"Even in modern times, no living poet ever arrived at the fullness of his fame," the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote. "[T]he jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of his peers; it must be impanelled by Time from the selectest of the wise of many generations."1
With these words, Shelley unwittingly wrote his own biography and epitaph. Percy Bysshe Shelley was dead within a year of penning those sentences, the victim of a boating accident at age 29. When he died, only a few dozen people had ever read his poetry. His literary talents were eclipsed by those of his friend and rival, the poet Lord Byron, and occasionally by his wife Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. He was seen as an impractical dreamer, a wimp, a man of dubious morals.
Yet now, nearly 200 years after his untimely death, we see Percy Bysshe Shelley as a hero of English Romanticism. His verses are full of lyricism and beauty, pulsing with the vitality for which he was known during his life. Though his methods were unconventional, in his poetry and life Shelley strove for a more beautiful and true world. Percy Bysshe Shelley "kept your brain in constant action," a friend of his wrote after his death.2 He continues to do so today.