'Ecotopia' in Mary and Percy Shelley

Queen Mab as Topological Repertoire

by Timothy Morton

'Ecotopia' in Mary and Percy Shelley: a non-exhaustive list

(references taken from Shelley and the Revolution in Taste and Hutchinson's Poetical Works ).


(mixture of Isaiah and the Classical Golden Age)

Mary Shelley, The Last Man : The happy humans are depicted 'Sleeping thus under the beneficent eye of heaven' - compare the restful state imagined in Queen Mab  VIII and IX (in VIII it is explicitly a function of a natural diet, which renders death less violent and more like sleep). (I.155)

Adrian: ' "O happy earth, and happy inhabitants of earth!" ' C.f. Queen Mab  IX: 'O happy Earth! Reality of Heaven!' (IX.1). Adrian continues, showing that ' "existence" ' is not the end of being, but ' "happiness" ' is: ' "The very sustaining of our animal machine is made delightful; and our sustenance, the fruits of the field, is painted with transcendent hues, endued with grateful odours, and palatable to our taste." '

Percy Shelley, letter to Miss Hitchener (1811): I have long been convinced of the eventual omnipotence of mind over matter; adequacy of motive is sufficient to anything, & my golden age is when the present potence will become omnipotence: this will be the millenium [sic] of Xtians 'when the lion shall lay down with the lamb'. Percy Shelley, Proposals for an Association : Catholic Emancipation 'is the fore-ground of a picture, in the dimness of whose distance, I behold the lion lay down with the lamb, and the infant play with the basilisk'. Isaiah was clearly on Shelley's mind. So was Jesus: 'The tree is to be judged of by its fruit'. A repertoire of fruit and blossom imagery is contrasted with figures of cannibalism: 'The aristocracy of Ireland suck the veins of its inhabitants and consume the blood in England.' This image is repeated in "Song to the Men of England" (1819), verse two. Shelley uses 'monopolizers' to suggest a maleficent circulation of goods, a feature shared by his vegetarian writing.

Percy Shelley, Queen Mab : And where the startled wilderness beheld A savage conqueror stained in kindred blood, A tigress sating with the flesh of lambs The unnatural famine of her toothless cubs, Whilst shouts and howlings through the desert rang, Sloping and smooth the daisy-spangled lawn, Offering sweet incense to the sun-rise, smiles To see a babe before his mother's door, Sharing his morning's meal With the green and golden basilisk That comes to lick his feet. (viii.77) The lion now forgets to thirst for blood: There might you see him sporting in the sun Beside the dreadless kid; his claws are sheathed, His teeth are harmless, custom's force has made His nature as the nature of a lamb. (viii.124-28) Here now the human being stands adorning This loveliest earth with taintless body and mind; Blest from his birth with all bland impulses, Which gently in his noble bosom wake All kindly passions and all pure desires. . . . And man, once fleeting o'er the transient scene Swift as an unremembered vision, stands Immortal upon earth: no longer now He slays the lamb that looks him in the face, And horribly devours his mangled flesh, Which, still avenging nature's broken law, Kindled all putrid humours in his frame, All evil passions, and all vain belief, Hatred, despair, and loathing in his mind, The germs of misery, death, disease, and crime. No longer now the winged habitants, That in the woods their sweet lives sing away, Flee from the form of man; but gather round, And prune their sunny feathers on the hands Which little children stretch in friendly sport Towards these dreadless partners of their play. All things are void of terror: man has lost His terrible prerogative, and stands An equal amidst equals: happiness And science dawn, though late upon the earth; Peace cheers the mind, health renovates the frame. . . (viii.198-229)

Percy Shelley, The Revolt of Islam : (A description of allegorical sculptures in the liberated city.) A Woman sitting on the sculptured disk Of the broad earth, and feeding from one breast A human babe and a young basilisk. . . (V.l.2161-62) (Cythna/Laone): 'My brethren, we are free! the fruits are glowing Beneath the stars, and the night winds are flowing O'er the ripe corn, the birds and beasts are dreaming - Never again may blood of bird or beast Stain with its venemous [sic] stream a human feast, To the pure skies in accusation steaming. Avenging poisons shall have ceased To feed disease and fear and madness, The dwellers of the earth and air Shall throng around our steps in gladness Seeking their food or refuge there. Our toil from thought all glorious forms shall cull, To make this Earth, our home, more beautiful, And Science, and her sister Poesy, Shall clothe in light the fields and cities of the free!' (V.li.5.2242-2256)

Percy Shelley, Ode, 1819: Gather, O gather, Foeman and friend in love and peace! Waves sleep together When the blasts that called them to battle, cease For fangless Power grown tame and mild Is at play with Freedom's fearless child - The dove and the serpent reconciled! (omitted). Percy Shelley, The Witch of Atlas : The brinded lioness led forth her young, That she might teach them how they should forego Their inborn thirst of death; the pard unstrung His sinews at her feet, and sought to know With looks whose motions spoke without a tongue How he might be as gentle as the doe. The magic circle of her voice and eyes All savage creatures did imparadise. (97-104) (The image of "silent eloquence" in 101 is crucial in the Ecotopia topos, and resonates throughout Queen Mab  and elsewhere. The most dramatic example is that of Laon's rhetoric about his wounds in The Revolt of Islam , canto V.ix)

Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound : (Earth): I hear, I feel; Thy [Prometheus'] lips are on me, and their touch runs down Even to the adamantine central gloom Along these marble nerves; 'tis life, 'tis joy, And, thro' my withered, old and icy frame The warmth of an immortal youth shoots down Circling. Henceforth the many children fair Folded in my sustaining arms; all plants, And creeping forms, and insects rainbow-winged, And birds, and beasts, and fish, and human shapes, Which drew disease and pain from my wan bosom, Draining the poison of despair, shall take And interchange sweet nutriment; to me Shall they become like sister-antelopes By one fair dam, snow white and swift as wind, Nursed among lilies near a brimming stream. The dew-mists of my sunless sleep shall float Under the stars like balm: night-folded flowers Shall suck unwithering hues in their repose: And men and beasts in happy dreams shall gather Strength for the coming day, and all its joy: And death shall be the last embrace of her Who takes the life she gave, even as a mother, Folding her child, says, 'Leave me not again.' (III.iii.84-107) Labour, and pain, and grief, in life's green grove Sport like tame beasts, none knew how gentle they could be! (IV.404-405)

Percy Shelley, The Cenci : Titus Andronicus is significant for The Cenci 's figuration of the body. When Lavinia is about to be raped, she pleads: 'The lion, moved with pity, did endure / To have his princely paws pared all away' (II.iii.151). This was revised earlier in the section on the lion in Queen Mab (VIII.124ff). Percy Shelley, Hellas : It will remind the reader, 'magno nec proximus intervallo' of Isaiah and Virgil, whose ardent spirits, overleaping the actual reign of evil which we endure and bewail, already saw the possible and perhaps approaching state of society in which the 'lion shall lie down with the lamb', and 'omnis feret omnia tellus'. Let these great names be my authority and excuse.

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