Classical Elements: in The Poem Adonais

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      Classical Form: Adonais is written as an elegy to mourn the premature death of Shelley's fellow-poet, Keats. The concept of elegy itself originated in the classical literature. Like many other English poets, Shelley has drawn inspiration for this poem from Greek models.

      Pastoral Convention: The pastoral convention that Shelley follows in his Adonais is essentially classical. A literary work becomes pastoral if it portrays, in an idealized fashion, the simple life of shepherds or simple rustic people. Simple setting and deeper underlying meaning are the two principal features of the pastoral form. Shelley's use of the pastoral convention in Adonais, may have been inspired by the earlier examples set by Milton, Spenser, and Sidney and his desire to lift his poem above the level of the immediate present, that is reality to a height where he can indulge in a free play of his thoughts and ideas, and can lend a touch of universality to his lamentations.

      Shelley has modeled Adonais on two particular Greek elegies written in the pastoral tradition of Theocritus—the Epitaphium Adonais by Bion and the Epitaphium Bionis attributed to Moschus, a close associate of Bion. The first poem narrates the lamentation of the Goddess Cypris over the death of her mortal lover Adonais, while the second is an elegy that mourns the death of the poet Bionis. Echoes of those poems occur again and again as we go through Shelley's poem. The opening lines of Adonais:

I weep for Adonais—he is dead!
O, weep for Adonais! though our tears

      are only an echo of those of Bion's:

Wail 'Oh Adonais', Fair Adonais is dead,
Dead is fair Adonais: the loves swell the lament.

      Shelley uses the pastoral convention in the first thirty-eight Stanzas of Adonais. The invocation to weep, the question put to Urania—"Where wert thou, mighty mother"—which reminds one of the characteristic elegiac device employed by Theocritus: "Where were ye then when Daphnis pined away", and the arrival of the personified abstractions represented as Adonais's 'flocks' to mourn their master's death, are all in the true pastoral tradition. The ideas of water turning into tears, Echo lamenting "amid the voiceless mountains" and Spring throwing down "her kindling buds", are almost literally borrowed from Moschus's poem. The idea that Urania has suffered "a wound more fierce than his" (Adonais) and the picture of Urania's journey to Rome are borrowed from Bion's poem. The human mourners—the Poets—are disguised as shepherds in the pastoral fashion. The pastoral convention is discarded at the end of the thirty-eighth Stanza.

      The Greek Legend: Use of the Adonais legend in Adonais is another classical element. In the Greek legend, the Goddess Cypris laments over the death of her lover, Adonais, killed by a boar. In Shelley's poem' Urania, the goddess of heavenly love, mourns the early and tragic death of her son Adonais, killed by "the shaft which flies in darkness" Adonais, in Shelley's poem, represents Keats and the killer "shaft" stands for the irresponsible criticism by the reviewer which in Shelley's opinion, had killed Keats. By twisting the Adonais legend, Shelley has replaced a common man-woman relationship by the more exalted mother-son relationship and has succeeded in heightening the quality of his poem and robbing the legend of the erotic element which would be out of place in an elegy.

      Anthropomorphism: Adonais, like all of Shelley's poems, displays the anthropomorphism of the ancient Greeks. He looks upon Nature, as the Greeks did, with awe and wonder, and shares the classical tendency to personify the objects of Nature. Like the Greeks, he can go on creating nature-myths by lending life, dynamism and such other human attributes to the forces of nature. Thus in Adonais, Spring, made "wild" with grief, throws down her "kindling buds" and begins to behave like Autumn.

      Platonism: Platonism is one major classical element found in abundance in Adonais. Shelley; a great admirer of Plato, has accepted and expressed in his poetry; many views of the Greek philosopher. Like Plato, he believes that there exists one universal spirit which governs the universe and moves through it giving it shape and form. The spirit remains eternal whereas the natural phenomena are transitory:

The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven's light for ever shines, earth's shadows fly.

      Like Plato, Shelley interprets this supreme Spirit as the spirit of Love and Beauty at once immanent and transcendent, which endeavors to purify all the grossness of the universe by transforming it to its own likeness:

.....the one Spirit's plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
All new successions to the forms they wear.

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