Shelley has a bad name, ever since critics such as T S Eliot and F R Leavis damned him as an adolescent. His wayward life has not helped to encourage a genuine appreciation of his work for British readers, in spite of any untidiness there might be in their own lives, still cling to the tabloid version of high moral ground when judging others, especially public figures. And so Shelley's reputation has slipped from the high opinion held of his owrk by Browning, Yeats, Hardy and others, until it is almost out of sight (could you imagine a film being made of his life?) We have been warned, of course, notably by Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling in the Oxford anthology of Romantic Poetry and Prose: "All this is not even good nonsense", they say when considering the critics that I've mentoned; "Shelley is a crucial, sometimes the dominant influence upon Beddoes, Browning, Swinburne, Yeats, Shaw and Hardy. His emotions are very powerful, but his urbane control more powerful still. He is a superb craftsman, a lyrical poet without rival." Of course one is aware of the more silly stanzas that appear throughout some of the poems (they are of their time), but taking Shelley's work as a whole, as the volume under review enables the reader to do, there can be no doubt about the sheer force of this lyrical and powerful master. The Wordsworth Poetry Library is copious, supplying much of the important prose in addition to the poetry. It is superbly edited with an informative introduction and notes by Bruce Woodcock. This is informal education and reading pleasure combined, and for the ridiculously low sum one has to pay through Amazon, it deserves a place on everyone's bookshelves.
Like Byron, Keats and Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley has secured his immortality amongst the English Romantics and anyone wishing to understand the poetry of the period and the Romantic Movement need look no further than Shelley, for he encompasses the thought and essence of his contemporaries. Born in Sussex and educated at Eton College and University College, Oxford, Shelley (1792-1822) was an unhappy and rebellious child. He played the eccentric at Oxford and was expelled in 1811 for circulating `The necessity of Atheism' which he co-wrote with his friend T. J. Hogg. He eloped with the sixteen year old Harriet Westbrook to Scotland and they married in August 1811, a marriage ending in 1814 (Harriet drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816). Shelley eloped yet again, now with Mary Godwin and her fifteen year old stepsister Jane `Claire' Clairmont. He spent the summer of 1816 at Lake Geneva with Byron and suffered tragedy when his daughter Clara and son William both died in Venice and Rome respectively. Percy and Mary settled in Italy and Shelley drowned in 1822. Shelley is one of the great English Romantic poets and his major works include the visionary poem `Queen Mab' (1813), `Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude' (1816), the epic political poem `The Revolt of Islam'; the four act lyrical drama `Promethius Unbound' (1819), `The Mask of Anarchy' written in response to the Peterloo Massacre; `The Ode to the West Wind', the satirical `Peter Bell the third', `The Witch of Atlas', `The Cenci', `Adonais' (1821) written on hearing of the death of Keats; the autobiographical `Epipsychidia' (1821), `Hellas' (1822) and `The Triumph of Life' (1822). Shelley is often considered to be an angry young man with more than a hint of intellectual arrogance and self pity and for this reason he was derided in his own time and not really appreciated until after his death and the later appraisal by Victorian poets and writers. It is true Shelley was mischievous and idealistic and that he hated all forms of oppression and injustice; he was a radical who revealed his philosophical thoughts, political ideas and notions of human desire through his poetry. He was a non-violent, atheist, anti-monarchy, vegetarian who believed in free love and women's emancipation from oppression, and like Byron he supported the Greeks' cause against the Turks. Unlike that other Romantic, Wordsworth, whom he thought betrayed his ideals; Shelley wanted his poetry to connect with the world and cause reactions, which indeed it did. The Wordsworth Poetry Library edition is excellent value, making great poetry available to everyone, something I'm sure Shelley would have approved of.