Adonais: Poem No. 27 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 27
Line 235-243
'O gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,
Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?
Defenceless as thou wert, oh where was then
Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear?—
Or, hadst thou waited the full cycle when
Thy spirit should have filled its crescent sphere,
The monsters of life's waste had fled from thee like deer.


      Urania lamented that Adonais, young and inexperienced in the ways of the world as he was, should have dared to face the dragon-like critics without the arms of wisdom or of scorn. Had he only waited for the full growth of his powers, he would have overcome them easily.


      L. 235. Beautiful...wert—you being so tender and beautiful in your youth. L. 236. Why—why did you rashly leave the accepted traditions of poetry to write something fresh and original? Both the Quarterly and Blackwood's attacked him chiefly because they believed Keats to belong to a school of poets—the 'Cockney school'—set up, as they said, by Leigh Hunt.

      L. 237. Too soon—i.e., without first acquiring sufficient strength for fighting your assailants. Weak hands...mighty heart—unexercised polemical power but with noble zeal for poetry. Note how Shelley uses expressions which apply both to a physical hunt and to an intellectual fight.

      L. 238. Dare—challenge. Unpastured—hungry; roaming at large for prey. Dragon—a fabulous animal like a crocodile or snake with wings, claws and fire-breathing nostrils; it figured much in medieval romances of chivalry as an enemy of pious knights, virtuous ladies, etc. To such an animal is likened the critic who wrote in the Quarterly. In his den—in his lair; i.e., safe anonymous character. Why did Keats dare to excite the critical rancor of the vicious, murderous critic who sat safely in his anonymous character. L. 239. Defenceless...wert—you were then unable to defend yourself—being as yet too inexperienced.

      L. 240. Wisdom the mirrored shield—wisdom (i.e., experience of the world and its men), which is a protection to the fighter with the wicked of the world' may be compared to a bright mirror-like shield, because 'wisdom' can catch a true glimpse of the motives and malice of the wicked. Shelley has in mind the bright, mirror-like shield given to Perseus, a Greek hero, by Pallas, goddess of wisdom; in the shield was reflected the terrible head of the Gorgon Medusa whose very sight would change one to stone. Guided by the reflection, Perseus killed Medusa. The reference may also be to the magic shield of Orlando in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which dazzled the eyes of his enemies and made them powerless. Scorn the spear—contempt or defiance of malicious critics is like a spear in the hand of a poetic fighter. A scornful, satiric answer to them as given by Byron and also by Shelley is able to silence them. Keats was as yet too gentle and too tender to do so. The reference is to the magic spear of Orlando which by its touch defeated every enemy.

      L. 241. Hadst thou....cycle—had you waited till your full powers were matured. L. 242. When thy spirit....sphere—when your soul, which was as yet like the crescent (thin, scythe-like) moon, would have attained full powers like the moon growing full on the full-moon night. L. 243. The monsters....waste—critics who made a waste of your precious life; here Shelley refers to both the writers in the Quarterly and Backwood's.

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