Mat's Reviews > Queen Mab: With Notes

Queen Mab by Percy Bysshe Shelley
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Feb 16, 12

Read in February, 2012

Shelley is my all-time favourite poet. He writes with breath-taking beauty and scope to the point where he even challenges the throne of the great Bard himself, Shakespeare, as the 'greatest writer/poet of the English language'.
This is one of Shelley's long 'diatribe' poems in which he exposes the devastation brought to people's lives by the power games played by the Kings and the vice and misery that is caused by the 'priest-led slaves' (one of my favourite expressions in the book and pretty self-explanatory).
Shelley was a true revolutionary of the spirit who was not afraid to go after the big crooks - the kings, emperors and popes.
Much of what he vilifies in the world and in life in this wondrously elegant and divine poem (Beat poet Gregory Corso believes Shelley was THE ONLY DIVINE POET too) still applies (sadly) to our situation today. In fact, after reading this poem, it made me recall a famous John Lennon lyric from one of his later songs: 'you're still f$&kin' peasants as far as I can tell'.
Percy Shelley was truly a hero of the underdog, the working class and the downtrodden. Shelley's, sometimes naive, optimism almost brought me to tears as he hints at the greatness that mankind could achieve, but elusively and constantly just out of reach, if it could just realize the source of its own folly and seek out the TRUE virtues of life and shun the pursuit of wealth which, as Shelley and other great writers have pointed out, is the root of all evil. In this sense, Shelley should also be seen as a genuine philantropist, not a misanthrope which he is sometimes mistakenly believed to be.
If you are not moved while reading this poem, then I'm afraid to say it but there is something wrong with you. The language is poetic and reflects Shelley's time (the early 1800s) but the language is neither stifling nor over-flowery, which came as a huge relief to me as I have often found reading old poets to be quite a laborious task and I end up finding myself being turned off by their 'dense' language and syntax and the abstract or downright obscure symbolism. Thankfully, none of that here.
Another thing that I did not know about Percy Bysshe Shelley but which soon became apparent in this poem was how much he loved Nature - which partly explains why he was also an ardent vegetarian throughout his life.
If you are looking for top-notch poetry, a damning exposure of the vice and misery in the world wreaked by emperors and kings along with lots more metaphyical and philosophical substance to chew on, then this is the poem/book for you.
I got a version of Queen Mab with notes and on the cover it says "Woodstock Facsimile". I was a little worried about getting lost in the poem considering that the 'notes' section is rather scant and very selective but rest assured, Shelley's English walks a perfect balance between poetic elegance and clarity of message so the layperson can still figure out what's going on without much recourse to notes. Having said that, this is a book which demands your full attention and not to be read lightly. Once you get into it (for me that was like page one!) then before you know it you're hooked.
Best poem of his I have read to date although I have heard Shelley's Ode to the West Wind is also good and much of Blake's poetry (which I have yet to read) is held in pretty high esteem too.
For all ye burgeoning poets out there, Queen Mab is an absolute must-read! Get it today.
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