39 pages 1 hour read

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1821

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Literary Devices


By genre, “Adonais” is an elegy, a work expressing grief, inspired most often by the sudden and unexpected death of a friend or, in some cases, the death of a public figure. In its execution, “Adonais” reflects the elements of a traditional pastoral elegy in that Shelley uses an idealized rural landscape—the springtime, the green hills, the budding trees, the carelessly babbly brooks, the songbirds—to express the depth of the mourning over Keats’s death. Nature herself mourns the poet’s loss. In the city of Rome, the actual site of Adonais/Keats’s death, the poem further enhances the pastoral element: Far from the gentle bosom of nature, the city is toxic.

“Adonais” is executed in a tightly controlled, predesigned form: 55 Spenserian stanzas. It might seem a curious choice. Shelley’s argument—that Keats was essentially killed by bad press, by critics unwilling or unable to understand the achievement of his verse—is enhanced by his deft use of the Spenserian stanza.

First developed by Edmund Spenser (1552-1599), the format is intricate and demanding. Each stanza is nine lines. The first eight lines are set in iambic pentameter (10 syllable beats), the ninth in iambic hexameter (12 syllable beats). The ninth line gives each of the stanza sections a kind of closure, a finality to whatever problem the stanza sets up.