By P. B. Shelley



Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX

Curso 2005-2006

Profesor: Vicente Forés

Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico



Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester


1  As if their own indignant Earth
2  Which gave the Sons of England birth
3  Had felt their blood upon her brow,
4  And shuddering with a mother's throe

5  Had turned every droop of blood
6  By which her face had been bedewed
7  To an accent unwithstood
8  As if her heart cried out aloud:

9  ‘Men of England, Heirs of Glory,
10 Heroes of unwritten story,
11 Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
12 Hopes of her and one another

13 ‘Rise like Lions after slumber
14 In unvanquishable number,
15 Shake your chains to Earth like dew
16 Which in sleep had fallen on you —
17 Ye are many — they are few.

18 ‘What is Freedom?ye can tell
19 That which slavery is, too well —
20 For its very name has grown
21 To an echo of your own.

22 ‘’Tis to work and have such pay
23 As just keeps life from day to day
24 In your limbs, as in a cell
25 For the tyrants' use to dwell,

26 ‘So that ye for them are made
27 Loom and plough and sword and spade,
28 With or without your own will bent
29 To their defence and nourishment;

30 ‘’Tis to see your children weak
31 With their mothers pine and peak
32 When the winter winds are bleak —
33 They are dying whilst I speak;


from ‘The Gutenberg Project’

The poem that we are going to analyse is called ‘The Mask of Anarchy’. The allusion to a political term makes us think that we are going to read a poem that is going to deal with a political matter, either if it is in favour or against this political ideology.

The clue that allows us to guess the political position of the author is given both by the subtitle of the poem ‘Written on the Occasion of the Massacre at Manchester’ and by the verses themselves as we will see later on. The subtitle is referring us to a massive killing occurred in an English city. Here, we can easily observe the negative connotation that the term ‘massacre’ implies. Therefore, we can presume that the author was totally against it, and obviously against its consequences and the factors that provoked it.

The poem is formally structured in eight stanzas with four verses each. Each verse contains eight syllables each and a rhyme of the AABB type. The only exception is the stanza number four, built up with five verses and with the rhyme in a  AABCB kind.

The language used by Shelley is very simple and clear, due to a very simple and clear purpose as well. The author is referring to an incident known by everybody. This means that it was an everyday although unusual topic

The grammatical person used in the poem is also both an interesting and a very important aspect. The poem is written in the second person, for the author is directly addressing to someone that is supposed to be a big audience. We can easily see this point in lines 9, 10, 17 with expressions such as ‘Men of England, Heirs of Glory, Heroes of unwritten story’, ‘Ye are many — they are few’ referring to the masculine inhabitants of a specific country, because the incident that suggested the author the writing of this poem was located in one of its cities. The verb tense used here, which is the imperative form, as we see on lines 13 and 15, is also very important because  Shelley tells them to ‘Rise like Lions after slumber’ or to ‘Shake your chains to Earth like dew’. These two poetry tools are used on purpose by the author to create a particular effect on the reader, which is the rebellion against a political situation. But we will analyse this more deeply when we go down to the meaning of the poem.

There are also some key images in the poem. One of the most powerful ones for me is the one built up in lines 13 and 15, ‘Rise like Lions after slumber’, ‘Shake your chains to Earth like dew’. This image means to me a total rebellion against something, to stand up with a great ferocity and wrath to get the freedom that all of us should look for. There is another very important one for me from line 22 to 33. It describes a very sad situation of a part of the population that, unfortunately, still goes on now a day. This is the situation of societies where there is a reduced group of people that holds the power and the wealth meanwhile there is a majority of people that is starving and oppressed by laws and by the ones that keep the order established by the one who rule the country.

Now I am going to analyse what for me is the meaning of the poem.

In the first two stanzas the author makes use of a personification to compare the people’s indignation and horror in front of the Massacre of Manchester with a kind of a ‘living  country’, a land that was conscious of itself and had its own live. Obviously, the fact that has made this being waken up is the horror of the killing. All this action is perfectly expressed in lines 1, 2 and 3. This living entity begins to make a speech to its population through the metaphor expressed in line number 8, ‘As if her heart cried out aloud’.

From now on, the rest of the poem (this means, the other six stanzas) are going to be a speech to the inhabitants of the country because this entity wants them to rebel against an unfair and awful situation that they are suffering.

The third stanza is the beginning of the speech. And as any speech, the first thing appearing is the addressee. As we see in line 9, the hearers of this speech are the ‘Men of England’, for this is the country where the massacre took place. After this, it gives them some adjectives. It labels them as ‘Heirs of Glory, Heroes of unwritten story’ (lines 9,10). By this, the entity wants to show them their own skills and virtues, the ones they should use for a rebellion.

The start of this rebellion is expressed in the fourth stanza (lines 13 to 17). This is the stanza with an extra verse in respect to the others. In my pinion, Shelley wanted to emphasize this beginning of the revolt, for the most important moment in any movement is the start. No start, no movement, obviously. As we see in lines 13 and 15, the rising is supposed to have ferocity and violence and it has to be supported by everybody, for the number matters. This strategy of fight is better expressed in line 17.

In the fifth stanza the poet makes a thought on the concept of freedom (‘What is Freedom’). For me, the author is referring to a virtual freedom, the one that the people holding the power full their mouth with (‘ye can tell’) but when it comes to reality it is just an illusion ( lines 20, 21), an abstract concept that is not applied to everyday life at all.

In the last three stanzas Shelley makes a statement on the social and economical situation of the working class of England. This situation evokes me the times of the Industrial Revolution, times when people used to worked extremely hard for many hours in very bad health conditions and they even did not get enough money to live in proper conditions.

The economic situation is clearly seen in lines 22 and 23 where the poet says that the pay is not worth the job they have to do. The reference to the working class comes as a metaphor in line 27, in the form of ’ the Loom and plough and sword and spade`’, for the poet is not referring just to the working class in the cities and factories but to the people working in the country as well. And then we have the unhealthy conditions expressed in lines 30 and 31. The poem concludes with a very sad and cruel but, at the same time true sentence, ‘They are dying whilst I speak’. For me the will of Shelley is that he wants the people to hurry in the fight for their rights.

Personally, I have really enjoyed both the reading and the analysing of this poem, for it has a simple and clear vocabulary and structure and a straightforward meaning. I also liked the historical references that the poet makes to his time and I think that he really got the effect he wanted to create.