Friday, April 25th, 2014
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1819 / Florence

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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 leechlike 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
Make 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 tempestuous day.

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About the Author

Percy Bysshe Shelley, “England in 1819.” The poem is believed to have been enclosed by Shelley in a letter to his friend Leigh Hunt, in which he remarked, “You will never write politics. I don’t wonder; but I wish, then, that you would write a paper in The Examiner on the actual state of the country.” A few months earlier, Shelley completed Prometheus Unbound. He had gone to Italy, along with his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft, in 1818 and never returned to England.

The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.
G. K. Chesterton, 1908
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LQ Podcast:
Orlando Figes
The Russian historian describes the Revolution’s retreat in the 1920s from its high communist ideals under the New Economic Policy.
Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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