Percy Bysshe Shelley - Life And Famous Works

Essay, 2008

4 Pages


© Lisa Jensen (2008)

Percy Bysshe Shelley

In this essay about Percy Bysshe Shelley I will give a summary of Shelley’s life, name his most famous works, look at one of his poems closely and put it in perspective to his life and look at what the critics wrote about his works back then.

On the 4th of August 1792 Percy Bysshe Shelley was born in England as the oldest of five siblings. As a student he boarded the Syon House Academy in 1802, where he became the target of the other students’ derision and mobbing. When Shelley entered Eton in 1804 it got even worse. There was hardly any supervision and he was bullied by other students whenever possible. There, he continued writing the gothic tales which earlier he had already told his sisters at home and which were the starting point in his career. After entering Oxford in 1810 he regularly published novels and verse collections. He befriended Thomas Jefferson Hogg, and after a year they published a pamphlet called The Necessity of Atheism together, for which they were expelled from Oxford. Shelley also broke with his father, marrying Harriet Westbrook in Scotland in 1811, who was just 16, while he was 19. In 1813 Shelley’s first Child Ianthe was born in London. A year later Shelley fell in love with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and leaving his wife, ran away to Switzerland with her, but returned to England only six weeks later. In late 1814 Harriet gave birth to Shelley’s second child, Charles, who she had been pregnant with when Shelley had left her. After his grandfather’s death in 1815 Shelley sued the family to get annuities and won, which is how he financed his living from then on. In late 1816 Harriet Shelley committed suicide by drowning in the Thames. At that time she was pregnant from a man who had left her, just like Shelley. As soon as she was dead, Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, then to be Mary Shelley. In 1818 the Shelleys moved to Italy, but restless as they were they didn’t settle but moved at least 17 times until 1820. During that time their daughter Clara died, as well as their son William, but a boy named Percy Florence was born and lived. A lot of Shelley’s famous works were written during those years when he lived in Italy. In July 1822 Shelley, who couldn’t swim, drowned on a boat trip.

Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote too many lyrical pieces to name them all in this essay. He has written far more than 200 poems, drama, novels and essays. His most familiar works though are the gothic novel Zastrozzi, the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism, the philosophical poem Queen Mab, the lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound, the important essay A Defence of Poetry where he ‘celebrates the diversity of interpretations evoked by ‘high poetry’’1 and the poems To a Skylark and Ozymandias.

Shelley wrote the poem Mutability in 1814 or 1815 and published it with ‘Alastor’ in 1816. Its foot is an iambic pentameter and each one of the four stanzas is a quatrain. The rhyme scheme is an alternating end-rhyme following the structure abab cdcd and so forth. In the second stanza Shelley uses a lot of alliterations (shown by the underlined letters), which make the poem feel very much alive2 and for example makes the dissonant strings feel even more dissonant and the frail frame even more frail:

“Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings Give various response to each varying blast, To whose frail frame no second motion brings One mood or modulation like the last.”²

In the third stanza he uses an Anaphora, which makes the reader feel as if he/she was directly included in what the narrator is saying:

“We rest. -- …

We rise. -- … We feel, …”3

The content of the poem very much relates to Shelley’s life at the stage when he wrote it. It was written around the time when Shelley left his wife Harriet and ran away with his newly found lover Mary. The poem tells about the changeability of life, and changes were what Shelley had a lot of at that time. A lot of things had alternated in his life during the past years, he had married, become a father and even found a new lover. In the first stanza he speaks about restlessness, which exactly describes him. He had moved homes a lot in the past years and couldn’t really settle anywhere. The second stanza gives more examples and the ‘frail frame’ might even describe Shelley himself. The third stanza underlines once more that not only his body, but his mind could not settle. Usually dreaming, thinking and feeling are thought of as good things, as well as conceiving and laughing, but here the negatives are given straight afterwards, a nightmare, a restless thought, reasoning and weeping.


1 Leader & O’Neill. page xi, line 1-2

2 Hutchinson page 523, line 5-8

3 Hutchinson page 523, line 9-11

Excerpt out of 4 pages


Percy Bysshe Shelley - Life And Famous Works
University of Hannover  (Englisches Seminar)
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percy, bysshe, shelley, life, famous, works
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B.A. Lisa Jensen (Author), 2008, Percy Bysshe Shelley - Life And Famous Works, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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