What are the two motifs in Adonais ?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Percy Bysshe Shelley's pastoral elegy, Adonais, composed to honor the poet who made stirring use of pastoral motifs in order to focus on beauty, elevates Keats to the level of the Spirit that conquers life as he is immortalized. One motif, then, of this beautiful, Romantic elegy is that of Keats, as one who created beauty with his poetry, continuing to create after death as part of the One Spirit.

Beginning with stanza XXXVIII and ending with stanza XLVI, the "Consolation section" describes how Keats has been released from the burden of life in order to continue as part of what Shelley calls a "Power," the One Spirit, where the poet can find pure beauty and love. 

He lives, he wakes — 'tis Death is dead, not he;
Mourn not for Adonais. — Thou young Dawn,
Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;...

He is made one with Nature: there is heard 
His voice in all her music,....
Spreading itself where'er that Power may move 

Accompanying this immortalization of Keats, Shelley transforms this elegy into a moving praise of the greater design of death in what is a callous and violent physical universe. Thus, another of the motifs of Adonais is the detrimental and "mortifying effects on civilization" of the scorn for genius exhibited by others.

In Stanzas XXIII-XXXV, Shelley mentions the mourners of Keats's death, mourners who are led by Urania, the Muse of such lofty poetry as that of John Milton's Paradise Lost. She invokes Keats, rueing that he has died so young, then she repudiates the Tory reviewers calling them "monsters" and other repulsive creatures:

Defenceless as thou wert, oh, where was then
Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear?.... 
The monsters of life's waste had fled from thee like deer.

'The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
The obscene ravens, clamorous o'er the dead;
The vultures to the conqueror's banner true.... 

Further, in Stanzas XXXVI and XXXVII, Shelley castigates the reviewer of Keats's Endymion, with epithets such as "nameless worm," a "noteless blot," and a "snake" and "beaten hound." For instance, this "nameless worm" has caused Keats to be poisoned with his venomous criticisms of the poet's delicate soul, hastening his death. 

Our Adonais has drunk poison — oh!
What deaf and viperous murderer could crown
Life's early cup with such a draught of woe?....

Remorse and Self-contempt shall cling to thee;
Hot Shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt — as now.

Finally, in Stanza LII, Shelley writes, “What Adonais is, why fear we to become?” It is not the eternal that the poet should fear, but the earthly instead. Here, the tone shifts from one of mourning to comfort as the poet exhorts his readers to consider that Keats has been made eternal as his spirit unites with the One, and his poetry is immortalized.