(Poem #592) Sonnet: 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 tempestous day.
A nicely vitriolic sonnet - Shelley seems to have warmed to his theme and produced an uncharacteristically good poem. The tirade is delivered with a sure touch, verging on the heavy-handed, but never going overboard, and ending with a very appropriate image - indeed, one that blends the twin messages of decay and hope almost perfectly. In form, this is a Shakespearean sonnet (12+2 rather than 8+6), though the rhyme scheme doesn't follow that of either the traditional Shakespearean or the Spenserean sonnet.  strictly IMHO, I hasten to add, but I do not in general care for Shelley. Notes: Well, it looks like matters still hadn't improved since Wordsworth's "London 1802" <g>. England in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars was apparently a hotbed of discontent: The end of the long wars against Napoleon did not usher in a period of peace and contentment. Although both agricultural and industrial production had greatly, if unevenly, increased during the wars, the total national debt had nearly quadrupled since 1793. Of the total annual public revenue after 1815, more than half had to be employed to pay interest on this debt. Furthermore, the abolition of Pitt's income tax in 1816 meant that the debt burden fell on consumers--many of them with low incomes--and on industrialists. The archaic and regressive nature of the national taxation system, along with a mounting scale of locally levied poor-law rates, which fell heavily on middle-income groups, provoked widespread anxiety and criticism. -- EB The king in the opening line was George III. Links: For a biography and assessment see the notes on Ozymandias: poem #22 Some more annotations: http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/shelley8.html Another annotated version, in hypertext: http://www.mindspring.com/~ttrigilio/intro-poetry/england1819.html [The above site seems to have been developed as a teaching aid - the hyperlinked pages are highly interesting] More on the Peterloo massacre: http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRpeterloo.htm And Wordsworth's London 1802 can be found at poem #128 -martin