England in 1819

1 An old, mad, blind, despis'd, and dying king,
2 Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
3 Through public scorn--mud from a muddy spring,
4 Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
5 But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
6 Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
7 A people starv'd and stabb'd in the untill'd field,
8 An army, which liberticide and prey
9 Makes as a two-edg'd sword to all who wield,
10 Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
11 Religion Christless, Godless--a book seal'd,
12 A Senate--Time's worst statute unrepeal'd,
13 Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
14 Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.


Shelley sent this sonnet to Leigh Hunt, the editor of The Examiner, on November 23, 1819, saying, "I don't expect you to publish it but you may show it to whom you wish." It was not published until Mrs. Shelley's collected editions of 1839. The poem is a single sentence, a sonnet of 14 lines composed of an octet and a sestet 1-2 l.:Dying king: George III, eighty-one in 1819 who died the following year. His madness was permanent after November 1810, and necessitated the Regency Act of February 1811, by which his eldest son became Prince Regent. 7 l. Stabbed field refers to the Manchester massacre on August 16, 1819 when a mass meeting of workers in St. Peter’s Field, Manchester was dispersed by a charge of drunken cavalry. Several persons were killed and hundreds injured. 10 l. Golden and sanguine- paid for by gold and executed by with blood 11 l. The sealed book and the revolutionary conclusion make passing reference to Revelation 5 and its sequel. 12 l. Statute unrepealed- The British parliament is regarded as corrupt; The law forbidding the Catholics to hold office.