10 Most Famous Poems By Percy Bysshe Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was an English writer who is considered one of the greatest poets in the English language. Romanticism was a cultural movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and lasted for around 50 years. It focused on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of the past and of nature. Shelley was one of the major figures of Romanticism and he created some of the best known works of the movement. He was a controversial writer whose poems are marked by uncompromising idealism and great personal conviction. Though he couldn’t gather a mainstream following during his short life, he became an idol for later generation of poets and ultimately achieved worldwide fame. Percy Shelley’s second wife, Mary Shelley, was the author of Frankenstein. Here are the 10 most famous poems of P B Shelley including the elegy Adonais, the sonnet Ozymandias and the Ode to the West Wind.

#10 Music, When Soft Voices Die

Published:1824 (posthumously)

Poem:-

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory—
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the belovèd's bed;
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone,
Love itself shall slumber on.

Synopsis:-

Comprising of just two stanzas of four lines, Music, When Soft Voices Die is one of the most anthologized and influence poems of Shelley. It was first published in Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley with the title “To—“. The theme of the poem is the endurance of the memories of events and of sensations. The poem has been set to music by numerous composers. Its opening and closing couplets are especially renowned and often appear in popular culture.


#9 England in 1819

Published:1839 (posthumously)

Poem:-

An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn,—mud from a muddy spring;
Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,
But leechlike to their fainting country cling
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow.
A people starved and stabbed in th' untilled field;
An army, whom liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay;
Religion Christless, Godless—a book sealed;
A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed—
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

Synopsis:-

England in 1819 is a political sonnet, a fourteen line poem. The poem passionately attacks the ruling class of England, its king, its army, its nobility, its senate, etc. George III of the United Kingdom is referred to as “old, mad, blind, despised, and dying”; the army is described as corrupt and dangerous to liberty; the laws as “tempt and slay”; and religion as Christless and Godless. The people of England are thus starved, oppressed and hopeless. A splendid expression of anger against the decadent ruling class of England at the time, England in 1819 is one of the most acclaimed political works of P. B. Shelley.


#8 The Cloud

Published:1820

Excerpt:-

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother's breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder.

I sift the snow on the mountains below,
And their great pines groan aghast;
And all the night 'tis my pillow white,
While I sleep in the arms of the blast.
Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
Lightning my pilot sits;
In a cavern under is fettered the thunder,
It struggles and howls at fits;
Over earth and ocean, with gentle motion,
This pilot is guiding me,
Lured by the love of the genii that move
In the depths of the purple sea;
Over the rills, and the crags, and the hills,
Over the lakes and the plains,
Wherever he dream, under mountain or stream,
The Spirit he loves remains;
And I all the while bask in Heaven's blue smile,
Whilst he is dissolving in rains.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This poem is written in first person with ”The Cloud” speaking throughout the poem. ”The Cloud” can be seen as a personification and a metaphor for the perpetual cycle of transformation and change in nature. Shelley has endowed it with powers and attributes that personify the forces of nature and can be compared to that of an immortal divine being. The Cloud was noted for its originality on first being published and in 1880, Irish writer John Todhunter called it the most popular poem of Shelley, along with To a Skylark. It remains one of his best known works.



#7 Mont Blanc

Full Title:Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni
Published:1817

Excerpt:-

                               I
The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters—with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume,
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

                                     II
Thus thou, Ravine of Arve—dark, deep Ravine—
Thou many-colour'd, many-voiced vale,
Over whose pines, and crags, and caverns sail
Fast cloud-shadows and sunbeams: awful scene,
Where Power in likeness of the Arve comes down
From the ice-gulfs that gird his secret throne,
Bursting through these dark mountains like the flame
Of lightning through the tempest;—thou dost lie,
Thy giant brood of pines around thee clinging,
Children of elder time, in whose devotion
The chainless winds still come and ever came
To drink their odours, and their mighty swinging
To hear—an old and solemn harmony;
Thine earthly rainbows stretch'd across the sweep
Of the aethereal waterfall, whose veil
Robes some unsculptur'd image; the strange sleep
Which when the voices of the desert fail
Wraps all in its own deep eternity;
Thy caverns echoing to the Arve's commotion,
A loud, lone sound no other sound can tame;
Thou art pervaded with that ceaseless motion,
Thou art the path of that unresting sound—
Dizzy Ravine! and when I gaze on thee
I seem as in a trance sublime and strange
To muse on my own separate fantasy,
My own, my human mind, which passively
Now renders and receives fast influencings,
Holding an unremitting interchange
With the clear universe of things around;
One legion of wild thoughts, whose wandering wings
Now float above thy darkness, and now rest
Where that or thou art no unbidden guest,
In the still cave of the witch Poesy,
Seeking among the shadows that pass by
Ghosts of all things that are, some shade of thee,
Some phantom, some faint image; till the breast
From which they fled recalls them, thou art there!

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This poem was written by Shelley during his tour to the Chamonix Valley, from where one has a wonderful view of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps with a height of 4,808m. The poem Mont Blanc is primarily about an interaction between nature and the mind. In it, the speaker compares the power of the mountain against the power of the human imagination. The main focus of the poem is the relationship between the human mind and the universe. Mont Blanc is one of the most famous odes of Percy Bysshe Shelley.


#6 To a Skylark

Published:1820

Excerpt:-

Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from Heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning
Of the sunken sun,
O'er which clouds are bright'ning,
Thou dost float and run;
Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even
Melts around thy flight;
Like a star of Heaven,
In the broad day-light
Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight,

Keen as are the arrows
Of that silver sphere,
Whose intense lamp narrows
In the white dawn clear
Until we hardly see, we feel that it is there.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

This poem was inspired by song of a skylark Percy heard while taking an evening walk with his wife Mary Shelley in the country near Livorno, Italy. The speaker of the poem tells the bird how much he loves its singing. He compares it to a number of things including a star, a poet and a worm. He then states that nothing human beings can make can ever compare with the beautiful song of this bird. He concludes by saying that how he wishes he could sing with as much joy and freedom as this bird.



#5 The Masque of Anarchy

Published:1832 (posthumously)

Excerpt:-

I

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

II

I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

III

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

IV

Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Eldon, an ermined gown;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.

V

And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

The Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field, Manchester, England, on 16 August 1819. During the incident, the English cavalry charged into a crowd gathered to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. 15 people were killed and more than 400 were injured. Shelley wrote this poem of 91 stanzas in response to the Peterloo Massacre. In it, he calls on the people to meet unjust forms of authority in a radically different way, through non-violent resistance. The Masque of Anarchy has been called “the greatest political poem ever written in English” and such is its influence that even Mahatma Gandhi quoted it several times to his audiences.


#4 Adonaïs

Full Title:Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats
Published:1821

Excerpt:-

I
       I weep for Adonais—he is dead!
       Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
       Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
       And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
       To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
       And teach them thine own sorrow, say: "With me
       Died Adonais; till the Future dares
       Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!"

II
       Where wert thou, mighty Mother, when he lay,
       When thy Son lay, pierc'd by the shaft which flies
       In darkness? where was lorn Urania
       When Adonais died? With veiled eyes,
       'Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise
       She sate, while one, with soft enamour'd breath,
       Rekindled all the fading melodies,
       With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath,
He had adorn'd and hid the coming bulk of Death.

III
       Oh, weep for Adonais—he is dead!
       Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!
       Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
       Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep
       Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
       For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
       Descend—oh, dream not that the amorous Deep
       Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair.

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

Famous English writer John Keats was a friend of P. B. Shelley and they often corresponded. This poem was written by Shelley seven weeks after the funeral of Keats, who died at the age of 25 in 1821. In it, Shelley uses the untimely death of the Greek god of fertility, Adonis, as an extended metaphor for the death of Keats. The poem initially describes the mourning due to the death of Adonais before the speaker urges the mourners to stop weeping as Adonais is now one with nature. He has gone where “envy and calumny and hate and pain” cannot reach him. Adonais is considered one of the finest works of Shelley and it is one of the most famous elegies in the English language.



#3 Prometheus Unbound

Published:1820

Excerpt:-

Prometheus.
   Monarch of Gods and Dæmons, and all Spirits
But One, who throng those bright and rolling worlds
Which Thou and I alone of living things
Behold with sleepless eyes! regard this Earth
Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou
Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise,
And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts,
With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.
Whilst me, who am thy foe, eyeless in hate,
Hast thou made reign and triumph, to thy scorn,
O'er mine own misery and thy vain revenge.
Three thousand years of sleep-unsheltered hours,
And moments aye divided by keen pangs
Till they seemed years, torture and solitude,
Scorn and despair,—these are mine empire:—
More glorious far than that which thou surveyest
From thine unenvied throne, O Mighty God!
Almighty, had I deigned to share the shame
Of thine ill tyranny, and hung not here
Nailed to this wall of eagle-baffling mountain,
Black, wintry, dead, unmeasured; without herb,
Insect, or beast, or shape or sound of life.
Ah me! alas, pain, pain ever, for ever!

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

Prometheus is a deity in Greek mythology who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave it to humankind. For this deed he is subjected to eternal punishment and suffering at the hands of Zeus, the King of Gods. Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound is a four act lyrical drama based on this myth. Filled with suspense, mystery and other dramatic effects, it is considered a poetic masterpiece that combines supple blank verse with a variety of complex lyric measures. Prometheus Unbound is one of the best known poems of P. B. Shelley and it is widely regarded as his greatest work.


#2 Ode to the West Wind

Published:1820

Excerpt:-

I
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

II
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

Read Full Poem Here

Synopsis:-

Ode to the West Wind consists of five cantos or sections. In the first part of three cantos, Shelley talks about the great powers that the west wind possesses. In the second part, comprising of the last two cantos, he concentrates on the relationship between the wind and the narrator. Shelley believed that a poet could be instrumental in bringing social and political change and this ode personifies the west wind as an agent to spread that change. Ode to the West Wind is not only one of the most influential works of Shelley but also one of the most famous odes ever written.


#1 Ozymandias

Published:1818

Poem:-

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 

And on the pedestal, these words appear:
"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.

Synopsis:-

Ozymandias was the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II, perhaps the most powerful king of Ancient Egypt. In Percy’s poem the speaker recalls meeting a traveller who tells him about two huge stone legs and a damaged head of a statue. The sculptor of the work had captured the pride of his subject. On the pedestal of the statue appear the words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” However around the ruin is nothing but “lone and level sands”. The poem focuses on the momentary nature of power with its central theme being the inevitable decline of all leaders, no matter how great they consider themselves. Ozymandias is the most famous poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley and one of the best known sonnets in English literature.



8 thoughts on “10 Most Famous Poems By Percy Bysshe Shelley”

  1. I love Shelley’s work so much, that I wrote a play called “Shelley.” He inspires on so many levels. It’s not only his poetry, which is sublime, but his soul, his passion and his willingness, in his lifetime, to go up against a system of tyranny that tried to destroy him. But his spirit lives on. As he says:
    I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
    And the nursling of the Sky;
    I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
    I change, but I cannot die.

    Thank you for presenting this man’s work to the public.

    Reply

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