Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-2018)
by Eleanor Jaffe
I woke up with Shelley on my mind, which was very strange because I had not thought of Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1822) since I was an English major at Brooklyn College a long time ago. All that had been on my mind were the Kavanaugh hearings at the Senate Judiciary Committee and Trump’s harangue to the United Nations about his triumphs since becoming President. Nevertheless, my unconscious made these connections between Shelley and my perceptions of contemporary political life.
To me, this is how Shelley predicted our current Republican majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee (from “Queen Mab,” 1813):
Power, like a desolating pestilence, Pollutes whate’er it touches; and obedience Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth, Makes slaves of men, and, of the human frame, A mechanized automaton.
In his 1817 poem, “Ozymandias,” Shelley describes the decaying remains of a once supreme king. The traveler who discovers the remains describes:
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.
The once powerful king had boasted: “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…”
I no longer remember the political machinations of Shelley’s England that led him to make these poetic observations. However, in my opinion, he provides poetic insight into our current political circus. The majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee has shown itself to be slave-like in its obedience to Power. And Trump’s boastfulness would make Ozymandias jealous! What do you think?
Eleanor says that, since November of 2016, her activist nature has been reawakened. In addition to writing for BOLLI Matters, she has teamed up with fellow member Elaine Dohan to form BOLLI’s new and vibrant “Make a Difference” special interest group.