Adonais: Poem No. 28 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 28
Line 244-252
'The herded wolves bold only to pursue.
The obscene ravens clamorous o'er the dead,
The vultures to the conqueror's banner true,
Who feed where Desolation first has fed,
And whose wings rain contagion,—how they fled,
When, like Apollo from his golden bow,
The Pythian of the age one arrow sped,
And smiled!—The spoilers tempt no second blow;
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them lying low.


      The savage reviewers are like a pack of wolves, like ravens and vultures seeking for prey; and spread malice only. When Byron scourged them in a vigorous attack, they were tamed and ever afterward flattered him as a great poet.


      L. 244. Herded wolves—wolves who wander about in solid packs. The secret co-operation of editors and writers in the reviews is hinted at. Pursue—i.e., criticize the weak and the timid. L. 245. Obscene—foul, loathsome. Clamorous...dead—noisily cawing over dead bodies. L. 246. Vultures to....true— vultures which always fly after the flags of the victorious general in a field of battle; for they want to feed on dead bodies. L. 247. Who feed...fed—vultures feed on the dead bodies lying on the field after the destruction of a battle has first made havoc on men.

      L. 248. Whose win's....contagion—the foul wings of vultures scatter contagious diseases wherever they fly; So also the vicious critics only spread malice and slander through their articles. They hunger for seeing the hearts of poets wounded and bleeding as ravens and vultures hunger for dead bodies. The resemblance is only generally true. We must not try to fit in all the details.

      LI. 248-252. How they fled...smiled. Shelley represents Urania as lamenting over the dead body of Adonais (Keats). She regrets that Adonais in his tender age, with no experience of the wicked ways of malicious critics, should have ventured to publish his early poem (Endymion) and invited upon himself savagery fit to kill him. The cowardly critics attack the weak and timid writers and feed their malice on the innocence of the gentle. But they are afraid of the strong and scornful. When the critic of the Edinburgh Review wrote maliciously of the early poems of Byron, he gave a crushing reply to them in his English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, a satiric poem full of ironic wit and sledgehammer energy That single poem was sufficient to silence the reviewers for ever. Just as Apollo killed, with a single arrow from his golden bow, the monstrous reptile Python and smiled in the self-confidence of easy triumph as the monster coiled in its death-pangs, so Byron aimed a single satiric poem with the easy mastery of a contemptuous smile.

      L. 250. Pythian—Apollo was called Pythian Apollo because in the Greek myths he is said to have killed with an arrow the monstrous serpent Python which rose out of the mud after the great deluge of Deucalion. The Pythian...age—the reference is to Byron, who silenced the Scotch reviewers for ever with a single satiric poem. Critics of the Edinburgh Review Severely criticized Byron's first volume of poems, Hours in Idleness, written when he was only nineteen. Of course, it was a bundle of crude, meritless lines. Yet Byron's proud, sensitive nature was so stung that he wrote a satiric poem English Bards and Scotch Reviewers in heroic couplets and so severely rudely castigated Scotch critics that they were silenced. The staff of the Edinburgh warmly praised his next great volume of Childe Harold and acknowledged Byron as a leading poet of the time. Of course, Childe Harold deserved the praise bestowed on it. One arrow sped—shot a single arrow; i.e., Byron wrote a single satiric poem full of devastating wit.

      L. 251. And smiled—the smile shows the ease and self-confidence of the 'slayer' of the critics; the status of Pythian Apollo is represented in art as gently smiling at the Python struggling in its death-throes. Spoilers....blow—Scotch critics ventured no second attack on Byron. L. 252. Fawn on—crouch in submission like dogs. Spurn—kick. The characteristic Byronic attitude is artistically but truly depicted in this line.

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