Percy Bysshe Shelley was, according to Ackroyd, a poet 'haunted by the river.' Here are some of the connections described in the book:
- Shelley growing up by the river at Syon House Academy, Eton and Oxford
- In the summer of 1815, living on the borders of Windsor Forest, like his predecessor as river poet, Alexander Pope
- That same year, a journey up the river in a wherry with Thomas Love Peacock (already the author of a poem on The Genius of the Thames); Peacock would write about the experience in his novel Crotchet Castle (1831)
- The poem 'A Summer Evening Churchyard' inspired by the fifteenth century church Shelley saw at Lechlade (where there is now a path, Shelley's Walk, a fact which, taken with my recent comments on the causeways at Hangzhou named after Chinese poets, makes me reflect on the way writers have impressed themselves onto the landscape...)
- Still in 1815, Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude in which 'he compares the true pilgrimage of a poet to a journey upriver'
- In 1818, a house rented at Great Marlow and writing 'much of The Revolt of Islam in Bisham Woods, or while floating under the beech groves of Bisham-on-the-Thames in a boat called Vaga'
- And finally, Yeats' view of Shelley that 'a single vision would have come to him again and again, a vision of a boat drifting down a broad river...' and the fact that Shelley eventually died 'in the watery element to which he had dedicated his life.'