'How wonderful is Death,— Death, and his brother Sleep!' &c.
The mind may also revert to the noble passage in Byron's Giaour—
'He who hath bent him o'er the dead Ere the first day of death is fled,' &c.—
though the idea of actual sleep is not raised in this admirably beautiful and admirably realistic description. Perhaps the poem, of all others, in which the conception of death is associated with that of sleep with the most poignant pathos, is that of Edgar Poe entitled For Annie—
'Thank Heaven, the crisis, The danger, is past, And the lingering illness Is over at last, And the fever called living Is conquered at last,' &c.—
where real death is spoken of throughout, in a series of exquisite and thrilling images, as being real sleep. In Shelley's own edition of Adonais, the lines which we are now considering are essentially different. They run
'Till darkness and the law Of mortal change shall fill the grave which is her maw.'
This is comparatively poor and rude. The change to the present reading was introduced by Mrs. Shelley in her edition of Shelley's Poems in 1839. She gives no information as to her authority: but there can be no doubt that at some time or other Shelley himself made the improvement. See p. 33.
Stanza 9, 1. i. The quick Dreams. With these words begins a passage of some length, which is closely modelled upon the passage of Bion (p. 64), 'And around him the Loves are weeping,' &c.: modelled upon it, and also systematically transposed from it. The transposition goes on the same lines as that of Adonis into Adonais, and of the Cyprian into the Uranian Aphrodite; i.e. the personal or fleshly Loves are spiritualized into Dreams (musings, reveries, conceptions) and other faculties or emotions of the mind. It is to be observed, moreover, that the trance of Adonis attended by Cupids forms an incident in Keats's own poem of Endymion, book ii—
'For on a silken couch of rosy pride, In midst of all, there lay a sleeping youth Of fondest beauty; fonder, in fair sooth, Than sighs could fathom or contentment reach.
* * * * *
... Hard by Stood serene Cupids, watching silently. One, kneeling to a lyre, touched the strings, Muffling to death the pathos with his wings, And ever and anon uprose to look At the youth's slumber; while another took A willow-bough distilling odorous dew, And shoot it on his hair; another flew In through the woven roof, and fluttering-wise Rained violets upon his sleeping eyes.'
1. 2. The passion-winged ministers of thought. The 'Dreams' are here defined as being thoughts (or ministers of thought) winged with passion; not mere abstract cogitations, but thoughts warm with the heart's blood, emotional conceptions—such thoughts as subserve the purposes of poetry, and enter into its structure: in a word, poetic thoughts.
1. 3. Who were his flocks, &c. These Dreams were in fact the very thoughts of Adonais, as conveyed in his poems. He being dead, they cannot assume new forms of beauty in any future poems, and cannot be thus diffused from mind to mind, but they remain mourning round their deceased herdsman, or master. It is possible that this image of a flock and a herdsman is consequent upon the phrase in the Elegy of Moschus for Bion—'Bion the herdsman is dead' (p. 65).
Stanza 10, 1. 2. And fans him with her moonlight wings. See Bion (p. 65), 'and another, from behind him, with his wings is fanning Adonis.' The epithet 'moonlight' may indicate either delicacy of colour, or faint luminosity—rather the latter,
1. 6. A tear some Dream has loosened from his brain. I follow Shelley's edition in printing Dream with a capital letter. I do not however think this helpful to the right sense. The capitalized Dream might appear to be one of those impersonated Dreams to whom these stanzas relate: but in the present line the word 'dream' would be more naturally construed as meaning simply 'thought, mental conception.'
1. 7. Lost angel of a ruined paradise. The ruined paradise is the mind, now torpid in death, of Adonais. The 'Dream' which has been speaking is a lost angel of this paradise, in the sense of being a messenger or denizen of the mind of Adonais, incapacitated for exercising any further action: indeed, the Dream forthwith fades, and is for ever extinct.
1. 8. With no stain. Leaving no trace behind. The rhyme has entailed the use of the word 'stain,' which is otherwise a little arbitrary in this connexion.
1. 9. She faded, like a cloud which had outwept its rain. A rain-cloud which has fully discharged its rain would no longer constitute a cloud—it would be dispersed and gone. The image is therefore a very exact one for the Dream which, having accomplished its function and its life, now ceases to be. There appears to be a further parallel intended—between the Dream whose existence closes in a tear, and the rain-cloud which has discharged its rain: this is of less moment, and verges upon a conceit. This passage in Adonais is not without some analogy to one in Keats's Endymion (quoted on p. 42)—
'Therein A melancholy spirit well might win Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine Into the winds.'
Stanza 11+ 11. 1, 2. One from a lucid urn of starry dew Washed his light limbs, as if embalming them. See the passage from Bion (p. 64), 'One in a golden vessel bears water, and another laves the wound.' The expression 'starry dew' is rather peculiar: the dew may originally have 'starred' the grass, but, when collected into an urn, it must have lost this property: perhaps we should rather understand, nocturnal dew upon which the stars had been shining. It is difficult to see how the act of washing the limbs could simulate the process of embalming.
1. 3. Another clipt her profuse locks. See Bion (p. 64), 'clipping their locks for Adonis.' 'Profuse' is here accented on the first syllable; although indeed the line can be read with the accent, as is usual, on the second syllable.
11. 3-5. And threw The wreath upon him like an anadem Which frozen tears instead of pearls begem. The wreath is the lock of hair—perhaps a plait or curl, for otherwise the term wreath is rather wide of the mark. The idea that the tears shed by this Dream herself (or perhaps other Dreams) upon the lock are 'frozen,' and thus stand in lieu of pearls upon an anadem or circlet, seems strained, and indeed incongruous: one might wish it away.
11. 6, 7. Another in her wilful grief would break Her bow and winged reeds. Follows Bion closely—'And one upon his shafts, another on his bow, is treading' (p. 64). This is perfectly appropriate for the Loves, or Cupids: not equally so for the Dreams, for it is not so apparent what concern they have with bows and arrows. These may however be 'winged thoughts' or 'winged words'—[Greek: epea pteroenta]. Mr. Andrew Lang observes (Introduction to his Theocritus volume), 'In one or other of the sixteen Pompeian pictures of Venus and Adonis, the Loves are breaking their bows and arrows for grief, as in the hymn of Bion.'
11. 7, 8. As if to stem A greater loss with one which was more weak. 'To stem a loss' is a very lax phrase—and more especially 'to stem a loss with another loss.' 'To stem a torrent—or, the current of a river,' is a well-known expression, indicating one sort of material force in opposition to another. Hence we come to the figurative expression, 'to stem the torrent of his grief,' &c. Shelley seems to have yielded to a certain analogy in the sentiment, and also to the convenience of a rhyme, and thus to have permitted himself a phrase which is neither English nor consistent with sense. Line 8 seems to me extremely feeble throughout.
1. 9. And dull the barbed fire against his frozen cheek. The construction runs—'Another would break, &c., and [would] dull, &c.' The term 'the barbed fire' represents of course 'the winged reeds,' or arrows: actual reeds or arrows are now transmuted into flame-tipped arrows (conformable to the spiritual or immaterial quality of the Dreams): the fire is to be quenched against the frost of the death-cold cheek of Adonais. 'Frozen tears—frozen cheek:' Shelley would scarcely, I apprehend, have allowed this repetition, but for some inadvertence. I am free to acknowledge that I think the whole of this stanza bad. Its raison d'etre is a figurative but perfectly appropriate and straightforward passage in Bion: Shelley has attempted to turn that into a still more figurative passage suitable for Adonais, with a result anything but happy. He fails to make it either straightforward or appropriate, and declines into the super-subtle or wiredrawn.
Stanza 12, 1. 1. Another Splendour. Another luminous Dream.
1. 2. That mouth whence it was wont to draw the breath, &c. Adonais (Keats), as a poet, is here figured as if he were a singer; consequently we are referred to his 'mouth' as the vehicle of his thoughts or poetic imaginings—not to his hand which recorded them.
1. 3. To pierce the guarded wit. To obtain entry into the otherwise unready minds of others—the hearers (or readers) of the poet.
11. 5, 6. The damp death Quenched its caress upon his icy lips. This phrase is not very clear. I understand it to mean—The damps of death [upon the visage of Adonais] quenched the caress of the Splendour [or Dream] imprinted on his icy lips. It might however be contended that the term 'the damp death' is used as an energetic synonym for the 'Splendour' itself. In this case the sense of the whole passage may be amplified thus: The Splendour, in imprinting its caress upon the icy lips of Adonais, had its caress quenched by the cold, and was itself converted into dampness and deathliness: it was no longer a luminous Splendour, but a vaporous and clammy form of death. The assumption that 'the damp death' stands as a synonym for the 'Splendour' obtains some confirmation from the succeeding phrase about the 'dying meteor'—for this certainly seems used as a simile for the 'Splendour.'
1. 7. 'And, as a dying meteor,' &c. The dying meteor, in this simile, must represent the Splendour; the wreath of moonlight vapour stands for the pale limbs of Adonais; the cold night may in a general way symbolize the night of death.
1. 9. It flushed through his pale limbs, and passed to its eclipse. The Splendour flushed through the limbs of Adonais, and so became eclipsed,—faded into nothingness. This terminates the episode of the 'quick Dreams,' beginning with stanza 9.
Stanza 13, 1. 1. And others came,—Desires and Adorations, &c. This passage is the first in which Shelley has direct recourse, no longer to the Elegy of Bion for Adonis, but to the Elegy of Moschus for Bion. As he had spiritualized the impersonations of Bion, so he now spiritualizes those of Moschus. The Sicilian lyrist gives us (see p. 65) Apollo, Satyrs, Priapi, Panes, and Fountain-fairies. Shelley gives us Desires, Adorations, Persuasions, Destinies, Splendours, Glooms, Hopes, Fears, Phantasies, Sorrow, Sighs, and Pleasure. All these 'lament Adonais' (stanza 14): they are such emotional or abstract beings as 'he had loved, and moulded into thought from shape and hue and odour and sweet sound.' The adjectival epithets are worth noting for their poetic felicity: winged Persuasions (again hinting at [Greek: epea pteroenta]), veiled Destinies, glimmering Hopes and Fears, twilight Phantasies.
1. 6. And Pleasure, blind with tears, &c. The Rev. Stopford Brooke, in an eloquent Lecture delivered to the Shelley Society in June, 1889, dwelt at some length upon the singular mythopoeic gift of the poet. These two lines are an instance in point, of a very condensed kind. Pleasure, heart-struck at the death of Adonais, has abrogated her own nature, and has become blinded with tears; her eyes can therefore serve no longer to guide her steps. Her smile too is dying, but not yet dead; it emits a faint gleam which, in default of eyes, serves to distinguish the path. If one regards this as a mere image, it may be allowed to approach close to a conceit; but it suggests a series of incidents and figurative details which may rather count as a compendious myth.
1. 8. Came in slow pomp:—the moving pomp might seem. The repetition of the word 'pomp' gives a certain poverty to the sound of this line; it can hardly, I think, have been deliberately intended. In other respects this stanza is one of the most melodious in the poem.
Stanza 14, 11. 3, 4. Morning sought Her eastern watch-tower, and her hair unbound, &c. Whether Shelley wished the reader to attribute any distinct naturalistic meaning to the 'hair' of Morning is a question which may admit of some doubt. If he did so, the 'hair unbound' is probably to be regarded as streaks of rain-cloud; these cloudlets ought to fertilize the soil with their moisture; but, instead of that, they merely dim the eyes of Morning, and dull the beginnings of day. In this instance, and in many other instances ensuing, Shelley represents natural powers or natural objects—morning, echo, flowers, &c.—as suffering some interruption or decay of essence or function, in sympathy with the stroke which has cut short the life of Adonais. It need hardly be said that, in doing this, he only follows a host of predecessors. He follows, for example, his special models Bion and Moschus. They probably followed earlier models; but I have failed in attempting to trace how far back beyond them this scheme of symbolism may have extended; something of it can be found in Theocritus. The legend—doubtless a very ancient one—that the sisters of Phaeton wept amber for his fall belongs to the same order of ideas (as a learned friend suggests to me).
1. 8. Pale Ocean. As not only the real Keats, but also the figurative Adonais, died in Rome, the ocean cannot be a feature in the immediate scene; it lies in the not very remote distance, felt rather than visible to sight. Of course too, Ocean (as well as Thunder and Winds) is personated in this passage; he is a cosmic deity, lying pale in unquiet slumber.
Stanza 15, 1. 1. Lost Echo sits, &c. Echo is introduced into both the Grecian elegies, that of Moschus as well as that of Bion. Bion (p. 64) simply says that 'Echo resounds, "Adonis dead!"' But Moschus (p. 65), whom Shelley substantially follows, sets forth that 'Echo in the rocks laments that thou [Bion] art silent, and no more she mimics thy voice'; also, 'Echo, among the reeds, doth still feed upon thy songs.' It will be observed that in this stanza Echo is a single personage—the Nymph known to mythological fable: but in stanza 2 we had various 'Echoes,' spirits of minor account, who, in the paradise of Urania, were occupied with the poems of Adonais.
11. 6-8. His lips, more dear Than those for whose disdain she pined away Into a shadow of all sounds. Echo is, in mythology, a Nymph who was in love with Narcissus. He, being enamoured of his own beautiful countenance, paid no heed to Echo, who consequently 'pined away into a shadow of all sounds.' In this expression one may discern a delicate double meaning. (1) Echo pined away into (as the accustomed phrase goes) 'a mere shadow of her former self.' (2) Just as a solid body, lighted by the sun, casts, as a necessary concomitant, a shadow of itself, so a sound, emitted under the requisite conditions, casts an echo of itself; echo is, in relation to sound, the same sort of thing as shadow in relation to substance.
11. 8, 9. A drear Murmur, between their songs, is all the woodmen hear. Echo will not now repeat the songs of the woodmen; she merely murmurs some snatches of the 'remembered lay' of Adonais.
Stanza 16, 1. 1. Grief made the young Spring wild. This introduction of Spring may be taken as implying that Shelley supposed Keats to have died in the Spring: but in fact he died in the Winter—23 February. As to this point see pp. 30 and 96.
11. 1-3. And she threw down Her kindling buds, as if she Autumn were, Or they dead leaves. This corresponds to a certain extent with the phrases in Bion, 'the flowers are withered up with grief,' and 'yea all the flowers are faded' (p. 64); and in Moschus, 'and in sorrow for thy fall the trees cast down their fruit, and all the flowers have faded' (p. 65). It may be worth observing that Shelley says—'As if she Autumn were, or they dead leaves' (not 'and they dead leaves'). He therefore seems to present the act of Spring from two separate points of view: (1) She threw down the buds, as if she had been Autumn, whose office it is to throw down, and not to cherish and develope; (2) she threw down the buds as if they had been, not buds of the nascent year, but such dead leaves of the olden year as still linger on the spray when Spring arrives,
1. 4. For whom should she have waked the sullen Year? The year, beginning on 1 January, may in a certain sense be conceived as sleeping until roused by the call of Spring. But more probably Shelley here treats the year as beginning on 25 March—which date would witness its awakening, and practically its first existence.
11. 5-7. To Phoebus was not Hyacinth so dear, Nor to himself Narcissus, as to both Thou, Adonais; wan they stand and sere, &c. This passage assimilates two sections in the Elegy of Moschus, p. 65: 'Now, thou hyacinth, whisper the letters on thee graven, and add a deeper ai ai to thy petals: he is dead, the beautiful singer.... Nor so much did pleasant Lesbos mourn for Alcaeus,' &c. The passage of Shelley is rather complicated in its significance, because it mixes up the personages Hyacinthus and Narcissus with the flowers hyacinth and narcissus. The beautiful youth Hyacinthus was dear to Phoebus; on his untimely death (he was slain by a quoit which Phoebus threw, and which the jealous Zephyrus blew aside so that it struck Hyacinthus on the head), the god changed his blood into the flower hyacinth, which bears markings interpreted by the Grecian fancy into the lettering [Greek: ai ai] (alas, alas!). The beautiful youth Narcissus, contemplating himself in a streamlet, became enamoured of his own face; and pining away, was converted into the flower narcissus. This accounts for the lines, 'To Phoebus was not Hyacinth so dear, nor to himself Narcissus.' But, when we come to the sequence, 'as to both thou, Adonais.' we have to do, no longer with the youths Hyacinthus and Narcissus, but with the flowers hyacinth and narcissus: it is the flowers which (according to Shelley) loved Adonais better than the youths were loved, the one by Phoebus and the other by himself. These flowers—being some of the kindling buds which Spring had thrown down—stand 'wan and sere.' (This last point is rather the reverse of a phrase in Bion's Elegy, p. 64, 'The flowers flush red for anguish.') It may perhaps be held that the transition from the youths to the flowers, and from the emotions of Phoebus and of Narcissus to those assigned to the flowers, is not very happily managed by Shelley: it is artificial, and not free from confusion. As to the hyacinth, the reader will readily perceive that a flower which bears markings read off into [Greek: ai ai] (or [Greek: AI AI] seems more correct) cannot be the same which we now call hyacinth. Ovid says that in form the hyacinth resembles a lily, and that its colour is 'purpureus,' or deep red. John Martyn, who published in 1755 The Georgicks of Virgil with an English Translation, has an elaborate note on the subject. He concludes thus: 'I am pretty well satisfied that the flower celebrated by the poets is what we now are acquainted with under the name 'Lilium floribus reflexis,' or Martagon, and perhaps may be that very species which we call Imperial Martagon. The flowers of most sorts of martagons have many spots of a deeper colour: and sometimes I have seen these spots run together in such a manner as to form the letters AI in several places.' Shelley refers to the hyacinth in another passage (Prometheus Unbound, act 2, sc. 1) which seems to indicate that he regarded the antique hyacinth as being the same as the modern hyacinth,—
'As the blue bells Of hyacinth tell Apollo's written grief.'
1. 8. Amid the faint companions of their youth. In Shelley's edition the words are 'Amid the drooping comrades,' &c. The change was made under the same circumstances as noted on p. 105. Whether it is a change for the better may admit of some question. The faint companions of the youth of the hyacinth and the narcissus must be other flowers, such as Spring had thrown down.
1. 9. With dew all turned to tears,—odour, to sighing ruth. The dew upon the hyacinth and narcissus is converted into tears: they exhale sighs, instead of fragrance. All this is in rather a falsetto tone. It has some resemblance to the more simple and touching phrase in the Elegy by Moschus (p. 65): 'Ye flowers, now in sad clusters breathe yourselves away.'
Stanza 17, 1. 1. Thy spirits sister, the lorn nightingale, Mourns not her mate, &c. The reason for calling the nightingale the sister of the spirit of Keats (Adonais) does not perhaps go beyond this—that, as the nightingale is a supreme songster among birds, so was Keats a supreme songster among men. It is possible however—and one willingly supposes so—that Shelley singled out the nightingale for mention, in recognition of the consummate beauty of Keats's Ode to the Nightingale, published in the same volume with Hyperion. The epithet 'lorn' may also be noted in the same connexion; as Keats's Ode terminates with a celebrated passage in which 'forlorn' is the leading word (but not as an epithet for the nightingale itself)—
'Forlorn!—the very word is as a knell,' &c.
The nightingale is also introduced into the Elegy of Moschus for Bion; 'Ye nightingales that lament,' &c. (p. 65), and 'Nor ever sang so sweet the nightingale on the cliffs.' Poets are fond of speaking of the nightingale as being the hen-bird, and Shelley follows this precedent. It is a fallacy, for the songster is always the cock-bird.
1. 3. Not so the eagle, &c. The general statement in these lines is that Albion wails for the death of Keats more melodiously than the nightingale mourning for her lost mate, and more passionately than the eagle robbed of her young. This statement has proved true enough in the long run: when Shelley wrote, it was only prospectively or potentially true, for the death of Keats excited no immediate widespread concern in England. It should be observed that, by introducing Albion as a figurative personage in his Elegy, Shelley disregards his emblematic Grecian youth Adonais, and goes straight to the actual Englishman Keats. This passage, taken as a whole, is related to that of Moschus (p. 65) regarding the nightingale, the sea-bird, and the bird of Memnon; see also the passage, 'and not for Sappho, but still for thee,' &c.
11. 4, 5. Could nourish in the sun's domain Her mighty youth with morning. This phrase seems to have some analogy to that of Milton in his Areopagitica: 'Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle muing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beam—purging and unsealing her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance.'
11. 7, 8. The curse of Cain Light on his head, &c. An imprecation against the critic of Keats's Endymion in the Quarterly Review: see especially p. 39, &c. The curse of Cain was that he should be 'a fugitive and a vagabond,' as well as unsuccessful in tilling the soil. Shelley probably pays no attention to these details, but simply means 'the curse of murder.'
Stanza 18, 11. 1, 2. Ah woe is me! Winter is come and gone, But grief returns with the revolving year, &c. See the passage in Moschus (p. 65): 'Ah me! when the mallows wither,' &c. The phrase in Bion has also a certain but restricted analogy to this stanza: 'Thou must again bewail him, again must weep for him another year' (p. 65). As to the phrase 'Winter is come and gone,' see the note (p. 111) on 'Grief made the young Spring wild.'
1. 5. Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead Seasons' bier. This phrase is barely consistent with the statement (st. 16) as to Spring throwing down her kindling buds. Perhaps, moreover, it was an error of print to give 'Seasons' in the plural: 'Season's' (meaning winter) would seem more accurate. A somewhat similar idea is conveyed in one of Shelley's lyrics, Autumn, a Dirge, written in 1820:—
'And the Year On the earth her death-bed, in a shroud of leaves dead, Is lying.'
1. 7. Brere. An antiquated form of the word briar.
1. 9. Like unimprisoned flames. Flames which, after being pent up within some substance or space, finally find a vent.
Stanza 19, 1. 2. A quickening life, &c. The present stanza is generally descriptive of the effects of Springtime upon the earth. This reawakening of Nature (Shelley says) has always taken place, in annual recurrence, since 'the great morning of the world when first God dawned on chaos.' This last expression must be construed with a certain latitude. The change from an imagined chaos into a divinely-ordered cosmos is not necessarily coincident with the interchange of seasons, and especially the transition from Winter to Spring, upon the planet Earth. All that can be safely propounded on such a subject is that the sequence of seasons is a constant and infallible phenomenon of Nature in that condition of our planet with which alone we have, or can have, any acquaintance.
1. 5. In its steam immersed: i.e. in the steam—or vapour or exhalation—of the 'quickening life.'
Stanza 20, 11. 1, 2. The leprous corpse, touched by this spirit tender, Exhales itself in flowers of gentle breath. 'This spirit tender' is the 'quickening life' of the renascent year; or briefly the Spring. By 'the leprous corpse' Shelley may mean, not the corpse of an actual leper, but any corpse in a loathsome state of decay. Even so abhorrent an object avails to fertilize the soil, and thus promotes the growth of odorous flowers.
1. 3. Like incarnations of the stars, &c. These flowers—star-like blossoms—illumine death and the grave: the light which would belong to them as stars is converted into the fragrance proper to them as flowers. This image is rather confused, and I think rather stilted: moreover, 'incarnation' (or embodiment in flesh) is hardly the right word for the vegetative nature of flowers. As forms of life, the flowers mock or deride the grave-worm which battens or makes merry on corruption. The appropriateness of the term 'merry worm' seems very disputable.
1. 6. Nought we know dies. This affirmation springs directly out of the consideration just presented to us—that even the leprous corpse does not, through various stages of decay, pass into absolute nothingness: on the contrary, its constituents take new forms, and subserve a re-growth of life, as in the flowers which bedeck the grave. From this single and impressive instance the poet passes to the general and unfailing law—No material object of which we have cognizance really dies: all such objects are in a perpetual cycle of change. This conception has been finely developed in a brace of early poems of Lord Tennyson, All Things will Die, and Nothing will Die:—
'The stream will cease to flow, The wind will cease to blow, The clouds will cease to fleet, The heart will cease to beat— For all things must die.
* * * * *
'The stream flows, The wind blows, The cloud fleets, The heart beats, Nothing will die. Nothing will die; All things will change Through eternity.'
11. 6-8. Shall that alone which knows Be as a sword consumed before the sheath By sightless lightning? From the axiom 'Nought we know dies'—an axiom which should be understood as limited to what we call material objects (which Shelley however considered to be indistinguishable, in essence, from ideas, see p, 56)—he proceeds to the question, 'Shall that alone which knows'—i.e. shall the mind alone—die and be annihilated? If the mind were to die, while the body continues extant (not indeed in the form of a human body, but in various phases of ulterior development), then the mind would resemble a sword which, by the action of lightning, is consumed (molten, dissolved) within its sheath, while the sheath itself remains unconsumed. This is put as a question, and Shelley does not supply an answer to it here, though the terms in which his enquiry is couched seem intended to suggest a reply to the effect that the mind shall not die. The meaning of the epithet 'sightless,' as applied to lightning, seems disputable. Of course the primary sense of this word is 'not-seeing, blind'; but Shelley would probably not have scrupled to use it in the sense of 'unseen.' I incline to suppose that Shelley means 'unseen'; not so much that the lightning is itself unseen as that its action in fusing the sword, which remains concealed within the sheath, is unseen. But the more obvious sense of 'blind, unregardful,' could also be justified.
11. 8, 9. Th' intense atom glows A moment, then is quenched in a most cold repose. The term 'th' intense atom' is a synonym for 'that which knows,' or the mind. By death it is 'quenched in a most cold repose': but the repose is not necessarily extinction.
Stanza 21, 11. 1, 2. Alas that all we loved of him should be, But for our grief, as if it had not been. 'All we loved of him' must be the mind and character—the mental and personal endowments—of Adonais: his bodily frame is little or not at all in question here. By these lines therefore Shelley seems to intimate that the mind or soul of Adonais is indeed now and for ever extinct: it lives no longer save in the grief of the survivors. But it does not follow that this is a final expression of Shelley's conviction on the subject: the passage should be read as in context with the whole poem.
11. 5, 6. Great and mean Meet massed in death, who lends what life must borrow. The meaning of the last words is far from clear to me. I think Shelley may intend to say that, in this our mortal state, death is the solid and permanent fact; it is rather a world of death than of life. The phenomena of life are but like a transitory loan from the great emporium, death. Shelley no doubt wanted a rhyme for 'morrow' and 'sorrow': he has made use of 'borrow' in a compact but not perspicuous phrase.
Stanza 22, 1. 2. 'Wake thou,' cried Misery, 'childless mother!' We here return to Urania, of whom we had last heard in st. 6. See the passage translated by Shelley from Bion (p. 63), 'Sleep no more, Venus:... 'tis Misery calls,' &c.; but here the phrase, ''Tis Misery calls,' is Shelley's own. He more than once introduces Misery (in the sense of Unhappiness, Tribulation) as an emblematic personage. There is his lyric named Misery, written in 1818, which begins—
'Come, be happy,—sit by me, Shadow-vested Misery: Coy, unwilling, silent bride, Mourning in thy robe of pride, Desolation deified.'
There is also the briefer lyric named Death, 1817, which begins—
'They die—the dead return not. Misery Sits near an open grave, and calls them over, A youth with hoary hair and haggard eye.'
11. 3, 4. 'Slake in thy hearts core A wound—more fierce than his, with tears and sighs.' Construe: Slake with tears and sighs a wound in thy heart's core—a wound more fierce than his.' See (p. 101) the remarks, apposite to st. 4, upon the use of inversion by Shelley.
1. 5. All the Dreams that watched Urania's eyes. We had not hitherto heard of 'Dreams' in connexion with Urania, but only in connexion with Adonais himself. These 'Dreams that watched Urania's eyes' appear to be dreams in the more obvious sense of that word-visions which had haunted the slumbers of Urania.
1. 8. Swift as a thought by the snake memory stung. The context suggests that the 'thought' here in question is a grievous thought, and the term 'the snake memory' conveys therefore a corresponding impression of pain. Shelley however had not the usual feeling of repulsion or abhorrence for snakes and serpents. Various passages could be cited to prove this; more especially Canto 1 of The Revolt of Islam, where the Spirit of Good is figured under the form of a serpent.
1. 9. Front her ambrosial rest the fading Splendour sprung. Urania. She is in her own nature a splendour, or celestial deity: at the present moment her brightness is 'fading,' as being overcast by sorrow and dismay. 'Her ambrosial rest' does not appear to signify anything more precise than 'her rest, proper to an immortal being.' The forms 'sprung, sung,' &c. are constantly used by Shelley instead of 'sprang, sang,' &c.
Stanza 23, 1. 5. Had left the Earth a corpse. Shelley, in this quasi-Greek poem, takes no count of the fact that the sun, when it ceases to illumine one part of the earth, is shining upon another part. He treats the unillumined part as if it were the whole earth—which has hereby become 'a corpse.'
Stanza 24, 1. 2, Through camps and cities, &c. In highly figurative language, this stanza pictures the passage of Urania from 'her secret paradise' to the death-chamber of Adonais in Rome, as if the spiritual essence and external form of the goddess were wounded by the uncongenial atmosphere of human malice and detraction through which she has to pass. The whole description is spiritualized from that of Bion (p. 63):—
'Wildered, ungirt, unsandalled—the thorns pierce Her hastening feet, and drink her sacred blood.'
11. 4,5. The invisible Palms of her tender feet. Shelley more than once uses 'palms' for 'soles' of the feet. See Prometheus Unbound, Act 4:—
'Our feet now, every palm, Are sandalled with calm';
and The Triumph of Life:—
'As she moved under the mass Of the deep cavern, and, with palms so tender Their tread broke not the mirror of the billow, Glided along the river.'
Perhaps Shelley got this usage from the Italian: in that language the web-feet of aquatic birds are termed 'palme.'
11. 8, 9. Whose sacred blood, like the young tears of May, Paved with eternal flowers that undeserving way. The tears of May are rain-drops; young, because the year is not far advanced. 'That undeserving way' seems a very poor expression. See (p. 64) the passage from Bion: 'A tear the Paphian sheds for each blood-drop of Adonis, and tears and blood on the earth are turned to flowers.'
Stanza 25, 1. 3. Death ... blushed to annihilation. This very daring hyperbole will hardly bear—nor does it want—manipulation into prose. Briefly, the nature of Death is to be pallid: therefore Death, in blushing, abnegates his very nature, and almost ceases to be Death.
11. 3, 4. The breath Revisited those lips, &c. As Death tended towards 'annihilation,' so Adonais tended towards revival.
1. 7. 'Silent lightning.' This means, I suppose, lightning unaccompanied by thunder—summer lightning.
Stanza 26, 1. 1. 'Stay yet awhile.' See Bion (p. 64): 'Stay, Adonis! stay, dearest one!'
1. 2, 'Kiss me, so long but as a kiss may live.' See as above:—
'That I may kiss thee now for the last time— But for as long as one short kiss may live!'
1. 3. 'My heartless breast.' Urania's breast will henceforth be heartless, in the sense that, having bestowed her whole heart upon Adonais, she will have none to bestow upon any one else: so I understand the epithet.
1. 4. 'That word, that kiss, shall all thoughts else survive,' &c. See Bion (p. 64): 'This kiss will I treasure,' &c.
11. 7-9. 'I would give All that I am, to be as thou now art:—But I am chained to Time, and cannot thence depart.' Founded on Bion (p. 64): 'While wretched I yet live, being a goddess, and may not follow thee.' The alteration of phrase is somewhat remarkable. In Bion's Elegy the Cyprian Aphrodite is 'a goddess,' and therefore immortal. In Shelley's Elegy the Uranian Aphrodite does not speak of herself under any designation of immortality or eternity, but as 'chained to Time,' and incapable of departing from Time. As long as Time lives and operates, Urania must do the same. The dead have escaped from the dominion of Time: this Urania, cannot do. There is a somewhat similar train of thought in Prometheus Unbound,—where Prometheus the Titan, after enduring the torture of the Furies (Act 1), says—
'Peace is in the grave: The grave holds all things beautiful and good, I am a God, and cannot find it there.'
Stanza 27, 11. 1-4. 'O gentle child, beautiful as thou wert, Why didst thou leave,' &c. This is founded on—and as usual spiritualized from—the passage in Bion (p. 64); 'For why, ah overbold! didst thou follow the chase, and, being so fair, why wert thou thus over-hardy to fight with beasts?'
1. 4. 'Dare the unpastured dragon in his den.' This phrase must no doubt be interpreted, not only in relation to the figurative Adonais. but also to the actual Keats, Keats had dared the unpastured dragon in his den, in the sense that he made a bold adventure into the poetical field, under conditions certain to excite the ire of adherents of the old school, whether in literature or in politics.
1. 6. 'Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear.' Urania arraigns Keats for having made his inroad upon the dragon, unguarded by wisdom or by scorn. His want of wisdom was shown (we may assume) by the grave blemishes and defects in his Endymion, the wilful faults and perverse excesses and extravagances which mark its composition, and wantonly invited attack. His want of scorn was (according to Shelley's view of the facts), clear enough: he had not been equal to despising a spiteful attack, but had fretted himself to death under it. In terming these two defensive weapons, wisdom and scorn, a mirrored shield and a spear, Shelley was, I apprehend, thinking of the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto. In that poem we read of a magic shield which casts a supernatural and intolerable splendour, whereby every gazer is cast into a trance; and of a spear whose lightest touch overthrows every opponent. A sea-monster—not a dragon, so far as I recollect—becomes one of the victims of the 'mirrored shield.'
11. 7, 8. 'The full cycle when Thy spirit should have filled its crescent sphere.' The spirit of Keats is here assimilated to the moon, which grows from a crescent into a spherical form.
1. 9. 'The monsters of life's waste.' The noxious creatures which infest the wilderness of human life.
Stanza 28, 1. 1. 'The herded wolves,' &c. These same 'monsters' are now pictured under three aspects. They are herded wolves, which will venture to pursue a traveller, but will not face him if he turns upon them boldly; and obscene ravens, which make an uproar over dead bodies, or dead reputations; and vultures, which follow in the wake of a conqueror, and gorge upon that which is already overthrown. In the succeeding stanza, 29, two other epithetal similes are bestowed upon the monsters—they become 'reptiles' and 'ephemeral insects.' All these repulsive images are of course here applied to critics of wilfully obtuse or malignant mind, such as Shelley accounted the Quarterly reviewer of Keats to be.
1. 5, &c. 'How they fled When, like Apollo,' &c. The allusion is to perfectly well-known incidents in the opening poetic career of Lord Byron. His lordship, in earliest youth, published a very insignificant volume of verse named Hours of Idleness. The Edinburgh Review—rightly in substance, but with some superfluous harshness of tone—pronounced this volume to be poor stuff. Byron retaliated by producing his satire entitled English Bards and Scotch Reviewers. With this book he scored a success. His next publication was the generally and enthusiastically admired commencement of Childe Harold, 1812; after which date the critics justly acclaimed him as a poet—although in course of time they grew lavishly severe upon him from the point of view of morals and religion. I reproduce from the Pisan edition the punctuation—'When like Apollo, from his golden bow'; but I think the exact sense would be better brought out if we read—'When, like Apollo from his golden bow, The Pythian,' &c.
11. 7, 8. 'The Pythian of the age one arrow sped, And smiled.' Byron is here assimilated to Apollo Pythius—Apollo the Python-slayer. The statue named Apollo Belvedere is regarded as representing the god at the moment after he has discharged his arrow at the python (serpent), his countenance irradiated with a half-smile of divine scorn and triumph. The terms employed by Shelley seem to glance more particularly at that celebrated statue: this was the more appropriate as Byron had devoted to the same figure two famous stanzas in the 4th canto of Childe Harold—
'Or view the Lord of the unerring bow, The God of life and poesy and light,' &c.
1. 9. 'They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them lying low.' In the Pisan edition we read 'that spurn them as they go.' No doubt the change (introduced as in other instances named on pp. 105 and 113) must be Shelley's own. The picture presented to the mind is more consistent, according to the altered reading. The critics, as we are told in this stanza, had at first 'fled' from Byron's arrow; afterwards they 'fawned on his proud feet.' In order to do this, they must have paused in their flight, and returned; and, in the act of fawning on Byron's feet, they must have crouched down, or were 'lying low.' (Mr. Forman, in his edition of Shelley, pointed this out.) With the words 'as they go' the image was not self-consistent: for the critics could not be 'going,' or walking away, at the same time when they were fawning on the poet's feet. This last remark assumes that the words 'as they go' mean 'as the critics go ': but perhaps (and indeed I think this is more than probable) the real meaning was 'as the feet of Byron go'—as Byron proceeds disdainfully on his way. If this was Shelley's original meaning, he probably observed after a while that the words 'as they go' seem to follow on with 'they fawn,' and not with 'the proud feet'; and, in order to remove the ambiguity, he substituted the expression 'lying low.'
Stanza 29, 11. 1-3. 'The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn; He sets, and each ephemeral insect then Is gathered into death.' The spawning of a reptile (say a lizard or toad), and the death of an insect (say a beetle or gnat), are two things totally unconnected. Shelley however seems to link them together, as if this spawning were the origin of the life, the brief life, of the insect. He appears therefore to use 'reptile,' not in the defined sense which we commonly attach to the word, but in the general sense of 'a creeping creature,' such for instance as a grub or caterpillar, the first form of an insect, leading on to its final metamorphosis or development. Even so his natural history is curiously at fault: for no grub or caterpillar can spawn—which is the function of the fully-developed insect itself, whether 'ephemeral' or otherwise. Can Shelley have been ignorant of this?
1. 4. 'And the immortal stars awake again.' The imagery of this stanza (apart from the 'reptiles' and 'ephemeral insects') deserves a little consideration. The sun (says Shelley) arises, and then sets: when it sets, the immortal stars awake again. Similarly, a godlike mind (say the mind of Keats) appears, and its light illumines the earth, and veils the heaven: when it disappears, 'the spirit's awful night' is left to 'its kindred lamps.' This seems as much as to say that the splendour of a new poetic genius appears to contemporaries to throw preceding poets into obscurity; but this is only a matter of the moment, for, when the new genius sinks in death, the others shine forth again as stars of the intellectual zenith, to which the new genius is kindred indeed, but not superior. With these words concludes the speech of Urania, which began in stanza 25.
Stanza 30, 1. 1. The Mountain Shepherds. These are contemporary British poets, whom Shelley represents as mourning the death of Keats. Shepherds are such familiar figures in poetry—utilized for instance in Milton's Lycidas, as well as by many poets of antiquity—that the introduction of them into Shelley's Elegy is no matter for surprise. Why they should be 'mountain shepherds' is not so clear. Perhaps Shelley meant to indicate a certain analogy between the exalted level at which the shepherds dwelt and the exalted level at which the poets wrote. As the shepherds do not belong to the low-country, so neither do the poets belong to the flats of verse. Shelley may have written with a certain degree of reference to that couplet in Lycidas—
'For we were nursed upon the self-same hill, Fed the same flock, by fountain, shade, and rill.'
1. 2. Their garlands sere, their magic mantles rent. The garlands or chaplets of the mountain shepherds have become sere because (it may be presumed) the wearers, in their grief for the mortal illness and death of Adonais, have for some little while left them unrenewed. Or possibly the garlands withered at the moment when Spring 'threw down her kindling buds' (stanza 16), I do not well understand the expression 'magic mantles.' There seems to be no reason why the mantles of the shepherds, considered as shepherds, should be magic. Even when we contemplate the shepherds as poets, we may fail to discern why any magical property should be assigned to their mantles. By the use of the epithet 'magic' Shelley must have intended to bridge over the gap between the nominal shepherds and the real poets, viewed as inspired singers: for this purpose he has adopted a bold verbal expedient, but not I think an efficient one. It may be noticed that the 'uncouth swain' who is represented in Lycidas as singing the dirge (in other words, Milton himself) is spoken of as having a mantle—it is a 'mantle blue' (see the penultimate line of that poem).
1. 3. The Pilgrim of Eternity. This is Lord Byron. As inventor of the personage Childe Harold, the hero and so-called 'Pilgrim' of the poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, and as being himself to a great extent identical with his hero, Byron was frequently termed 'the Pilgrim.' Shelley adopts this designation, which he magnifies into 'the Pilgrim of Eternity,' He admired Byron most enthusiastically as a poet, and was generally on easy—sometimes on cordial—terms with him as a man. He has left us a fine and discriminating portrait of Byron in the 'Count Maddalo' of his poem Julian and Maddalo, written in 1818. At times however Shelley felt and expressed great indignation against Byron, especially in reference to the ungenerous and cruel conduct of the latter towards Miss Clairmont. See some brief reference to this matter at p. 9.
11. 3-5. Whose fame Over his living head like heaven is bent, An early but enduring monument. These phrases are not very definite. When fame is spoken of as being bent over Byron's head, we must conceive of fame as taking a form cognizable by the senses. I think Shelley means to assimilate it to the rainbow; saying substantially—Fame is like an arc bent over Byron's head, as the arc of the rainbow is bent over the expanse of heaven. The ensuing term 'monument' applies rather to fame in the abstract than to any image of fame as an arc.
11. 6, 7. Came, veiling all the lightnings of his song In sorrow. No doubt it would have been satisfactory to Shelley if he could have found that Byron entertained or expressed any serious concern at Keats's premature death, and at the hard measure which had been meted out to him by critics. Byron did in fact admire Hyperion; writing (in November 1821, not long after the publication of Adonais)—'His fragment of Hyperion seems actually inspired by the Titans, and is as sublime as Aeschylus'; and other utterances of his show that—being with difficulty persuaded to suppose that Keats's health and life had succumbed to the attack in the Quarterly—he fittingly censured the want of feeling or want of reflection on the critic's part which had produced so deplorable a result. But on the whole Byron's feeling towards Keats was one of savage contempt during the young poet's life, and of bantering levity after his death. Here are some specimens. (From a letter to Mr. Murray, 12 October, 1820). 'There is such a trash of Keats and the like upon my tables that I am ashamed to look at them.... No more Keats, I entreat. Flay him alive: if some of you don't, I must skin him myself. There is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the manikin.'
'"Who killed John Keats?" "I," says the Quarterly, So savage and Tartarly; "'Twas one of my feats."'
'John Keats, who was killed off by one critique Just as he really promised something great If not intelligible, without Greek Contrived to talk about the gods of late, Much as they might have been supposed to speak. Poor fellow, his was an untoward fate! 'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle, Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.'
11. 7-9. From her wilds Ierne sent The sweetest lyrist of her saddest wrong, And love taught grief to fall like music from his tongue. Ierne (Ireland) sent Thomas Moore, the lyrist of her wrongs—an allusion to the Irish Melodies, and some other poems. There is not, I believe, any evidence to show that Moore took the slightest interest in Keats, his doings or his fate: Shelley is responsible for Moore's love, grief, and music, in this connexion. A letter from Keats has been published showing that at one time he expected to meet Moore personally (see p. 45). Whether he did so or not I cannot say for certain, but I apprehend not: the published Diary of Moore, of about the same date, suggests the negative.
Stanza 31, 1. 1. 'Midst others of less note. Shelley clearly means 'less note' than Byron and Moore—not less note than the 'one frail form.'
1. 2. Came one frail form, &c. This personage represents Shelley himself. Shelley here describes himself under a profusion of characteristics, briefly defined: it may be interesting to summarize them, apart from the other details with which they are interspersed. He is a frail form; a phantom among men; companionless; one who had gazed Actaeon-like on Nature's naked loveliness, and who now fled with feeble steps, hounded by his own thoughts; a pard-like spirit beautiful and swift; a love masked in desolation; a power begirt with weakness, scarcely capable of lifting the weight of the hour; a breaking billow, which may even now be broken; the last of the company, neglected and apart—a herd-abandoned deer struck by the hunter's dart; in Keats's fate, he wept his own; his brow was branded and ensanguined. Most of these attributes can be summed up under one heading—that of extreme sensitiveness and susceptibility, which meet with no response or sustainment, but rather with misjudgment, repulse, and outrage. Some readers may think that Shelley insists upon this aspect of his character to a degree rather excessive, and dangerously near the confines of feminine sensibility, rather than virile fortitude. Apart from this predominant type of character, Shelley describes his spirit as 'beautiful and swift'—which surely it was: and he says that, having gazed upon Nature's naked loveliness, he had suffered the fate of a second Actseon, fleeing 'o'er the world's wilderness,' and pursued by his own thoughts like raging hounds. By this expression Shelley apparently means that he had over-boldly tried to fathom the depths of things and of mind, but, baffled and dismayed in the effort, suffered, as a man living among men, by the very tension and vividness of his thoughts, and their daring in expression. See what he says of himself, in prose, on p. 92.
11. 4, 5. He, as I guess, Had gazed, &c. The use of the verb 'guess' in the sense of 'to surmise, conjecture, infer,' is now mostly counted as an Americanism. This is not correct; for the verb has often been thus used by standard English authors. Such a practice was not however common in Shelley's time, and he may have been guided chiefly by the rhyming.
Stanza 32, 1. 4. The weight of the superincumbent hour. This line is scarcely rhythmical: to bring it within the ordinary scheme of ryhthm, one would have to lay an exaggerated stress on two of its feet—'the superincumbent.' Neither this treatment of the line, nor the line itself apart from this treatment, can easily be justified.
Stanza 33, 11. 1, 2. His head was bound with pansies overblown, And faded violets. The pansy is the flower of thought, or memory: we commonly call it heartsease, but Shelley no doubt uses it here with a different, or indeed contrary, meaning. The violet indicates modesty. A stanza from one of his lyrics may be appropriately cited—Remembrance, dated 1821:—
'Lilies for a bridal bed, Roses for a matron's head, Violets for a maiden dead, Pansies let my flowers be. On the living grave I bear Scatter them without a tear; Let no friend, however dear, Waste a hope, a fear, for me.'
1. 3. A light spear topped with a cypress cone. The funereal cypress explains itself.
1. 4. Dark ivy tresses. The ivy indicates constancy in friendship.
Stanza 34, 1. 1. His partial moan. The epithet 'partial' is accounted for by what immediately follows—viz. that Shelley 'in another's fate now wept his own.' He, like Keats, was the object of critical virulence, and he was wont (but on very different grounds) to anticipate an early death. See (on p. 34) the expression in a letter from Shelley—'a writer who, however he may differ,' &c.
1. 4. As in the accents of an unknown land He sang new sorrow. It is not very clear why Shelley should represent that he, as one of the Mountain Shepherds, used a language different (as one might infer) from that of his companions. All those whom he particularizes were his compatriots. Perhaps however Shelley merely means that the language (English) was that of a land unknown to the Greek deity Aphrodite Urania. The phrase 'new sorrow' occurs in the Elegy by Moschus (p. 65). By the use of this phrase Shelley seems to mean not merely that the death of Keats was a recent and sorrowful event, but more especially that it constituted a new sorrow—one more sorrow—to Shelley himself.
11. 3, 5. I reproduce the punctuation of the Pisan edition, with a colon after 'his own,' and a semicolon after 'sorrow.' It appears to me however that the sense would rather require either a full stop after 'his own,' and a comma after 'sorrow,' or else a comma after 'his own,' and a full stop or colon after 'sorrow.' Yet it is possible that the phrase, 'As in the accents,' &c., forms a separate clause by itself, meaning, 'As if in the accents of an unknown land, he sang new sorrow.'
11. 8, 9. Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow, Which was like Cain's or Christ's. Shelley represents his own brow as being branded like Cain's—stamped with the mark of reprobation; and ensanguined like Christ's—bleeding from a crown of thorns. This indicates the extreme repugnance with which he was generally regarded, and in especial perhaps the decree of the Court of Chancery which deprived him of his children by his first marriage—and generally the troubles and sufferings which he had undergone. The close coupling-together, in this line, of the names of Cain and Christ, was not likely to conciliate antagonists; and indeed one may safely surmise that it was done by Shelley more for the rather wanton purpose of exasperating them than with any other object.—In this stanza Urania appears for the last time.
Stanza 35, 1, 1. What softer voice is hushed over the dead? The personage here referred to is Leigh Hunt. See p. 45.
1. 6. Gentlest of the wise. It is apparent that Shelley entertained a very sincere affection and regard for Leigh Hunt. He dedicated to Hunt the tragedy of The Cenci, using the following expressions among others: 'Had I known a person more highly endowed than yourself with all that it becomes a man to possess, I had solicited for this work the ornament of his name. One more gentle, honourable, innocent, and brave; one of more exalted toleration for all who do and think evil, and yet himself more free from evil; one who knows better how to receive and how to confer a benefit, though he must ever confer far more than he can receive; one of simpler and (in the highest sense of the word) of purer life and manners, I never knew: and I had already been fortunate in friendships when your name was added to the list.'
1. 7. Taught, soothed, loved, honoured, the departed one. It has sometimes been maintained that Hunt, whatever may have been the personal friendship which he felt for Keats, did not, during the latter's lifetime, champion his literary cause with so much zeal as might have been expected from his professions. This is a point open to a good deal of discussion from both sides. Mr. Buxton Forman, who, as Editor of Keats, had occasion to investigate the matter attentively, pronounces decidedly in favour of Hunt.
Stanza 36, 1. 1. Our Adonais has drunk poison. Founded on those lines of Moschus which appear as a motto to Shelley's Elegy. See also p. 49.
1. 2. What deaf and viperous murderer. Deaf, because insensible to the beauty of Keats's verse; and viperous, because poisonous and malignant. The juxtaposition of the two epithets may probably be also partly dependent on that passage in the Psalms (lviii. 4, 5) which has become proverbial: 'They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent: even like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ears; which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.'
1. 4. The nameless worm. A worm, as being one of the lowest forms of life, is constantly used as a term implying contempt; but it may be assumed that Shelley here uses 'worm' in its original sense, that of any crawling creature, more especially of the snake kind. There would thus be no departure from the previous epithet 'viperous.' See the remarks as to 'reptiles,' St. 29.
11. 5, 6. The magic tone Whose prelude, &c. Shelley, it will be perceived, here figures Keats as a minstrel striking the lyre, and preparing to sing. He strikes the lyre in a 'magic tone'; the very 'prelude' of this was enough to command silent expectation. This prelude is the poem of Endymion, to which the Quarterly reviewer alone (according to Shelley) was insensitive, owing to feelings of 'envy, hate, and wrong.' The prelude was only an induction to the 'song,'—which was eventually poured forth in the Lamia volume, and especially (as our poet opined) in Hyperion. But now Keats's hand is cold in death, and his lyre unstrung. As I have already observed—see p. 35, &c.—Shelley was mistaken in supposing that the Quarterly Review had held a monopoly of 'envy, hate, and wrong'—or, as one might now term them, detraction, spite, and unfairness—in reference to Keats.
Stanza 37, 1. 4. But be thyself, and know thyself to be! The precise import of this line is not, I think, entirely plain at first sight. I conceive that we should take the line as immediately consequent upon the preceding words—'Live thou, live!' Premising this, one might amplify the idea as follows; 'While Keats is dead, be it thy doom, thou his deaf and viperous murderer, to live! But thou shalt live in thine own degraded identity, and shalt thyself be conscious how degraded thou art.' Another suggestion might be that the words 'But be thyself are equivalent to 'Be but thyself.'
11. 5, 6. And ever at thy season be thou free To spill the venom when thy fangs o'erflow. This keeps up the image of the 'viperous' murderer—the viper. 'At thy season' can be understood as a reference to the periodical issues of the Quarterly Review. The word 'o'erflow' is, in the Pisan edition, printed as two words—'o'er flow.'
1. 7. Remorse and self-contempt. Shelley frequently dwells upon self-contempt as one of the least tolerable of human distresses. Thus in the Revolt of Islam (Canto 8, st. 20):
'Yes, it is Hate—that shapeless fiendly thing Of many names, all evil, some divine— Whom self-contempt arms with a mortal sting,' &c.
And in Prometheus Unbound (Act i)—
'Regard this earth Made multitudinous with thy slaves, whom thou Requitest for knee-worship, prayer, and praise? And toil, and hecatombs of broken hearts, With fear and self-contempt and barren hope.'
Again (Act ii, sc. 4)—
'And self-contempt, bitterer to drink than blood.'
Stanza 38, 1. 1. Nor let us weep, &c. So far as the broad current of sentiment is concerned, this is the turning-point of Shelley's Elegy. Hitherto the tone has been continuously, and through a variety of phases, one of mourning for the fact that Keats, the great poetical genius, is untimely dead. But now the writer pauses, checks himself, and recognises that mourning is not the only possible feeling, nor indeed the most appropriate one. As his thought expands and his rapture rises, he soon acknowledges that, so far from grieving for Keats who is dead, it were far more relevant to grieve for himself who is not dead. This paean of recantation and aspiration occupies the remainder of the poem.
1. 2. These carrion kites. A term of disparagement corresponding nearly enough to the 'ravens' and 'vultures' of st. 28.
1. 3. He wakes or sleeps with the enduring dead. With such of the dead as have done something which survives themselves. It will be observed that the phrase 'he wakes or sleeps' leaves the question of personal or individual immortality quite open. As to this point see the remarks on p. 54, &c.
1. 4. Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now. This is again addressed to the 'deaf and viperous murderer,' regarded for the moment as a 'carrion kite.' As kites are eminently high flyers, the phrase here used becomes the more emphatic. This line of Shelley's is obviously adapted from a passage in Milton's Paradise Lost, where Satan addresses the angels in Eden (Book 4)—
'Ye knew me once, no mate For you, there sitting where ye durst not soar.'
1. 5. The pure spirit shall flow, &c. The spirit which once was the vital or mental essence—the soul—of Adonais came from the Eternal Soul, and, now that he is dead, is re-absorbed into the Eternal Soul: as such, it is imperishable.
1. 9. Whilst thy cold embers choke, &c. The spirit of Adonais came as a flame from the 'burning fountain' of the Eternal, and has now reverted thither, he being one of the 'enduring dead.' But the 'deaf and viperous murderer' must not hope for a like destiny. His spirit, after death, will be merely like 'cold embers,' cumbering the 'hearth of shame.' As a rhetorical antithesis, this serves its purpose well: no doubt Shelley would not have pretended that it is a strictly reasoned antithesis as well, or furnishes a full account of the post-mortem fate of the Quarterly reviewer.
Stanza 39, 11. 1, 2. Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep! He hath awakened from the dream of life. Shelley now proceeds boldly to declare that the state which we call death is to be preferred to that which we call life. Keats is neither dead nor sleeping. He used to be asleep, perturbed and tantalized by the dream which is termed life. Having at last awakened from the dream, he is no longer asleep: and, if life is no more than a dream, neither does the cessation of life deserve to be named death. The transition from one emotion to another in this passage, and also in the preceding stanza, 'Nor let us weep,' &c., resembles the transition towards the close of Lycidas—
'Weep no more, woful shepherds, weep no more, For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,' &c.
The general view has considerable affinity to that which is expounded in a portion of Plato's dialogue Phaedo, and which has been thus summarised. 'Death is merely the separation of soul and body. And this is the very consummation at which Philosophy aims: the body hinders thought,—the mind attains to truth by retiring into herself. Through no bodily sense does she perceive justice, beauty, goodness, and other ideas. The philosopher has a lifelong quarrel with bodily desires, and he should welcome the release of his soul.'
1. 3. 'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, &c. We, the so-called living, are in fact merely beset by a series of stormy visions which constitute life; all our efforts are expended upon mere phantoms, and are therefore profitless; our mental conflict is an act of trance, exercised upon mere nothings. The very energetic expression, 'strike with our spirit's knife invulnerable nothings,' is worthy of remark. It will be remembered that, according to Shelley's belief, 'nothing exists but as it is perceived': see p. 56. The view of life expressed with passionate force in this passage of Adonais is the same which forms the calm and placid conclusion of The Sensitive Plant, a poem written in 1820;—
'But, in this life Of error, ignorance, and strife, Where nothing is but all things seem. And we the shadows of the dream,
It is a modest creed, and yet Pleasant if one considers it, To own that death itself must be, Like all the rest, a mockery.
That garden sweet, that Lady fair, And all sweet shapes and odours there, In truth have never passed away: 'Tis we, 'tis ours, are changed; not they.
For love, and beauty, and delight, There is no death nor change; their might Exceeds our organs, which endure No light, being themselves obscure.'
11. 6, 7. We decay Like corpses in a charnel, &c. Human life consists of a process of decay. While living, we are consumed by fear and grief; our disappointed hopes swarm in our living persons like worms in our corpses.
Stanza 40, 1. 1. He has outsoared the shadow of our night. As human life was in the last stanza represented as a dream, so the state of existence in which it is enacted is here figured as night.
1. 5. From the contagion of the world's slow stain. It may be said that 'the world's slow stain'—the lowering influence of the aims and associations of all ordinary human life—is the main subject-matter of Shelley's latest important poem, The Triumph of Life.
1. 9. With sparkless ashes. See the cognate expression, 'thy cold embers,' in st. 38.
Stanza 41, 1. 1. He lives, he wakes—'tis Death is dead, not he. In the preceding three stanzas Adonais is contemplated as being alive, owing to the very fact that his death has awakened him 'from the dream of life'—mundane life. Death has bestowed upon him a vitality superior to that of mundane life. Death therefore has performed an act contrary to his own essence as death, and has practically killed, not Adonais, but himself.
1. 2. Thou young Dawn. We here recur to the image in st. 14, 'Morning sought her eastern watch-tower,' &c.
1. 5. Ye caverns and ye forests, &c. The poet now adjures the caverns, forests, flowers, fountains, and air, to 'cease to moan.' Of the flowers we had heard in st. 16: but the other features of Nature which are now addressed had not previously been individually mentioned—except, to some extent, by implication, in st. 15, which refers more directly to 'Echo.' The reference to the air had also been, in a certain degree, prepared for in stanza 23. The stars are said to smile on the Earth's despair. This does not, I apprehend, indicate any despair of the Earth consequent on the death of Adonais, but a general condition of woe. A reference of a different kind to stars—a figurative reference—appears in st. 29.
Stanza 42, 1. 1. He is made one with Nature. This stanza ascribes to Keats the same phase of immortality which belongs to Nature. Having 'awakened from the dream of [mundane] life,' his spirit forms an integral portion of the universe. Those acts of intellect which he performed in the flesh remain with us, as thunder and the song of the nightingale remain with us.
11. 6, 7. Where'er that power may move Which has withdrawn his being to its own. This corresponds to the expression in st. 38—'The pure spirit shall flow Back to the burning fountain whence it came, A portion of the Eternal.'
1. 8. Who wields the world with never wearied love, &c. These two lines are about the nearest approach to definite Theism to be found in any writing of Shelley. The conception, which may amount to Theism, is equally consistent with Pantheism. Even in his most anti-theistic poem, Queen Mab, Shelley said in a note—'The hypothesis of a pervading Spirit, co-eternal with the universe, remains unshaken.'
Stanza 43, 11. 1-3. He is a portion of the loveliness Which ones he made more lovely. He doth bear his part, &c. The conception embodied in this passage may become more clear to the reader if its terms are pondered in connexion with the passage of Shelley's prose extracted on p. 56—'The existence of distinct individual minds,' &c. Keats, while a living man, had made the loveliness of the universe more lovely by expressing in poetry his acute and subtle sense of its beauties—by lavishing on it (as we say) 'the colours of his imagination,' He was then an 'individual mind'—according to the current, but (as Shelley held) inexact terminology. He has now, by death, wholly passed out of the class of individual minds; and he forms a portion of the Universal Mind (the 'One Spirit') which is the animation of the universe.
11. 3, 4. While the One Spirit's plastic stress Sweeps through the dull dense world, &c. The function ascribed in these lines to the One Spirit is a formative or animating function: the Spirit constitutes the life of 'trees and beasts and men.' This view is strictly within the limits of Pantheism.
Stanza 44, 1. 1. The splendours of the firmament of time, &c. As there are stars in the firmament of heaven, so are there splendours—luminous intellects—in the firmament of time. The stars, though at times eclipsed, are not extinguished; nor yet the mental luminaries. This asseveration may be considered in connexion with the passage in st. 5: 'Others more sublime, Struck by the envious wrath of man or God, Have sunk, extinct in their refulgent prime.'
11. 5, 6. When lofty thought Lifts a young heart, &c. The sense of this passage may be paraphrased thus:—When lofty thought lifts a young heart above its mundane environments, and when its earthly doom has to be determined by the conflicting influences of love, which would elevate it, and the meaner cares and interests of life, which would drag it downwards, then the illustrious dead live again in that heart—for its higher emotions are nurtured by their noble thoughts and aspirations,—and they move, like exhalations of light along dark and stormy air. This illustrates the previous proposition, that the splendours of the firmament of time are not extinguished; and, in the most immediate application of the proposition, Keats is not extinguished—he will continue an ennobling influence upon minds struggling towards the light.
Stanza 45, 1. 2. The inheritors of unfulfilled renown Rose from their thrones. There is a grand abruptness in this phrase, which makes it—as a point of poetical or literary structure—one of the finest things in the Elegy. We are to understand (but Shelley is too great a master to formulate it in words) that Keats, as an 'inheritor of unfulfilled renown'—i.e. a great intellect cut off by death before its maturest fruits could be produced—has now arrived among his compeers: they rise from their thrones to welcome him. In this connexion Shelley chooses to regard Keats as still a living spiritual personality—not simply as 'made one with Nature.' He is one of those 'splendours of the firmament of time' who 'may be eclipsed, but are extinguished not.'
11. 3-5. Chatterton Rose pale, his solemn agony had not Yet faded from him. For precocity and exceptional turn of genius Chatterton was certainly one of the most extraordinary of 'the inheritors of unfulfilled renown'; indeed, the most extraordinary: he committed suicide by poison in 1770, before completing the eighteenth year of his age. His supposititious modern-antique Poems of Rowley may, as actual achievements, have been sometimes overpraised: but at the lowest estimate they have beauties and excellences of the most startling kind. He wrote besides a quantity of verse and prose, of a totally different order. Keats admired Chatterton profoundly, and dedicated Endymion to his memory. I cannot find that Shelley, except in Adonais, has left any remarks upon Chatterton: but he is said by Captain Medwin to have been, in early youth, very much impressed by his writings.
1. 5. Sidney, as he fought, &c. Sir Philip Sidney, author of The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, the Apology for Poetry, and the sonnets named Astrophel and Stella, died in his thirty-second year, of a wound received in the battle of Zutphen, 1586. Shelley intimates that Sidney maintained the character of being 'sublimely mild' in fighting, falling (dying), and loving, as well as generally in living. The special references appear to be these. (1) Sidney, observing that the Lord Marshal, the Earl of Leicester, had entered the field of Zutphen without greaves, threw off his own, and thus exposed himself to the cannon-shot which slew him. (2) Being mortally wounded, and receiving a cup of water, he handed it (according to a tradition which is not unquestionable) to a dying soldier. (3) His series of sonnets record his love for Penelope Devereux, sister to the Earl of Essex, who married Lord Rich. She had at one time been promised to Sidney. He wrote the sonnets towards 1581: in 1583 he married another lady, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham. It has been said that Shelley was wont to make some self-parade in connexion with Sir Philip Sidney, giving it to be understood that he was himself a descendant of the hero—which was not true, although the Sidney blood came into a different line of the family. Of this story I have not found any tangible confirmation.
1. 8. Lucan, by his death approved. Lucan, the author of the Pharsalia, was condemned under Nero as being an accomplice in the conspiracy of Piso: he caused his veins to be opened, and died magnanimously, aged about twenty-six, A.D. 65. Shelley, in one instance, went so far as to pronounce Lucan superior to Vergil.
Stanza 46, 11. 1, 2. And many more, whose names on earth are dark, But whose transmitted effluence cannot die, &c. This glorious company would include no doubt, not only the recorders of great thoughts, or performers of great deeds, which are still borne in memory although the names of the authors are forgotten, but also many whose work is as totally unknown as their names, but who exerted nevertheless a bright and elevating ascendant over other minds, and who thus conduced to the greatness of human-kind.
1. 6. It was for thee, &c. The synod of the inheritors of unfulfilled renown here invite Keats to assume possession of a sphere, or constellation, which had hitherto been 'kingless,' or unappropriated. It had 'swung blind in unascended majesty': had not been assigned to any radiant spirit, whose brightness would impart brilliancy to the sphere itself.
1. 8. Silent alone amid an heaven of song. This phrase points primarily to 'the music of the spheres': the sphere now assigned to Keats had hitherto failed to take part in the music of its fellows, but henceforward will chime in. Probably there is also a subsidiary, but in its context not less prominent meaning—namely, that, while the several poets (such as Chatterton, Sidney, and Lucan) had each a vocal sphere of his own, apposite to his particular poetic quality, the sphere which Keats is now to control had hitherto remained unoccupied because no poet of that special type of genius which it demanded had as yet appeared. Its affinity was for Keats, and for no one else. This is an implied attestation of Keats's poetic originality.
1. 9. Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng! The winged throne is, I think, a synonym of the 'sphere' itself—not a throne within the sphere: 'winged,' because the sphere revolves in space. Yet the statement in stanza 45 that 'the inheritors of unfulfilled renown rose from their thrones' (which cannot be taken to represent distinct spheres or constellations) suggests the opposite interpretation. Keats is termed 'thou Vesper of our throng' because he is the latest member of this glorified band—or, reckoning the lapse of ages as if they were but a day, its 'evening star.' The exceptional brilliancy of the Vesper star is not, I think, implied—though it may be remotely suggested.
Stanza 47, 1. 3. Clasp with thy panting soul, &c. The significance of this stanza—perhaps a rather obscure one—requires to be estimated as a whole. Shelley summons any person who persists in mourning for Adonais to realise to his own mind what are the true terms of comparison between Adonais and himself. After this, he says in this stanza no more about Adonais, but only about the mourner. He calls upon the mourner to consider (1) the magnitude of the planet earth; then, using the earth as his centre, to consider (2) the whole universe of worlds, and the illimitable void of space beyond all worlds; next he is to consider (3) what he himself is—he is confined within the day and night of our planet, and, even within those restricted limits, he is but an infinitesimal point. After he shall have realised this to himself, and after the tension of his soul in ranging through the universe and through space shall have kindled hope after hope, wonderment and aspiration after aspiration and wonderment, then indeed will he need to keep his heart light, lest it make him sink at the contemplation of his own nullity.
1. 9. And lured thee to the brink. This phrase is not definitely accounted for in the preceding exposition. I think Shelley means that the successive hopes kindled in the mourner by the ideas of a boundless universe of space and of spirit will have lured him to the very brink of mundane life—to the borderland between life and death: he will almost have been tempted to have done with life, and to explore the possibilities of death.
Stanza 48, 1. 1. Or go to Rome. This is still addressed to the mourner, the 'fond wretch' of the preceding stanza. He is here invited to adopt a different test for 'knowing himself and Adonais aright'; namely, he is to visit Rome, and muse over the grave of the youthful poet.
11. 1, 2. Which is the sepulchre, Oh not of him, but of our joy. Keats is not entombed in Rome: his poor mortal remains are there entombed, and, along with them, the joy which we felt in him as a living and breathing presence.
11. 2, 3. 'Tis nought That ages, empires, and religions, &c. Keats, and others such as he, derive no adventitious honour from being buried in Rome, amid the wreck of ages, empires, and religions: rather they confer honour. He is among his peers, the kings of thought, who, so far from being dragged down in the ruin of institutions, contended against that ruin, and are alone immortal while all the rest of the past has come to nought. This consideration may be said to qualify, but not to reverse, that which is presented in stanza 7, that Keats 'bought, with price of purest breath, a grave among the eternal'; those eternal ones, buried in Rome, include many of the 'kings of thought.'
Stanza 46, 11. 3, 4. And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise, And flowering weeds, &c. These expressions point more especially, but not exclusively, to the Coliseum and the Baths of Caracalla. In Shelley's time (and something alike was the case in 1862, the year when the present writer saw them first) both these vast monuments were in a state wholly different from that which they now, under the hands of learned archaeologists and skilled restorers, present to the eye. Shelley began, probably in 1819, a romantic or ideal tale named The Coliseum; and, ensconced amid the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, he composed, in the same year, a large part of Promethens Unbound. A few extracts from his letters may here be given appropriately. (To T.L. Peacock, 22 December, 18i8). 'The Coliseum is unlike any work of human hands I ever saw before. It is of enormous height and circuit, and the arches, built of massy stones, are piled, on one another, and jut into the blue air, shattered into the forms of overhanging rocks. It has been changed by time into the image of an amphitheatre of rocky hills overgrown by the wild olive, the myrtle, and the figtree, and threaded by little paths which wind among its ruined stairs and immeasurable galleries: the copsewood overshadows you as you wander through its labyrinths.'—(To the same, 23 March, 1819). 'The next most considerable relic of antiquity, considered as a ruin, is the Thermae of Caracalla. These consist of six enormous chambers, above 200 feet in height, and each enclosing a vast space like that of a field. There are in addition a number of towers and labyrinthine recesses, hidden and woven over by the wild growth of weeds and ivy. Never was any desolation so sublime and lovely.... At every step the aerial pinnacles of shattered stone group into new combinations of effect, and tower above the lofty yet level walls, as the distant mountains change their aspect to one travelling rapidly along the plain.... Around rise other crags and other peaks—all arrayed, and the deformity of their vast desolation softened down, by the undecaying investiture of Nature.'
1. 7. A slope of green access. The old Protestant Cemetery. Shelley described it thus in his letter to Mr. Peacock of 22 December, 1818. 'The English burying-place is a green slope near the walls, under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is, I think, the most beautiful and solemn cemetery I ever beheld. To see the sun shining on its bright grass, fresh, when we visited it, with the autumnal dews, and hear the whispering of the wind among the leaves of the trees which have overgrown the tomb of Cestius, and the soil which is stirring in the sun-warm earth, and to mark the tombs, mostly of women and young people who were buried there, one might, if one were to die, desire the sleep they seem to sleep. Such is the human mind, and so it peoples with its wishes vacancy and oblivion.'—See also pp. 69, 70.
Stanza 50, 1. 3. One keen pyramid. The tomb (see last note) of Caius Cestius, a Tribune of the People.
11. 4, 5. The dust of him who planned This refuge for his memory. Shelley probably means that this sepulchral pyramid alone preserves to remembrance the name of Cestius: which is true enough, as next to nothing is otherwise known about him.
1. 8. Have pitched in heaven's smile their camp of death. The practice which Shelley follows in this line of making 'heaven' a dissyllable is very frequent with him. So also with 'even, higher,' and other such words.
Stanza 51, 11. 3, 4. If the seal is set Here on one fountain of a mourning mind. Shelley certainly alludes to himself in this line. His beloved son William, who died in June 1819, in the fourth year of his age, was buried in this cemetery: the precise spot is not now known.
11. 5-7. Too surely shalt thou find Thine own well full, if thou returnest home, Of tears and gall. From the world's bitter wind, &c. The apposition between the word 'well' and the preceding word 'fountain' will be observed. The person whom Shelley addresses would, on returning home from the cemetery, find more than, ample cause, of one sort or another, for distress and discomposure. Hence follows the conclusion that he would do well to 'seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb': he should prefer the condition of death to that of life. And so we reach in stanza 51 the same result which, in stanza 47, was deduced from a different range of considerations.
Stanza 52, 1. 1. The One remains, the many change and pass. See the notes on stanzas 42 and 43. 'The One' is the same as 'the One Spirit' in stanza 43—the Universal Mind. The Universal Mind has already been spoken of (stanza 38) as 'the Eternal.' On the other hand, 'the many' are the individuated minds which we call 'human beings': they 'change and pass'—the body perishing, the mind which informed it being (in whatever sense) reabsorbed into 'the Eternal.'
1. 2. Heaven's light for ever shines, earth's shadows fly. This is in strictness a physical descriptive image: in application, it means the same as the preceding line.
11. 3-5. Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of eternity, Until Death tramples it to fragments. Perhaps a more daring metaphorical symbol than this has never been employed by any poet, nor one that has a deeper or a more spacious meaning. Eternity is figured as white light—light in its quintessence. Life, mundane life, is as a dome of glass, which becomes many-coloured by its prismatic diffraction of the white light: its various prisms reflect eternity at different angles. Death ultimately tramples the glass dome into fragments; each individual life is shattered, and the whole integer of life, constituted of the many individual lives, is shattered. If everything else written by Shelley were to perish, and only this consummate image to remain—so vast in purport, so terse in form—he would still rank as a poet of lofty imagination. Ex pede Herculem.
11. 5, 6. Die, If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek. This phrase is addressed by the poet to anybody, and more especially to himself. As in stanza 38—'The pure spirit shall flow Back to the burning fountain whence it came, A portion of the Eternal.'
11. 7-9. Rome's azure sky, Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak The glory thy transfuse with fitting truth to speak. I follow here the punctuation of the Pisan edition—with a comma after 'words,' as well as after 'sky, flowers,' &c. According to this punctuation, the words of Rome, as well as her sky and other beautiful endowments, are too weak to declare at full the glory which they impart; and the inference from this rather abruptly introduced recurrence to Rome is (I suppose), that the spiritual glory faintly adumbrated by Rome can only be realised in that realm of eternity to which death gives access. Taken in this sense, the 'words' of Rome appear to mean 'the beautiful language spoken in Rome'—the Roman or Latin language, as modified into modern Italian. The pronunciation of Italian in Rome is counted peculiarly pure and rich: hence the Italian axiom, 'lingua toscana in bocca romana'—Tuscan tongue in Roman mouth. At first sight, it would seem far more natural to punctuate thus: Rome's azure sky, Flowers, ruins, statues, music,—words are weak The glory, &c. The sense would then be—Words are too weak to declare at full the glory inherent in the sky, flowers, &c. of Rome. Yet, although this seems a more straightforward arrangement for the words of the sentence, as such, it is not clear that such a comment on the beauties of Rome would have any great relevancy in its immediate context.
Stanza 53, 1. 2. Thy hopes are gone before, &c. This stanza contains some very pointed references to the state of Shelley's feelings at the time when he was writing Adonais; pointed, but not so clearly defined as to make his actual meaning transparent. We are told that his hopes are gone before (i.e. have vanished before the close of his life has come), and have departed from all things here. This may partly refer to the deaths of William Shelley and of Keats; but I think the purport of the phrase extends further, and implies that Shelley's hopes generally—those animating conceptions which had inspired him in early youth, and had buoyed him up through many adversities—are now waning in disappointment. This is confirmed by the ensuing statement—that 'a light is past from the revolving year [a phrase repeated from stanza 18], and man and woman.' Next we are told that 'what still is dear Attracts to crush, repels to make thee [me] wither.' The persons who were more particularly dear to Shelley at this time must have been (not to mention the two children Percy Florence Shelley and Allegra Clairmont) his wife, Miss Clairmont, Emilia Viviani, and Lieutenant and Mrs. Williams: Byron, Leigh Hunt, and Godwin, can hardly be in question. No doubt Shelley's acute feelings and mobile sympathies involved him in some considerable agitations, from time to time, with all the four ladies here named: but the strong expressions which he uses as to attracting and repelling, crushing and withering, seem hardly likely to have been employed by him in this personal sense, in a published book. Perhaps therefore we shall be safest in supposing that he alludes, not to persons who are dear, but to circumstances and conditions of a more general kind—such as are involved in his self-portraiture, stanzas 31-34.
1. 8. 'Tis Adonais calls! oh hasten thither! 'Thither' must mean 'to Adonais': a laxity of expression.
Stanza 64, 1. 1. That light whose smile kindles the universe, &c. This is again the 'One Spirit' of stanza 43. And see, in stanza 42, the cognate expression, 'kindles it above.'
11. 3, 4. That benediction which the eclipsing curse Of birth can quench not. The curse of birth is, I think, simply the calamitous condition of mundane life—so often referred to in this Elegy as a condition of abjection and unhappiness. The curse of birth can eclipse the benediction of Universal Mind, but cannot quench it: in other words, the human mind, in its passage from the birth to the death of the body, is still an integral portion of the Universal Mind.
1. 7. Each are mirrors. This is of course a grammatical irregularity—the verb should be 'is.' It is not the only instance of the same kind in Shelley's poetry.
1. 9. Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality. This does not imply that Shelley is shortly about to die. 'Cold mortality' is that condition in which the human mind, a portion of the Universal Mind, is united to a mortal body: and the general sense is that the Universal Mind at this moment beams with such effulgence upon Shelley that his mind responds to it as if the mortal body no longer interposed any impediment.
Stanza 55, 1. 1. The breath whose might I have invoked in song. The breath or afflatus of the Universal Mind. It has been 'invoked in song' throughout the whole later section of this Elegy, from stanza 38 onwards.
1. 2. My spirits bark is driven, &c. As was observed with reference to the preceding stanza, line 9, this phrase does not forecast the author's death: it only re-emphasises the abnormal illumination of his mind by the Universal Mind—as if his spirit (like that of Keats) 'had flowed back to the burning fountain whence it came, a portion of the Eternal' (stanza 38). Nevertheless, it is very remarkable that this image of 'the spirit's bark,' beaconed by 'the soul of Adonais,' should have been written so soon before Shelley's death by drowning, which occurred on 8 July, 1822,—but little more than a year after he had completed this Elegy. Besides this passage, there are in Shelley's writings, both verse and prose, several other passages noticeable on the same account—relating to drowning, and sometimes with a strong personal application; and in various instances he was in imminent danger of this mode of death before the end came.
11. 3, 4. Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng Whose sails were never to the tempest given. In saying that his spirit's bark is driven far from the shore, Shelley apparently means that his mind, in speculation and aspiration, ranges far beyond those mundane and material interests with which the mass of men are ordinarily concerned. 'The trembling throng' is, I think, a throng of men: though it might be a throng of barks, contrasted with 'my spirit's bark.' Their sails 'were never to the tempest given,' in the sense that they never set forth on a bold ideal or spiritual adventure, abandoning themselves to the stress and sway of a spiritual storm.
1. 5. The massy earth, &c. As the poet launches forth on his voyage upon the ocean of mind, the earth behind him seems to gape, and the sky above him to open: his course however is still held on in darkness—the arcanum is hardly or not at all revealed.
1. 7. Whilst burning through the inmost veil, &c. A star pilots his course: it is the soul of Adonais, which, being still 'a portion of the Eternal' (st. 38), is in 'the abode where the Eternal are,' and testifies to the eternity of mind. In this passage, and in others towards the conclusion of the poem, we find the nearest approach which Shelley can furnish to an answer to that question which he asked in stanza 20—'Shall that alone which knows Be as a sword consumed before the sheath By sightless lightning?'
Stanzas 4. to 6—(I add here a note out of its due place, which would be on p. 101: at the time when it occurred to me to raise this point, the printing had gone too far to allow of my inserting the remark there.)—On considering these three stanzas collectively, it may perhaps be felt that the references to Milton and to Keats are more advisedly interdependent than my notes on the details of the stanzas suggest. Shelley may have wished to indicate a certain affinity between the inspiration of Milton as the poet of Paradise Lost, and that of Keats as the poet of Hyperion. Urania had had to bewail the death of Milton, who died old when 'the priest, the slave, and the liberticide,' outraged England. Now she has to bewail the death of her latest-born, Keats, who has died young, and (as Shelley thought) in a similarly disastrous condition of the national affairs. Had he not been 'struck by the envious wrath of man,' he might even have 'dared to climb' to the 'bright station' occupied by Milton.—The phrase in st. 4, 'Most musical of mourners, weep again,' with what follows regarding grief for the loss of Milton, and again of Keats, is modelled upon the passage in Moschus (p. 65)—'This, O most musical of rivers, is thy second sorrow,—this, Meles, thy new woe. Of old didst thou love Homer:... now again another son thou weepest.' My remark upon st. 13, that there Shelley first had direct recourse to the Elegy of Moschus, should be modified accordingly.