39 pages 1 hour read

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1821

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The Reality of Immortality

Shelley’s elegy upends expectations by refusing to concede to the power and the inevitability of death. The poem emphatically celebrates the reality of immortality, that the flesh, corruptible and vulnerable, is itself an illusion, that the speaker—not Adonais/Keats—is in a far more emotionally compromised position because the speaker still clings to the illusion of reality. The speaker only glimpses the reality of an animated universe where any individual death is a mere occasion to validate that cosmic energy. It is we, the speaker argues, “we [who] decay / Like corpses in a charnel” (Stanza XXXIX, Lines 6-7). In this the poem finds its hope in the very reality that appears only to offer despair: Wait, the poet cautions, until we also shed this ever-decaying body, wait until we touch the illuminating animation of immortality through death.

Death, then, is overcome: “Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep / He hath awaken’d from the dream of life” (Stanza XXXIX, Lines 1-2). The poem centers on the death of a young, promising poet taken too soon. Death would appear to be the antagonist. As the poem opens, the reader is admonished multiple times that Adonais/Keats is dead.