Shelley’s Sonnets

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Art, Politics
Tags: , , ,

The great Romantic poets frequently experimented with, developed and revitalised conventional poetic forms. The sonnet had been largely out of favour for over a hundred years until Wordsworth, Keats and Shelley revealed their innovative prowess with the rigorous, fourteen-line structure. Shelley, the revolutionary writer of A Defence of Poetry and the propagator of the idea that poets are ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, composed immaculate, poignant gems by using the genre to condense and intensify his ideas. Shelley’s best attempts compare to those of past masters such as Petrarch and Shakespeare. ‘Ozymandias’ (reproduced below) is probably Shelley’s most renowned success with the form. This reading of ‘England in 1819’ ably demonstrates Percy Bysshe composed other great sonnets.


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.’

Sonnet: England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through the public scorn, – mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th’untilled field;
An army whom 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.


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