Adonais: Poem No. 17 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 17
Line 145-153
Thy spirit's sister, the lorn nightingale.
Mourns not her mate with such melodious pain;
Not so the eagle, who like thee could scale
Heaven, and could nourish in the sun's domain
Her mighty youth with morning, doth complain.
Soaring and screaming round her empty nest,
As Albion wails for thee: the curse of Cain
Light on his head who pierced thy innocent breast,
And scared the angel soul that was its earthly guest!


      England wailed for Adonais more woefully than the nightingale mourning her dead mate and the eagle crying piteously over her empty nest. May the unknown critic who caused the death of Adonais suffer the curse inflicted on Cain!)


      L. 145. Thy Spirit's sister—the nightingale is here called the sister to the soul of Adonais (Keats), because his soul was as musical and as melancholy as the nightingale's. Shelley has in mind Keats's beautiful Ode to a Nightingale. Lorn—left desolate by the death of her mate. L. 146. Mourn not...pain—does not lament for her mate with such sweet but mournful music (as Albion, i.e., England, wails for Adonais). L. 147. Not so the eagle—i.e., the female eagle does not mourn so bitterly (as Albion wails for thee,); connect 'Not so the eagle' with its verb 'doth complain' in L. 149. L. 148. Who could...heaven—who (the eagle) could mount up to the sky as your poetic spirit could soar up to heaven in imagination. LI. 148—149. And could...with morning—and could draw fresh vigor from the morning rays of the sun in the sky region and thus keep up her youthful strength. It is a poetic belief that the eagle gathers strength from the sun's rays every morning. Shelley has in mind Milton's Areopagitica. "An eagle nursing her mighty youth and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full mid-day beams."

      L. 149. Doth complain—laments—this verb goes with 'Not so the eagle' L. 150 Soaring and...nest—i.e., when the mother-bird (eagle) finds on her return to her nest that her young ones have been stolen by somebody and her nest is empty.

      LI. 151-153. The curse of Cain...guest. Shelley; while describing the woeful lamentation of Nature and the spring season for the death of Adonais (Keats), says that the spirit of England mourns bitterly for the loss of her great poet. Then he turns to the anonymous critic (now known to be Gifford) in the Quarterly Review who, he believed, had given the sensitive heart of the poet such a wound as brought on the consumption which ended his life. He pronounces on the head of that unknown critic the terrible curse of Cain, the first murderer, condemning him to a hapless, homeless life of misery. The critic wounded the heart of the poet so maliciously as to frighten away his gentle, inoffensive soul from his body in which the soul had taken its temporary abode. Shelley is here wrong in his conception of the cause of the death of Keats as well as in estimating the virility of his soul: but the offense of the notorious critic is not to be gainsaid.'

      L. 151. As Albion...thee—as England laments for you (Adonais). Shelley does not mean 'the people of England' by Albion, but only the spirit of Keats's mother country The English people little understood what a loss they sustained. Curse of Cain—the curse pronounced upon Cain by god as in Genesis 4, 11-12. Cain was the son of Adam and Eve. He murdered his brother Abel. On this first murderer, God pronounced the curse that the earth would not yield her produce to him and he would have to be a wanderer and fugitive on the earth.

      L. 152. Light...head—come down upon the head of the critic. Who...heart—who by his malicious anonymous article so shocked Adonais (Keats) as to kill him. The reference is to the article in the Quarterly Review, which was believed, wrongly enough, to have wounded the sensitive heart of Keats. L. 153. Scared—frightened away. Angel soul— sweet, peace-loving soul. But Lang, Colvin and others point out that Keats was not at all an effeminate, timorous soul. He was a bold, fighting spirit even in his school days; and he did not die from the effect of the articles criticizing his poetry. That was...guest—which (soul) was the dweller of the breast (i.e., the body of Adonais) in its earthly existence.

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