Adonais: Poem No. 31 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 31
Line 271-279
Midst others of less note came one frail form,
A phantom among men, companionless
As the last cloud of an expiring storm,
Whose thunder is its knell. He, as I guess,
Has gazed on Nature's naked loveliness
Actaeon-like; and now he fled astray
With feeble steps o'er the world's wilderness,
And his own thoughts along that rugged way
Pursued like raging hounds their father and their prey.


      Among other poets less famous than these two came a rather slender figure (Shelley) who lived a solitary, friendless life. He had gazed on the dazzling truths of Nature too closely and was in consequence disturbed by thoughts too great to bear.


      L. 271. Midst...note—among other poets (shepherds) less famous than Byron and Moore. Shelley humbly ranks himself below the first class. He really believed Byron to be a greater poet than himself. One frail form—a. shepherd, i.e., poet with a delicate physique. Shelley had a slender body; rather tall and narrow chested. L. 272. phantom—ghost. A phantom among men—i.e., so delicate that he appeared to be a mere shadow of a human figure. Companionless—friendless; Shelley's personal friends were but few; he was disliked and avoided by his countrymen. His own melancholy temperament made him shun human society and imagine himself abandoned and miserable. He speaks of himself:

"Alas! I have nor hope nor health
Nor peace within nor calm around
.....Nor fame, nor power, nor love, nor leisure"—Near Naples.

      LI. 273-274. As the last...thunder—Shelley is as companionless as the single patch of cloud after a storm which has blown out and is about to cease; the cloud is soon to vanish with a thunder, the thundering seeming to be its death-knell. Shelley very often expressly wrote that he was not to live long Cf:

"Death will come when thou art dead
Too soon, to soon"—To Night.

      LI. 274-276. He as I guess....Actaeon like. Shelley describes the the mountain shepherds who come to mourn their dead comrade, Adonais. Through this pastoral imagery; he refers to the contemporary poets who lamented the death of Keats. He himself was one of the mourners. After describing his frail, delicate physical form, he is giving us a glimpse into his mental constitution. His soul had caught a glimpse of the mysterious spirit of nature—the great forces and principles which govern the external universe. The mysterious spirit of nature lay bare before his vision with all its awful loveliness, just as the naked beauty of Diana lay bare before the gaze of Actaeon, the Greek hunter; and awful beauty overpowered his soul just as the sight of the disrobed goddess overpowered Actaeon.

      As I guess—I think. L. 275. Gazed on...loveliness—seen deeply into the purest beauty of nature, beyond its external appearance. By 'Nature's naked loveliness', Shelley means the mysterious secrets of nature the great truths unveiled. He refers to what he elsewhere calls 'The Spirit of Nature,' 'Life of life', 'Child of Night'. He means those great principles and truths which reign through the universe; a perception of them is overwhelming and disquieting to the human soul, filling it with thoughts too great for the weak human mind to control and bear.

      L. 276. Actaeon-like—like Actaeon. Actaeon was a young Greek hunter; once while hunting in the woods, he happened to appear by a hidden brook where Diana (moon-goddess and goddess of hunting) was bathing. He looked at her naked beauty and was changed by the angry goddess into a stag; soon after, his own hounds came up and tore him to pieces. The Greek story is beautifully allegorical of the distractions of the human soul when it is face to face with the mystery of the forces that govern the universe and appreciates how awfully beautiful they are. L. 276. Now he fled astray—after having a glimpse into the naked loveliness of nature (its great truths), Shelley ran away in mad confusion from the vision, just as Actaeon ran away after being changed into a stag. L. 277. With feeble steps— with tottering, nerveless legs. O'er...wilderness—over the countries of the world (Switzerland, Italy etc.) which was to him desolate, because he cared no more for men and society.

      LI. 278-279. And his own thoughts...their prey— and just as Actaeon, was pursued and torn by his own hounds, so also Shelley’s own thoughts, as he lived his life in this rude, ignorant world, pursued him and tore him to pieces. The lovely mystery of nature filled him with thoughts so agitating, so bewildering that he had no more any peace and rest in his mind, Raging—angry. Their father...prey—Shelley is both the father' of his thoughts and their victim; because the thoughts originated in his mind and then racked his mind.

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