On July 8, 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned in a foundering boat in the Bay of La Spezia, now known in his honor as the Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets). Also in his honor, and a day late due to work and publication pressures, here’s a tribute and a roundup of resources for keen e-readers of one of England’s greatest and most unabashedly Romantic poets.

Shelley almost outdid his close companion Lord Byron as the epitome of the doomed young poet. Progressive and seditious in his political and religious views, he was as much an ideological fashion victim in writing and life as any Terry Eagleton or China Miéville. Name any fashionable literary genre of the Regency/Romantic period, and he was there.

Gothic novels? Check (“Zastrozzi,” “St. Irvyne“). Meandering liberationist epics? Check (“Queen Mab,” “The Revolt of Islam“). Verse dramas? Check (“The Cenci“). Radical tracts? Check (“The Necessity of Atheism“). Terse political verse? Check (“The Masque of Anarchy,” “England in 1819“). Sublime lyric poetry? Check (“Ode to the West Wind,” “To a Skylark, Adonais“).

Publishing his first novel at age 18, Shelley was astonishingly prolific, and packed a great deal of productivity into his all-too-short life. Readers have a proliferation of material to deal with, then, of varying quality, and anyone could benefit from a few signposts to find their way through it. And Shelley’s status as a consecrated classic author meant that his work was some of the first to be digitized, and has gone through almost all the successive stages of development of hypertext, etexts and ebook formatting.

Kindle readers are a little disadvantaged if they seek Shelley purely through the Kindle Store. Some individual works and essays are available for free, such as  “A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays,” but longer collected editions of his poetry all have to be paid for.

Fortunately, the Project Gutenberg editions of The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, based on Thomas Hutchinson’s 1914 Oxford edition, are available for sideloading downloads in EPUB or Kindle format, in a single book or several volumes.

Full-price editions of Shelley’s work are available on the Kindle Store from all the usual suspects, but for a worthwhile edition of Shelley’s complete poetry with enough annotation, organization and formatting value add to justify its very modest cover price, I’d recommend the Delphi Classics “Delphi Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley“. The text for this, mind, was taken from the Oxford edition of the “The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley” available from the University of Adelaide’s superb e-book imprint as a well-formatted free download in EPUB or Kindle format, and I’d recommend this in preference to the Project Gutenberg editions for anyone who wants a well-compiled free collection of the poems. (For one thing, it has much better treatment of the line numbers.)

The list of Major Works at the end of the Gutenberg Shelley article is as good a guide as any to the most important lyric poems, which are ultimately the most artistically satisfying part of his legacy. A reasonable short selection is here.

Such selections, though, tend to miss out the intellectual sinews in some of his best poetry, and perpetuate the myth of Shelley as a fey, sensitive, effusive, and incoherent dreamer. For more forceful works, try “Mont Blanc” or “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” both of which rival anything penned by Wordsworth or Coleridge.

From these to the television adaptation of Zastrozzi, or Mick Jagger reading from Adonais in memory of Brian Jones, there really is something for everyone here.

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Video: “Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, Author of Endymion, Hyperion, etc.” by Percy B. Shelley, read by Mick Jagger in honor of Brian Jones (2:23)


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