Adonais "'Tis Death Is Dead, Not He"

Percy Bysshe Shelley

"'Tis Death Is Dead, Not He"

Context: In Adonais, Shelley's lament for John Keats (1795–1821), who died in Rome at the age of twenty-six years of tuberculosis–brought on, according to Shelley, by a savage review of Keats' Endymion in The Quarterly Review–the poet depicts himself visiting the bier of the dead Adonais, or Keats. The poet is a frail form, a phantom among men, companionless, an outcast, neglected and apart; he bares his brow, which is branded like Cain's or Christ's. He next depicts Joseph Severn (1793–1879), the young artist who was Keats' devoted nurse in the last illness. The poet then castigates the reviewer who struck Keats' death blow; this person, says the poet, will always be free to spill his venom, but remorse and self-contempt should cling to him and shame should burn his brow for the crime he has committed. The poet says that Keats is not dead, nor does he sleep; instead, he has awakened from the dream of life–a sentiment much like that of William Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality–and has become a part of the infinite. It is we, the living, who decay like corpses. He has outsoared envy, calumny, hate, and pain, and is secure from the world's slow stain. He is alive and awake; death is dead, not he, and so we do wrong to mourn for him.

He lives, he wakes–'tis Death is dead, not he,
Mourn not for Adonais.–Thou young Dawn,
Turn all thy dew to splendor, for from thee
The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!
Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air,
Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
O'er the abandoned Earth, now leave it bare
Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!