Adonais: Poem No. 36 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 36
Line 316-324
Our Adonais has drunk poison—oh!,
What deaf and viperous murderer could crown
Life's early cup with such a draught of woe?
The nameless worm would now itself disown,
It felt, yet could escape, the magic tone
Whose prelude held all envy, hate and wrong,
But what was howling in one breast alone,
Silent with expectation of the song
Whose master’s hand is cold, whose silver lyre unstrung.


      Adonais died from the effect of the poison of adverse criticism. The unknown critics was a murderous viper; it was he alone of all readers of his poetry who could escape the magic influence of the early poetry of Adonais which filled all other with an expectation of better things from him.


      L. 316. Has drunk poison—has died from the effect of poison: the 'poison’ is the heartless, destructive criticism of Keats's Endymion in the Quarterly. L.317. Deaf—deaf to the charms of poetry viperous—poisonous. The malicious critic is compared to a viper (adder) which is said to be deaf. Cf. Psalm 58.4.

      LI. 317-318. Could crown...woe—could be so cruel as to fill the cup of Keats's early life with such a poisonous drink; i.e., could be so malicious as to break his heart and, kill him so early in life.

      L. 319. Nameless worm—anonymous critic (now believed to have been Gifford). Worm—serpent. Cf. "The pretty worm of Nilus that kills". —Antony and Cleopatra. Would—would now deny having written the article to avoid the censure.

      L. 320. It felt...tone—the vile worm could certainly feel the appeal of the charming poetry of Keats, but it is strange that he could shake off its influence and be so malicious. Magic tone—charming poetry.

      L. 321. Prelude—beginning, opening. Held—silenced. Whose prelude...wrong—Keats's first poetry in Endymion was a start given to his great writing and it silenced all opposition of all other critics and readers. (It is Shelley's conscious piety which makes him say so only to honor the dead; as a matter of fact, Endymion was not much appreciated by Shelley himself.)

      L. 322. But what...alone—i.e., the poetry in Endymion, a remarkable achievement by Keats, silenced all envy, hate, etc.', excepting that which was rankling in the vicious heart of the malicious critic of the Quarterly.

      L. 323. Silent—connect with 'held' in —Held silent all envy; hate, and wrong with the expectation of the song, (i.e., with a hope that much better poetry was soon to come from the same poet, Endymion being only a first foretaste of it).

      L. 324. Whose master's hand—the hand of the writer of which song; i.e, the hand of Keats. Cold—inert in death. Whose silver-lyre unstrung— the silver-chorded lyre which produced the song has its strings loosened; i.e. the sweet poetry is ended.

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