Post-Modern tribute to rebel poet

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The Independent Online
"He was a radical man and the council was keen to have something that reflected that," said the man from Horsham council. "I think he would have approved.

Whether Percy Bysshe Shelley, anti-Royalist, atheist, vegetarian, and legendary romantic poet, ever imagined he would be commemorated by a pounds 100,000, 16-ft globe between McDonald's and Capital Sounds and Vision, is unclear.

But as the last pieces of the sculpture, Rising Universe, were finally put in place yesterday evening, the people of Horsham were not slow to pass judgement on the memorial for their town's best-known son.

"I think it's a waste of bloody money," said Harry Pearsall, 79, a Burma Star veteran. "I think it's a good idea in that Shelley is our famous son and, like myself, he was a bit of a rebel. But I think it's a bit too much. They should have spent the money on homeless people."

Dennis Bowcock, who had witnessed the sculpture's gradual installation over the past week, was more enthusiastic. "I think it's brilliant. I like the fact it's a bit different. I'm not a fan of all modern art but I like this - it's better than just a statue."

A memorial less like a statue would be hard to imagine. The sculpture, by Angela Conner, stretches across 45 feet and stands 28 feet high. Six and a half tons of water run down it, causing the "split pea" as one bystander called it, to rise and lower. Around it, smaller "satellite globes" float in pools of water.

The mayor of Lerici, in Italy, where Shelley died, was at the packed opening ceremony last night. Giorgio Tedoldi said the sculpture was "very brave", like Shelley. Laurie Furneaux, a council spokesman, said: "There's been a very good response from the public. We expected quite a reaction but we've been surprised at how well it's been received."

Horsham has been slow to commemorate Shelley, who was born there in 1792. While the West Sussex town's museum has a section devoted to the romantic poet, it has taken 200 years to forgive the man whom many traditionalists saw as a socialist embarrassment.

The unveiling of the sculpture, paid for by Sainsbury's, marked the end of a week of reconciliation, culminating in a visit by Italian officials from Lerici, where he drowned in 1822. It included the distribution of 2,500 gingerbread men to local schools (gingerbread was mentioned in Shelley's first recorded letter), along with information sheets on the poet.

The Shelley Fountain Visitors' Centre will be open until 23 November to explain the poet's links with the town.

Shelley's Statue Replies

By Martin Newell

I saw a statue in a Sussex town

And as I passed I heard the thing draw breath

The poet grinned and quietly whispered down

"What? Still in trouble years after my death?

Here in Horsham, home of leafy cuteness?

Do they still go on about my habits?

One frail monument to dissoluteness

And they all start up like frightened rabbits.

Sometimes, the devil is a gentleman

Usually with poets it's vice versa

So therefore when he learns to rhyme and scan

He must improvise with his own cursor

Horsham, I am Shelley, can you take it?

Horny, atheistic staring at you

Hope that HG Wells is next to make it.

Horsham Heath deserves a Martian statue."

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