When Poetry Met Polygamy

05 May, 2016

He was a vegetarian, expelled from school for preaching atheism. He left his wife and child to elope with the author of Frankenstein. In short, Percy Bysshe Shelley was a baller (but he wasn’t a monster). According to pop-culture Professor Geoff Klock, guest speaker at our inaugural Truth-tellers and Troublemakers salon Thursday night, the real monster of the 19th century wasn’t Frankenstein, but monogamy.

In an animated talk, Klock explored Shelley’s purposefully cryptic 1821 poem “Epipsychidion” as a pre-modern manifesto to free love. Shelley saw love as an ideal currency: one that can’t be spent and compounds with interest, literally. Shelley’s idea was a new one: that love is an inexhaustible resource, and the more you have the chance to love, the more love there will be. Fast-forward a hundred and forty years to the Summer of Love? Not quite. Klock was careful to stress Shelley’s notions were no “wild-sex fest,” just an orgy of ideas. And as much as Shelley attacked the institution of marriage, he himself was married, twice.

“Love is an inexhaustible resource, and the more you have the chance to love, the more love there will be.”

By the end of the evening, we’d learned that “Epipsychidion” is at its core the eloquent turmoil of a man desperately trying to convince himself to stray from the path he must follow. More than a 170 years later, it’s our privilege to live and love who we like (as Shelley intended). The only question that remains: if Shelley were alive today, would he be on Grindr, Tinder, or Hinge?

Words by David Shargel.

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