The passages of Adonais which can be traced back to Bion and Moschus are not the finest things in the poem: mostly they fill out its fabular ‘argument’ with brilliancy and suavity, rather than with nerve and pathos. The finest things are to be found in the denunciation of the ‘deaf and viperous murderer;’ in the stanzas concerning the ’Mountain Shepherds,’ especially the figure representing Shelley himself; and in the solemn and majestic conclusion, where the poet rises from the region of earthly sorrow into the realm of ideal aspiration and contemplation.
Shelley is generally—and I think most justly—regarded as a peculiarly melodious versifier: but it must not be supposed that he is rigidly exact in his use of rhyme. The contrary can be proved from the entire body of his poems. Adonais is, in this respect, neither more nor less correct than his other writings. It would hardly be reasonable to attribute his laxity in rhyming to either carelessness, indifference, or unskilfulness: but rather to a deliberate preference for a certain variety in the rhyme-sounds—as tending to please the ear, and availing to satisfy it in the total effect, without cloying it by any tight-drawn uniformity. Such a preference can be justified on two grounds: firstly, that the general effect of the slightly varied sounds is really the more gratifying of the two methods, and I believe that, practised within reasonable limits, it is so; and secondly, that the requirements of sense are superior to those of sound, and that, in the effort after severely exact rhyming, a writer would often, be compelled to sacrifice some delicacy of thought, or some grace or propriety of diction. Looking through the stanzas of Adonais, I find the following laxities of rhyming: Compeers, dares; anew, knew (this repetition of an identical syllable as if it were a rhyme is very frequent with Shelley, who evidently considered it to be permissible, and even right—and in this view he has plenty of support): God; road; last, waste; taught, not; break, cheek (two instances); ground, moaned; both, youth; rise, arise; song, stung; steel, fell; light, delight; part, depart; wert, heart; wrong, tongue; brow, so; moan, one; crown, tone; song, unstrung; knife, grief; mourn, burn; dawn, moan; bear, bear; blot, thought; renown, Chatterton; thought, not; approved, reproved; forth, earth; nought, not; home, tomb; thither, together; wove, of; riven, heaven. These are 34 instances of irregularity. The number of stanzas in Adonais is 55: therefore there is more than one such irregularity for every two stanzas.