39 pages 1 hour read

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1821

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Symbols & Motifs


If the poem suggests a closer personal friendship than Shelley and Keats actually had, the poem is less an exercise in Shelley working through personal grief as it is a study into the death of a young poet whom Shelley happened to know. For Shelley, poets by virtue of their art cannot be entirely destroyed by death. In selecting Adonis from Greek mythology as his model for Keats, Shelley reveals his perception of a young, dashing, confident, and brash poet, none of which would fit the historic figure of John Keats. Most important, the mythological figure of Adonis gifts Shelley’s poet with the promise of rebirth, a way to defy the limits of mortality.

Although details about the story of Adonis vary, the traditional elements are consistent. Adonis was a handsome young man whom the gods themselves doted over because of his physique, his charisma, and his charm. Indeed, he caught the eye of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and desire. When a wild boar attacks young Adonis while he is hunting (the details vary, but stories suggest the animal might have been dispatched by a god jealous of Adonis’s perfection), news of Adonis’s goring so rocks Aphrodite that she initiates a kind of immortality for him.