6. Percy Bysshe Shelley

1. Biography

Born in Sussex in 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley was the eldest son of wealthy, conservative Member of Parliament and heir a considerable fortune. 

In 1810 he was expelled from Oxford University because of his radical pamphlet ‘The Necessity of Atheism’ in which he challenged the existence of God. 

At the age of 19 he married Harriet Westbrooke and they had two children. Shelley’s contempt for conventional forms of religion and politics was matched by an interest in the occult sciences and in scientific experiments. He expressed his philosophy of life in the poem ‘Queen Mab’ (1813). 

When Shelley and his wife came back to England, they separated. After he met the daughter of William Godwin, they went together in Switzerland and they met Byron. None of their 3 children survived and her wife, Mary, started drew up her novel ‘Frankenstein’. Meanwhile Percy wrote the revolutionary poem ‘The Revolt of Islam’, he expressed his conviction that only love could deliver men from any social claims. Shelley used the Gothic symbol of the wanderer to explain his vision of history. 

In 1818 the Shelleys left England for good and went to live in Italy during which time much of his best work was written:

Ode to the West Wind, written in 1819; To a Skylark, written in 1820;

The Cenci (1819) a verse tragedy; Prometheus Unbound (1820), a lyrical drama dealing with the theme of intellectual rebellion, the desire for spiritual liberty and the belief that evil would be overcome by the power of love;

Adonais (1821), an elegy written in honor of John Keats; 

Epipsychidion (1821), a long poem inspired to the poet by his platonic love for a beautiful Italian girl;

A Defense of poetry (1821), an unfinished essay concerning the importance of poetry.

In 1822 Shelley drowned during a storm and died. 

2. The poet...

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