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Quotations from Percy Bysshe Shelley


Lord Byron is an exceedingly interesting person, and as such is it not to be regretted that he is a slave to the vilest and most vulgar prejudices, and as mad as the winds?

Letter to Thomas Love Peacock (July 17, 1816)

A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

A poet, as he is the author to others of the highest wisdom, pleasure, virtue, and glory, so he ought personally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the most illustrious of men.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

A story of particular facts is a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful; poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which it distorts.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Chastity is a monkish and evangelical superstition, a greater foe to natural temperance even than unintellectual sensuality.

Even Love is Sold, a note from Queen Mab (1813)

Cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

Adonais, stanza 39 (1821)

Death is the veil which those who live call life:
They sleep, and it is lifted.

The Earth, in Prometheus Unbound, act 3, scene 3

Every epoch, under names more or less specious, has deified its peculiar errors.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Familiar acts are beautiful through love.

The Earth, in Prometheus Unbound, act 4

Government is an evil; it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, government will of itself decay.

An Address to the Irish People (1812)

He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world’s slow stain,
He is secure.

Adonais, stanza 40 (written for John Keats) (1821)

Here I swear that never will I forgive Christianity! It is the only point on which I allow myself to encourage revenge. ... Oh, how I wish I were the Antichrist, that it were mine to crush the Demon; to hurl him to his native Hell never to rise again--I expect to gratify some of this insatiable feeling in Poetry.

Letter (January 3, 1811)

I think that the leaf of a tree, the meanest insect on which we trample, are in themselves arguments more conclusive than any which can be adduced that some vast intellect animates Infinity.

Letter (January 3, 1811)

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Ode to the West Wind (1813)

In a drama of the highest order there is little food for censure or hatred; it teaches rather self-knowledge and self-respect.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

It is his weakness to be proud: he derives, from a comparison of his own extraordinary mind with the dwarfish intellects that surround him, an intense apprehension of the nothingness of human life.

On Lord Byron, in the preface to Julian and Maddalo

It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to transfuse from one language into another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower--and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Love is free; to promise for ever to love the same woman is not less absurd than to promise to believe the same creed; such a vow in both cases excludes us from all inquiry.

Even Love is Sold, a note from Queen Mab (1813)

Luxury is the forerunner of a barbarism scarcely capable of cure.

A Vindication of Natural Diet, a note from Queen Mab (1813)

Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutability.


Obscenity, which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in life, ... is a monster for which the corruption of society forever brings forth new food, which it devours in secret.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep--
He hath awakened from the dream of life--
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife.

Adonais, stanza 39 (written for John Keats) (1821)

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

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.

Last words of A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Power, like a desolating pestilence,
Pollutes whate’er it touches.

Queen Mab, part 3 (1813)

Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-taker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic.

Adonais, preface (later removed) (1821)

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--and they are few.

The Mask of Anarchy

The Galilean is not a favourite of mine. So far from owing him any thanks for his favour, I cannot avoid confessing that I owe a secret grudge to his carpentership.

On Jesus Christ, in a Letter (April 24, 1811)

The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Their errors have been weighed and found to have been dust in the balance; if their sins were as scarlet, they are now white as snow: they have been washed in the blood of the mediator and the redeemer, Time.

On the reputations of poets, in A Defence of Poetry (1821)

Tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain.

A Defence of Poetry (1821)

War is the statesman’s game, the priest’s delight,
The lawyer’s jest, the hired assassin’s trade.

Queen Mab, part 4 (1813)

When a man marries, dies, or turns Hindoo,
His best friends hear no more of him.

Letter to Maria Gisborne

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