Aug. 19, 2010: ENGLAND IN 1819 (Percy Bysshe Shelley)

People, it’s political sonnet time again. Recently I met a young man who’s in a band named “England in 1819.” That’s neat, I said, and then balked on making a music history joke because I don’t know any English composers from the early 19th century. Anyway, turns out it was another reference I didn’t get at all–to a Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) poem written in that year, but not published until 1839. For an English-language sonnet, this poem has a unique rhyme scheme, and it expresses Shelley’s idealism in the form of a mild jeremiad. I would be most grateful for any brilliant historian among us who can give specific meaning to phrases like “old mad blind dying king,” “starved and stabbed in an untilled field,” and “Time’s worst statute unrepealed,” since they will help us understand what, exactly, about 1819 pisses Shelley off quite so much.

I think if you had 35 minutes and a rhyming dictionary it wouldn’t be too hard to write a “USA in 2010” on this model, right? AM I RIGHT, PEOPLE? Have a good week, -ed.

ENGLAND IN 1819

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 leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,–
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field,–
An army which 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.

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