Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats
Keats, with whom Shelley had been acquainted in England, died at Rome on February 23, 1821, without having taken advantage of Shelley’s invitation to visit him. Shelley composed his elegy in the spring and it was printed in July. He called it “a highly wrought piece of art” and “the least imperfect of my compositions.” His indignant Preface spreads the exaggerated report of his friends in England that Keats’s violent agitation at the wanton attack in the Quarterly Review caused the rupture of a vessel in the lungs, which in turn led to the consumption of which he died. The title is followed by an epigram of Plato which Shelley elsewhere translates:
Thou wert the morning star among the living,
Ere thy fair light had fled;
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendour to the d
I weep for Adonais–he is dead!
2 Oh, weep for Adonais! though our tears
3 Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
4 And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
5 To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
6 And teach them thine own sorrow, say: “With me
7 Died Adonais; till the Future dares
8 Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
9An echo and a light unto eternity!”
Where wert thou, mighty Mother, when he lay,
11 When thy Son lay, pierc’d by the shaft which flies
12 In darkness? where was lorn Urania
13 When Adonais died? With veiled eyes,
14 ‘Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise
15 She sate, while one, with soft enamour’d breath,
16 Rekindled all the fading melodies,
17 With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath,
18He had adorn’d and hid the coming bulk of Death.
19 Oh, weep for Adonais–he is dead!
20 Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!
21 Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
22 Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep
23 Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
24 For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
25 Descend–oh, dream not that the amorous Deep
26 Will yet restore him to the vital air;
27Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair.
28 Most musical of mourners, weep again!
Lament anew, Urania! He died,
30 Who was the Sire of an immortal strain,
31 Blind, old and lonely, when his country’s pride,
32 The priest, the slave and the liberticide,
33 Trampled and mock’d with many a loathed rite
34 Of lust and blood; he went, unterrified,
35 Into the gulf of death; but his clear Sprite
Yet reigns o’er earth; the third among the sons of light.
37 Most musical of mourners, weep anew!
38 Not all to that bright station dar’d to climb;
39 And happier they their happiness who knew,
40 Whose tapers yet burn through that night of time
41 In which suns perish’d; others more sublime,
42 Struck by the envious wrath of man or god,
43 Have sunk, extinct in their refulgent prime;
44 And some yet live, treading the thorny road,
45Which leads, through toil and hate, to Fame’s serene abode.
46 But now, thy youngest, dearest one, has perish’d,
47 The nursling of thy widowhood, who grew,
Like a pale flower by some sad maiden cherish’d,
49 And fed with true-love tears, instead of dew;
50 Most musical of mourners, weep anew!
51 Thy extreme hope, the loveliest and the last,
52 The bloom, whose petals nipp’d before they blew
53 Died on the promise of the fruit, is waste;
54The broken lily lies–the storm is overpast.
To that high Capital, where kingly Death
56 Keeps his pale court in beauty and decay,
57 He came; and bought, with price of purest breath,
58 A grave among the eternal.–Come away!
59 Haste, while the vault of blue Italian day
60 Is yet his fitting charnel-roof! while still
61 He lies, as if in dewy sleep he lay;
62 Awake him not! surely he takes his fill
63Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill.
He will awake no more, oh, never more!
65 Within the twilight chamber spreads apace
66 The shadow of white Death, and at the door
67 Invisible Corruption waits to trace
68 His extreme way to her dim dwelling-place;
69 The eternal Hunger sits, but pity and awe
70 Soothe her pale rage, nor dares she to deface
71 So fair a prey, till darkness and the law
72Of change shall o’er his sleep the mortal curtain draw.
73 Oh, weep for Adonais! The quick Dreams,
74 The passion-winged Ministers of thought,
75 Who were his flocks, whom near the living streams
76 Of his young spirit he fed, and whom he taught
77 The love which was its music, wander not–
78 Wander no more, from kindling brain to brain,
79 But droop there, whence they sprung; and mourn their lot
80 Round the cold heart, where, after their sweet pain,
81They ne’er will gather strength, or find a home again.
82 And one with trembling hands clasps his cold head,
83 And fans him with her moonlight wings, and cries,
84 “Our love, our hope, our sorrow, is not dead;
85 See, on the silken fringe of his faint eyes,
86 Like dew upon a sleeping flower, there lies
87 A tear some Dream has loosen’d from his brain.”
88 Lost Angel of a ruin’d Paradise!
89 She knew not ’twas her own; as with no stain
90She faded, like a cloud which had outwept its rain.
91 One from a lucid urn of starry dew
92 Wash’d his light limbs as if embalming them;
93 Another clipp’d her profuse locks, and threw
94 The wreath upon him, like an anadem,
95 Which frozen tears instead of pearls begem;
96 Another in her wilful grief would break
97 Her bow and winged reeds, as if to stem
98 A greater loss with one which was more weak;
99And dull the barbed fire against his frozen cheek.
100 Another Splendour on his mouth alit,
101 That mouth, whence it was wont to draw the breath
102 Which gave it strength to pierce the guarded wit,
103 And pass into the panting heart beneath
104 With lightning and with music: the damp death
105 Quench’d its caress upon his icy lips;
106 And, as a dying meteor stains a wreath
107 Of moonlight vapour, which the cold night clips,
108It flush’d through his pale limbs, and pass’d to its eclipse.
109 And others came . . . Desires and Adorations,
110 Winged Persuasions and veil’d Destinies,
111 Splendours, and Glooms, and glimmering Incarnations
112 Of hopes and fears, and twilight Phantasies;
113 And Sorrow, with her family of Sighs,
114 And Pleasure, blind with tears, led by the gleam
115 Of her own dying smile instead of eyes,
116 Came in slow pomp; the moving pomp might seem
117Like pageantry of mist on an autumnal stream.
118 All he had lov’d, and moulded into thought,
119 From shape, and hue, and odour, and sweet sound,
120 Lamented Adonais. Morning sought
121 Her eastern watch-tower, and her hair unbound,
122 Wet with the tears which should adorn the ground,
123 Dimm’d the aëreal eyes that kindle day;
124 Afar the melancholy thunder moan’d,
125 Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,
126And the wild Winds flew round, sobbing in their dismay.
Lost Echo sits amid the voiceless mountains,
128 And feeds her grief with his remember’d lay,
129 And will no more reply to winds or fountains,
130 Or amorous birds perch’d on the young green spray,
131 Or herdsman’s horn, or bell at closing day;
132 Since she can mimic not his lips, more dear
133 Than those for whose disdain she pin’d away
134 Into a shadow of all sounds: a drear
135Murmur, between their songs, is all the woodmen hear.
Grief made the young Spring wild, and she threw down
137 Her kindling buds, as if she Autumn were,
138 Or they dead leaves; since her delight is flown,
139 For whom should she have wak’d the sullen year?
To Phoebus was not Hyacinth so dear
141 Nor to himself Narcissus, as to both
142 Thou, Adonais: wan they stand and sere
143 Amid the faint companions of their youth,
144With dew all turn’d to tears; odour, to sighing ruth.
Thy spirit’s sister, the lorn nightingale
146 Mourns not her mate with such melodious pain;
Not so the eagle, who like thee could scale
148 Heaven, and could nourish in the sun’s domain
149 Her mighty youth with morning, doth complain,
150 Soaring and screaming round her empty nest,
151 As Albion wails for thee: the curse of Cain
152 Light on his head who pierc’d thy innocent breast,
153And scar’d the angel soul that was its earthly guest!
Ah, woe is me! Winter is come and gone,
155 But grief returns with the revolving year;
156 The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
157 The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear;
158 Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead Seasons’ bier;
159 The amorous birds now pair in every brake,
160 And build their mossy homes in field and brere;
161 And the green lizard, and the golden snake,
162Like unimprison’d flames, out of their trance awake.
163 Through wood and stream and field and hill and Ocean
164 A quickening life from the Earth’s heart has burst
165 As it has ever done, with change and motion,
166 From the great morning of the world when first
167 God dawn’d on Chaos; in its stream immers’d,
168 The lamps of Heaven flash with a softer light;
169 All baser things pant with life’s sacred thirst;
170 Diffuse themselves; and spend in love’s delight,
171The beauty and the joy of their renewed might.
172 The leprous corpse, touch’d by this spirit tender,
173 Exhales itself in flowers of gentle breath;
174 Like incarnations of the stars, when splendour
175 Is chang’d to fragrance, they illumine death
176 And mock the merry worm that wakes beneath;
177 Nought we know, dies. Shall that alone which knows
178 Be as a sword consum’d before the sheath
179 By sightless lightning?–the intense atom glows
180A moment, then is quench’d in a most cold repose.
181 Alas! that all we lov’d of him should be,
182 But for our grief, as if it had not been,
183 And grief itself be mortal! Woe is me!
184 Whence are we, and why are we? of what scene
185 The actors or spectators? Great and mean
186 Meet mass’d in death, who lends what life must borrow.
187 As long as skies are blue, and fields are green,
188 Evening must usher night, night urge the morrow,
189Month follow month with woe, and year wake year to sorrow.
190 He will awake no more, oh, never more!
191 “Wake thou,” cried Misery, “childless Mother, rise
192 Out of thy sleep, and slake, in thy heart’s core,
193 A wound more fierce than his, with tears and sighs.”
194 And all the Dreams that watch’d Urania’s eyes,
195 And all the Echoes whom their sister’s song
196 Had held in holy silence, cried: “Arise!”
197 Swift as a Thought by the snake Memory stung,
198From her ambrosial rest the fading Splendour sprung.
199 She rose like an autumnal Night, that springs
200 Out of the East, and follows wild and drear
201 The golden Day, which, on eternal wings,
202 Even as a ghost abandoning a bier,
203 Had left the Earth a corpse. Sorrow and fear
204 So struck, so rous’d, so rapt Urania;
205 So sadden’d round her like an atmosphere
206 Of stormy mist; so swept her on her way
207Even to the mournful place where Adonais lay.
208 Out of her secret Paradise she sped,
209 Through camps and cities rough with stone, and steel,
210 And human hearts, which to her aery tread
211 Yielding not, wounded the invisible
212 Palms of her tender feet where’er they fell:
213 And barbed tongues, and thoughts more sharp than they,
214 Rent the soft Form they never could repel,
215 Whose sacred blood, like the young tears of May,
216Pav’d with eternal flowers that undeserving way.
217 In the death-chamber for a moment Death,
218 Sham’d by the presence of that living Might,
219 Blush’d to annihilation, and the breath
220 Revisited those lips, and Life’s pale light
221 Flash’d through those limbs, so late her dear delight.
222 “Leave me not wild and drear and comfortless,
223 As silent lightning leaves the starless night!
224 Leave me not!” cried Urania: her distress
225Rous’d Death: Death rose and smil’d, and met her vain caress.
226 “Stay yet awhile! speak to me once again;
227 Kiss me, so long but as a kiss may live;
228 And in my heartless breast and burning brain
229 That word, that kiss, shall all thoughts else survive,
230 With food of saddest memory kept alive,
231 Now thou art dead, as if it were a part
232 Of thee, my Adonais! I would give
233 All that I am to be as thou now art!
But I am chain’d to Time, and cannot thence depart!
235 “O gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,
236 Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
237 Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
238 Dare the unpastur’d dragon in his den?
239 Defenceless as thou wert, oh, where was then
240 Wisdom the mirror’d shield, or scorn the spear?
241 Or hadst thou waited the full cycle, when
242 Thy spirit should have fill’d its crescent sphere,
243The monsters of life’s waste had fled from thee like deer.
244 “The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
245 The obscene ravens, clamorous o’er the dead;
246 The vultures to the conqueror’s banner true
247 Who feed where Desolation first has fed,
248 And whose wings rain contagion; how they fled,
249 When, like Apollo, from his golden bow
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped
251 And smil’d! The spoilers tempt no second blow,
252They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them lying low.
253 “The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn;
254 He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
255 Is gather’d into death without a dawn,
256 And the immortal stars awake again;
257 So is it in the world of living men:
258 A godlike mind soars forth, in its delight
259 Making earth bare and veiling heaven, and when
260 It sinks, the swarms that dimm’d or shar’d its light
261Leave to its kindred lamps the spirit’s awful night.”
Thus ceas’d she: and the mountain shepherds came,
263 Their garlands sere, their magic mantles rent;
The Pilgrim of Eternity, whose fame
265 Over his living head like Heaven is bent,
266 An early but enduring monument,
267 Came, veiling all the lightnings of his song
In sorrow; from her wilds Ierne sent
269 The sweetest lyrist of her saddest wrong,
270And Love taught Grief to fall like music from his tongue.
Midst others of less note, came one frail Form,
272 A phantom among men; companionless
273 As the last cloud of an expiring storm
274 Whose thunder is its knell; he, as I guess,
275 Had gaz’d on Nature’s naked loveliness,
Actaeon-like, and now he fled astray
277 With feeble steps o’er the world’s wilderness,
278 And his own thoughts, along that rugged way,
279Pursu’d, like raging hounds, their father and their prey.
280 A pardlike Spirit beautiful and swift–
281 A Love in desolation mask’d–a Power
282 Girt round with weakness–it can scarce uplift
283 The weight of the superincumbent hour;
284 It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
285 A breaking billow; even whilst we speak
286 Is it not broken? On the withering flower
287 The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
288The life can burn in blood, even while the heart may break.
289 His head was bound with pansies overblown,
290 And faded violets, white, and pied, and blue;
And a light spear topp’d with a cypress cone,
292 Round whose rude shaft dark ivy-tresses grew
293 Yet dripping with the forest’s noonday dew,
294 Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
295 Shook the weak hand that grasp’d it; of that crew
296 He came the last, neglected and apart;
297A herd-abandon’d deer struck by the hunter’s dart.
298 All stood aloof, and at his partial moan
299 Smil’d through their tears; well knew that gentle band
300 Who in another’s fate now wept his own,
301 As in the accents of an unknown land
302 He sung new sorrow; sad Urania scann’d
303 The Stranger’s mien, and murmur’d: “Who art thou?”
304 He answer’d not, but with a sudden hand
305 Made bare his branded and ensanguin’d brow,
306Which was like Cain’s or Christ’s–oh! that it should be so!
What softer voice is hush’d over the dead?
308 Athwart what brow is that dark mantle thrown?
309 What form leans sadly o’er the white death-bed,
310 In mockery of monumental stone,
311 The heavy heart heaving without a moan?
312 If it be He, who, gentlest of the wise,
313 Taught, sooth’d, lov’d, honour’d the departed one,
314 Let me not vex, with inharmonious sighs,
315The silence of that heart’s accepted sacrifice.
Our Adonais has drunk poison–oh!
317 What deaf and viperous murderer could crown
318 Life’s early cup with such a draught of woe?
319 The nameless worm would now itself disown:
320 It felt, yet could escape, the magic tone
321 Whose prelude held all envy, hate and wrong,
322 But what was howling in one breast alone,
323 Silent with expectation of the song,
324Whose master’s hand is cold, whose silver lyre unstrung.
325 Live thou, whose infamy is not thy fame!
326 Live! fear no heavier chastisement from me,
327 Thou noteless blot on a remember’d name!
328 But be thyself, and know thyself to be!
329 And ever at thy season be thou free
330 To spill the venom when thy fangs o’erflow;
331 Remorse and Self-contempt shall cling to thee;
332 Hot Shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
333And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt–as now.
334 Nor let us weep that our delight is fled
335 Far from these carrion kites that scream below;
336 He wakes or sleeps with the enduring dead;
337 Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now.
338 Dust to the dust! but the pure spirit shall flow
339 Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
340 A portion of the Eternal, which must glow
341 Through time and change, unquenchably the same,
342Whilst thy cold embers choke the sordid hearth of shame.
343 Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
344 He hath awaken’d from the dream of life;
345 ‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
346 With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
347 And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
348 Invulnerable nothings. We decay
349 Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
350 Convulse us and consume us day by day,
351And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
352 He has outsoar’d the shadow of our night;
353 Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
354 And that unrest which men miscall delight,
355 Can touch him not and torture not again;
356 From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
357 He is secure, and now can never mourn
358 A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain;
359 Nor, when the spirit’s self has ceas’d to burn,
360With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.
361 He lives, he wakes–’tis Death is dead, not he;
362 Mourn not for Adonais. Thou young Dawn,
363 Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
364 The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
365 Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!
366 Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air,
367 Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
368 O’er the abandon’d Earth, now leave it bare
369Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!
370 He is made one with Nature: there is heard
371 His voice in all her music, from the moan
372 Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
373 He is a presence to be felt and known
374 In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
375 Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
376 Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
377 Which wields the world with never-wearied love,
378Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
379 He is a portion of the loveliness
380 Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
381 His part, while the one Spirit’s plastic stress
382 Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
383 All new successions to the forms they wear;
384 Torturing th’ unwilling dross that checks its flight
385 To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
386 And bursting in its beauty and its might
387From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven’s light.
388 The splendours of the firmament of time
389 May be eclips’d, but are extinguish’d not;
390 Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
391 And death is a low mist which cannot blot
392 The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought
393 Lifts a young heart above its mortal lair,
394 And love and life contend in it for what
395 Shall be its earthly doom, the dead live there
396And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air.
The inheritors of unfulfill’d renown
398 Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
399 Far in the Unapparent. Chatterton
400 Rose pale, his solemn agony had not
401 Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought
402 And as he fell and as he liv’d and lov’d
403 Sublimely mild, a Spirit without spot,
404 Arose; and Lucan, by his death approv’d:
405Oblivion as they rose shrank like a thing reprov’d.
406 And many more, whose names on Earth are dark,
407 But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
408 So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
409 Rose, rob’d in dazzling immortality.
410 “Thou art become as one of us,” they cry,
411 “It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long
412 Swung blind in unascended majesty,
413 Silent alone amid a Heaven of Song.
414Assume thy winged throne, thou Vesper of our throng!”
415 Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,
416 Fond wretch! and know thyself and him aright.
417 Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
418 As from a centre, dart thy spirit’s light
419 Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
420 Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
421 Even to a point within our day and night;
422 And keep thy heart light lest it make thee sink
423When hope has kindled hope, and lur’d thee to the brink.
424 Or go to Rome, which is the sepulchre,
425 Oh, not of him, but of our joy: ’tis nought
426 That ages, empires and religions there
427 Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
428 For such as he can lend–they borrow not
429 Glory from those who made the world their prey;
430 And he is gather’d to the kings of thought
431 Who wag’d contention with their time’s decay,
432And of the past are all that cannot pass away.
433 Go thou to Rome–at once the Paradise,
434 The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
435 And where its wrecks like shatter’d mountains rise,
436 And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
437 The bones of Desolation’s nakedness
438 Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
440 Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
441A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;
442 And gray walls moulder round, on which dull Time
443 Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,
445 Pavilioning the dust of him who plann’d
446 This refuge for his memory, doth stand
447 Like flame transform’d to marble; and beneath,
448 A field is spread, on which a newer band
449 Have pitch’d in Heaven’s smile their camp of death,
450Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguish’d breath.
451 Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
452 To have outgrown the sorrow which consign’d
453 Its charge to each; and if the seal is set,
454 Here, on one fountain of a mourning mind,
455 Break it not thou! too surely shalt thou find
456 Thine own well full, if thou returnest home,
457 Of tears and gall. From the world’s bitter wind
458 Seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb.
459What Adonais is, why fear we to become?
460 The One remains, the many change and pass;
461 Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
462 Life, like a dome of many-colour’d glass,
463 Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
464 Until Death tramples it to fragments.–Die,
465 If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
466 Follow where all is fled!–Rome’s azure sky,
467 Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
468The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.
469 Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?
470 Thy hopes are gone before: from all things here
471 They have departed; thou shouldst now depart!
472 A light is pass’d from the revolving year,
473 And man, and woman; and what still is dear
474 Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.
475 The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:
476 ‘Tis Adonais calls! oh, hasten thither,
477No more let Life divide what Death can join together.
478 That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
479 That Beauty in which all things work and move,
480 That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse
481 Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
482 Which through the web of being blindly wove
483 By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
484 Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
485 The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,
486Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
487 The breath whose might I have invok’d in song
488 Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
489 Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
490 Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
491 The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
492 I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
493 Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
494 The soul of Adonais, like a star,
495Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.