39 pages • 1 hour readPercy Bysshe Shelley
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“Lycidas” by John Milton (1637)
Shelley’s poem is often compared to this titanic work, a pastoral elegy that became an iconic work of British literature. Shelley clearly has Milton’s elegy in mind—Milton himself appears as a cameo, invited to mourn the death of Keats. Like Shelley, Milton, in struggling with the death of a friend, a minister, contemplates the nature of grief, the reality of the soul, and the role a Christian God plays in the drama of mortality.
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“In Memoriam” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1850)
An example of a Victorian, rather than a Romantic, elegy, Tennyson’s massive work about the death of college chum reflects that era’s stoic conception of death, the logic of grief, the pointlessness of regret, and the difficult but inevitable movement toward acceptance. The poem is best known for its lines, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (Canto XXVII, Lines 15-16).
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“Endymion” by John Keats (1818)
Did “Endymion” kill Keats? The poem, or more precisely the mixed reception this poem received at the hands of establishment critics in London, shapes the argument of “Adonais.” At his pettier moments, Shelley suspected that Keats, although younger, was a far better poet than he was and a far more important figure than anyone recognized.
By Percy Bysshe Shelley