Adonais: Poem No. 52 - Summary & Analysis

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Stanza 52
Line 460-468
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light for ever shines, Earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity
Until Death tramples it to fragments.—Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!
Follow where all is fled!—Rome's azure sky;
Flowers, ruins, statues, music, words, are weak
The glory they transfuse with fitting truth to speak.


      The Universal Spirit remains unchanged, while the forms of earthly things, being unreal, are liable to change and disappear. Individual life is a temporary, imperfect reflection of the Eternity and it merges into Eternity through death. Hence to die is to be one with Eternity No earthly object, however beautiful, can approach the ideal beauty of the One of which they are but poor, finite copies.


      L. 460. The One—the Universal Spirit; the Eternal. Remains—remains unchanged. The many—i.e., phenomena of the world—both animate and inanimate; the things which are created; the things which have birth and death. Change and pass—assume different forms in course of growth and evolution and at last disappear. L. 461. Heaven's light—i.e., the One, conceived as a luminous, radiating Soul; the ultimate Reality. Earth's shadoius—the phenomena of the world which are by their nature unreal. Fly—pass away.

      LI. 462-464. Life, like a fragments, Towards the close of his elegy Adonais, Shelley rises to a lofty philosophic conception about life. He concludes in a mood of exalted triumph, replacing the gloom and sorrow of his mind. Adonais is not really dead, through death he has been made one with Eternity and is now a part of the beauty of the Spirit that ranges through the universe and sustains, upholds and animates the universe. The improvement may be viewed from another point of view. Adonais has joined the band of immortals and is now above the limitations of finite life with its burden of the woes of the world. Now he has passed through death to the inconceivable magnitude of the Eternal. The Universal Spirit, the Eternal One, cannot change like the multiplicity of the phenomena of individual lives. Individual existences are but finite, temporal and spatial modifications of the Eternal, each having its distinguishing characteristics, while the Eternal One is the colorless, formless, permanent existence unlimited by time and space. When individual lives vanish, they merge into this Infinity The Eternity, therefore, is like a white radiance, and life may be compared to a refracting medium; life is like a huge glass globe which by virtue of its prismatic quality breaks the white light into different colored lights as it passes through it. Death which ends life may be compared to one who breaks this glass globe into bits. Then the individual, colored lights again merge into the white light, and the white light is all that remains.

      L. 462. individual life (of man, tree, flower—all created objects).—huge glass-bubble or a big sphere of glass which becomes many-coloured when white light passes through it Shelley has the case of a prism in his mind. L. 463. Stains—colors, breaks up into different colors. White radiance—colorless light. L. 464. Tramples —breaks (by treading). Fragment—bits. L. 464-465. Die...dost seek—if you want to have the company of Adonais you can do so only by passing through death; for then alone can you be part of the Eternal which Adonais now is. L. 466. Follow...fled—merge into the Infinity which re-absorbs all life into itself. Azure sky-blue, beautiful sky L. 467. Flowers...statues—beautiful objects of nature and art which we see and delight in, particularly in Rome. Music—beauty of harmony which charms the heart. Words—rhythmic language of poetry; or sweet, bewitching words of the beloved.

      LI. 467-468. Are speak—that is: are weak to speak with fitting truth the glory (which) they transfuse. Transfuse—cause to pass through them. All these beautiful things of the world are not able to convey to us an adequate idea of the perfect glory only a part of which they can transfer to themselves in order to be beautiful. Here, Shelley distinctly imports Platonic philosophy so often suggested in the previous stanzas. According to Plato, everything on earth is but an imperfect copy of the perfect prototypes that exist in the ideal world. Objects such as flowers, artistic productions, literature, music, beautiful though they are, are merely shadows of the archetype of Beauty which is another name of the Universal Spirit. (In his essay On Love and poetically in his Epipsiychidion, Shelley similarly makes earthly love an approximation to the ideal Love, and derives his idea from Plato's Symposium).

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