[ HOME ]

Adonaïs: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)


  I weep for Adonais--he is dead!
    Oh 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,
    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                 5
  She sate, while one, with soft enamoured breath,
    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!--
  Yet wherefore? Quench within their burning bed
    Thy fiery tears, and let thy loud heart keep,
    Like his, a mute and uncomplaining sleep;           5
  For he is gone where all things wise and fair
    Descend. Oh dream not that the amorous deep
  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,
    Blind, old, and lonely, when his country's pride
    The priest, the slave, and the liberticide,          5
  Trampled and mocked with many a loathèd rite
    Of lust and blood. He went unterrified
  Into the gulf of death; but his clear sprite
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
    In which suns perished. Others more sublime,          5
  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.


  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!              5
  Thy extreme hope, the loveliest and the 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
    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        5
  Is yet his fitting charnel-roof, while still
    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
  The shadow of white Death, and at the door
    Invisible Corruption waits to trace
    His extreme way to her dim dwelling-place;        5
  The eternal Hunger sits, but pity and awe
    Soothe her pale rage, nor dares she to deface
  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
    Of his young spirit he fed, and whom he taught
    The love which was its music, wander not--            5
  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,
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,
    Like dew upon a sleeping flower, there lies           5
  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.


  One from a lucid urn of starry dew
    Washed his light limbs, as if embalming them;
  Another dipt her profuse locks, and threw
    The wreath upon him, like an anadem
    Which frozen tears instead of pearls begem;            5
  Another in her wilful grief would break
    Her bow and wingèd reeds, as if to stem
  A greater loss with one which was more weak,
And dull the barbèd fire against his frozen cheek.


  Another Splendour on his mouth alit,
    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      5
  Quenched its caress upon his icy lips;
    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,
  Splendours, and Glooms, and glimmering incarnations
    Of Hopes and Fears, and twilight Phantasies;
    And Sorrow, with her family of Sighs,                5
  And Pleasure, blind with tears, led by the gleam
    Of her own dying smile instead of eyes,
  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
    Her eastern watch-tower, and her hair unbound,
    Wet with the tears which should adorn the ground,      5
  Dimmed the aerial eyes that kindle day;
    Afar the melancholy Thunder moaned,
  Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,
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,
    Or herdsman's horn, or bell at closing day;        5
  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.


  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,                5
  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,
    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 young with morning, doth complain,        5
  Soaring and screaming round her empty nest,
    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.
  The airs and streams renew their joyous tone;
    The ants, the bees, the swallows, re-appear;
    Fresh leaves and flowers deck the dead Seasons' bier;    5
  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.


  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,
    From the great morning of the world when first
    God dawned on chaos. In its steam immersed,              5
  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
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,
    And mock the merry worm that wakes beneath.              5
  Nought we know dies: shall that alone which knows
    Be as a sword consumed before the sheath
  By sightless lightning? Th' intense atom glows
A moment, then is quenched in a most cold repose.


  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             5
  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!
    '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,       5
  And all the Echoes whom their Sister's song
    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
  The golden Day, which on eternal wings,
    Even as a ghost abandoning a bier,
    Had left the Earth a corpse. Sorrow and fear         5
  So struck, so roused, so rapt, Urania;
    So saddened round her like an atmosphere
  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 aery tread
    Yielding not, wounded the invisible
    Palms of her tender feet where'er they fell.              5
  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,
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
    Flashed through those limbs so late her dear delight.     5
  '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.


  '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,                   5
  Now thou art 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,
    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            5
  Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear?--
    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,
  The vultures to the conqueror's banner true,
    Who feed where desolation first has fed,
    And whose wings rain contagion,--how they fled,       5
  When like Apollo, from his golden bow,
    The Pythian of the age one arrow sped,
  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,
    And the immortal stars awake again.
    So is it in the world of living men:                  5
  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
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,
    An early but enduring monument,                     5
  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.


  '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              5
  Actaeon-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 pard-like Spirit beautiful and swift--
    A 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,                5
  A breaking billow;--even whilst we speak
    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;
  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,          5
  Vibrated, as the ever-beating heart
    Shook the weak hand that grasped it. Of that crew
  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;
    As in the accents of an unknown land
    He sang new sorrow; sad Urania scanned               5
  The Stranger's mien, and murmured 'Who art thou?'
    He answered not, but with a sudden hand
  Made bare his branded and ensanguined brow,
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,
    The heavy heart heaving without a moan?              5
  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.


  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              5
  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!
    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                    5
  To spill the venom when thy fangs o'erflow;
    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.
  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       5
  Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
    A portion of the Eternal, which must glow
  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
    With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
    And in mad trance strike with our spirit's knife      5
  Invulnerable nothings. _We_ decay
    Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
  Convulse us and consume us day by day,
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.
    From the contagion of the world's slow stain          5
  He is secure; and now can never mourn
    A heart grown cold, a head grown grey in vain--
  Nor, when the spirit's self has ceased to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.


  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!             5
  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
    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,          5
  Spreading itself where'er that Power may move
    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
  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;              5
  Torturing th' unwilling dross, that checks its flight,
    To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
  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,
    And death is a low mist which cannot blot
    The brightness it may veil. When lofty thought           5
  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,
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
    Yet faded from him; Sidney, as he fought            5
  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.


  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;            5
  '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,
    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          5
  Satiate the void circumference: then shrink
    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
  That ages, empires, and religions, there
    Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
    For such as he can lend--they borrow not            5
  Glory from those who made the world their prey:
    And he is gathered to the kings of thought
  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,
    And flowering weeds and fragrant copses dress
    The bones of Desolation's nakedness,                 5
  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
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread.


  And grey 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
    This refuge for his memory, doth stand               5
  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.


  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        5
  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;
    Heaven's light for ever 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,          5
  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.


  Why linger, why turn back, why shrink, my heart?
    Thy hopes are gone before: from all things here
  They have departed; thou shouldst now depart!
    A light is past from the revolving year,
    And man and woman; and what still is dear            5
  Attracts to crush, repels to make thee wither.
    The soft sky smiles, the low wind whispers near:
  '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
    Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
    Which, through the web of being blindly wove         5
  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,
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.
    The massy earth and spherèd skies are riven!         5
  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.