Adonais: Poem No. 34 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 34
Line 298-306
All stood aloof, and at his partial moan
Smiled through their tears; well knew that gentle band
Who in another's fate now wept his own
As in the accents of an unknown land
He sang new sorrow, sad Urania scanned
The Stranger's mien, and murmured: 'Who art thou?'
He answered not, but with a sudden hand
Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow,
Which was like Cain's or Christ's—oh! that it should be so!


      So intense was Shelley's sympathetic grief that other poets stood apart. They knew he was weeping his own fate in weeping for the fate of Adonais. Urania asked him who he was. Instead of replying' he only laid his brow bare and showed the wound thereon.


      L. 298. All stood aloof—the other poets stood part, giving place to him. Partial—sympathetic. Moan—lament; song of lament for Adonais. L. 299. Smiled tears—other poets smiled in spite of their grief, because they were pleased to see that here was one who could give the sweetest, saddest expression to the feelings of sorrow, which they could not. Shelley means to say that his sorrow for Keats was the keenest of all, for he, of all the poets, had appreciated his poetry most. Gentle band—i.e., poetic mourners.

      L. 300. Who is another's...own—i.e” that Shelley mourned so deeply and sincerely because he himself was suffering the same scorn and neglect as Keats and felt that his own death was near. Shelley loved to anticipate his death and he died not long after—July; 1822.

      L. 301. In the accents of an unknown land— Shelley here speaks of his lament expressed in the language or style of an unknown land'. Various explanations have been given: (1) because he was singing his song in English in the country of Italy; (2) because he was singing his song in human language the sorrow which Urania herself felt—it being not the divine language of Urania; (3) because he sang with visionary idealism, which few people understood; (4) because the style and language of his poem were taken direct from the 'unknown', i.e., forgotten or neglected language of the old Greeks, it being modeled on Bion and Moschus. The expression 'new sorrow' in L. 302. taken from Moschus seems to strengthen the last interpretation; the expression 'stranger' in L. 303. seems to support the first, which is, perhaps, the best of them.

      L. 302. New sorrow— most recent of his losses or woes. Cf. Moschus: "Now again thou lamentest for another son, dost suffer a new sorrow". Scanned—looked closely into. L. 303. Stranger's mien—face of Shelley who was a stranger to Italy (But all the mourners and the mourned, Adonais were 'strangers' in this sense). It is better to take the word to mean, 'a poet unknown to Urania'—a proof of Shelley's humble estimate of himself. L. 304. With...hand—by a sudden sweep of his hand. L. 305. Made bare—exposed; removed the flowers which hid. Branded—marked with a (dry) wound. Ensanguined—bloody. Shelley with a sudden sweep of his hand removed the flowers on his brow and showed how deeply branded (marked) and blood-covered it was.

      LI. 304-306. He answered not....should be so. Shelley introduces himself as one of the poetic mourners who come to lament the death of Adonais. After giving a brief self-portraiture, he concludes with a startling estimate of his own character and the light in which it has been taken by the society. Struck by the intense sorrow of his poetic heart for Adonais, Urania asks him who he is? Instead of telling her who he is, Shelley by a sweep of his hand exposes his brow which sufficiently tells her of his inner self and his suffering soul. His forehead is branded with a deep mark like that of Cain, the first murderer; it also bleeds like the forehead of Christ when he suffered the agony of a thorny crown just before crucifixion. Cain, the first great sinner, the outcast of society was condemned as enemy to man. Shelley too was disapproved of by society But the essential difference between Cain and Shelley is not to be forgotten for that reason. In Shelley's case, whereas society condemned him as an atheist, as a poet of the Satanic school, as a profligate, as even the murderer of his wife (Harriet), he regarded himself as a lover of humanity; its friend and sympathizer, even wasting himself in his burning zeal to teach men a better order of society "far from passion, pain and guilt". He regrets that there should be such an awful misjudgment of his real character and motive.

      In four beautiful stanzas (XXXI-XXXIV), Shelley gives us a charming self-revelation. He depicts both his outer and inner self and completes the picture with a bold but very true self-estimate. Truth is writ large in every line of the picture. There is no attitudinizing like Byron, there is no self-magnification like Wordsworth; yet the revelation is not characterized by assumed humility. What he says about himself is borne out by the comments of those who knew him closely and by the manner of life he lived from day to day Treiawny speaks of his "tall, slight figure." He describes "his inflexible will, his benevolence, and friendship....In his outward life he was misled by his impulsive and vehement nature." He was a born idealist, a mystic who felt the presence of a Universal Spirit—"Nature's naked loveliness" in all aspects of life and society He was expelled from his University for his essay on the Necessity of Atheism; he was disinherited by his grandfather for his first love for a distressed girl; he was treated as an outcast and profligate. His first wife's suicide was attributed to his passion for Miss Godwin; he was set down as a poet of the Satanic school by Southey and others. Yet in intrinsic character in his humanity and sympathy in the simplicity of life and carelessness of worldly interests he was Christ-like. Even the cynical Hoggs who knew him so well had to admit: "His secrets (secret charities) were hidden through modesty; delicacy; generosity, refinement of soul, through a dislike to be praised and thanked for noble, disinterested, high-minded deeds, for incredible liberality and self-sacrifice."

      L. 306. Which was....Christ's—his forehead was marked with a deep mark of condemnation like the forehead of Cain, the first murderer; type of the sinner, or bleeding like that of Christ who gave up his life in trying to make the world better and purer. Cain, after he was cursed by God, wept that his punishment was too great for him to bear. So God "set a mark upon him (his forehead) lest any finding him should kill him". Gen. 5.15. Christ's forehead was torn with a crown of thorns which the soldiers put upon his head just before crucifying him—Mathew 27.29. Oh,—alas! that he (Shelley) be so misjudged by the world.

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