The poem of Adonais can of course be contemplated from different points of view. Its biographical relations have been already considered in our preceding sections: its poetical structure and value, its ideal or spiritual significance, and its particular imagery and diction, will occupy us much as we proceed. At present I mean simply to deal with the Argument of Adonais. It has a thread—certainly a slender thread—of narrative or fable; the personation of the poetic figure Adonais, as distinct from the actual man John Keats, and the incidents with which that poetic figure is associated. The numerals which I put in parentheses indicate the stanzas in which the details occur.
(1) Adonais is now dead: the Hour which witnessed his loss mourns him, and is to rouse the other Hours to mourn. (2) He was the son of the widowed Urania, (6) her youngest and dearest son. (2) He was slain by a nightly arrow—’pierced by the shaft which flies in darkness.’ At the time of his death Urania was in her paradise (pleasure-garden), slumbering, while Echoes listened to the poems which he had written as death was impending. (3) Urania should now wake and weep; yet wherefore? ‘He is gone where all things wise and fair descend.’ (4) Nevertheless let her weep and lament. (7) Adonais had come to Rome. (8) Death and Corruption are now in his chamber, but Corruption delays as yet to strike. (9) The Dreams whom he nurtured, as a herdsman tends his flock, mourn around him, (10) One of them was deceived for a moment into supposing that a tear shed by itself came from the eyes of Adonais, and must indicate that he was still alive. (11) Another washed his limbs, and a third clipped and shed her locks upon his corpse, &c. (13) Then came others—Desires, Adorations, Fantasies, &c. (14 to 16) Morning lamented, and Echo, and Spring. (17) Aibion wailed. May ’the curse of Cain light on his head who pierced thy innocent breast,’ and scared away its angel soul! (20) Can it be that the soul alone dies, when nothing else is annihilated? (22) Misery aroused Urania: urged by Dreams and Echoes, she sprang up, and (23) sought the death-chamber of Adonais, (24) enduring much suffering from ’barbed tongues, and thoughts more sharp than they.’ (25) As she arrived, Death was shamed for a moment, and Adonais breathed again: but immediately afterwards ’Death rose and smiled, and met her vain caress.’ (26) Urania would fain have died along with Adonais; but, chained as she was to Time, this was denied her. (27) She reproached Adonais for having, though defenceless, dared the dragon in his den. Had he waited till the day of his maturity, ’the monsters of life’s waste’ would have fled from him, as (28) the wolves, ravens, and vultures had fled from, and fawned upon, ‘the Pythian of the age.’ (30) Then came the Mountain Shepherds, bewailing Adonais: the Pilgrim of Eternity, the Lyrist of lerne, and (31) among others, one frail form, a pard-like spirit. (34) Urania asked the name of this last Shepherd: he then made bare his branded and ensanguined brow, which was like Cain’s or Christ’s. (35) Another Mountain Shepherd, ‘the gentlest of the wise,’ leaned over the deathbed. (36) Adonais has drunk poison. Some ’deaf and viperous murderer’ gave him the envenomed draught.