Adonais is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy for his fellow poet and friend John Keats, who died at age twenty-six. Shelley assigns him the name Adonais. An elegy is a poem of commemoration and praise dedicated to a dead person. The poem’s form is that of a pastoral elegy, in...
Adonais is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy for his fellow poet and friend John Keats, who died at age twenty-six. Shelley assigns him the name Adonais. An elegy is a poem of commemoration and praise dedicated to a dead person. The poem’s form is that of a pastoral elegy, in which characters such as shepherds in bucolic rural scenes represent actual people, mythic characters, or abstract concepts. The poem uses the Spenserian stanza. Shelley’s elegy has 495 lines in 55 stanzas.
The Spenserian stanza takes its name from Elizabethan English poet Edmund Spenser, who employed the form in The Faerie Queene. It consists of nine lines in an ababbcbcc rhyme scheme. The first eight lines are in iambic pentameter, while the ninth line is in iambic hexameter, known as an alexandrine. Shelley’s use of this stanza is part of his homage to Keats, who employed it in The Eve of St. Agnes.
After beginning with their personal declaration of mourning for Adonais, the speaker occupies the first thirty-five stanzas with mournful tributes of individuals modeled on contemporary people, such as fellow poet Lord Byron. The speaker also offers an array of mythical characters and representations of concepts, such as “kingly Death” and “passion-winged Ministers of thought.”
The last part of the poem is more celebratory than mournful. The speaker both praises Adonais’s creativity and chastises those who did not appreciate it. Beginning in stanza 38, the speaker advices the reader to embrace the spirit that Adonais embodied and, in stanza 41, tells them not to mourn.
He lives, he wakes—’tis Death is dead, not he;
Mourn not for Adonais.
The poem moves into themes of spiritual renewal and the “light” of faith and optimism.