Lost Shelley poem found

Revolutionary text turns up in private collection.

The Bodleian Library in Oxford has acquired a lost poem and political text by Percy Bysshe, published in 1811 but then lost, the university has announced tonight by the actor and political activist Vanessa Redgrave and the Bodley’s librarian Richard Ovenden.

The document re-emerged in a private collection in 2006, and has now been acquired by the library.

Entitled Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things was written in  Shelley ’s first year as a student and published anonymously by “A gentleman of the university of Oxford” in a pamphlet which also contains Shelley’s political essay.

The poem is 172 lines long and covers ten of the pamphlet’s 20 pages, with notes by the author. It was written as a response to Britain’s involvement tithe Napoleonic war, and in support off a journalist accused of libel by the government rafter criticism British military action. The essay could be relevant today dealing as it does with abuse of the press, dysfunctional political institutions and the global impact of war.

“This is a tremendously exciting moment,” said Michael Rossington, professor of romantic literature at the University of Newcastle. “This substantial poem has been known about for years but as far as we know it hasn’t been read by any Shelley biographers or scholars since it was composed, and people are intrigued to find out exactly what it’s about. The poem is very interesting because it marks a new stage in Shelley’s development as a poet, revealing his early interest in the big issues of his day and his belief that poetry can be used to alter public opinion and effect change.”

It will be on display in the Weston Library, Oxford, until December 23. the essay can be viewed online at poeticalessay.bodleian.ox.ac.uk.

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