What is the theme of the poem "Adonais" by Percy Bysshe Shelley?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The poem "Adonais" by Percy Bysshe Shelley is an elegy written upon the death of John Keats, a fellow Romantic poet who died of tuberculosis when he was twenty-five years old. The theme of the poem, however, is not that poverty and lack of medical technology lead to the spread of infectious diseases (and thus cause the deaths of people like Keats), but rather an elevated notion of the role of the poet in society and the conflict between the poet as solitary genius and the society and critics who fail to understand and appreciate the poet.

"Adonais" begins as a conventional pastoral elegy, in which readers are urged: 

 Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
       Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
 
The focus of the elegy, though, is not Keats as a person, but Keats as a poet, who will write no more poems now that he is dead. The readers and critics who did not fully appreciate his poetry are implicated in his death, but finally, the greatness of his writing triumphs over death, as the poems he did write will outlast his critics. 
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