British poet Shelley and socialism

This 2010 video says about itself:

“A Song: Men of England” [from 1819] by Percy Bysshe Shelley

By Harry Warren from Britain:

Was Shelley the first modern socialist?

Friday 28th July 2017

Harry Warren finds the early 19th-century romantic’s work brimming with socialist ideas

THE poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was, in the words of Bertrand Russell, “an outcast from the first,” as would be expected for a radical Romantic in the early 1800s.

An article on Shelley seems fitting as Jeremy Corbyn quoted The Masque of Anarchy at Glastonbury, much to my delight.

Shelley specialised in calling men to arms, to fight for a better society and to fight against bourgeois rule, yet the word “socialism” wasn’t coined until roughly 10 years after his magnum opus The Revolt of Islam was published. So how could he possibly be the prototypical socialist?

Fortunately for me, there is extensive analysis of Shelley’s revolutionary works, including a book by Paul Foot (to whom I heavily owe a lot of inspiration) entitled Red Shelley, but the question still stands as to whether or not his contemporaries, or even those before him, were more socialistic in their behaviours and writings.

Lord Byron was known to have had revolutionary tendencies as well, but whether or not he would have grown more cynical with age and just become a reactionary bourgeois is another question entirely — he often professed liberty yet he retained his status as a Lord. In one fell swoop, that wipes Byron out of the question.

Shelley on the other hand was a man of his deed. In fact — according to Franz Mehring in his book Karl Marx: The Story of His LifeMarx was quoted as saying he regretted the young death of Shelley, for he was “a thorough revolutionary and would have remained in the van of socialism throughout his life.”

Interestingly, there have been arguments put forward that socialists have existed since early civilisation, such as in ancient Greek political philosophy. However, whether or not these people espoused modern socialism is another matter altogether. While Greek philosophers touched on elements of socialism, they never had the same organised train of thought. Plato, for example, put forward notions of common ownership. He states in the Republic that “the guardian class” would share food not just with the men and women of their own class but also with those of the lower class. This, however, cannot be true socialism.

Socialism, as is well known, calls for the eradication of the class system, something Plato did not call for. Perhaps he was alluding to something like a welfare state, but that is far different from the emancipation of the proletariat; all classes in fact, that Marx would eventually call for, and that brought Shelley out in all of his work.

Shelley’s hero Laon in The Revolt of Islam stops the old king Othman of the fictional Golden City from being executed, as he is, in the eyes of Laon, just as much a man as anyone else — he has a right to live as much as the next man.

This does indeed backfire, which demonstrates that Shelley was aware of the brutality the ruling class would use to retain its power, echoing the Internationale in that eventually “if those cannibals keep trying to sacrifice us to their pride, they soon shall hear the bullets flying. We’ll shoot the generals on our own side.”

In some shorter works of Shelley, we get to see even more of his prototypical socialism. An unlikely candidate for selection would be Ozymandias, but the last few lines show the inevitable collapse of the hierarchical society: “‘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, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

It is a socialist theory that the collapse of hierarchy is the inevitable next step in the world. It began with the fall of feudalism and will end with the fall of capitalism. If you take from this that the only thing that persistent rule of the few will be met with is the end, then you will see the beginning of how Shelley wrote for socialism.

We see this with the collapse of the many absolute monarchies around the world over time, and even with the collapse of the USSR. Absolute rule is not what we need, we need the true dictatorship of the masses, the end of the class system.

Shelley was unique in his use of prototypical socialism in more than just his words, his deeds matched up to it.

He was prepared to use the necessary force to maintain or create a society that has deposed rulers, such as the case of Ferdinand IV of Naples, the Austrian puppet king, who he allowed the killing of if necessary, even though he found him and his family charming. According to Paul Foot, he was always repulsed by violence, yet he saw it as a necessary means to an end in some situations.

This is interesting as it is actually a departure from modern socialism, which decries violence, and calls for peace as the means to the ends.

Going back to The Revolt of Islam, we see that Laon and Cythna wanted a bloodless coup, so we do see Shelley’s underlying repulsion with violence. Interestingly, Laon, in some interpretations, represents Shelley himself.

So was Shelley the first modern socialist? He certainly advocated the seizure of the means of production to the masses, and he also continually endorsed the overthrow of tyrannical government and the end of classes.

Although sometimes his situations forced him into an acceptance of violence, he was at heart a peaceful man and a true socialist in modern terms.

It is interesting indeed that in 1888, Marx’s daughter Eleanor wrote with her husband an essay entitled Shelley and Socialism, in which she highlights the inherent Marxist nature of his work.

To end, it seems apt to quote Shelley’s song Men of England: “The seed ye sow, another reaps; the wealth ye find, another keeps; the robes ye weave, another wears; the arms ye forge, another bears.

“Sow seed — but let no tyrant reap: find wealth — let no imposter heap: weave robes — let not the idle wear: forge arms — in your defence to bear.”

Shelley’s newly discovered pro-peace poem

This video from England says about itself:

Poetical Essay: Shelley back from the dead

10 November 2015

In November 2015 the Bodleian Libraries acquired its 12 millionth printed book: a unique copy of a pamphlet entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, written by ‘a Gentleman of the University of Oxford’ and printed in 1811. The pamphlet was the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), then a student at Oxford University, and now recognised as one of the great English poets of the 19th century. The acquisition is a momentous event for the public, for scholars, the University and the Bodleian Libraries. Known to have been published by Shelley in 1811 but lost until recently, Shelley’s Poetical Essay is, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, now freely available to all in digitized form at

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things

Thursday 26th November 2015

This rediscovered poem by PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY (1792-1822), now on view at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, is an acute commentary on war and colonial oppression which demonstrates his significance for Karl Marx and the Chartist movement and why he is an inspiration for a new generation of poets today

DESTRUCTION marks thee! o’er the blood-stain’d heath
Is faintly borne the stifled wail of death;
Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on War’s red altar lie.
The sternly wise, the mildly good, have sped
To the unfruitful mansions of the dead
Whilst fell Ambition o’er the wasted plain
Triumphant guides his car—the ensanguin’d rein
Glory directs; fierce brooding o’er the scene,
With hatred glance, with dire unbending mien,
Fell Despotism sits by the red glare
Of Discord’s torch, kindling the flames of war.
For thee then does the Muse her sweetest lay
Pour ’mid the shrieks of war, ’mid dire dismay;
For thee does Fame’s obstrep’rous clarion rise,
Does Praise’s voice raise meanness to the skies.
Are we then sunk so deep in darkest gloom,
That selfish pride can virtue’s garb assume?
Does real greatness in false splendour live?
When narrow views the futile mind deceive,
When thirst of wealth, or frantic rage for fame,
Lights for awhile self-interest’s little flame,
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide,
Then will oppression’s iron influence show
The great man’s comfort as the poor man’s woe.
Is’t not enough that splendour’s useless glare,
Real grandeur’s bane, must mock the poor man’s stare;
Is’t not enough that luxury’s varied power
Must cheat the rich parader’s irksome hour,
While what they want not, what they yet retain,
Adds tenfold grief, more anguished throbs of pain
To each unnumbered, unrecorded woe,
Which bids the bitterest tear of want to flow;
But that the comfort, which despotic sway
Has yet allowed, stern War must tear away.

Ye cold advisers of yet colder kings,
To whose fell breast no passion virtue brings,
Who scheme, regardless of the poor man’s pang,
Who coolly sharpen misery’s sharpest fang,
Yourselves secure. Yours is the power to breathe
O’er all the world the infectious blast of death,
To snatch at fame, to reap red murder’s spoil,
Receive the injured with a courtier’s smile,
Make a tired nation bless the oppressor’s name,
And for injustice snatch the meed of fame.
Were fetters made for anguish, for despair?
Must starving wretches torment, misery bear?
Who, mad with grief, have snatched from grandeur’s store,
What grandeur’s hand had snatched from them before.
Yet shall the vices of the great pass on,
Vices as glaring as the noon-day sun,
Shall rank corruption pass unheeded by,
Shall flattery’s voice ascend the wearied sky;
And shall no patriot tear the veil away
Which hides these vices from the face of day?
Is public virtue dead?—is courage gone?
Bows its fair form at fell oppression’s throne?
Yes! it’s torn away—the crimes appear,
Expiring Freedom asks a parting tear,
A powerful hand unrolls the guilt-stain’d veil,
A powerful voice floats on the tainted gale,
Rising corruption’s error from beneath,
A shape of glory checks the course of death;
It spreads its shield o’er freedom’s prostrate form,
Its glance disperses envy’s gathering storm;
No trophied bust need tell thy sainted name,
No herald blazon to the world thy fame,
Nor scrolls essay an endless meed to give;
In grateful memory still thy deeds must live.
No sculptured marble shall be raised to thee,
The hearts of England will thy memoirs be.
To thee the Muse attunes no venal lyre,
No thirsts of gold the vocal lays inspire;
No interests plead, no fiery passions swell;
Whilst to thy praise she wakes her feeble shell,
She need not speak it, for the pen of fame
On every heart has written BURDETT’S name;
For thou art he, who dared in tumult’s hour,
Dauntless thy tide of eloquence to pour;
Who, fearless, stemmed stern Despotism’s source,
Who traced Oppression to its foulest course;
Who bade Ambition tremble on its throne—
How could I virtue name, how yet pass on
Thy name!—though fruitless thy divine essay,
Though vain thy war against fell power’s array,
Thou taintless emanation from the sky!
Thou purest spark of fires which never die!

Yet let me pause, yet turn aside to weep
Where virtue, genius, wit, with Franklin sleep;
To bend in mute affliction o’er the grave
Where lies the great, the virtuous, and the brave;
Still let us hope in Heaven (for Heaven there is)
That sainted spirit tastes ethereal bliss,
That sainted spirit the reward receives,
Which endless goodness to its votary gives.
Thine be the meed to purest virtue due—
Alas! the prospect closes to the view.
Visions of horror croud upon my sight,
They shed around their forms substantial night.
Oppressors’ venal minions! hence, avaunt!
Think not the soul of Patriotism to daunt;
Though hot with gore from India’s wasted plains,
Some Chief, in triumph, guides the tightened reins;
Though disembodied from this mortal coil,
Pitt lends to each smooth rogue a courtier’s smile;
Yet does not that severer frown withhold,
Which, though impervious to the power of gold,
Could daunt the injured wretch, could turn the poor
Unheard, unnoticed, from the statesman’s door
This is the spirit which can reckless tell
The fatal trump of useless war to swell;
Can bid Fame’s loudest voice awake his praise,
Can boldly snatch the honorary bays.
Gifts to reward a ruthless, murderous deed,
A crime for which some poorer rogue must bleed.
Is this then justice?—stretch thy powerful arm,
Patriot, dissolve the frigorific charm,
Awake thy loudest thunder, dash the brand
Of stern Oppression from the Tyrant’s hand;
Let reason mount the Despot’s mouldering throne,
And bid an injured nation cease to moan.
Why then, since justice petty crimes can thrall,
Should not its power extend to each, to all?
If he who murders one to death is due,
Should not the great destroyer perish too?
The wretch beneath whose influence millions bleed?
And yet encomium is the villain’s meed.
His crime the smooth-tongued flatterers conquest name,
Loud in his praises swell the notes of Fame.
Oblivion marks the murdering poor man’s tomb,
Brood o’er his memory contempt and gloom;
His crimes are blazoned in deformed array,
His virtues sink, they fade for aye away.
Snatch then the sword from nerveless virtue’s hand,
Boldly grasp native jurisdiction’s brand;
For justice, poisoned at its source, must yield
The power to each its shivered sword to wield,
To dash oppression from the throne of vice,
To nip the buds of slavery as they rise.
Does jurisprudence slighter crimes restrain,
And seek their vices to controul in vain?
Kings are but men, if thirst of meanest sway
Has not that title even snatched away.—
The fainting Indian, on his native plains,
Writhes to superior power’s unnumbered pains;
The Asian, in the blushing face of day,
His wife, his child, sees sternly torn away;
Yet dares not to revenge, while war’s dread roar
Floats, in long echoing, on the blood-stain’d shore.
In Europe too wild ruin rushes fast:
See! like a meteor on the midnight blast,
Or evil spirit brooding over gore,
Napoleon calm can war, can misery pour.
May curses blast thee; and in thee the breed
Which forces, which compels, a world to bleed;
May that destruction, which ’tis thine to spread,
Descend with ten-fold fury on thy head.
Oh! may the death, which marks thy fell career,
In thine own heart’s blood bathe the empoisoned spear;
May long remorse protract thy latest groan,
Then shall Oppression tremble on its throne.
Yet this alone were vain; Freedom requires
A torch more bright to light its fading fires;
Man must assert his native rights, must say
We take from Monarchs’ hand the granted sway;
Oppressive law no more shall power retain,
Peace, love, and concord, once shall rule again,
And heal the anguish of a suffering world;
Then, then shall things, which now confusedly hurled,
Seem Chaos, be resolved to order’s sway,
And errors night be turned to virtue’s day.

See also here.

New Shelley poem, against persecution of Irishman, discovered

This video from England says about itself:

Poetical Essay: a Shelley pamphlet through expert eyes

10 November 2015

In November 2015 the Bodleian Libraries acquired its 12 millionth printed book: a unique copy of a pamphlet entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things, written by ‘a Gentleman of the University of Oxford’ and printed in 1811. The pamphlet was the work of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), then a student at Oxford University, and now recognised as one of the great English poets of the 19th century. The acquisition is a momentous event for the public, for scholars, the University and the Bodleian Libraries. Known to have been published by Shelley in 1811 but lost until recently, Shelley’s Poetical Essay is, thanks to the generosity of a benefactor, now freely available to all in digitized form at

From the Irish Times:

Lost Shelley poem defending jailed Irish journalist unveiled

Vanessa Redgrave reads pamphlet defending former United Irishman Peter Finnerty

Fintan O’Toole

Tue, Nov 10, 2015, 18:15

A long-lost verse pamphlet by the great Romantic poet Percy Shelley, written in defence of an imprisoned Irish journalist, was unveiled on Tuesday at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Shelley, one of the greatest English poets of the 19th century, wrote Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things in autumn and winter 1810-11 during his first year as a student at Oxford.

It protests against Britain’s involvement in the Napoleonic war and in particular supports the Irish journalist Peter Finnerty, who was accused of libel by the government and imprisoned after criticising disastrous British military operations in Denmark.

Shelley’s 10-page poem was considered lost until 2006, when a single copy was discovered in a private collection. Only now, with the acquisition of this unique copy by the library, has the text been made public. The actress Vanessa Redgrave read it aloud at an event in Oxford on Tuesday evening.

Finnerty, whose name appears prominently on the title page, is thought to have been born in Loughrea, Co Galway, and was associated with the revolutionaries of the United Irishmen. He was imprisoned in Dublin in 1798 for seditious libel after he attacked judges who sentenced other members of the society to death. He emigrated to London, where he worked as a parliamentary reporter and was a member of the circle around the Irish playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

In 1809, he went to Denmark to report on British military operations. His critical reporting led to him being deported back to London. Finnerty accused the powerful secretary of state for war, Lord Castleragh, of seeking to silence him, and also of having been responsible for the torture of United Irishmen prisoners in 1798. Castlereagh sued him and Finnerty was again imprisoned.

In the newly revealed Poetical Essay, Shelley attacks Castlereagh and denounces war as a time “When legal murders swell the lists of pride;/ When glory’s views the titled idiot guide”. He praises Finnerty’s supporters and asks rhetorically: “Shall rank corruption pass unheeded by,/Shall flattery’s voice ascend the wearied sky;/And shall no patriot tear the veil away/ Which hides these vices from the face of day?”

Shelley imagines Finnerty and his supports as “a powerful hand” stripping away “the guilt-stain’d veil” of corruption.

Shelley clearly intended his poem to be part of the wider campaign to raise funds for Finnerty, which also staged large public meetings in Dublin and Belfast. Finnerty was released in 1813 and returned to work as a journalist until his death in 1822. His friend William Hazlitt wrote of him that he “loved Ireland to the last, and would overwhelm any man with a torrent of [curses] who would speak disrespectfully of the sod.”

See also here.

Hittite empire fallen, Egypt attacked, 3,000 years ago

This video from Britain says about itself:

Percy Bysshe Shelley: Ozymandias

15 February 2011

This version of Ozymandias was read by Lord Richard Attenborough, actor, director, and producer, brother of David Attenborough, best known for writing and narrating the series “Life”, produced by the BBC.

From Inside Higher Ed in the USA:

Before the Fall

April 23, 2014
By Scott McLemee

Brian Cranston’s recitation of “Ozymandias” in last year’s memorable video clip for the final season of Breaking Bad may have elided some of the finer points of Shelley‘s poem. But it did the job it was meant to do — evoking the swagger of a grandiose ego, as well as time’s shattering disregard for even the most awe-inspiring claim to fame, whether by an ancient emperor or meth kingpin of the American Southwest.

But time has, in a way, been generous to the figure Shelley calls Ozymandias, who was not a purely fictional character, like Walter White, but rather the pharaoh Ramses II, also called User-maat-re Setep-en-re. (The poet knew of him through a less exact, albeit more euphonious, transcription of the name.) He ruled about one generation before the period that Eric H. Cline, a professor of classics and archeology at George Washington University, recounts in 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed (Princeton University Press).

Today the average person is reasonably likely to know that Ramses was the name of an Egyptian ruler. But very few people will have the faintest idea that anything of interest happened in 1177 B.C. It wasn’t one of the 5,000 “essential names, phrases, dates, and concepts” constituting the “shared knowledge of literate American culture” that E.D Hirsch identified in his best-seller Cultural Literacy (1988), nor did it make it onto the revised edition Hirsch issued in 2002. Just over 3,000 years ago, a series of catastrophic events demolished whole cities, destroying the commercial and diplomatic connections among distinct societies that had linked up to form an emerging world order. It seems like this would come up in conversation from time to time. I suspect it may do so more often in the future.

So what happened in 1177 B.C.? Well, if the account attributed to Ramses III is reliable, that was the date of a final, juggernaut-like offensive by what he called the Sea Peoples. By then, skirmishes between Egypt and the seafaring barbarians had been under way, off and on, for some 30 years. But 1177 was the climactic year when, in the pharaoh’s words, “They laid their hands upon the lands as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident…. ” The six tribes of Sea Peoples came from what Ramses vaguely calls “the islands.” Cline indicates that one group, the Peleset, are “generally accepted” by contemporary scholars “as the Philistines, who are identified in the Bible as coming from Crete.” The origins of the other five remain in question. Their rampage did not literally take the Sea Peoples around “the circuit of the earth,” but it was an ambitious military campaign by any standard.

They attacked cities throughout the Mediterranean, in places now called Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, among others. About one metropolis Ramses says the Sea Peoples “desolated” the population, Ramses says, “and its land was like that which has never come into being.”

Cline reproduces an inscription that shows the Sea Peoples invading Egypt by boat. You need a magnifying glass to see the details, but the battle scene is astounding even without one. Imagine D-Day depicted exclusively with two-dimensional figures. The images are flat, but they swarm with such density that the effect is claustrophobic. It evokes a sense of terrifying chaos, of mayhem pressing in on all sides, so thick that nobody can push through it. Some interpretations of the battle scene, Cline notes, contend that it shows an Egyptian ambush of the would-be occupiers.

Given that the Egyptians ultimately prevailed over the Sea Peoples, it seems plausible: they would have had reason to record and celebrate such a maneuver. Ramses himself boasts of leading combat so effectively that the Sea Peoples who weren’t killed or enslaved went home wishing they’d never even heard of Egypt: “When they pronounce my name in their land, then they are burned up.”

Other societies were not so fortunate. One of them, the Hittite empire, at its peak covered much of Turkey and Syria. (If the name seems mildly familiar, that may be because the Hittites, like the Philistines, make a number of appearances in the Bible.) One zone under Hittite control was the harbor city of Ugarit, a mercantile center for the entire region. You name it, Ugarit had it, or at least someone there could order it for you: linen garments, alabaster jars, wine, wheat, olive oil, anything in metal…. In exchange for paying tribute, a vassal city like Ugarit enjoyed the protection of the Hittite armed forces. Four hundred years before the Sea Peoples came on the scene, the king of the Hittites could march troops into Mesopotamia, burn down the city, then march them back home — a thousand miles each way — without bothering to occupy the country, “thus,” writes Cline, “effectively conducting the longest drive-by shooting in history.”

But by the early 12th century, Ugarit had fallen. Archeologists have found, in Cline’s words, “that the city was burned, with a destruction level reaching two meters high in some places.” Buried in the ruins are “a number of hoards … [that] contained precious gold and bronze items, including figurines, weapons and tools, some of them inscribed.” They “appear to have been hidden just before the destruction took place,” but “their owners never returned to retrieve them.” Nor was Ugarit ever rebuilt, which raises the distinct possibility that there were no survivors.

Other Hittite populations survived the ordeal but declined in power, wealth, and security. One of the maps in The Year Civilization Collapsed marks the cities around the Mediterranean that were destroyed during the early decades of the 12th century B.C. — about 40 of them in all.

The overview of what happened in 1177 B.C. that we’ve just taken is streamlined and dramatic — and way too much so not to merit skepticism. It’s monocausal. The Sea Peoples storm the beaches, one city after another collapses, but Ramses III survives to tell the tale…. One value of making a serious study of history, as somebody once said, is that you learn how things don’t happen.

Exactly what did becomes a serious challenge to determine, after a millennium or three. Cline’s book is a detailed but accessible synthesis of the findings and hypotheses of researchers concerned with the societies that developed around the Mediterranean throughout the second millennium B.C., with a special focus on the late Bronze Age, which came to an end in the decades just before and after the high drama of 1177. The last 20 years or so have been an especially productive and exciting time in scholarship concerning that region and era, with important work being done in fields such as archeoseismology and Ugaritic studies. A number of landmark conferences have fostered exchanges across micro-specialist boundaries, and 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed offers students and the interested lay antiquarian a sense of the rich picture that is emerging from debates among the ruins.

Cline devotes more than half of the book to surveying the world that was lost in or around the year in his title — with particular emphasis on the exchanges of goods that brought the Egyptian and Hittite empires, and the Mycenean civilization over in what we now call Greece, into closer contact. Whole libraries of official documents show the kings exchanging goods and pleasantries, calling each “brother,” and marrying off their children to one another in the interest of diplomatic comity. When a ship conveying luxury items and correspondence from one sovereign to another pulled in to dock, it would also carry products for sale to people lower on the social scale. It then returned with whatever tokens of good will the second king was sending back to the first — and also, chances are, commercial goods from that king’s empire, for sale back home.

The author refers to this process as “globalization,” which seems a bit misleading given that the circuits of communication and exchange were regional, not worldwide. In any case, it had effects that can be traced in the layers of scattered archeological digs: commodities and artwork characteristic of one society catch on in another, and by the start of the 12th century a real cosmopolitanism is in effect. At the same time, the economic networks encouraged a market in foodstuffs as well as tin — the major precious resource of the day, something like petroleum became in the 20th century.

But evidence from the digs also shows two other developments during this period: a number of devastating earthquakes and droughts. Some of the cities that collapsed circa 1177 may have been destroyed by natural disaster, or so weakened that they succumbed far more quickly to the marauding Sea Peoples than they would have otherwise. For that matter, it is entirely possible that the Sea Peoples themselves were fleeing from such catastrophes. “In my opinion,” writes Cline, “… none of these individual factors would have been cataclysmic enough on their own to bring down even one of these civilizations, let alone all of them. However, they could have combined to produce a scenario in which the repercussions of each factor were magnified, in what some scholars have called a ‘multiplier effect.’ … The ensuing ‘systems collapse’ could have led to the disintegration of one society after another, in part because of the fragmentation of the global economy and the breakdown of the interconnections upon which each civilization was dependent.”

Referring to 1177 B.C. will, at present, only get you blank looks, most of the time. But given how the 21st century is shaping up, it may yet become a common reference point — and one of more than antiquarian relevance.

Ancient cemetery provides peek into Philistines’ lives, health. Burial site of hundreds of Israelites’ mysterious enemies could yield clues to population’s origins. By Bruce Bower, 1:00pm, November 22, 2016: here.

Archaeologists decipher 3,200-year-old stone telling of invasion of mysterious sea people. Researchers say ancient writings could provide answer to ‘one of the greatest puzzles of Mediterranean archaeology’: here.

Shelley poems about war

This video is about Percy Bysshe Shelley – his poem The Mask of Anarchy.

The Stop NATO blog in the USA has a section Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts.

In it, there is a link to a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley about war (certainly not Shelley’s only poem on this).

And an excerpt from Shelley’s 1813 poem, Queen Mab, about war:

There an inhuman and uncultured race
Howled hideous praises to their Demon-God;
They rushed to war, tore from the mother’s womb
The unborn child – old age and infancy
Promiscuous perished; their victorious arms
Left not a soul to breathe. Oh! they were fiends!
But what was he who taught them that the God
Of Nature and benevolence had given
A special sanction to the trade of blood
His name and theirs are fading, and the tales
Of this barbarian nation, which imposture
Recites till terror credits, are pursuing
Itself into forgetfulness.

Whence, thinkest thou, kings and parasites arose?
Whence that unnatural line of drones who heap
Toil and unvanquishable penury
On those who build their palaces and bring
Their daily bread? – From vice, black loathsome vice;
From rapine, madness, treachery, and wrong;
From all that genders misery, and makes
Of earth this thorny wilderness; from lust,
Revenge, and murder. – And when reason’s voice,
Loud as the voice of Nature, shall have waked
The nations; and mankind perceive that vice
Is discord, war and misery; that virtue
Is peace and happiness and harmony;
When man’s maturer nature shall disdain
The playthings of its childhood; – kingly glare
Will lose its power to dazzle
, its authority
Will silently pass by; the gorgeous throne
Shall stand unnoticed in the regal hall,
Fast falling to decay; whilst falsehood’s trade
Shall be as hateful and unprofitable
As that of truth is now.

Where is the fame
Which the vain-glorious mighty of the earth
Seek to eternize? Oh! the faintest sound
From time’s light footfall, the minutest wave
That swells the flood of ages, whelms in nothing
The unsubstantial bubble. Ay! to-day
Stern is the tyrant’s mandate, red the gaze
That flashes desolation, strong the arm
That scatters multitudes. To-morrow comes!
That mandate is a thunder-peal that died
In ages past; that gaze, a transient flash
On which the midnight closed; and on that arm
The worm has made his meal.

Look on yonder earth:
The golden harvests spring; the unfailing sun
Sheds light and life; the fruits, the flowers, the trees,
Arise in due succession; all things speak
Peace, harmony and love. The universe,
In Nature’s silent eloquence, declares
That all fulfil the works of love and joy, –
All but the outcast, Man. He fabricates
The sword which stabs his peace
; he cherisheth
The snakes that gnaw his heart; he raiseth up
The tyrant whose delight is in his woe,
Whose sport is in his agony.

Now swells the intermingling din; the jar
Frequent and frightful of the bursting bomb;
The falling beam, the shriek, the groan, the shout,
The ceaseless clangor, and the rush of men
Inebriate with rage: – loud and more loud
The discord grows; till pale Death shuts the scene
And o’er the conqueror and the conquered draws
His cold and bloody shroud. – Of all the men
Whom day’s departing beam saw blooming there
In proud and vigorous health; of all the hearts
That beat with anxious life at sunset there;
How few survive, how few are beating now!
All is deep silence, like the fearful calm
That slumbers in the storm’s portentous pause;
Save when the frantic wail of widowed love
Comes shuddering on the blast, or the faint moan
With which some soul bursts from the frame of clay
Wrapt round its struggling powers.

The gray morn
Dawns on the mournful scene; the sulphurous smoke
Before the icy wind slow rolls away,
And the bright beams of frosty morning dance
Along the spangling snow. There tracks of blood
Even to the forest’s depth, and scattered arms,
And lifeless warriors, whose hard lineaments
Death’s self could change not, mark the dreadful path
Of the outsallying victors; far behind
Black ashes note where their proud city stood.
Within yon forest is a gloomy glen –
Each tree which guards its darkness from the day,
Waves o’er a warrior’s tomb.

From kings and priests and statesmen war arose,
Whose safety is man’s deep unbettered woe,
Whose grandeur his debasement. Let the axe
Strike at the root, the poison-tree will fall;
And where its venomed exhalations spread
Ruin, and death, and woe, where millions lay
Quenching the serpent’s famine, and their bones
Bleaching unburied in the putrid blast,
A garden shall arise, in loveliness
Surpassing fabled Eden.

Felicity Arbuthnot comments on this blog post:

David Cameron should be made to read this at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, 11.11.2012, as Obama and leaders across all Western countries taking part in their murderous, illegal assassinations, slaughters and ram raids. Thank you.

Reaction from Richard Rozoff to this comment:

Splendid idea.

School children in Britain, here in the U.S. and throughout the English-speaking world are given poems of Shelley’s like “Ode to the West Wind” (without having its true purport explained) or “Adonais” to read while passing over completely his major works like “Queen Mab,” “The Cenci,” “The Revolt of Islam,” “Hellas” and “Prometheus Unbound” as unfit for, politically speaking, virginibus puerisque.

Mary Shelley on stage

This video from Britain is called Mary Shelley Biography.

By Barbara Slaughter in Britain:

Mary Shelley—A new play about her remarkable life and times

13 June 2012

Mary Shelley, a new play by Helen Edmundson, opened in Leeds on March 16 and, after a national tour, is now running at the Tricycle Theatre in London until July 7. It is a joint production of Shared Experience, Nottingham Playhouse and West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Edmundson’s play is based on the relationship between the remarkable Mary Shelley, future author of Frankenstein and wife of poet Percy Shelley, and her father, radical journalist and philosopher William Godwin, between 1813 and 1816.

The play opens with 16-year-old Mary dreaming about an attempted suicide by her late mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), the advocate of women’s rights and defender of the French Revolution. The young Mary is traveling by sea from Scotland back to her home in London and has recently read Godwin’s biography of her mother, published in 1798. Profoundly moved by the candid and revealing book, Mary is inspired to live as her mother did.

Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever, 11 days after Mary was born. Overcome with grief, Godwin began writing Memoirs of the Author of a Vindication of the Rights of Woman only two weeks later. This was a heartfelt account of Wollstonecraft’s astonishing life, written by a man who loved her and appreciated her unique qualities as a writer and a revolutionary.

He was criticised mercilessly by the reactionary press, and middle class public opinion was “scandalised”. In the end, Godwin felt obliged to compromise and published a sanitised version of the memoir, with all mention of her love affairs, attempted suicides and illegitimate daughter removed.

Godwin educated Mary and her stepsister Fanny Islay as their mother would have wanted, to fight for political justice and social change and to face the world and its travails with fortitude and honesty.

See also here.

British poetry and politics

This poetry video from Britain is called ‘A Cut Back’ by Carol Ann Duffy. It says about itself:

The Poet Laureate reads to Channel 4 News her poem “A Cut Back”, revealing her anger on the cutting of all government funding to the Poetry Book Society.

By Andy Croft in Britain:

21st Century Poetry: Round up

Monday 20 February 2012

In this paper last month, columnist John Pilger complained that British writers in the 21st century are “in thrall” to what he describes as a sociopathic zeitgeist.

“No Orwell warns that we do not need to live in a totalitarian society,” he wrote. “No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake proffers a vision.”

He quoted critic Terry Eagleton’s recent observation that “for almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet… prepared to question the foundations of the Western way of life.”

Pilger and Eagleton need to get out a bit more.

British poets have arguably never been more concerned to interrogate the foundations of the way we live than at present.

This does not mean of course that they write all the time about politics. But how often did Blake ever write about current affairs?

Not all Shelley’s poetry was about the poor.

A good place for comrades Pilger and Eagleton to start might be Tom Leonard‘s new CD Selected Poems (FairPley, £10).

Recorded live at the Scottish TUC last April as part of Glasgow’s May Day celebrations it includes 23 of his best-known poems, including Six o’clock News, Being A Human Being, Blair’s Britain, It’s Aw The Fault Of The Unions and the wonderfully blunt A Humanist, “The universal human is inclusive and absolute, there is no individual outside it./This sense of the universal human is the home of all those who have won through to become themselves./And much trouble in the world is caused by those who remain self-sequestered in their perceived province of the exclusive.”

The CD also includes five songs from Brecht‘s play Mother Courage And Her Children “translated” into Glaswegian Scots by Leonard.

As Mother Courage speaks in the voice of a working-class Scotswoman, the Thirty Years War becomes the war on terror: “Wi aw its dangers an stray bullets/this war drags on from day to day the war could last a hundred years yet yer common sojer willny win/Pure crap his food, his gear his rucksack the regiment docks hauf his pay/an though it might strike you a wonder/this war will never go away!”

If Leonard is not sufficiently “eminent” to appear on the intellectual radar of Pilger and Eagleton, presumably even they have heard of Carol Ann Duffy?

Her new collection The Bees (Picador, £14.99) is a beautiful, musical book which buzzes with eloquent anger and wisdom.

Her bees are mythological, biblical and literary, derived variously from Plato, Mandeville, Tolstoy and Shakespeare.

The “bronze buzz of a bee” represents poetry and prophecy, fertility and sweetness, natural order and unnatural disaster.

As Duffy writes in The Woman In The Moon, “what have you done, what have you done to the world?”

Since the book contains many of Duffy’s laureate poems, it is partly a record of the Blair years.

That means it is partly a book of poems about war, among them Politics, Passing Bells, Big Ask and Last Postwritten for the last surviving British soldiers to have served in the first world war – and The Falling Soldier, after Robert Capa‘s famous Spanish civil war photograph.

It’s also partly a book of elegies for English landscape and history, notably John Barleycorn, The English Elms, The Counties and The White Horses.

But above all it’s a book about environmental catastrophe.

The bee, which in Egyptian mythology was a link between the natural world and the dead, is now an emblem of ecological disaster: “Where the bee sucks,/neonicotinoid insecticide in a cowslip’s bell lie.” Poor old Atlas is “crouched on one knee in the dark/with the earth on his back… the billions there, his ears the last to hear/their language, music, gunfire, prayer.”

And this is Duffy’s take on the traditional Parliament Of Fowls: “The cormorant spoke: ‘Stinking seas/below ill winds. Nothing swims…’ The gull said: ‘Where coral was red, now white, dead/under stunned waters…’ The macaw squawked … Rain. Forest. Fire. Ash. Chainsaw. Cattle. Cocaine. Ash… and the albatross/telling of Arctic ice/as the cold, hard moon calved from the earth.”

A reaction to this is here.

Bill Moyers Interviews Rita Dove on the Power of Poetry (Video). Bill Moyers, Moyers & Co.: “Bill welcomes former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove, who this very week received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama. Dove served two terms as Poet Laureate, the youngest and the first African American to be named to that prestigious position. Through an intimate conversation and select readings, Moyers and Dove explore American history, language, culture, and ideas”: here.

Shelley’s theatre plays

This video is called Ozymandias: Percy Bysshe Shelley.

From British weekly Socialist Worker:

Shelley’s plays still emit the light of freedom

Shelley is well-known for poetry that opposed oppression, but his plays also show his hatred of tyranny, writes Jacqueline Mulhallen

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s plays have not enjoyed the same popularity as his political poems, yet they show his attempts to reach the wide theatre audience that existed during his lifetime of 1792-1822.

Theatre was a popular talking point with play houses in all the major towns. Shakespeare’s plays were demanded as much by working class audiences in northern milltowns as by audiences at the great London theatres.

Shelley’s plays deal with the problem of how to rebel against tyranny. Theatre was heavily censored, and this deprived Shelley’s contemporaries of a chance to see the popular Irish actress, Eliza O’Neill, as the courageous and loving Beatrice Cenci in his play, The Cenci.

Cenci is a rich Italian nobleman who gets away with murder by bribing the Pope. He treats his wife and children with sadistic cruelty. When his daughter Beatrice challenges him, he rapes her. Beatrice, her stepmother and brother hire assassins to murder Cenci, only for their plan to be discovered, and they are caught and tried.

Shelley shows that it is the corruption and hypocrisy of the ruling class that leads them to punish Beatrice but not Cenci. The play was not professionally performed until 100 years after Shelley’s death when its greatness was appreciated.

Shelley also wrote Swellfoot the Tyrant. This is a satire on the contemporary political situation, when Queen Caroline defended her divorce from King George IV.


Although Shelley deplored the double standards that allowed the promiscuous king to try his wife for adultery, he was against royalty and was alarmed that radicals were taking up the cause of the equally repulsive Caroline.

In the play, the starving pigs petition King Swellfoot for more hogwash and he orders their slaughter. Meanwhile, his wizards (ministers) have collected evidence against Queen Iona in a green bag, which they say will prove her guilt when it is poured onto her.

When Iona’s trial takes place in the Temple of Famine, she snatches the green bag and pours it on her accusers who turn into vermin.

The goddess Liberty enters to join forces with the goddess Famine, who is sitting upon loaves and skulls. Famine is displaced by the Minotaur, the spirit of revolution, and the pigs scramble for the loaves. Those who reach them turn into bulls.

The Minotaur allows Iona to ride on his back only for as long as they hunt down the vermin. Then they and the remaining pigs gallop off, leaving the bulls alone on stage. The meaning is clear – a popular revolution gets rid of both king and queen.

Shelley added modern elements of ballet and song to his plays Prometheus Unbound and Hellas. These dramas can be read as poems, but both have been successfully performed.

Prometheus, a Greek god [or: Titan] who is a figure of rebellion, has been chained to a mountain by the tyrannical god Jupiter. A vulture eats Prometheus’s liver each day.

Prometheus withdraws his earlier curse on Jupiter and at this, his lover, Asia, travels deep into a volcano to meet Demogorgon, or Necessity. This spirit causes a volcanic eruption by which means Demogorgon can drag Jupiter down with him beneath the earth.

Prometheus is freed and marries Asia. There is then dancing and singing in a long and jubilant celebration of humankind, freed from tyranny.


Hellas was written to raise support for the Greek uprising against the Ottoman Empire. It was inspired by Aeschylus’ The Persians, which tells of the victory of small but democratic Athens over the might of the Persian empire.

This message is embodied in Hellas, where the lighting shows a gradual sunset, emphasising the end of empire and the eventual defeat of tyranny.

Shelley’s early death robbed us of what would have been a masterpiece, Charles the First, which is about the English Civil War. He had drafted a first act and left an outline of a second.

The first scene is set at evening at Whitehall – an irony, since this is where Charles will lose his head. A crowd waits to see a procession going to present a masque at court.

It is officially to honour the queen, but also opposes Charles’s policies.

The crowd discuss what they think of Charles and the events of his reign. When the king and his party cross, none of them even look at the people, much less speak to them as Shakespearean leaders would have done.

When the procession arrives with its flaming torches, music, splendid costumes and colourfully decorated chariots, it includes poor people playing on noisy discordant instruments and riding broken-down horses.

This emphasises the gulf between rulers and ruled and sets the pattern for the rest of the play.

Shelley’s plays are rarely studied or performed today. The Cenci’s last performance at a major London theatre was in 1959. But, together with many plays of this period, they deserve to be better known.

Blair, Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh, and Shelley

This video from Britain is called Maxine Peake reads from Shelley’s Mask of Anarchy, 16th August 2015, Manchester.

From the Google cache:

Blair, Lord Liverpool, Castlereagh, and Shelley

Linking: 4 Comments: 10

Date: 8/22/05 at 1:54PM

Mood: Looking Playing: Get up, Stand up, by Bob Marley

From Media Lens, via Craig Murray’s blog:

[United Kingdom] “Prime Minister Liverpool equated Parliamentary Reform with treason.

At a peaceful and massive meeting – around 50-60,000 – in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Field in 1819, demanding Reform, troops attacked the assembly and killed nine men and two women, and wounded 400.

This event became known as the “Peterloo Massacre‘.

Far from reviewing the error of his resistance to reforms, Liverpool responded to Peterloo by rushing in the Six Acts.

This law forbade meetings of more than 50 people, extended the power of summary conviction by magistrates, made ‘blasphemous and seditious libel” a transportable [eg, to Australia] offence, and placed a heavy tax on newspapers.

There is a parallel today.

Blair‘s government, instinctively authoritarian as was Liverpool’s, seizes on catastrophic events, resulting from his own criminal policy, to take repressive measures and rush in laws against freedom of speech.

Lord Liverpool’s henchman and foreign secretary from 1812-1822 was Lord Castlereagh, about whom the redoubtable poet Shelley wrote after Peterloo:

I met Murder on the way
He had a mask like Castlereagh

His come-uppance was a bitter one. Deranged by power, Castlereagh suicided in 1822.

Chroniclers record that on the news the Capital’s “mob” celebrated in the streets, and at his funeral cheered.

Something perhaps for Blair and his henchmen to ponder?

Blair, cartoon by Martin Rowson

Britain: new poem by Shelley discovered: anti war, anti monarchy

ShelleyFrom British daily The Guardian:

Prophet of the revolution

Percy Bysshe Shelley is typically seen as the quintessential English romantic poet, all clouds and skylarks.

Yet a newly discovered poem confirms him as one of our most radical writers, a bitter critic of war and a supporter of republican rebellion. Paul O’Brien reports

Friday July 14, 2006

The discovery of a lost work by a major writer has always caused much excitement among critics and academics.

The revelation in today’s Times Literary Supplement that an early poem by the great Percy Bysshe Shelley has come to light, and is in the possession of a London bookseller, will cause even more excitement than most.

This is a wonderful discovery: few Shelley scholars ever believed the poem, Poetical Essay, would resurface and some even doubted its existence.

It is a fantastic chance to learn more about the political and poetic development of the young Shelley.

British weekly Socialist Worker wrote on Shelley’s antiwar message:

His hatred of the “cold advisers of yet colder Kings” echoes the scandal of the intelligence briefing about weapons of mass destruction that led to the Iraq war and has a freshness that resonates down to this day.

Shelley denounces the advisers who have:

The power to breathe
O’er all the world the infectious blast of death.
Millions to fight compell’d, to fight or die
In mangled heaps on War’s red alter lie
When legal murders swell the lists of pride;
When glory’s views the titled idiot guide.

Mary Shelley and Frankenstein’s monster: here.

Enhanced by Zemanta