The Masque of Anarchy

POETRY FORMAT, 28 Aug 2017

Percy Bysshe Shelley – TRANSCEND Media Service

Shelley wrote his poem in response to the Peterloo Massacre, which took place in Manchester on 16 August 1819. Cavalry soldiers of the government charged a crowd of 50,000 citizens who were peacefully assembled to ask for better representation in Parliament. This poem advocating non-violent resistance to tyranny was an inspiration to Thoreau, Tolstoy and Gandhi. 

“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

“And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do.

“With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away:

“Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek:

“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, they are few!”


Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets, and is regarded by some as among the finest lyric, as well as most influential, poets in the English language. Wikipedia


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 28 Aug 2017.

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One Response to “The Masque of Anarchy”

  1. Gary Corseri. says:

    Shelley is problematic. Perhaps if he had had the more arduous life of his contemporary, John Keats (whom Shelley considered endowed with talent superior to his own!) Shelley might have struggled towards more realistic conclusions. (Shelley was born into privilege, and spent a good deal of his short life waiting for his proper inheritance!).

    Shelley drowned at 30–off the coast of Italy. Perhaps if he had lived longer, he might have matured to riper visions: idealism tempered with a keener sense of what was actually achievable. (If memory serves, Thoreau made it to around 44, Gandhi around 70, and Tolstoy around 80.) This sounds like the bravado of a kid who has never experienced the horrors of war:

    “And if then the tyrants dare,
    Let them ride among you there;
    Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
    What they like, that let them do.”

    Even if one has an iron will in terms of one’s own suffering, who will let the tyrants “dare…slash, and stab, and maim and hew” one’s loved ones?

    For my money, a far greater anti-war poem is “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen (one of the slogging US soldiers of WWI, dead, like Keats, at 25.