The Revolt of Islam by P B Shelley


The Revolt of Islam was a revision of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Laon and Cynthia, an attempt to write an epic poem in the style of Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene (1590). For publication Shelley reluctantly agreed to cut some overtly anti-Christian phrases, as well as references to an incestuous relationship between the two main characters. He described the work as ‘an experiment on the temper of the public mind’, effectively a test of how far his ideas could be pushed before readers became outraged and disengaged. The poem proved too symbolic and provocative, and the Quarterly Review published a hostile assessment. 

The manuscript shows Canto 1 stanza 7 of Laon and Cynthia, in Shelley’s fair copy, with two revisions.

What are the themes of the poem?

The poem is a vision of an ideal future – Shelley explicitly does not present a didactic proposal. Though it reruns the pattern of the French Revolution, the two central figures go to a post-mortal ‘Temple of the Spirit’ after the failure of the revolution, indicating that these goals are personal and spiritual rather than political. 

The poet, presenting himself as the mouthpiece for ‘Truth's Deathless Voice’, states: 

I have made no attempt to recommend the motives which I would substitute for those at present governing mankind, by methodical and systematic argument. I would only awaken the feelings, so that the reader should see the beauty of true virtue, and be incited to those enquiries which have led to my moral and political creed.

Full title:
The Revolt of Islam. A poem in twelve cantos.
1817, London
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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