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   English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
522. Adonais
 
An Elegy on the Death of John Keats
 
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
 
 
  I WEEP for Adonais—he is dead!
  O, weep for Adonais! though our tears
  Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
  And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
  To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,        5
  And teach them thine own sorrow! Say: ‘With me
  Died Adonais; till the Future dares
  Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!’
 
  Where wert thou, mighty Mother, when he lay,        10
  When thy Son lay, pierced by the shaft which flies
  In darkness? where was lorn Urania
  When Adonais died? With veilèd eyes,
  ’Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise
  She sate, while one, with soft enamoured breath,        15
  Rekindled all the fading melodies
  With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath,
He had adorned and hid the coming bulk of death.
 
  Oh weep for Adonais—he is dead!
  Wake, melancholy Mother, wake and weep!        20
  Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
  Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep,
  Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;
  For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
  Descend;—oh, dream not that the amorous Deep        25
  Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair.
 
  Most musical of mourners, weep again!
  Lament anew, Urania!—He died,
  Who was the Sire of an immortal strain,        30
  Blind, old, and lonely, when his country’s pride,
  The priest, the slave, and the liberticide,
  Trampled and mocked with many a loathèd rite
  Of lust and blood; he went, unterrified,
  Into the gulf of death; but his clear Sprite        35
Yet reigns o’er earth; the third among the sons of light.
 
  Most musical of mourners, weep anew!
  Not all to that bright station dared to climb;
  And happier they their happiness who knew,
  Whose tapers yet burn through that night of time        40
  In which suns perished; others more sublime,
  Struck by the envious wrath of man or god,
  Have sunk, extinct in their refulgent prime;
  And some yet live, treading the thorny road,
Which leads, through toil and hate, to Fame’s serene abode.        45
 
  But now, thy youngest, dearest one has 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;
  Most musical of mourners, weep anew!        50
  Thy extreme hope, the loveliest and last,
  The bloom, whose petals nipt before they blew
  Died on the promise of the fruit, is waste;
The broken lily lies—the storm is overpast.
 
  To that high Capital, where kingly Death        55
  Keeps his pale court in beauty and decay,
  He came; and bought, with price of purest breath,
  A grave among the eternal—Come away!
  Haste, while the vault of blue Italian day
  Is yet his fitting charnel-roof! while still        60
  He lies, as if in dewy sleep he lay;
  Awake him not! surely he takes his fill
Of deep and liquid rest, forgetful of all ill.
 
  He will awake no more, oh, never more!—
  Within the twilight chamber spreads apace,        65
  The shadow of white Death, and at the door
  Invisible Corruption waits to trace
  His extreme way to her dim dwelling-place;
  The eternal Hunger sits, but pity and awe
  Soothe her pale rage, nor dares she to deface        70
  So fair a prey, till darkness, and the law
Of change shall o’er his sleep the mortal curtain draw.
 
  Oh weep for Adonais!—The quick Dreams,
  The passion-wingèd Ministers of thought,
  Who were his flocks, whom near the living streams        75
  Of his young spirit he fed, and whom he taught
  The love which was its music, wander not,—
  Wander no more, from kindling brain to brain,
  But droop there, whence they sprung; and mourn their lot
  Round the cold heart, where, after their sweet pain,        80
They ne’er will gather strength, or find a home again.
 
  And one with trembling hands clasps his cold head,
  And fans him with her moonlight wings, and cries;
  ‘Our love, our hope, our sorrow, is not dead;
  See, on the silken fringe of his faint eyes,        85
  Like dew upon a sleeping flower, there lies
  A tear some Dream has loosened from his brain.’
  Lost Angel of a ruined Paradise!
  She knew not ’twas her own; as with no stain
She faded, like a cloud which had outwept its rain.        90
 
  One from a lucid urn of starry dew
  Washed his light limbs as if embalming them;
  Another clipt her profuse locks, and threw
  The wreath upon him, like an anadem,
  Which frozen tears instead of pearls begem;        95
  Another in her wilful grief would break
  Her bow and wingèd reeds, as if to stem
  A greater loss with one which was more week;
And dull the barbèd fire against his frozen cheek.
 
  Another Splendour on his mouth alit,        100
  That mouth, whence it was wont to draw the breath
  Which gave it strength to pierce the guarded wit,
  And pass into the panting heart beneath
  With lightning and with music: the damp death
  Quenched its caress upon his icy lips;        105
  And, as a dying meteor stains a wreath
  Of moonlight vapour, which the cold night clips,
It flushed through his pale limbs, and passed to its eclipse.
 
  And others came … Desires and Adorations,
  Wingèd Persuasions and veiled Destinies,        110
  Splendours and Glooms, and glimmering Incarnations
  Of hopes and fears, and twilight Phantasies;
  And Sorrow, with her family of Sighs,
  And Pleasure, blind with tears, led by the gleam
  Of her own dying smile instead of eyes,        115
  Came in slow pomp;—the moving pomp might seem
Like pageantry of mist on an autumnal stream.
 
  All he had loved, and moulded into thought,
  From shape, and hue, and odour, and sweet sound,
  Lamented Adonais. Morning sought        120
  Her eastern watch-tower, and her hair unbound,
  Wet with the tears which should adorn the ground,
  Dimmed the ae¨rial eyes that kindle day;
  Afar the melancholy thunder moaned,
  Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,        125
And the wild winds flew round, sobbing in their dismay.
 
  Lost Echo sits amid the voiceless mountains,
  And feeds her grief with his remembered lay,
  And will no more reply to winds or fountains,
  Or amorous birds perched on the young green spray,        130
  Or herdsman’s horn, or bell at closing day;
  Since she can mimic not his lips, more dear
  Than those for whose disdain she pined away
  Into a shadow of all sounds:—a drear
Murmur, between their songs, is all the woodmen hear.        135
 
  Grief made the young Spring wild, and she threw down
  Her kindling buds, as if she Autumn were,
  Or they dead leaves; since her delight is flown
  For whom should she have waked the sullen year?
  To Phoebus was not Hyacinth so dear        140
  Nor to himself Narcissus, as to both
  Thou, Adonais: wan they stand and sere
  Amid the faint companions of their youth,
With dew all turned to tears; odour, to sighing ruth.
 
  Thy spirit’s sister, the lorn nightingale,        145
  Mourns not her mate with such melodious pain;
  Not so the eagle, who like thee could scale
  Heaven, and could nourish in the sun’s domain
  Her mighty youth with morning, doth complain,
  Soaring and screaming round her empty nest,        150
  As Albion wails for thee; the curse of Cain
  Light on his head who pierced thy innocent breast,
And scared the angel soul that was its earthly guest!
 
  Ah, woe is me! Winter is come and gone,
  But grief returns with the revolving year;        155
  The airs and streams renew their joyous tone:
  The ants, the bees, the swallows reappear;
  Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead Seasons’ bier;
  The amorous birds now pair in every brake,
  And build their mossy homes in field and brere;        160
  And the green lizard, and the golden snake,
Like unimprisoned flames, out of their trance awake.
 
  Through wood and stream and field and hill and Ocean
  A quickening life from the Earth’s heart has burst
  As it has ever done, with change and motion,        165
  From the great morning of the world when first
  God dawned on Chaos; in its stream immersed
  The lamps of Heaven flash with a softer light;
  All baser things pant with life’s sacred thirst;
  Diffuse themselves; and spend in love’s delight,        170
The beauty and the joy of their renewèd might.
 
  The leprous corpse touched by this spirit tender
  Exhales itself in flowers of gentle breath;
  Like incarnations of the stars, when splendour
  Is changed to fragrance, they illumine death        175
  And mock the merry worm that wakes beneath;
  Nought we know, dies. Shall that alone which knows
  Be as a sword consumed before the sheath
  By sightless lightning?—the intense atom glows
A moment, then is quenched in a most cold repose.        180
 
  Alas! that all we loved of him should be
  But for our grief, as if it had not been,
  And grief itself be mortal! Woe is me!
  Whence are we, and why are we? of what scene
  The actors or spectators? Great and mean        185
  Meet massed in death, who lends what life must borrow.
  As long as skies are blue, and fields are green,
  Evening must usher night, night urge the morrow,
Month follow month with woe, and year wake year to sorrow.
 
  He will awake no more, oh, never more!        190
  ‘Wake thou,’ cried Misery, ‘childless Mother, rise
  Out of thy sleep, and slake, in thy heart’s core,
  A wound more fierce than his, with tears and sighs.’
  And all the Dreams that watched Urania’s eyes,
  And all the Echoes whom their sister’s song        195
  Had held in holy silence, cried: ‘Arise!’
  Swift as a Thought by the snake Memory stung,
From her ambrosial rest the fading Splendour sprung.
 
  She rose like an autumnal Night, that springs
  Out of the East, and follows wild and drear        200
  The golden Day, which, on eternal wings,
  Even as a ghost abandoning a bier,
  Had left the Earth a corpse. Sorrow and fear
  So struck, so roused, so rapt Urania;
  So saddened round her like an atmosphere        205
  Of stormy mist; so swept her on her way
Even to the mournful place where Adonais lay.
 
  Out of her secret Paradise she sped,
  Through camps and cities rough with stone, and steel,
  And human hearts, which to her airy tread        210
  Yielding not, wounded the invisible
  Palms of her tender feet where’er they fell:
  And barbèd tongues, and thoughts more sharp than they
  Rent the soft Form they never could repel,
  Whose sacred blood, like the young tears of May,        215
Paved with eternal flowers that undeserving way.
 
  In the death-chamber for a moment Death,
  Shamed by the presence of that living Might,
  Blushed to annihilation, and the breath
  Revisited those lips, and Life’s pale light        220
  Flashed through those limbs, so late her dear delight.
  ‘Leave me not wild and drear and comfortless,
  As silent lightning leaves the starless night!
  Leave me not!’ cried Urania: her distress
Roused Death: Death rose and smiled, and met her vain caress.        225
 
  ‘Stay yet awhile! speak to me once again;
  Kiss me, so long but as a kiss may live;
  And in my heartless breast and burning brain
  That word, that kiss, shall all thoughts else survive,
  With food of saddest memory kept alive,        230
  Now thou art dead, as dead, as if it were a part
  Of thee, my Adonais! I would give
  All that I am to be as thou now art!
But I am chained to Time, and cannot thence depart!
 
  ‘O gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,        235
  Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
  Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
  Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?
  Defenceless as thou wert, oh where was then
  Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear?        240
  Or hadst thou waited the full cycle, when
  Thy spirit should have filled its crescent sphere,
The monsters of life’s waste had fled from thee like deer.
 
  ‘The herded wolves, bold only to pursue;
  The obscene ravens, clamorous o’er the dead;        245
  The vultures to the conqueror’s banner true
  Who feed where Desolation first has fed,
  And whose wings rain contagion;—how they fled,
  When, like Apollo, from his golden bow,
  The Pythian of the age one arrow sped        250
  And smiled!—The spoilers tempt no second blow,
They fawn on the proud feet that spurn them lying low.
 
  ‘The sun comes forth, and many reptiles spawn;
  He sets, and each ephemeral insect then
  Is gathered into death without a dawn,        255
  And the immortal stars awake again;
  So is it in the world of living men:
  A godlike mind soars forth, in its delight
  Making earth bare and veiling heaven, and when
  It sinks, the swarms that dimmed or shared its light        260
Leave to its kindred lamps the spirit’s awful night.’
 
  Thus ceased she: and the mountain shepherds came,
  Their garlands sere, their magic mantles rent;
  The Pilgrim of Eternity, whose fame
  Over his living head like Heaven is bent,        265
  An early but enduring monument,
  Came, veiling all the lightnings of his song
  In sorrow; from her wilds Ierne sent
  The sweetest lyrist of her saddest wrong,
And Love taught Grief to fall like music from his tongue.        270
 
  Midst others of less note, came one frail Form,
  A phantom among men; companionless
  As the last cloud of an expiring storm
  Whose thunder is its knell; he, as I guess,
  Had gazed on Nature’s naked loveliness,        275
  Actæon-like, and now he fled astray
  With feeble steps o’er the world’s wilderness,
  And his own thoughts, along that rugged way,
Pursued, like raging hounds, their father and their prey.
 
  A pardlike Spirit beautiful and swift—        280
  Love in desolation masked;—a Power
  Girt round with weakness;—it can scarce uplift
  The weight of the superincumbent hour;
  It is a dying lamp, a falling shower,
  A breaking billow;—even whilst we speak        285
  Is it not broken? On the withering flower
  The killing sun smiles brightly: on a cheek
The life can burn in blood, even while the heart may break.
 
  His head was bound with pansies overblown,
  And faded violets, white, and pied, and blue;        290
  And a light spear topped with a cypress cone,
  Round whose rude shaft dark ivy tresses grew
  Yet dripping with the forest’s noonday dew,
  Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
  Shook the weak hand that grasped it; of that crew        295
  He came the last, neglected and apart;
A herd-abandoned deer struck by the hunter’s dart.
 
  All stood aloof, and at his partial moan
  Smiled through their tears; well knew that gentle band
  Who in another’s fate now wept his own;        300
  As in the accents of an unknown land,
  He sung new sorrow; sad Urania scanned
  The Stranger’s mien, and murmured: ‘Who art thou?’
  He answered not, but with a sudden hand
  Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow,        305
Which was like Cain’s or Christ’s—oh, that it should be so!
 
  What softer voice is hushed over the dead?
  Athwart what brow is that dark mantle thrown?
  What form leans sadly o’er the white death-bed,
  In mockery of monumental stone,        310
  The heavy heart heaving without a moan?
  If it be He, who, gentlest of the wise,
  Taught, soothed, loved, honoured the departed one;
  Let me not vex, with inharmonious sighs
The silence of that heart’s accepted sacrifice.        315
 
  Our Adonais has drunk poison—Oh!
  What deaf and viperous murderer could crown
  Life’s early cup with such a draught of woe?
  The nameless worm would now itself disown:
  It felt, yet could escape, the magic tone        320
  Whose prelude held all envy, hate, and wrong,
  But what was howling in one breast alone,
  Silent with expectation of the song,
Whose master’s hand is cold, whose silver lyre unstrung.
 
  Live thou, whose infamy is not thy fame!        325
  Live! fear no heavier chastisement from me,
  Thou noteless blot on a remembered name!
  But be thyself, and know thyself to be!
  And ever at thy season be thou free
  To spill the venom when thy fangs o’erflow:        330
  Remorse and Self-contempt shall cling to thee;
  Hot Shame shall burn upon thy secret brow,
And like a beaten hound tremble thou shalt—as now.
 
  Nor let us weep that our delight is fled
  Far from these carrion kites that scream below;        335
  He wakes or sleeps with the enduring dead;
  Thou canst not soar where he is sitting now.—
  Dust to the dust! but the pure spirit shall flow
  Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
  A portion of the Eternal, which must glow        340
  Through time and change, unquenchably the same,
Whilst thy cold embers choke the sordid hearth of shame.
 
  Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
  He hath awakened from the dream of life—
  ’Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep        345
  With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
  And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
  Invulnerable nothings.—We decay
  Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
  Convulse us and consume us day by day,        350
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
 
  He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
  Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
  And that unrest which men miscall delight,
  Can touch him not and torture not again;        355
  From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
  He is secure, and now can never mourn
  A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain;
  Nor, when the spirit’s self has ceased to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.        360
 
  He lives, he wakes—’tis Death is dead, not he;
  Mourn not for Adonais.—Thou young Dawn,
  Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
  The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
  Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!        365
  Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air
  Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
  O’er the abandoned Earth, now leave it bare
Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!
 
  He is made one with Nature: there is heard        370
  His voice in all her music, from the moan
  Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
  He is a presence to be felt and known
  In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
  Spreading itself where’er that Power may move        375
  Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
  Which wields the world with never wearied love,
Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
 
  He is a portion of the loveliness
  Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear        380
  His part, while the one Spirit’s plastic stress
  Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
  All new successions to the forms they wear;
  Torturing th’ unwilling dross that checks its flight
  To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;        385
  And bursting in its beauty and its might
From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven’s light.
 
  The splendours of the firmament of time
  May be eclipsed, but are extinguished not;
  Like stars to their appointed height they climb        390
  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        395
And move like winds of light on dark and stormy air.
 
  The inheritors of unfulfilled renown
  Rose from their thrones, built beyond mortal thought,
  Far in the Unapparent. Chatterton
  Rose pale,—his solemn agony had not        400
  Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought
  And as he fell and as he lived and loved
  Sublimely mild, a Spirit without spot,
  Arose; and Lucan, by his death approved:
Oblivion as they rose shrank like a thing reproved.        405
 
  And many more, whose names on Earth are dark,
  But whose transmitted effluence cannot die
  So long as fire outlives the parent spark,
  Rose, robed in dazzling immortality.
  ‘Thou art become as one of us,’ they cry,        410
  ‘It was for thee yon kingless sphere has long
  Swung blind in unascended majesty,
  Silent alone amid an Heaven of Song.
Assume thy wingèd throne, thou Vesper of our throng!’
 
  Who mourns for Adonais? Oh, come forth,        415
  Fond wretch! and know thyself and him aright.
  Clasp with thy panting soul the pendulous Earth;
  As from a centre, dart thy spirit’s light
  Beyond all worlds, until its spacious might
  Satiate the void circumference: then shrink        420
  Even to a point within our day and night;
  And keep thy heart light lest it make thee sink
When hope has kindled hope, and lured thee to the brink.
 
  Or go to Rome, which is the sepulchre
  Oh, not of him, but of our joy: ’tis nought        425
  That ages, empires, and religions there
  Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
  For such as he can lend,—they borrow not
  Glory from those who made the world their prey;
  And he is gathered to the kings of thought        430
  Who waged contention with their time’s decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away.
 
  Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
  The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
  And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,        435
  And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
  The bones of Desolation’s nakedness,
  Pass, till the Spirit of the spot shall lead
  Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
  Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead        440
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread.
 
  And gray walls moulder 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        445
  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.        450
 
  Here pause: these graves are all too young as yet
  To have outgrown the sorrow which consigned
  Its charge to each; and if the seal is set,
  Here, on one fountain of a mourning mind,
  Break it not thou! too surely shalt thou find        455
  Thine own well full, if thou returnest home,
  Of tears and gall. From the world’s bitter wind
  Seek shelter in the shadow of the tomb.
What Adonais is, why fear we to become?
 
  The One remains, the many change and pass;        460
  Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
  Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
  Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
  Until Death tramples it to fragments.—Die,
  If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek!        465
  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.
 
  Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my Heart?
  Thy hopes are gone before: from all things here        470
  They have departed: thou shouldst now depart!
  A light is passed from the revolving year,
  And man, and woman; and what still is dear
  Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.
  The soft sky smiles,—the low wind whispers near;        475
  ’Tis Adonais calls! oh, hasten thither,
No more let Life divide what Death can join together.
 
  That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
  That Beauty in which all things work and move,
  That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse        480
  Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
  Which through the web of being blindly wove
  By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
  Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
  The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,        485
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
 
  The breath whose might I have invoked in song
  Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
  Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
  Whose sails were never to the tempest given;        490
  The massy earth and spherèd skies are riven!
  I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
  Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
  The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.        495
 

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