Shelley and Non-Violent Resistance


Egyptian protesters

Shelley in Egypt: How a British Poem Inspired the Arab Spring. The title of the article is over the top given that it describes indirect influence rather than direct impact.  Nevertheless, I thank blogger Austin Allen for guiding me to “Masque” by Percy Shelley, a poem of which I was unaware that contains a passage advocating non-violent resistance as a response to oppression.

I have written several times about Shelley’s applicability to the Arab Spring (the links are listed at the end of this post), so it’s good to see Allen finding another poem.  Here’s the passage from “Masque”:

Let a vast assembly be,
And with great solemnity
Declare with measured words that ye
Are, as God has made ye, free.

Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war,

And let Panic, who outspeeds
The career of armed steeds
Pass a disregarded shade
Through your phalanx undismayed.

“Masque,” according to Allen, was a response to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.  He says the poem would go on to influence Henry David Thoreau, who wrote “Civil Disobedience” to protest the imperialistic Mexican-American War. From there it would touch Tolstoy, Gandhi, the Polish Solidarity Movement and, most recently, Tunisia and Egypt.

Allen concludes his post with a sentiment very much in line with my own thinking:

Literature is often seen as a quaint academic pursuit, or a noble but remote spiritual undertaking, or a single specialty “genre” among many. Think of it instead as an underground cultural wellspring that bubbles up everywhere, from Hollywood . . . to political oratory, from our everyday turns of phrase to the extraordinary events of Tahrir Square.

My previous posts on Shelley and the Arab Spring are:

Egypt’s Mubarak, Colossal Wreck

Egypt’s Glorious Phantom Breaks Through

Song to the Men and Women of Bahrain

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  1. By Assad Came Down Like a Wolf on the Fold on August 4, 2011 at 4:51 am

    […] Shelley and Non-Violent Resistance […]


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