Imagery Used in The Poem Adonais

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      Shelley looks upon poetry as "the expression of imagination". Endowed with the mightiest wings of imagination he can take, at will, airy flights high above the visible world to explore the unknown and discover there the aptest expressions to his thoughts and ideas. That is why his poetry is anything but commonplace. The strongest point in his poetry is his employment of imagery without which his poetry would be shorn of its beauty and character.

      Thee imagery of Adonais is characterized by its variety and splendor. In Adonais, we keep coming across his images—abstract, ethereal and concrete. The wide range of images is in keeping with the genius of the poet.

      The early part of Adonais offers a vivid and tragic picture of the fate of John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, "an immortal strain":

Who was the Sire of an immortal strain,
Blind, old and lonely.

      This helps to set the tone of his poem which is meant to be an elegy. The tone is further intensified by a tragic picture of Keats, to whom the poem is dedicated:

But now thy youngest, dearest one is perished—
The nursling of thy widowhood, who grew,
Like a pale flower by some sad maiden cherished,
And fed with true-love tears, instead of dew.

      Shelley continues to employ the image of the flower and compares Keats with:

The bloom, whose petals nipped before they blew.

      Then follows a procession of abstractions personified who came to the death-chamber where the shadow of white Death spreads while invisible Corruption and eternal Hunger wait to devour the corpse. The quick Dreams, Splendour, Desires, Adorations, Persuasions, Destinies, Gloom, Incarnations of hopes and fears, twilight Phantasies, Sorrow, Sights—all who make up the dead poet's 'flock’—come one after another to pay their last homage to their shepherd and master while Echo:

Sits amid the voiceless mountains,
And feeds her grief with his remembered lay

      The liberal employment of these images of personified abstractions has lent the poem a beauty as well as a kind of vagueness—qualities which are so typical of Shelley, who was somewhat erroneously described by Arnold as an "ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain".

      Shelley now draw's a succession of images from Nature. The young Spring, made "wild" with grief, throws down "Her kindling buds, as if she Autumn were". Hyacinth and Narcissus, too, feel the pangs of agony at the loss of their beloved Keats. The grief of England over the loss of Keats, her beloved son, can reduce the sorrow of a nightingale over the death of her mate and that of an eagle mourning "her empty nest" into pale insignificance. The imagery is particularly rich in the stanzas depicting the advent of spring. When spring arrives:

The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear;
Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead season's bier;
The amorous birds now pair in every brake,
And build their mossy homes in field and brere;
And the green lizard, and the golden snake,
Like unimprisoned flames, out of their trance awake.

      The images in these stanzas are all concrete and they produce with great success the steady current of joy associated with the season.

      The vivid picture of the grief-stricken Urania and her journey to her son's death-chamber is at once tragic and heartwarming:

She rose like an autumnal Night, that springs
Out of the East, and follows wild and drear
The golden Day.....

      The description of Urania's journey "through camps and cities rough with stone" that "wounded the invisible palms of her tender feet where'er they feel" has almost brought the Goddess down to the level of an earthly creature, susceptible to earthly injuries, so that her pain and suffering can look more convincing in the earthly setting. Shelley turns venomous in his attacks on the irresponsible reviewers whom he calls "the herded Wolves", "the obscene ravens" and "the vultures". These hated creatures "fled" when Byron, the "Pythian of the age" attacked them, like Apollo, with his "golden bow" and arrow By picturing the great poets as the sun and the stars, and the critics as reptiles, Shelley puts forth his idea of the poets' supremacy over the critics:

The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn,
He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
Is gathered into death without a dawn,
And the immortal stars awake again.

      We come across mythological and biblical imagery in the Stanzas where Shelley portrays himself. He "had gazed on Nature's naked loveliness, Actaeon-like." Shelley is branded by some as an atheist and, at the same time, by some others as a reformer and preacher of idealistic doctrine. As if to confirm this dichotomy, Shelley compares himself with Cain, the murderer and social outcast, and, at the same time, with Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind.

      Shelley is an ideal pantheist who prefers to look upon the universe and Nature, not as dead, but as alive. His wrork is perhaps most impassioned and beautiful in the passages where he feels in this manner. His pantheism finds its best expression in some images employed in Adonais, such as:

He is made one with Nature: there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder to the song of night's sweet bird.

      Shelley goes on to compare poets to the "splendors of the firmament of time" which "may be eclipsed, but are extinguished not". The poets "like stars to their appointed height....climb" and "death is a low mist which cannot blot out the brightness" of the luminous poets. Keats, along with his great predecessors—Chatterton, Sidney and Lucan—will never pass into oblivion.

      Shelley employs historical images in his description of Rome where "ages, empires and religions" lie "buried in the ravage they have wrought". The historical images have, to some extent, bridged the gulf between the past and the present and have lent a touch of universality to the thoughts and ideas expressed in the poem.

      Towards the end of the poem, we come across one of the most beautiful images in English literature:

Life, like a dome of many-colored glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity;
Until Death tramples it to fragments.

      Here Shelley is conveying the idea that life like a dome of many-colored glass is unreal and that only death frees man of this unreal life and opens for him the door to eternity. The picture, so precise and so meaningful, is, indeed, a glowing evidence of the poet's genius. Thus, it is the wonderful range of imagery that makes Adonais one of the greatest poems of Shelley The variety of the images drawn from almost everywhere has helped to convey the variety of thought that only Shelley is capable of. So, like all Shelley's works Adonais without its imagery would have lost all its charm and been reduced to an ordinary poem.

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