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“When I was twenty the one true
free spirit I had heard of was Shelley,
Shelley, who wrote tracts advocating
atheism, free love, the emancipation
of women, the abolition of wealth and class,
and poems on the bliss of romantic love,
Shelley, who, I learned later, perhaps
almost too late, remarried Harriet,
then pregnant herself, bringing
with them Mary’s stepsister Claire,
who very likely also became his lover,

and in this malaise a trois, which Shelley
had imagined would be a ‘paradise of exiles,’
they lived along with the spectre of Harriet,
who drowned herself in the Serpentine,
and of Mary’s half sist Fanny,
who killed herself, maybe for unrequited
love of Shelley, and with the spirits
of adored but often neglected
children conceived incidentally
in the pursuit of Eros – Harriet’s
Ianthe and Charles, denied to Shelley
and consigned to foster parents; Mary’s
Clara, dead at one; her Willmouse,
Shelley’s favorite, dead at three; Elena,
the baby in Naples, almost surely
Shelley’s own, whom he ‘adopted’
and then left behind, dead at one and a half;
Allegra, Claire’s daughter by Byron,
whom Byron sent off to the convent
at Bagnacauallo at four, dead at five –

and in those days, before I knew
any of this, I thought I followed Shelley,
who thought he was following radiant desire.”

– Galway Kinnell, “Shelley”

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