O.Wilde, Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

The artist is the creator of beautiful things. (...)
Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. (...)

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything. (...)
All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself...

O. Wilde (1854-1900),
Preface to 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

P.B. Shelley, A Cat in Distress

Percy Bysshe Shelley


major English Romantic poet
(2nd generation)

    A Cat in Distress
         'Verses On A Cat' 
A cat in distress,
Nothing more, nor less;
Good folks, I must faithfully tell ye,
As I am a sinner,
It waits for some dinner
To stuff out its own little belly.

You would not easily guess
All the modes of distress
Which torture the tenants of earth;
And the various evils,
Which like so many devils,
Attend the poor souls from their birth.

Some a living require,
And others desire
An old fellow out of the way;
And which is the best
I leave to be guessed,
For I cannot pretend to say.

IV.                                                                    V.
One wants society,                                          But this poor little cat
Another variety,                                               Only wanted a rat,
Others a tranquil life;                                       To stuff out its own little maw
Some want food,                                              And it were as good
Others, as good,                                              Some people had such food,
Only want a wife.                                              To make them HOLD THEIR JAW!

The earliest surviving poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley is a piece entitled “A Cat in Distress”, written by the author when he was a child. According to a note written by his sister Elizabeth on the extant manuscript, Percy wrote this poem at “10 years of age.” Elizabeth, who would have been eight at the time, copied the poem and drew the illustration of the cat as well. Then she probably gave it to a younger sister, Hellen, as a present. This fact is quite representative of the close intimacy which characterised the Shelley’ s siblings of whom Shelley was the oldest.  In his family, Percy was the only male among the five children of Sir Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley, who were newly wealthy Sussex landowners. Before the age of 10, when he was sent to a boys’ school at Syon House Academy, Shelley had thus been exclusively in the company of his adoring sisters who (like his wife Mary afterwards), occasionally collaborated with him on his projects.

Elizabeth was the Cazire of the book they published together in 1810, at ages 18 and 16, with the title of Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. Amusements of the young Shelleys included storytelling and ritual fires for ghost summoning. Percy used to play with his sister a great deal, and it is also said that he used them in a variety of childish “scientific experiments” (as, for instance, curing them of colds and flu by passing electricity through their bodies. ‘Galvanism’ was obviously ‘in the air’, and it is interesting to see how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was later inspired, in part, by such a parallel interest!).

‘A cat in distress’  comes down to us thanks to his sister Hellen, who described it in a letter to his brother’s friend and early biographer Thomas J. Hogg: “I have in my possession a very early effusion of Bysshe’s, with a cat painted on the top of the sheet, I will try and find it: but there is not promise of future excellence in the lines, the versification is defective”
In this early poem critics see evidence of the themes and variations of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s later work, including a kind of determined and radical concern with the welfare of the local tenant farmers. Through the lines it is also possible to perceive the young poet’s interest in the fauna of the country estate, as are his embryonic republican feelings.
The poem was published in ‘Life of Shelley’  (1858) by Thomas Jefferson Hogg.

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