[I must here point out a singular discrepancy in the poem of Adonais, considered as a narrative or apologue. Hitherto we had been told that Adonais was killed by an arrow or dart—he was ’pierced by the shaft which flies in darkness,’ and the man who ‘pierced his innocent breast’ had incurred the curse of Cain: he had ‘a wound’ (stanza 22). There was also the alternative statement that Adonais, unequipped with the shield of wisdom or the spear of scorn, had been so rash as to ’dare the unpastured dragon in his den’; and from this the natural inference is that not any ‘shaft which flies in darkness,’ but the dragon himself, had slaughtered the too-venturous youth. But now we hear that he was done to death by poison. Certainly when we look beneath the symbol into the thing symbolized, we can see that these divergent allegations represent the same fact, and the readers of the Elegy are not called upon to form themselves into a coroner’s jury to determine whether a ‘shaft’ or a ‘dragon’ or ‘poison’ was the instrument of murder: nevertheless the statements in the text are neither identical nor reconcileable for purposes of mythical narration, and it seems strange that the author should not have taken this into account. It will be found as we proceed (see p. 66) that the reference to ‘poison’ comes into the poem as a direct reproduction from the Elegy of Moschus upon Bion—being the passage which forms the second of the two mottoes to Adonais.]
(36) This murderer, a ‘nameless worm,’ was alone callous to the prelude of the forthcoming song. (37) Let him live on in remorse and self-contempt. (38) Neither should we weep that Adonais has ’fled far from these carrion-kites that scream below.’ His spirit flows back to its fountain, a portion of the Eternal. (39) Indeed, he is not dead nor sleeping, but ‘has awakened from the dream of life.’ Not he decays, but we. (41) Let not us, nor the powers of Nature, mourn for Adonais. (42) He is made one with Nature. (45) In ‘the unapparent’ he was welcomed by Chatterton, Sidney, Lucan, and (46) many more immortals, and was hailed as the master of a ‘kingless sphere’ in a ‘heaven of song.’ (48) Let any rash mourner go to Rome, and (49) visit the cemetery. (53) And thou, my heart, why linger and shrink? Adonais calls thee: be no longer divided from him. (55) The soul of Adonais beacons to thee ’from the abode where the Eternal are.’
This may he the most convenient place for raising a question of leading importance to the Argument of Adonais—Who is the personage designated under the name Urania?—a question which, so far as I know, has never yet been mooted among the students of Shelley. Who is Urania? Why is she represented as the mother of Adonais (Keats), and the chief mourner for his untimely death?
In mythology the name Urania is assigned to two divinities wholly distinct. The first is one of the nine Muses, the Muse of Astronomy: the second is Aphrodite (Venus). We may without any hesitation assume that Shelley meant one of these two: but a decision, as to which of the two becomes on reflection by no means so obvious as one might at first suppose. We will first examine the question as to the Muse Urania.