Recent work on Shelley has focused on the relationship between poetry and politics, attempting to explain poetry's role in effecting political change. This essay argues that such an approach—which asks how Shelley's political opinions are manifested in his poems—misses the point of Shelley's commitment to political poetry. Against the critical tendency to oppose (or attempt to reconcile) poetic form and political content, I suggest that the interest of Shelley's political poetry has less to do with its intervention in contemporary politics than its redefinition of the formal conditions of political change. In The Mask of Anarchy, Shelley's poem on the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the indirection of poetic address is presented as a means by which to circumvent the impasse of contemporary political opposition. This conception of poetic indirection—which extends the time frame of poetry to include its reception by future audiences—in turn suggests that images of transcendence in Adonais,A Defence of Poetry, and the “Ode to the West Wind” in fact ground poetic authority in the material conditions of poetic production and reception.

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