Radical Shelley poem still under wraps

At the Guardian, a reader wonders when the public will get to read Percy Bysshe Shelley’s scathing, 20-page anti-war poem, “Poetical Essay,” recently uncovered after “completely elud[ing] Shelley scholars for nearly two centuries.”

[I]t seems as if the poem is explosive stuff, supporting the Irish in their attempts to get rid of British rule, while mentioning on the way the injustice of the British presence in India. People from many constituencies are interested — poets, poetry lovers, students of romanticism, students of leftwing and anti-colonial movements and many more besides. So why is it that we are not yet allowed to read the poem? When and where was it rediscovered? Who are the privileged people who so far have been permitted to read it? Why don’t they spend the half-hour it would take to scan it and put it up on the web for all of us to read and enjoy? Presumably money is involved. The “owner” of the poem (past or future) will no doubt find a way of selling it, while the ghost of Shelley howls with contemptuous laughter.

Tony Christini of Imaginative Literature and Social Change observed in email several weeks ago that:

Shelley was so talented and such a progressive partisan in his writing and accomplished so much before dying young that Upton Sinclair [The Jungle] considered him to be the greatest of all writers, greater even than Shakespeare, as Sinclair explains at some length in his best book of criticism, Mammonart.


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