Adonais is a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, written in 1821 and published in 1822. The poem is an elegy for John Keats, who had died the year before. Adonais is one of the most well-known examples of pastoral elegy.
Shelley’s Adonais has been praised for its beauty and poetic form. However, the poem is also notable for its insights into the nature of death, grief, and mourning. Adonais is a complex and multifaceted work that has much to offer readers of all ages.
In his own words, Keats’s Ode to Psyche is a “carefully wrought work of art” (Abrams, 718). Shelley followed the Greek pastoral form of the classic tradition when writing this sweeping homage to John Keats after learning of his death. The English pastoral poetry tradition dates back more than 2,000 years and includes Miltons Lycidas, Shelleys Adonais and Arnolds Thyrsis.
The pastoral elegy contains certain formal elements: a shepherds pipes are heard in the distance; there is reference to the natural world, with its fields, trees and flowers; and classical allusions abound. Additionally, although Adonais is an elegy for Keats, it can also be read as a commentary on Shelleys own poetic career.
The first section of Adonais (lines 1-50) is devoted to an invocation of the West Wind. Shelley begins by addressing the wind as both destroyer and preserver: Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams / The blue Mediterranean, where he lay / Lulled by the cypress-trees (1-3).
The wind is praised for its ability to awaken the poet from his sleep and inspire him to create. The next few lines describe the beauty of the Mediterranean landscape: It was a blue and silent sky; / The waves were sleeping on the shore (5-6). This peaceful image is juxtaposed with the destructive power of the wind, which can whip up the waves into a frenzy.
The second section of Adonais (lines 51-115) contains a description of the shepherds pipes. The pipes are described as sweet and sad, and their music is said to be able to soothe the heart of grief (line 58). In this section, there is also a reference to Adonis, a figure from Greek mythology who was beloved by Aphrodite. Adonis was killed by a wild boar, and his death caused Aphrodite to weep for him. In the poem, Adonais is used as a symbol for Keats, and his death is compared to Adonis’ death.
The third section of Adonais (lines 116-154) contains a description of the natural world. The trees are said to be weeping for Adonais, and the flowers are drooping in mourning (line 116). This section also contains a reference to Milton’s Paradise Lost. In the poem, Milton’s name is used as a symbol for the poetic tradition.
The fourth section of Adonais (lines 155-206) contains a description of the classical world. In this section, Shelley pays tribute to the great poets of ancient Greece. He refers to them as the “immortal bards” (line 160) and praises their ability to capture the beauty of the world in their poetry.
The fifth section of Adonais (lines 207-252) contains a description of Shelleys own poetic career. In this section, Shelley compares himself to the ancient Greek poets and pays tribute to their achievements. He describes his own poetry as being full of light and life (line 237). The final section of Adonais (lines 253-269) contains a description of Keats’ greatness as a poet. In this section, Shelley pays tribute to Keats’ achievements and praises him for his ability to capture the beauty of the world in his poetry.
In Adonais, Shelley faithfully adheres to the classical pastoral form of the Greek tradition. The poem contains certain formal elements: a shepherds pipes are heard in the distance; there is reference to the natural world, with its fields, trees and flowers; and classical allusions abound. Additionally, although Adonais is an elegy for Keats, it can also be read as a commentary on Shelleys own poetic career. The poem is full of beauty and sadness, and it captures the essence of the pastoral elegy tradition.
In terms of its definitive content structure, Adonais includes the essential elements of rural, natural symbolism and classical Greek allusions, as well as the development of tone from outrage to quick acceptance and epiphany. Shelley paid close attention to the framework of Adonais. He follows the classic pastoral elegy archetype in creating it. The first four stanzas include calling on Mother muse while also blaming her blind inaction for his friend’s death and her charge.
Adonais, as a poetic utterance, is Shelley’s act of restitution for Keats’ death. In the opening passage, he apostrophizes Adonais as though he were present and laments his friend’s premature passing. The poem proper then begins with an invocation to Apollo, the god of poetry.
The pastoral elegy is traditionally reserved for the mourning of great shepherds or rural figures, whose death leaves a gaping hole in the natural order. Adonais conforms to this structure by lamenting the untimely death of John Keats, an accomplished young poet. According to Helen Vendler, “Keats was buried in Rome on February 23rd 1821; Adonais was published anonymously in London on July 25th 1821.” In the Adonais, Shelley addresses the following themes:
– The death of a great poet.
– The grief of his friends.
– The neglect of the arts by the commercial world.
– The power of nature to console us.
– The immortality of poets.
Keats had died at the age of twenty-five from tuberculosis, leaving behind a rich but unfinished poetic legacy. Adonais was published two months after Keats’ death, and was an immediate success. It is interesting to note that Shelley wrote Adonais during his own period of intense grief, following the death of his son William in 1819.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was one of the major English Romantic poets, and is regarded as one of the finest lyric poets in the English language. He was a radical thinker, and his works express a libertarian and pacifist outlook. Shelley’s poetry often explores themes of death and immortality, making Adonais a fitting tribute to his late friend.
Adonais contains many classical allusions, which add richness and complexity to the poem. The most significant allusion is to Adonis, the handsome young shepherd of Greek mythology who was killed by a wild boar. Adonis was beloved by both Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Persephone, the queen of the underworld. Upon his death, Adonis was transformed into an anemone flower. The Adonis gardens, which were popular in Rome during Shelley’s time, were based on this myth. In Adonais, the anemone symbolizes both Keats’ individual beauty and the transience of life.
The poem is also full of nature imagery, which serves to emphasize the theme of loss. Shelley compares Keats’ death to the fall of a nightingale and the setting of a star. He also likens Keats to a flower that has been plucked too soon. This flower imagery is significant because it recalls the Adonis gardens mentioned earlier. Just as Adonis was transformed into a flower after his death, so Keats’ beauty will live on in his poetry.