It lieth, gazing on the midnight sky, 
  Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;  
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly; 
  Its horror and its beauty are divine. 
Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie 
  Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine,  
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,  
The agonies of
poem
I
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The