Friday, July 14, 2006

Not an angel

Paul O'Brien on this newly discovered Shelley poem, at the Guardian. I must say this whole discovery thing is cool (not quite as cool as if it were Byron's memoirs, but still...).

I have mixed feelings about Shelley but I do sort of love him, he's more my type of thinker than Keats although I love Keats too (but Byron is my favorite). Richard Holmes's Shelley biography (oh, and look, it's been republished in paperback by the excellent New York Review Books--now that is an organization I would like to be involved with, what fun it would be to propose new titles for them & figure out who should introduce) is a wonderfully good book, it has my highest recommendation.

I think my absolute favorite Shelley poem is Peter Bell the Third (and "Hell is a city much like London" is one of my favorite lines ever, I hear it often in my head for no particular reason!), but I'll just leave you for this morning with one stanza from Adonais, my other favorite (it's the poem Shelley wrote in response to hearing of Keats's death, and it's quite spectacular, it has the most amazing momentum imaginable). That link has the full text in fairly readable format, though it's close to 500 lines and probably really too long to read online; but here's my particularly cherished stanza:

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awaken'd from the dream of life;
'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings.
We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

It's like reading a really good fantasy novel, isn't it? Zombies and alternate worlds and such. . . . But strictly on the level of language, something about the italics in that line--"We decay / Like corpses in a charnel"--just gets to me. So there's your cheery thought for the day....


  1. Anyone who wants to can suggest a reprint to NYRB Classics at their website. Here's the link:

  2. Oh, thank you, what an excellent feature.... I knew this imprint was for me when I saw that they were doing Rebecca West's novel "The Fountain Overflows," which continues to hold the number one spot on my "top ten favorite novels of all time" list.

  3. I don't know what the big deal is. Everyone knows that Shelley was a political radical -- all his life. From the start he was out on a limb, and totally alienated everybody in authority he met up with.