This Day In Writing History
On December 1st, 1821, Adonais, the classic poem by legendary British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was published. It appeared in the Literary Chronicle and became known as one of the greatest Romantic poems ever written.
Adonais was Shelley's elegy to his close friend, the legendary British poet John Keats, who had died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Shelley believed that scathing reviews of his poetry, not tuberculosis, had actually killed Keats. During his short life, Keats' work was loudly derided by critics. It wouldn't be until after his death that Keats was finally recognized as the one of the greatest poets of all time.
In Adonais, Shelley metaphorically depicted Keats' critics as loathsome creatures such as worms, reptiles, and dragons. Other scathing metaphors included "carrion kite" and "a noteless blot on a remembered name." Keats' girlfriend, Fanny Browne, complained that Adonais made Keats appear overly sensitive and gave him "a weakness of character that only belonged to his ill-health."
The great poet Lord Byron, a mutual friend of Shelley and Keats, recalled his own reaction to negative reviews and quipped, "Instead of bursting a blood-vessel, I drank three bottles of claret and began an answer." In his classic poem Don Juan, Byron described Keats' fate this way:
'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an Article.
Shelley's poem wasn't really to blame for the resulting myth of Keats' fragility. Keats had wanted his gravestone to read, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water," but his executors had it engraved, "This Grave contains all that was Mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET Who, on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies, Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone."
By the time the engraving was completed on Keats' tombstone, Percy Bysshe Shelley had also died, drowning at sea after his ship went down in a storm.
To read the complete text of Shelley's classic poem, Adonais, click here.
Quote Of The Day
"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." - Percy Bysshe Shelley
Today's video features an excerpt from a documentary about John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Adonais. Enjoy! Note: You'll have to click on it and watch it on YouTube.