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?

BOLLI Matters feature writer Eleanor Jaffee\

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.

3 thoughts on “PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, 1792-2018”

  1. Psalm 49:
    16Do not be afraid when a man becomes rich,
    When the glory of his house is increased;

    17For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
    His glory will not descend after him.

    18Though while he lives he congratulates himself—
    And though men praise you when you do well for yourself—

    19He shall go to the generation of his fathers;
    They will never see the light.

    20Man in his pomp, yet without understanding,
    Is like the beasts that perish.

  2. Dear Eleanor,
    Amazing that your unconscious mind could connect with Shelley in your day-time angst,(which I share ).I was reminded of a remark made by Marcellus in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” (Act 1 Scene 4): :”Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” I’m re-studying Hamlet in Michael Kaufman’s fascinating course whose title is something like, “In this sad time.” In “Hamlet” a usurping king murders his brother, the rightful king, and is a malicious  plotter. Lear is a foolish King who wants to keep his power and only learns humanity in the final act. Othello falls from high position and grace because he cannot control his strong emotions is suspicious and murderous. And then there’s Macbeth whose thirst for power makes him inhuman (Micahel says.)
    If you’ll permit me a moment of levity, your comment reminded me that when I could read fairly well I frequented the McDonough Street branch in Brooklyn of the New York Public Library. I had decided to read every book in the children’s section (a feat I never accomplished). One day I plucked a book called “The Boy Shelley.” I’d never heard ofr Shelly or biography. I glanced quickly through it, brought it home and told a friend that I wanted to read it because at the end of the book it said “Appendix” and I wanted to read about a boy who had appendicitis.
    Take care.

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