Adonais: Poem No. 50 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 50
Line 442-450
And gray walls molder round, on which dull Time
Feeds, like slow fire upon a hoary brand;
And one keen pyramid with wedge sublime,
Pavilioning the dust of him who planned
This refuge for his memory, doth stand
Like flame transformed to marble; and beneath,
A field is spread, on which a newer band
Have pitched in Heaven's smile their camp of death,
Welcoming him we lose with scarce extinguished breath.

Summary

      The walls of the churchyard are decaying. Within it, by the pyramid-like stone monument over the grave of Cestius, there is a space where persons recently dead are buried. Adonais lies in this spot.

Explanation

      L. 442. Moulder—decay. Round—round the Protestant cemetery LI. 442-443. On which...brand—the slow-working process of time gradually eats into the walls, as a dull fire slowly consumes from within a brand covered with white ashes.

      L. 444. Keen pyramid—pyramid with a pointed end; a pyramid is a monument which rises from a circular or square base and gradually tapers to a point. With wedge sublime—i.e., rising high with its thin pointed end as if piercing the air L. 445. Pavilioning—protecting, shading. The dust—dead body. Of him who...memory—of the man who in his life-time planned this pyramid-like monument (a tall obelisk) as a means of keeping alive his memory.

      L. 446. Refuge—shelter. The reference is to Cestius, of whom nothing is known but what is written on the tomb. He was a Roman Tribune of the plebs. Shelley wrote to Peacock: "The English burying-place is a green slope near the walls, under the pyramidal tomb of Cestius, and is, I think, the most solemn and beautiful cemetery I ever beheld."

      L. 447. Like flame...marble—the pointed obelisk looks as if it were flames of fire changed into marble—so shapely; so thin pointed it is. Beneath—underneath this pyramid; i.e., near it. L. 448. A field is spread—there is a part of the graveyard, "a slope of green access."

      LI. 448-449. On which...death—on which are tombs over the graves of recently dead persons; it seems as if these dead have raised these tents to sleep under the blue of the rich Italian sky.

      L. 450. Welcoming him—and this field has welcomed Adonais: in it is the grave of Adonais. We lose...breath—whom we have lost, he being so recently dead that his breath is hardly gone from him.

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