Adonais: Poem No. 44 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 44
Line 388-396
The splendours of the firmament of time
May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not;
Like stars to their appointed height they climb,
And death is a low mist which cannot blot
The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought
Lifts a young heart above its mortal lair,
And love and life contend in it, for what
Shall be its earthly doom, the dead live there
And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air.


      The immortal stars of poetry may be obscured for a time by adverse criticism, but they attain their position of permanence all the same; death may for a time dim their glory but it cannot suppress it forever. When a young poet's heart is lifted up with feelings of love, that heart is influenced by the song of the poets who have gone before.


      LI. 388. The splendours—glorious celestial bodies like the sun, the moon and the stars. The splendours....time—the immortal poets (Cf. Immortal stars' L. 256.) who illumine all subsequent ages, as the sun, the moon, etc. illumine the sky through the ages.

      L. 389. May be...not—glorious poets may lose their fame for a time but are never completely forgotten, as the sun and the moon may suffer eclipse for a time but cannot be put out forever. Malicious criticism may obscure the glory of great poets only for a time. L. 390. Like stars....climb—great poets attain their deserved glory as stars attain their height according to their position in the sky.

      LI. 391-392. And death is...may veil—just as mist on the horizon may for a time hide a rising star but cannot hide it when it rises higher up, so also death can for a time obscure the glory of a great poet but cannot remove his memory from the world for ever. Such a poet is sure to attain his deserved fame. Blot—extinguish for ever. Veil— make dim. L. 392. Lofty thought—noble idea: high poetic inspiration.

      L. 293. Lifts...heart—i.e., raises the soul of a young poet (such as Adonais). Above...lair—beyond its material body; i.e, above the gross, sensuous, physical nature which is liable to death. Lair—habitation; the body; standing here for the grosser part of human nature. That is, when high and noble, thoughts make a young poet forget the lower side of his nature and spiritualize his soul.

      L. 394. And it—and when in the heart love struggles with life; i.e., when the higher instinct of love and the lower instinct of preserving the earthly life are at war in his heart to decide which shall win.

      LI. 394-395. For what...doom—i.e., love (noble feeling of sympathy with all that is beautiful) and life (selfish, degrading "principle of self") struggling in the heart to decide what shall be the ultimate fate of the man—whether by sticking to love, he will have immortality or by sticking to life (self) "with its low-though ted care", though in vain, he will be mortal indeed. The dead—the dead poets, i.e., the influence of dead poets. Live there—reign in the heart of the young poet. The dead...there—the heart of the young poet, loftily inspired, is influenced by the spirits of the illustrious dead of the past.

      L. 396. And move...stormy air—the dead (i.e., the immortal spirits of the illustrious dead) move in the heart of the young poet helping him to a realization of better side of his nature and suppressing the grosser side like sweeping flashes of light dispelling the darkness of the stormy atmosphere. Thus, Shelley explains that the spirits of great poets—"the splendors of the firmament of time"—are never extinguished: they live in the memory of men and in the hearts of living poets.

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