Shelley’s Wrecks

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Earlier this evening, I was happily browsing through an anthology of English poetry when I came upon the Chorus of Shelley’s verse drama Hellas. I had read it before and enjoyed it, long ago, on account of the memorable stanzas it contains, but this time around, I was particularly struck by the beautiful line or metaphor he used to describe the way faiths and empires gleam, “Like wrecks of a dissolving dream”.

I’ve seen the film Dead Poets Society several times, so I’m aware that trying to analyse poetry is a dangerous business, but I couldn’t help noticing that this line contains six words, each of which is is a ‘normal’ non-poetic word, unlike ‘halcyon’ or Shakespeare’s wonderful ‘transmogrify’, for example. When they’re combined, however, as Shelley did through his genius, they become something magical, evocative and unforgettable.

“I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is prose; words in their best order; – poetry; the best words in the best order”.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

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