Saturday, August 4, 2012

Percy Bysshe Shelley


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.  --Percy Bysshe Shelley

When I enrolled for my senior year of high school, my counsellor had my schedule all laid out for me.  I told her it was all good, but I was not taking senior English.  She said, "Yes, you are."  And I did.  Miss Lillian Bateman was my teacher.  I addressed her as "Miss Bateman," and she called me "Mr. Lacy, Able Seaman."  To this day, I don't know where that came from, and in truth I prefer not to think about it too much.  I remember a good bit that I learned in that class, from the memorization (required) of a segment of Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales  (When that Aprille with his shoures soote, and so on.) to a sincere effort on Miss Bateman's part to teach us the art of writing.

Shelley was one of the "Romantic Poets" we looked at, and I remembered a few things from that study.  I  started this article by quoting "Ozymandias" because it is likely the only poem I remember.  Impressive it is, too, because the truth it contains has been verified in my subsequent studies of the history of the human condition.

Two things I remember about Shelley.  The first is that even as a teenager, it struck me that the man bore a most unlikely name.  "Percy," okay, I have actually met a couple of living people named Percy.  "Bysshe," I have no idea where that came from, and I have never attempted to disabuse myself of my ignorance; but what an odd combination of names with which to go through life.
The second thing I remember is that talented as the man was, he seemed to me to be a rather unsavory character, and he died much too young.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 4 August 1792 – 8 July 1822

*Miss B took some pains to assure us that the name is pronounced in four syllables, otherwise the meter of the line is spoiled.  Also, I have heard the substitution of "upon" for "on" in the subsequent line, which also ruins the cadence.  The sonneteer knew what he was doing.


Shelly said...

There is no doubt Shelley was a talented character and gone much, much too soon. I wish I could have met Miss Bateman~

Secondary Roads said...

Hubris engraved the inscription upon that base. That put the monarch's boast in place. And yet it is another king, that puts in order this great things. His words also I see, vanity of vanities all is vanity.

Anonymous said...

Having started college life as English Lit major, and taking into consideration that poetry is my favorite literary genre, I never cared for the romantics - and while Shelley and his cohorts are famous for their "social" life, never found that terribly interesting either - except for the footnote of John Polidori.

I think English teachers have the biggest impact on us - if they are any good.

vanilla said...

Shelly, you would have enjoyed Miss Bateman. My three favorite teachers from my senior year all retired upon the graduation of my class, for whatever that is worth.

Chuck, indeed Solomon's line well sums it up.

Grace, one should cherish the efforts of a good English teacher, and I was fortunate to have encountered a couple of them. The whole Byron, Shelley, Rosetti, Polidori thing never particularly piqued my interest. Perhaps they had fun, but death at such young ages...

Anonymous said...

The interesting thing about Polidori is - he wrote the first "pop" vampyre story. Before LeFanu or Stoker...I did a paper on vampires - legends through to popular fiction - (and that was oh some 32 years ago...).

vanilla said...

Grace, was it the case that Byron was Polidori's model for the "vampyre"?

Anonymous said...

No - Polidori used unfinished/unpublished works by Byron to jump start his story - originally the story was published under Byron's name and then it was removed and only John Polidori's name was listed as author.

A little research revealed that Polidori's vampyre was named Lord Ruthven and Caroline Lamb had previously written a book whose main character has that name and was a "thinly disguised Byron".

They were such an incestuous group - doing some research to refresh my memory I came across the info that John Polidori's sister was the mother of Dante and Christina Rossetti -

And of course Mary Shelley's stepsister was Byron's lover and mother of his daughter...

vanilla said...

Grace, thanks. What a bunch.

Sharkbytes said...

I didn't have to learn that one, but I can still manage most of Dover Beach.

I do know a real Percy.

vanilla said...

Shark, I guess there was a day in which all our teachers thought such mental exercises as memorization of poetry was a good thing. And it was.