Adonais: Poem No. 39 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 39
Line 343-351
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life.
'Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance strike with our spirit's knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day
And cold hope swarm like worms within our living clay


      Let there be no sense of grief: for Adonais is not dead—he has only passed into immortality from mortality. It is rather the living that are really dead, for they are madly fighting with unrealities; and fear, grief, and despair torture them.


            LI. 343-344. Peace peace!.....dream of life. Shelley gathers himself from lamentation over Adonais, and by a sudden transition passes from mourning to a mood of philosophic comfort to soothe his own mind. Let all weeping, lamentations and repining cease, he cries in this altered mood. He realizes the truth that Adonais (Keats) by passing away from this life is not dead, but rather awakes into a more real, more perfect life; for what we call life on earth is in fact a state of sleep in which there is a forgetfulness of the soul’s immensity. These lines are in imitation of Milton's Lycidas, where Milton, too, rises from deep sorrow to a sudden rhapsody of hope and comfort. Cf:

"Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
For Lycidas your sorrow is not dead."

      L. 343. Peace, peace—give up your mourning. L. 344. He— Adonais is not dead but has attained eternal life, for the life on earth is like a sleep from which one wakes at death to live a life eternal. Shelley describes earthly life as:

"The painted veil which we who live
Call life."

      L. 345. We—i.e., the living men. Lost in...visions—forgetting ourselves in bewildering unrealities. LI. 346. Keep with...strife—continue (as long as we live) a useless, meaningless struggle with unrealities, such as fears and ambitions, rank and position, getting and spending, etc. LI. 347. In mad trance—in a state of wild delirious condition. Strike....spirit's knife—fight with all the keenness of our blind soul.

      L. 348. Invulnerable nothings—imaginary things which do not exist at all and so cannot be won. Both the material objects which we hanker after and the intellectual or moral pursuits which we engage in are mere illusions. We struggle against shadows; we try to attain shadows. Shelley here is a Platonist or rather Neo-Platonist, to whom the phenomena are but poor, imperfect shadows of the noumenon or the reality which is in the Ideal world. We—we who are living, and not the dead who are gone. Decay—get corrupted.

      L. 349: Like....charnel—like dead bodies in a grave where dead bodies are piled. L. 350. Convulse—agitate, madden. Consume—waste (our body and spirit): hence we are dying every day of our life. Death only re-lieves us of this agony of dying. L. 351. Cold hopes—hopes which can never come to fruition. Living clay—material body which is living but is really of earth, earthly. The pure soul, free from the body and earthly limitations, rises beyond these mortal elements.

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