What is the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais"?

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As an elegy, Adonais centers on honoring the recently deceased John Keats, a fellow poet of Percy Bysshe Shelley. A traditional elegy has three parts, which mirror the stages mourners pass through when grieving a lost loved one. Such poems usually begin with a lament, go on to praise the departed person in effusive terms, and end with expressions of comfort and consolation.

Shelley's poem follows this basic pattern. John Keats, who died at the age of twenty-five from tuberculosis, is represented as Adonais, an adaptation of the Greek mythological character Adonis. Shelley casts Urania, a daughter of Zeus, as Adonais's (Keats's) grieving mother. The poem begins by describing all the mourners: Urania; Keats's own "Dreams, the passion-winged Ministers of thought"; personified topics of his poems; other poets; and Shelley himself.

Shelley then lashes out at the unkind critic whose harsh words Shelley credits with sending Keats to an early grave. In section 39, Shelley turns toward imagining Keats in a blessed state in the afterlife: "Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—He hath awakened from the dream of life." Shelley describes great men who have already died rising to meet Adonais as he joins them. This brings Shelley to Keats's graveside in an Italian cemetery—the same place where Shelley buried his three-year-old son.

As Shelley's elegy moves into the section that should be one of comfort and solace to the mourners, things take a surprisingly dark turn. After describing his son's grave in stanza 49, Shelley writes in stanza 51, "From the world's bitter wind seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb. What Adonais is, why fear we to become?" The death wish builds in stanza 52: "Die, if thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek! Follow where all is fled!" Stanza 53 continues: "Thou shouldst now depart! . . . No more let Life divide what Death can join together." The poem concludes with the image that became eerily prophetic of Shelley's own accidental death at sea a year after he penned the words: Shelley's "spirit's bark" is "borne darkly, fearfully, afar" to "where the Eternal are."

Surprisingly, instead of delivering the condolences that an elegy typically offers, Adonais ends with a dark assertion that death is better than life. The theme of Adonais is that death is preferable to life on this sorrow-filled earth.

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The poem Adonais is written as an elegy for the great poet John Keats. The speaker mourns the death of the mythical Adonais, or Adonis, the god of fertility, in a format modeled after many ancient epic poems. The theme of this work is clearly mourning, as the narrator metaphorically weeps over the deceased body of Keats, or Adonais.

In this poem, the speaker implores the gods of nature to let this reality be mistaken, begging them to reverse Adonais's death and mourning his untimely end. There is almost a bitterness that underlies the evident deep sadness as the poet angrily cries out to Mother Nature, asking why she let this thing happen, why she wasn’t watching over him more carefully. Eventually, the tone of the poem shifts, though, to reveal that the speaker is glad that Keats has gone on. Now he can rest and is no longer at the mercy of the villains in the world. In the end, the tone is somber and distraught.

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The poem Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley is an elegy for Jon Keats and is therefore a baleful lament. The prevailing theme is mourning and despair at the death of such a prominent individual. The poem seems to go through all the stages of grief as the narrator rages against the fates and gods that allowed such a death to happen. The pain is evident in this somber poem as it both celebrates Keats’s life and mourns his death.

Throughout the poem, the speaker mourns the ancient character of Adonais, who was a mythical and mighty figure, comparing Keats to him through a joint mourning. There is clear respect and sorrow in this poem when it comes to the subject, and the grief is very evident.

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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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