Percy Bysshe Shelley was born on August 4, 1792 at Field Place in Sussex, the first born of Timothy and Elizabeth Shelley. He was followed by four younger sisters and one brother. Being in line to inherit his grandfather’s estate and his seat in Parliament, Shelley was educated in the classics at a young age. In 1804, he went to Eton College, where he remained for six years, publishing his first novel Zastrozzi and a book of poetry co-written by his sister towards the end of this period. After this time, Shelley spent less than a year at Oxford before being expelled for writing The Necessity of Atheism, revealing his opposition to Christianity and causing a rift between him and his father.
Shortly following the end of his Oxford education, Percy Shelley entered his first marriage, eloping with Harriet Westbrook, with whom he had two children. After only a few years of marriage, Shelley eloped with Mary Godwin, the future author of the novel Frankenstein, with whom he had one child. In 1816, Shelley’s first wife, pregnant with another child, committed suicide; three weeks later, he and Mary Godwin were officially married. The two remained married until Shelley’s untimely death at the age of 29 in 1822, when he drowned in a storm while sailing from Leghorn to La Spezia, Italy.
All through his education and personal tragedies, Percy Shelley was writing. He was in contact with many famous writers and philosophers of the time, including William Godwin, Leigh Hunt, and Lord Byron. Shelley himself first emerged as a major poet in 1815 with the publication of the poem Alastor, which was very different from the radicalism in his earlier work Queen Mab. Later in 1817, Shelley published Laon and Cythna, later censored and retitled The Revolt of Islam, an anti-establishment piece that was not met with much popularity. Towards the end of his life when he moved to Italy, Shelley wrote some of his best-known works, including Prometheus Unbound and Epipsychidion.
After his death, Mary Shelley labored to bring her husband’s work to public attention, bringing on his following. Despite sharply falling out of popularity in the hands of the modernists, Percy Shelley has held a high poetic reputation since the 1960s, when he was reexamined by several critics, who firmly placed him among the most important Romantic poets.
Return to the poem: "To _____" by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Michael O'Neill, ‘Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1792–1822)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition, 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/25312. Accessed 3 Oct 2016.
“Percy Bysshe Shelley.” Poets.org, n.d., https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/percy-bysshe-shelley. Accessed 3 Oct 2016.