XXII When one fled past, a manic maid, And her name was Hope, she said: But she looked more like Despair, And she cried out in the air:
XXIII My father TimeXXII When one fled past, a manic maid, And her name was Hope, she said: But she looked more like Despair, And she cried out in the air:
XXIII My father Time is weak and gray With waiting for a better day; See how idiot-like he stands, Fumbling with his palsied hands!
XXIV He has had child after child, And the dust of death is piled Over every one but me -
...XXXI As flowers beneath May's footstep waken, As stars from Night's loose hair are shaken, As waves arise when loud winds call, Thoughts sprung where'er that step did fall.
XXXII And the prostrate multitude Looked - and ankle-deep in blood, Hope, that maiden most serene, Was walking with a quiet mien:
In short, not your average exhortatory propaganda. Shelley invokes both Christian apocalypse myths and Aristophanes's Peace in a protest poem about the Peterloo Massacre and failing rule of law among England's rulers. Hope is personified as one of the young women injured with the reformers at Peterloo; but she is also identified first with Cassandra, then with the older Maenad myths.
While the rhetoric is prettily inflammatory, the politics of the poem are more not simple. While the rulers are duly vilified, it is suggested that the reformers are headed headlong for revolution, willingly or unwillingly, and that this revolutionary will not only fall short of the reformers' high-minded ideals, but likely be as bloody and devastating as the presiding regime. Hope is depicted in her darker aspect, inspiring men to bloodthirsty frenzy; she is hinted at being a Bacchic/Eleusinian figure. Throughout the poem, revolutionary speech is caricatured to the point of being pilloried, and juxtaposed with its bloody consequences. (Ironically, this poem is quoted in snippets by traditionalists and pinko-commie revolutionaries alike, without a trace of irony. While I would argue that this is a deeply patriotic poem, reading it without attending to his uses of irony is misleading at best.)
This is to be expected. Percy was an aristocrat at odds with his position in society, even as wealth and privilege allowed him to pursue his art. And, rightly, he places partial responsibility for the Peterloo incident on the reformers' leaders. These verses betray both his dissatisfaction with the social order and his mistrust of "big ideas" for solutions; both a subtle indictment of revolutionary speechifying and, at the same time, an exhortation towards action; both his sympathy for the reformers' goals and a sincere warning leveled at Britain's rulers and aristocracy....more
Imagine that in the beginning water and night and void were indistinguishable; what is left of this space is our ocean, home to everything that is notImagine that in the beginning water and night and void were indistinguishable; what is left of this space is our ocean, home to everything that is not yet fully real. Bare fragments have emerged fully into the world of solid matter, like islands and creatures. Though these creatures are small and frail in comparison, each guards a twin that exists in the ocean, only partially emerging into something real. Write poetry about this. Add eerie Darwinian parallels, morally ambivalent deities, intense mythic resonances with both the Rig Veda and Ovid's Metamorphoses, sophisticated indigenous systems of natural history, self-serving chieftains, and lots and lots of sex. And then ask the question: if everything solid is here to guard its underwater twin, what are humans here to guard?
Enormous potential in the setup, and then this question is never more than implicitly addressed--here is the basic mystery of human existence, and since we can't answer it, we'll distract ourselves with practically everything else. In execution, this produces a series of chants that are chillingly powerful, frustratingly veiled, and yet amount to a denouemont. (Think initial reactions to, say, the character of Tom Bombadil.)
Slightly clunky translation, excellent supplemental materials. Bonus points for including full text in the original language....more