A cheeky seduction poem, “Love’s Philosophy” gives us a speaker who attempts to use his arts to capture the heart (and perhaps more) of a love interest: “look around at the world,” he says to his unnamed lover. “Everywhere, you see things coming together, unifying in matter and spirit. Isn’t it a crime against our nature not to do the same?”
However, the poem doesn’t just showcase Shelley’s playful side. It demonstrates the immense influence that all things natural had on many writers of this time.
The Preface to Frankenstein—written by Percy, oddly enough—brings us back to the now legendary moment of inspiration that gave us Mary Shelley’s famous novel: vacationing at Lake Geneva with a circle of friends and fellow writers, the Shelleys are confined indoors due to inclement weather. Reading German horror stories by candlelight, the crew eventually settles on a competition proposed by Lord Byron. The competition is simple: who can write the best horror story? In the months and years ahead, Byron and Percy—the two literary heavyweights of the party—lose interest and take up other projects; Mary, meanwhile, sets to work on what will become Frankenstein, one of the most celebrated English novels of all time.
As American’s go to the polls today in a series of epochal mid-term elections, Shelley’s To the Lord Chancellor seems a more than appropriate choice for our Tuesday Verse selection. As Timothy Webb once noted, politics was perhaps the consuming passion of Shelley’s life. On the 6 November 1819, right around the time he might have been writing this poem, Shelley wrote to his friends the Gisbornes saying, “I have deserted the odorous gardens of literature to journey across the great sandy desert of Politics; not, you may imagine, without the hope of finding some enchanted paradise.” Shelley was what was known as a perfectibilist, someone who believed in the perfectibility of humans. He even developed a sophisticated political and social theory to compliment this belief. This does NOT mean Shelley was a utopian - he emphatically was not. But he did believe in the gradual evolution of the human species toward something like perfection.
In his life and writings, Shelley was fascinated with the element—water—that would one day take his life. In the above poem, Shelley explores another subject, “time,” by linking it to the great waterways of the world.
The product of a friendly writing competition between Shelley and his friend Horace Smith, the sonnet “Ozymandias” presents us with a striking image: a hulking, shattered, and half-buried statue of Ozymandias, better known as Ramses II, the famed Egyptian pharaoh