Friday poem: 'England in 1819'

07 August 2015

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through 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.

What better way to celebrate – a few days late – Shelley's birthday on 4 August than with this sonnet? Set almost 200 years ago, the poet's description of his times doesn't sound too unfamiliar. He died three years later while sailing from Livorno to Lerici, aged just 29. His ashes were buried at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, where Keats is also buried.

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