Trace the development of the main idea of the poem "Adonais"
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Shelley is mourning the death of his good friend, the young English poet John Keats. The persona has entered a state of dejection, calling everyone to mourn with him, and announcing that Keats should be remembered forever. To do so, Shelley assigns to Keats’ identity Adonis, a Greek god who was loved by Venus and died at a very young age, being torn apart by wild boars.
Shelley blames Keats’ death on literary criticism that was recently published (see lines 150-53; he was unaware that Keats was suffering from tuberculosis). He scorns the weakness and cowardice of the critic compared with the poet, echoing his famous essay providing “A Defense of Poetry.” The poet wonders why Adonis’ mother (“Urania”) was not able to do more to save her beloved son, and he summons all spirits, living and dead, to join him in his mourning. Shelley argues that Keats’ had great potential as a poet and is perhaps the “loveliest and the last” great spirit of the Romantic period (an argument that might be true).
The persona describes the death of Keats with scorn for those he thinks is responsible. Keats visits his mother as a ghost whom she does not recognize. The persona calls for Keats to be remembered for his work and not the age of his death, and Shelley takes an unusual religious tone as he places Keats as a soul in the heavens, looking down upon earth. Shelley contends that Keats, in death, is more “alive” than the common man will ever be, and he can now exist peacefully, safe from the evils of men and their criticisms.