Imagine discovering a new set of string quartets by the composer Beethoven. Or perhaps a large canvas by artist JMW Turner that was previously thought to be lost. In either instance, the media would have been all over it. So it is remarkable that the release to public view on 10th November of a major work by their near contemporary, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley has been met with an air of disinterest, as though it really was not worth the bother. There were brief mentions in the mainstream media (The Guardian newspaper excepted) and some excerpts read out on Radio 4. No comments by Government ministers, including Culture, Media and Sport. But this was an early work by one of this country’s most famous poets!
The work in question is Shelley’s Poetical Essay on the Existing State of Things written in 1811. The only surviving copy of the poem has remained hidden from public view in private collections for 200 years. You can now read (and even download a copy) from the Bodleian Library site. So how did we finally get to read the work? Poet and ex-childrens Laureate Michael Rosen has been campaigning for the release of the work for some time. Rosen gives his thoughts about the reason for the poem’s suppression and why he campaigned to get it released in this blog post.