Popular Songs: The Political Poems of 1819–1820 by Percy Bysshe Shelley

$16 Entre Rios

Here it is, coinciding with our riotous election season,  Shelley’s rabble-rousing political poetry. In his time Percy Bysshe Shelley held strong anti-monarchical and anti-war feelings, letting these feelings live in powerful, strident poems. Entre Rios, the young Seattle poetry press, has produced a striking edition, typographically recreating the look of a polemical pamphlet of the time. Publisher Knox Gardner contributes an afterword in which he considers the labor involved in the original publication of these poems, and the risk Shelley’s publisher undertook. This brief essay becomes a haunting meditation on the role of the publisher in literature and culture.

Mostly what is found here is ferocious poetry. Here’s a portion of the long poem, The Mask of Anarchy: Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester.

“What is Freedom? Ye can tell
That which Slavery is too well,
For its very name has grown
To the echo of your own.

“‘Tis to work, and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants’ use to dwell:

“So that for them are made,
Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade;
With or without your own will, bent
To their defense and nourishment.

Shelley’s political poems are roundly compelling; outraged, sad, and blunt. The Mask of Anarchy… ends resoundingly–

Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable NUMBER!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fall’n on you:

The passion in this gathering of Shelley’s work is undeniable; his call is stirring.


posted by John