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I have always thought that the story of Shelley's life was more interesting than his poems. Like other writers who die young, a kind of mythology followed his death.
Some research recently sent me back to his poems, and in reading "To a Skylark" I was struck with parts of it, particularly the stanza:

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

I have heard it said that sadness produces much better poetry than joy. If you read the entire poem, you'll see that the poem is a plea by the poet to be able to sing the gladness the skylark must know when it sings "hymns unbidden" which are "Better than all treasures / That in books are found." So if it truly is harder to sing the joy, try writing a poem using some one, or some thing, as the vehicle for the gladness. No need to write a bird poem; Shelley covered that approach.


In the middle of a mountain lake
On the middle of a small sail boat
Is a boy proving
He has learned something.
He is willing not to be afraid
In the middle of strong, sailing gust.
I am all muddled but go ahead.

In the middle, but scrambling side to side
With the sail tilting towards
The tannic water,
The tiller tightly held to the middle
With fear and joy.
"Hey kid," my kid says to me
‘You thought I couldn't do it.'

He is always one to prove
That joy has the risk of tears;
He does not think happiness
Precludes possible disaster.
For the middle to some
Will be the end to others
And so on and on to the middies.

Edward N. Halperin


Joy has no vehicle.
She prefers to walk, drawing attention
in knee-high high-heeled calf-curving
shiny vinyl and a slitted skirt that swings
as she passes me by. As common as
strawberries in summer, she is
a beautiful contagious slut‹
everyone¹s had her, still we chase her
like she¹s something
we can¹t live without.
There we go again, looking foolish
as children who try to catch snowflakes
with their tongues. That pleases Joy,
who enjoys our pursuit.
I shudder when she strides my way
because I know how it will end.
The warmth of her hands
sends sunbeams into my dusty corners.
Then just when I think
I can finally hold her, Joy zips on
those long boots again and takes off
with a quick kiss, a friendly wave,
the sashay of her hips.

Lauren Cerruto


Hail to thee O first car!
My father's beat-up Skylark,
the car I'd fall asleep in
on long drives home
on the Garden State,
sticky from the heat
and melted chocolate
on the ripped blue vinyl

And Here's to getting laid
on the back seat, the windows
steamed, and a cop banging
on the windshield with his flashlight,
before I could get her wet.

I drove that car to hell
and worked my way up
Route 17 to Mothers
on the New York side
to buy six packs and ride
back down with a can
in one hand and my arm
around her waist, and sweat
that I wouldn't see the lights
looming up behind me
in the rearview.

ugly as it was, I loved that car,
and even now as I head up 17
and pass the place where I discovered
How a woman tastes,
I feel a sense of gladness in
how much pain I suffered growing up
knowing how clumsy I was and
that it would take all these years
learning what it meant.

Mark Hillringhouse


At Matins he’s waiting at the bolted door.
I open it, he rushes out to lift
his muzzle to the morning and take in
all his Master’s scent.
He raises his right hindleg in greeting
to the great black-oak that over-leaned
our sleep, a speechless psalm.

At Lauds he searches out the incense-
cedar in a path of praise. His canticle
unfolds beneath the raven and the sudden
stoop of phoebe in her monkish cowl.

At Prime he follows me, patient as feet.
At Terce he exhumes a bone long buried.
It smells old and good – a life whose scent
seeped into soil. He chews its testament
against his gums, its marrow of time.

At Sext he honors the hour by its shade.
Rhythmic as panting, he recites
his Master’s name. At None he howls
to a joy too distant for my ears.

At Vespers I bear his supper
in its stainless bowl.
He’s never stooped to the beggar’s
coin, but he knows the brown-
eyed word for “please.”

At Compline he lies down in three
circles, the ritual patrol of doors
and windows in a watchful sleep.

At Vigils, the over-sweeping dark
receives his blessing, as do the stars
and planets and the moon, the waxing
mooon, the mooooon which he
draws out
long and full.

Taylor Graham


My joy is above me
a cosmic event
the alignment of planets 
the sun at an angle
sky between branches 
evergreen in the air
mixed with sage
that I brushed against
a coyote on the hill
vocalizing its mating call

There it is.
      Now it's gone.

Ken Ronkowitz



In barely containing oneself
seated and proper
the wind on it's own hind legs
from some invisible distant home
plucked my cheek like a harp.
and yet stronger it became
my lover, so gentle and free.

you, dear wind, as you move
effortlessly in small corners,
large spaces
twirling, whirling, curling
yourself around the tip of my ear
whispering your deepest
and most precious secrets
I can barely contain myself with you.

at night, at daybreak, you are there
and when you are not
you are still there
moveable, flexible, like your heart
oh, to be like you
no commitments, no home, no mind
you teach me how to be still and move
at the same time.
to speak more from the heart
than the loins
to not desire
or live for pleasure itself
as we strive for some
escape from our human existence

ah, yes
there is no escape. there is only
the movement of your tiny feet
and sweet breath
that whisper "receive me and be free".

Jill Mooney


Not a shock,
your musing of possibility,
the thought of movement,
one step after
another step
banished beneath the wheels
of his chair,
the wheels spinning
in his head.
The prison of stairs
and in his rebellion
a ramp,
long, cumbersome
but traversable.
The prison of legs
worthless, but for counter balance,
his rebellion,
his desire burned
in his eyes.
You mused the possibility
of balance,
tenderness and strength,
of moisture,
rhythm and passion
and dared
to feel his freedom.
Later, you remember wheels
and the perfect hands
of a rebellious lover.

James M. Thompson



Percy Bysshe Shelley was born Horsham, England in 1792. His father, Sir Timothy Shelley, was a member of Parliament.

Shelley was educated at Eton and Oxford University and it was assumed that when he was twenty-one he would inherit his father's seat in Parliament. At university Shelley began reading books by radical political writers such as Tom Paine and William Godwin.

At university Shelley wrote articles defending Daniel Isaac Eaton, a bookseller charged with selling books by Tom Paine.. He also wrote The Necessity of Atheism, a pamphlet that attacked the idea of compulsory Christianity. Oxford University was shocked when they discovered what Shelley had written and in 1811 he was expelled. That year he eloped to Scotland with Harriet Westbrook, a sixteen year old daughter of a coffee-house keeper. This created a terrible scandal and Shelley's father never forgave him for what he had done. Shelley moved to Ireland where he made revolutionary speeches on religion and politics.

Shelley had an affair with sixteen-year-old Mary Godwin (the sixteen-year-old daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft) after just two years of marriage to Harriet. He proposed that all three should live together. Harriet refused. Shelley left with Mary and Harriet went back to her parents, but then left without her children and with a soldier who had gotten her pregnant. He quickly deserted the pregnant Harriet and she committed suicide by drowning herself. Percy Shelley applied for custody of their two children, and to make his case more presentable, he and Mary Godwin married. But when asked by the court about his marital habits and beliefs, Shelley denounced the institution of marriage, and custody was denied.

That year the Shelleys, Lord Byron and friends were at Lake Geneva where in the stormy evenings they told ghost stories which, according to legend, were the genesis of Mary's novel Frankenstein.

For the next few years the couple traveled and in 1822 Shelley moved to Italy with Lord Byron where they published the journal The Liberal without prosecution by the British authorities.  

Percy Bysshe Shelley was drowned at age 29 while sailing on July 8, 1822. His body and that of his two shipmates washed ashore ten days later. In Shelley's jacket pocket was a copy of Keat's poems. He is buried in Italy.


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