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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)

To a Skylark

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792 - 1822
    Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
        Bird thou never wert,
    That from heaven, or near it,
        Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

    Higher still and higher
        From the earth thou springest
    Like a cloud of fire;
        The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

    In the golden lightning
        Of the sunken sun,
    O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
        Thou dost float and run,
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

    The pale purple even
        Melts around thy flight;
    Like a star of heaven
        In the broad daylight
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,

    Keen as are the arrows
        Of that silver sphere
    Whose intense lamp narrows
        In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see—we feel that it is there.

    All the earth and air
        With thy voice is loud,
    As, when night is bare,
        From one lonely cloud
The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

    What thou art we know not;
        What is most like thee?
    From rainbow clouds there flow not
        Drops so bright to see
As from thy presence showers a rain of melody.

    Like a poet hidden
        In the light of thought,
    Singing hymns unbidden,
        Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not:

    Like a high-born maiden
        In a palace tower,
    Soothing her love-laden
        Soul in secret hour
With music sweet as love, which overflows her bower:

    Like a glow-worm golden
        In a dell of dew,
    Scattering unbeholden
        Its aerial hue
Among the flowers and grass, which screen it from the view:

    Like a rose embowered
        In its own green leaves,
    By warm winds deflowered,
        Till the scent it gives
Makes faint with too much sweet these heavy-winged thieves:

    Sound of vernal showers
        On the twinkling grass,
    Rain-awakened flowers,
        All that ever was
Joyous, and clear, and fresh, thy music doth surpass.

    Teach us, sprite or bird,
        What sweet thoughts are thine:
    I have never heard
        Praise of love or wine
That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

    Chorus hymeneal
        Or triumphal chaunt
    Matched with thine would be all
        But an empty vaunt,
A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

    What objects are the fountains
        Of thy happy strain?
    What fields, or waves, or mountains?
        What shapes of sky or plain?
What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

    With thy clear keen joyance
        Languor cannot be:
    Shadow of annoyance
        Never came near thee:
Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

    Waking or asleep,
        Thou of death must deem
    Things more true and deep
        Than we mortals dream,
Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

    We look before and after,
        And pine for what is not:
    Our sincerest laughter
        With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

    Yet if we could scorn
        Hate, and pride, and fear;
    If we were things born
        Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

    Better than all measures
        Of delightful sound,
    Better than all treasures
        That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

    Teach me half the gladness
        That thy brain must know,
    Such harmonious madness
        From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

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
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
  How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly!—yet soon
  Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:

Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
  Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no
poem
 
The fountains mingle with the river   
And the rivers with the ocean,   
The winds of heaven mix for ever   
With a sweet emotion;   
Nothing in the world is single, 
All things by a law divine   
In one another's being mingle—   
Why not I with thine?   
   
See the mountains kiss high heaven,   
And the
poem
                                I
  The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
    The waves are dancing fast and bright,
  Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
    The purple noon's transparent might,
    The breath of the moist earth is light,
  Around its unexpanded buds;
    Like many a voice of one delight,
  The