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Notes for
England in 1819
-- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Exercise / Text AK - L6.7

     This poem was originally posted on the KISS site (but not analyzed) several years ago in response to the following question from Betsy Petersen, Metairie Park Country Day School, Metairie Park, LA:

     This is the poem I sent you part of a while back. It's "England in 1819" by Shelley. According to my analysis, king, princes, mud, rules, people, army, laws, religion, book, senate, and statue are all subjects of the verb "are" in the next to last line. Or maybe the appositives wouldn't be called subjects? Also, I analyzed "who neither see, nor feel, nor know" by calling "who" both the subject of "see," etc., and the subordinating conjunction (?) of the clause???
The following is a revision of my original response.
        I appreciate the poem, with which I was not familiar. Unfortunately, my ignorance of Shelley's work -- and life -- does not help, but I will try. Anyone who reads this and would like their comments added here can e-mail me.
      Let me start with the easy part: "who" functions both as the subject of "see," etc. and as a subordinating conjunction. Although I don't remember reading this in any grammar book, I can't think of a better, simpler, logical explanation.
     Regarding the subjects and appositives, my response is much more tentative. First, we are dealing with a poem, and many poems are intentionally ambiguous. This problem is compounded by the fact that the entire sonnet comprises one main clause with 107 words, 93 of which are in the subject phrase. It seems to me that "king," "Princes," "people," "army," "laws," "Religion," and "Senate" are subjects of "are." Questions arise concerning "mud," "Rulers," and "statute."
     Originally, I didn't think that a word could function as both a subject and an appositive. I was, I now believe, under the influence of some grammatical theories that assume that a word must be either one thing or another. Since then, I have seen more and more cases where parts of speech slide into one another, and where alternative explanations are possible. Thus, in light of the KISS theory of how the human brain processes language, I would now say that in this poem "Rulers" could function as both a subject and an appositive. The problem with this poem, of course, is that the reader, in essence, collects subjects through the first twelve lines, all for the verb "Are" which appears in line thirteen. If we look at the poem from the perspective of how it is read, I do not see how we could disallow either "appositive" or "subject" as an explanation of "Rulers." Most readers will assume that "king" is a subject, and then that "Princes" is one also. After processing "dregs" as an appositive to "Princes," they will, still not having hit a finite verb, get to "Rulers." At this point, some readers may assume that "Rulers" is another subject, but most readers will probably note that the king and Princes are rulers. Thus they will note the appositional relationship between "Rulers" and "king" and "Princes."
     I think your question arises from the double function of "who" [subject and subordinate conjunction], but I would suggest that the case with "Rulers" is different. "Who" (and "which" and "that") are, in effect, meaningless when they act as both subject and subordinate conjunction. They simply restate the preceding word, which, because of its function within its own clause (subject, complement, object of a preposition), cannot function as a subject. The function of the "who," etc. is thus to connect to another word by providing a subject for an additional predication, i.e., the subordinate clause. The appositive is different in that it adds information. Thus the brain chunks the appositive to the subject. In this case, however, the semicolon after "spring" may lead some readers to treat "Rulers" as an additional subject. For example, in the sentence:
That book, a mystery novel by Doyle, is interesting.
I don't think that we would generally consider "novel" as an additional subject. Because the book and the novel are the same thing, we have one subject, the appositive simply clarifying (and chunking to) the subject "book." 

     Whether "mud" and "statute" are appositives or subjects depends in large part on how we interpret the poem. I tend to read "mud," for example, as an appositive to "who," which means the "Princes." The verb "flow" supports this interpretation since things (including apparently princes) can "flow" through mud. I also sense an irony here, an irony that results from a shift of perspective. It may be the princes who consider "public scorn" to be "mud from a muddy spring," and the fact that the princes have this perspective adds to the public's scorn of them. (In a sense, in other words, the scorn is implied to be mutual, the scorn of one side feeding that of the other.) Still another point that would suggest that "mud" is not a subject of "are" is that all the other subjects are "man-made" (kings, princes, even "people starved"). It doesn't seem to me, therefore, that "mud" fits in the sequence of subjects.
     I would consider "statute" to be an appositive to "Senate," not a subject. I would certainly not take any points away from a student who claimed it is a subject, for my argument is largely circumstantial and complex. For one thing, all the other subjects are modified. Thus, I see "Time's worst statute unrepealed" as modifying "Senate." The punctuation tends to support this -- all the other dashes within lines set off appositives ("mud" and "book"). Punctuation, I must note, is always questionable because editors play with it. For the sake of curiosity, I found another copy of the poem, a copy in The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited by Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford University Press, 1961). That version includes only two semicolons, one after "slay," the other after "sealed." These semicolons break the subject into three distinct parts. The first is about the state (the "king," "princes," "people," "army," "laws"). The second is about the church ("Religion"). The distinction between "church" and "state" was certainly widely known in England in 1819. The sonnet scorns both church and state, but perhaps it derides the senate most of all. Set off in its own section, following the second semicolon, the senate is neither church nor state. It is simply "Time's worst statute unrepealed."
     I want to thank you again for the question. The sonnet is certainly a brain-teaser. I find the lines 

An army, which liberticide and prey 
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield; 
particularly fascinating. Although I have, in the analysis keys, explained "which" as a subject and "liberticide" and "prey" as direct objects, I have to wonder if they may not also, or even preferably,  function in reverse, with "liberticide" and "prey" as the subjects, and "which" (the army) as the direct object. Indeed, the latter makes more sense because liberticide and prey would make the army a two-edged sword. The killing of freedom and the killing of people (prey) by the army would eventually evoke a revolt, a new army (the second edge of the sword) which would be wielded by those who are not now in power.
     As noted above, other people's comments are welcome, and I will do my best to add them to this document.