Adonais: Poem No. 29 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 29
Line 253-261
The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn;
He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered into death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.
So is it in the world of living men:
A godlike mind soars forth, in its delight
Making earth bare and veiling heaven; and, when
It sinks, the swarms that dimmed or shared its light
Leave to its kindred lamps the spirit's awful night.


      In the heat and light of the day insects are born, they die when the sun sets. Then the stars come out in the darkness of the night. So also when a great poet lives, swarms of petty critics rise up around him; when he dies, the critics are forgotten and smaller poets rise into prominence.


      L. 253. Reptiles—vicious creatures like spiders, toads, etc. Spawn—are generated. The eggs are hatched by the heat of the sun. L. 254. Ephemeral insect—insect fated to live a short while. L. 255. Death....dawn—i.e., eternal, total death. Shelley compares critics to such reptiles and insects; of course, reptiles do not live for a day only; by a stretch of imagination. Shelley makes their brief life as short as a day. So also critics are born when a great original genius is at work; they die and are forgotten with the passing away of the genius.

      L. 256. Immortal stars—i.e., at night the stars again shine out. So also after the death of a genius, all other poets past and present have their due recognition. They were rather obscured in the blazing light of a genius like Keats; but they do receive their dues all the same. L. 257. So—Shelley himself explains the parallel stated above. L. 258. Godlike mind—highly inspired genius, like Keats. Soars forth—rises high towards heaven i.e., sings divinely-inspired, lofty songs. LI. 258-59. In its delight...veiling heaven—when the genius sings, all the earth is bare and the heaven is overshadowed by his glory; i.e., other living poets on the earth are unobserved, and the dead immortal poets whose souls are in heaven are also forgotten.

      LI. 259—260. And when it sinks—when the genius dies. L. 260. The swarms—hosts of critics. That dimmed...light—who either tried to belittle his genius by malicious criticism or won glory for themselves by their appreciation of his poetry L. 261. Its kindred lamps—other poets who are living at that time. The spirit's....night— some prominence due to the awful darkness which overtakes the world of poetry because of the setting of the genius from the poetic horizon. Leave to its...night—i.e., the critics (like insects thriving in sunlight and dying at sunset) give up their activities and thus allow the surviving poets to shine out (like stars in the night) in the gloom created by the disappearance of the genius (which was like the sun).

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