Poem #36: To Wordsworth by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Well, I finally recovered from my cold this week only to be buried under a mountain of projects at work.  I’m hoping that this post marks my return to regular blogging .  I haven’t done much reading of books this week.  But I’ve been consoling myself with poetry.

Percy ShelleyThis week, Reading the Romantics is exploring the works of the English Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley  (1792 – 1822).  In my opinion, lyrical Romantic poetry does not get any finer than this.  But who knows?  I may change my mind as this poetry project progresses.  Shelley, people, Shelley.  Excellent, beautiful, poignant etc etc poetry! A poet who left an indelible mark on the genre and who influenced multiple generations of poets.  And his missus was the novelist  Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin.  Some of his most famous poems are To a Skylark and Ode to a West Wind.  Please do read at least one poem by Shelley in your lifetime.  Really!

This week’s poem is To Wordsworth.  The poet’s longer poems are really his best works.  But I chose one of shorter poems for a reason; I enjoy dedicated poetry,  especially when written in memory of, or are  dedicated, to other poets and novelists. My favorite of these, among the works of classic poets, is In Memoriam A.H.H by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I guess I’m drawn to the combination of emotion and professional respect, with the occasional dose of shared experience. Sometimes though, some of these poems are rebukes, a show of one-upmanship.

To Wordsworth

Poet of Nature, thou hast wept to know
That things depart which never may return:
Childhood and youth, friendship, and love’s first glow,
Have fled like sweet dreams, leaving thee to mourn.
These common woes I feel. One loss is mine
Which thou too feel’st, yet I alone deplore.
Thou wert as a lone star whose light did shine
On some frail bark in winter’s midnight roar:
Thou hast like to a rock-built refuge stood
Above the blind and battling multitude:
In honoured poverty thy voice did weave
Songs consecrate to truth and liberty.
Deserting these, thou leavest me to grieve,
Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be

– by Percy Bysshe Shelley

This is a poem that mourns the aging and passing of the poet William Wordsworth ( 1770 –  1850).  In actuality, Wordsworth , a fellow Romantic poet, would outlive Shelley by two decades.  The poem appears to praise Wordsworth’s past works and his use of themes like “childhood and youth, friendship, and love’s first glow”.   However, Shelley uses these themes and manipulates some of Wordsworth great poems to mock and taunt the older poet with images of transience and death.

At the time that Shelley wrote this poem, Wordsworth had accepted a government job.  Horrors of horrors, that a poet should seek employment outside of his craft to pay the bills!  This sellout, of course, means that Wordsworth cannot “weave songs consecrate to truth and liberty”.   Shelley declares himself the heir apparent. His works are of course better.  Wordsworth concerned himself with “common woes”, Wordsworth is weak, “frail… blind”.  Basically, Wordsworth has passed his sell-by-date.  The nerve of Shelley.  But a fantastic poem nonetheless.



  1. Something interesting: Shelley’s poetry only became famous after his death so I doubt he thought Wordsworth would read this poem.

    Personally, I don’t think it’s a direct attack on Wordsworth. I think Shelley wrote the poem out of genuine grief. His hero abandoned romantic idealism which Shelley always stubbornly held on to and used for inspiration. I think it’s also easy to forget that during most of the poem Shelley is actually complementing Wordsworth – what he used to be.

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  2. Beautifully written post Kinna … sorry I’ve taken so long to comment. I’ve have a very busy month with work to do, and three trips away.

    Anyhow, I’m fascinated by your favouring Shelley. Of the major Romantics he is the one I think of least. Wordsworth, Keats and Coleridge tend to be my favourites. Of course I know some Shelley poems but they don’t come to mind the way some others do.

    Nonetheless, this poem is impressive AND the story fascinating. Glad you chose it to share.


    • Please don’t apologize for taking long to comment. LOL, I’ve been hoarding your posts so that I can comment on them when I get some peace and space to do so. On the Romantics; I have a hard time connecting with Coleridge and I’ve really tried. I love Wordsworth as well. WE are reading Byron this week and next so I will post on one of his poem next week. I’m really enjoying this project.


      • Each to her own as they say! Must admit that I never really got into Byron in a big way but I would like to know more so I will look forward to your post with interest. Life is busy here the next few weeks but at least I’m staying put so will try to respond in a more timely manner. I think we’ve discussed already, haven’t we, how Byron was critical of Keats because he was a mere apothecary and had no right being a poet?


  3. It seems nothing every changes, writers are always criticisng each other. I didn’t know Shelley went on the attack. I didn know that Wordsworth did something similar to Coleridge in the Prelude.


  4. lol. A fantastic story behind the beautiful poem. Poetry is the genre that comes to me when I want to write but not when I want to read. Why? I don’t know.

    I love the flow, the musicality, the rhythm. Good piece. I personally love sounds and movement in poetry…


  5. Heh, the nerve is right! I’m glad you included the bit about how Wordsworth was actually still alive just working for the government. It strikes me as hilarious that Shelley wrote this. Reminds me of some artists these days who make fun of each other in their songs, trying to say they are better than the other.


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