Il Guardian da un pò si sta dedicando alla poesia che ha strutturato il modo di scrivere contemporaneo, merita sicuramente un'occhiata attenta.
DA THE GUARDIAN
An introduction to the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Christopher Hitchens explores the man whose work ranged from the nature-loving verses of To a Skylark to poetry and prose often considered too incendiary to be published in his own lifetime
The Guardian, Thursday 28 January 2010
Our perhaps forgivable tendency to group the Romantic tribe of early 19th-century poets under a single collective title is a disservice both to history and to literature. Byron opened his Don Juan with a sparkling attack on the insipidity of those he termed – for fairly obvious reasons – "the Lakers", and scorned those who haunted Keswick as if it were some daunting wilderness. "There is a narrowness in such a notion," he wrote, "which makes me wish you'd change your lakes for ocean."
Percy Bysshe Shelley, who qualified as a Romantic by the exacting test of expiring a month before his 30th birthday, became oceanic by dying in a tempest on the Mediterranean, had Byron as a mourner at his funeral pyre, and was in any case partly exempted from the latter's contempt by the otherwise extremely stormy career that he pursued. He continues to lead a sort of double-life in our literature, first as the author of such nature-loving verses as To a Skylark and second as a revolutionary whose work in poetry and prose was often considered too incendiary to be published in his own lifetime.
It might be slightly unfair to say, as does Richard Holmes in his magnificent biography, that parts of Shelley's Hymn To Intellectual Beauty and The Revolt of Islam suffer from a "thin, high-pitched egotism". It's true that the terrible bullying he endured in his schooldays, and his later unjust expulsion from University College, Oxford, gave him a keen sense of persecution and imparted a certain quality of the over-wrought to his work. For that matter, it is true that reading him in large doses can cause a slight weariness with the over-use of certain tropes (birds soar, trumpets blast, waves surge and break, storms howl and drive, volcanoes erupt).
But this energy and emotion was most often mobilised not for the self, but in order to enlarge the bounds of poetry and to put the poet himself at the service of the generous cause of humanity. A paragraph from his (again posthumously published) essay In Defence of Poetry culminates in what may be his single best-known phrase:
Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
Inherent in this, perhaps, is a claim to membership in an elect or an occult nobility, and it does seem that Shelley was fascinated by the so-called Illuminists, a sort of Jacobin freemasonry devoted to the overthrow of religion, family and private property.
The times and circles in which he moved were extremely volatile ones, influenced and composed both by republican and deist pamphleteers like Thomas Paine, his relatives by marriage William Godwin and Mary Wollestonecraft, and also by scientific and rationalist movements that challenged the authority of the moralists and the churches. Shelley was familiar with the apparatus of chemistry sets and microscopes, and made use of the writings of Locke and Hume to compose the pamphlet – The Necessity of Atheism – that got him thrown out of Oxford.
However, in the address of his poetry the appeal is not to an elite but to the idea of the risen people. Here, the classic reference would be to The Mask of Anarchy, the terse and bitter and furious poem that he composed in Italy after hearing of the suppression of the Peterloo demonstrators in Manchester in August 1819. In a series of tightly-controlled stanzas he upended the vials of his disgust over Lord Chancellor Eldon and over his most-detested villain, the foreign secretary Castlereagh who had, with Metternich and others, riveted a reactionary peace on post-Napoleonic Europe. "Bishops, lawyers, peers or spies" make up the grisly procession of the hollow parade of authority, whose coming doom is pronounced by the closing invocation to the men and women of "the Nation":
Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth, like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many, they are few!
This is blood-pounding, drum-beating stuff (it was the favourite of the late Paul Foot, whose book Red Shelley tried gallantly to conscript the poet to the ranks of another revolution) but if you don't chance to know its context it may be as readily pressed into service by any movement that calls on people to awake. Again, it didn't see print until 1832, long after its author's death, when his friend Leigh Hunt may have judged it useful to assist in the agitation for the Reform Bill: a majestic piece of English compromise.
Those who die young and whose brief lives are fretted with anxiety sometimes appear in retrospect to have invited their fate, and to be too much sunken in introspection and self-pity. The brooding and yearning of Alastor and Queen Mab, however, always strive to synthesise private anguish with the millennial sufferings of a broader humanity, just as Shelley's public life and work identified itself with long-oppressed nations like the Irish and the Greeks. What might he have achieved, once he had learned to discipline his own melodramatic eloquence? We have a clue in the beautiful understatement of Ozymandias, where even the grandiose fantasies of absolute power are granted their tincture of humanity, and of the tragic sense that must accompany the Romantic ideal.