HOW A ROMANTIC POET INSPIRED GANDHI AND MARTIN LUTHER KING

by Tamara Mitrofanova

How a simple poem influenced famous freedom fighters like Gandhi to adapt peaceful protests and non-violent resistance.

Image for post

Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Public Domain.


Percy Shelley, a famous poet from the Romantic Era, was the first to advocate for peaceful protests and he inspired Gandhi to adopt non-violent resistance. Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent resistance influenced Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. They had all followed Shelley’s philosophy and it helped create a new world.


When Gandhi read Shelley’s poem, “The Masque of Anarchy” (poem below) he was instantly captivated by its message for freedom through peace. It is known that Gandhi would often quote various passages from the poem to vast audiences during the campaign for India’s independence.

“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.

And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do.

With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away:

Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek:

Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!”


Percy Shelley wrote this poem after hearing of the tragic event known as the Massacre of Peterloo. More than a hundred working men, women and children were seriously injured when they staged a public meeting to determine how to achieve reform through “the most legal and effectual means.”


Like many others, Percy Shelley was furious over this naked governmental oppression and seized the opportunity to write what is now considered, “the greatest poem of political protest ever written in English.”


Sadly, during his lifetime his poem was considered too radical and never published until 1832, years after he died.


In 2020, this poem is still very relatable to modern events. We have seen many people throughout the world rising up in protest.


The BLM protests in response to police brutality, the Beirut explosion followed by mass protests against corruption and protests in Belarus against government oppression. The quote “Ye are many — they are few!” in the Masque of Anarchy resonates even today.


Percy Shelley’s poem had even influenced the Egyptian revolution 2011, with protestors chanting the lines, “Rise, like lions after slumber, In unvanquishable number!”


Percy Shelley is the most underrated intellectual who envisioned way ahead into the future and foresaw pacifism as the greatest weapon against despotism and injustice.


As a self-proclaimed Atheist and an advocate for freedom, he did not fit in strict and religious 18th century England. Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford for atheism, broke ties with his rule-abiding father and eloped with two women, one being Mary Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein.


Discriminated against and hunted for being a political radical, he died tragically at age 29. Despite the difficulty he experienced, he never gave up hope for a better future. Percy Shelley walked around Italy wearing a ring with the good time will come inscribed on the inner surface.


Indeed good times did come and it was his poem that inspired others to take up the scepter in creating a better world.

MIDNIGHT BLUE SKY

MIDNIGHT BLUE SKY

Late moon bursting forth
with lunar brilliance
highlights a nearly black
shiny-as-raven-feathers Midnight Sky.

Sophisticated and elegant,
the artist captures colors
with loaded brush strokes
to offer his translation in
Starry Night, a painting
we discover, waiting to be shared.

Inside local museums….

Throngs of visitors
linger before the work
collectively sighing, pointing, remarking
displaying the Master’s work
with the pinnacle of respect.

Solo humans stand silently,
fascinated in the dark of night,
filled with wonder, appreciation
gazing upon this beauty,
a reflection of life on earth.

A precious midnight gift for
those who seek nature’s beauty
where others rarely slow
their pace, professing the beauty
“too dark and lonely,”
preferring to sleep soundly
under snug, warm comforters.

CHUNKS OF SOUL

CHILI FRY

Something odd,
something different and curious
finally made her brave enough
after 3 intense years, to lift the fragile veil
of Lilith’s friendship, smiling back
at her from that familiar face.

Listening to Lilith’s sweet songs,
sharing, believing, allowing them into her heart,
lulling her own tongue
into singing its most precious tunes,
sharing her deepest secrets.

Hearing the devastating news
she could not digest it,
could not fathom
why Lilith would betray her
with those untrue, unkind words.

Lilith was not that kind of person!
It simply could not be true.
True friends do not go behind
each other’s backs with knives.
It’s an unspoken LAW!

Breaths became labored,
her heart rate elevated,
unprepared for the abrupt revelation,
completely depleted of precious oxygen,
the wind knocked out of her sails.

A smidge of skepticism,
a moment of hesitation,
a wall of doubt might have prepared her
for the shock of it all.

Betrayal revealed the ugly, ravenous beast
who had waited patiently
behind her friendly mask,
now freely expelling her jagged,
putrefied breaths.

Lilith had waited, calculating,
ready to consume
the fresh, vulnerable, trusting friend.
Only after the feast began
did the victim feel excruciating pain,
the intensity of the damage.

The chunks bitten from her soul
soon festered, refused to heal.
What remained was the shell
of her former self, disoriented,
doubting everyone and everything,
shaken to her core.

Diminished, broken, a mere shell
of her former self, vision blurred,
everything precious seemingly now lost,
everyone she held dear evaporated.
Only enough strength for a simple
cynical thought left inside her aching skull.

She asked her miserable acquaintance,
..“and will you have fries with that?”

FOGGY WEBS AND TURKEY PARADES

When the slate black of night
turns to pale lilac, as the dawn
rolls over the forest floor,
the sky turns once again
into silvery whiteness,
like the glow that emerges
from an eclipse of the moon.

The leafless trees,
thick and tall, stand close together,
rooted in years of layers
of richly composted leaves.
Fog begins to waft through,
revealing the direction of an
elusive breeze.

Turkey hens and Tom’s begin
a high-stepping parade, single file in
their always humorous jerky-walk.
Undeterred by dangling foggy webs,
glistening with morning dew,
pointy turkey beaks lead them
along the trail and up the hill
from the Kennebec river.