Born OTD in 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley’s poetry & prose output remained steady throughout his life, most publishers and journals declined to publish his work for fear of being arrested for either blasphemy or sedition. Shelley’s poetry sometimes had only an underground readership during his day, but his poetic achievements are widely recognized today.

The Mask of Anarchy

Jeremy Corbyn brought Shelley’s classic political poem back into the public eye when he quoted the final stanza during the 2017 General Election campaign, and again in his speech at Glastonbury Festival.

Written in 1819 after Shelley heard about the Peterloo Massacre, The Mask of Anarchy was not published until 1832 because editor Leigh Hunt “thought the public at large had not become sufficiently discerning to do justice to the sincerity and kindness of the spirit that walked in this flaming robe of verse.” The poem has been recited and referred to by socialists ever since its publication.

John Lucas introduces the poem, putting it into historical and political context. He explains how it is a scathing indictment of the government of the day which, Shelley believed, were ignoring the principles of democracy and implementing a kind of anarchy behind the mask. Many people believe the ideas expressed in The Mask of Anarchy are still relevant today, perhaps even more so than when it was written.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) was one of the foremost English Romantic poets. A close friend of Byron, he was radical in his poetry as well as his political and social views. Much of his work was considered too inflammatory to be published in his lifetime. John Lucas is the publisher and editor at Shoestring Press, a poet in his own right, and Emeritus Professor of English at the Universities of Loughborough and Nottingham Trent.

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