I need help understanding a particular quote from Peter M. Sacks' analysis of Shelley's "Adonais."  The quote reads: "the presence of these gathering fabrics of shadow and veil testifies to an...

I need help understanding a particular quote from Peter M. Sacks' analysis of Shelley's "Adonais." 

The quote reads:

"the presence of these gathering fabrics of shadow and veil testifies to an elegist's acceptance not only of Death's castrative power, but also of that elegist's recapitulated entry into and submission to those very mediations of language that interpose between him and his object of loss or desire."

Asked on by egonz021

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is a tough one because you have a challenging poem and a very challenging reflection on that poem.  It's challenge all the way down.  I think that Sacks' quote seeks to make clear some of the difficulties that Shelley faces in composing the poem.  On one hand, death is a force of pain and sorrow.  This is seen in the poem when the opening mourning of Adonais's death is a cause for weeping and sadness.  Yet, at the same time, death is a release, a domain where Keats can exist among the immortals and be free from contingencies.  In its own condition, there is a bit of tension between both ideas.  

Sacks's quote adds to this level of challenge.  In discussing "these gathering fabrics," Sacks is referencing the condition of death that blankets the poem. Sacks points to the flowers, for example, as referencing the complex condition of death.  Sacks suggests that the flowers do not reference a typical Romantic poet's construction of liberation.  Rather, the flowers "mock the corpse beneath" and represent a sense of being "broken" as in "Like a pale flower by some sad maiden cherished."  In this instance, flowers help to communicate how death's power is shadowed and veiled.  This "castrative" quality removes the essence of mortal life, something that liberates Keats, but also causes pain for its departure from temporal reality.  The use of flowers is one example that Sacks uses to illuminate this quality.

Sacks suggests that language is a challenging quality in "Adonais."  On one hand, Shelley uses the pastoral elegy as a means to praise life in the reality of death and to praise the power of death in the midst of life.  However, Sacks believes that Shelley is unable to offer a more full-throated emphasis on death because of a "vexing problem."  The collision between temporal reality and death's silence causes Shelley to view language in a challenged light.  It is for this reason that Shelley's "recapitulated entry" into the discussions of language is interposed "between him and the object of loss and desire."  Sacks is suggesting that Shelley is struggling under the weight of language, a means he is using to articulate something that is impossible to articulate.  The collision between Death's power and Shelley's use of language in communicating it are the primary points of emphasis in Sacks's quote regarding Shelley's poem.

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