David Ferris, "Mournful Translation: On the Name of Shelley’s Adonais"

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Mournful Translation: On the Name of Shelley’s Adonais

David Ferris
University of Colorado at Boulder

“To be named [. . .] remains perhaps always a presentiment of mourning”

Walter Benjamin, Origin of the German Tragic Drama

“Translations are paintings often mistaken for mirrors”

Tom McCall, “Wrathful Translation”

1.        It would be a mistake to confuse the choice of subject for this essay, the name of Shelley’s unrelenting elegy, as an easy mirror in which to honor the work of a friend and scholar for whom such mirrors, as the preceding epigraph confirms, were objects of suspicion. Nor did he ever seek to take the easy critical path. Rigorously trained in classical Greek and German thought, he pursued their interrelation as the driving and unresolved question of our critical and historical modernity in the Romantic period. By addressing the name of Shelley’s elegy, and by inflecting it through a task taken up by Sophocles, Frederich Hölderlin, and Walter Benjamin, this essay seeks to honor Tom McCall’s work and his engagement with these three figures whose significance to Romanticism and its legacy remains at the core of his thought.

1. Tragic Prologue: Wrathful Translation

2.        In an essay that remained unpublished at the time of his death, “Wrathful Translation: The Sophocles of Hölderlin,” Tom McCall returns to a subject that had attracted his attention early in his career: the encounter of German Romanticism with Greece. [1]  In this essay, McCall focuses on those translations of Sophocles by Hölderlin which, as Walter Benjamin reminds us in "The Task of the Translator,” were considered “monstrous” in the nineteenth century (1.260). [2]  Rather than discount this “monstrousness” and normalize it in the context of the critical and literary theory of the later twentieth-century, McCall examines this monstrous aspect as the effect of an unresolved problematic within Sophocles’ account of the tragic, a problematic subsequent literary history and criticism has sought to subdue, if not make disappear, through its “tragic” accounts of the history of tragedy. Relying on Hölderlin’s remarks to his translations of Sophocles, McCall takes another approach that pits Greek tragedy against its reception as it is embodied in the modern project of translation. This project (not to mention its evolving telos, a world literature) has demanded a transparency and accuracy which has had the result of denying the critical challenge of its source through what Mallarmé called “the false appearance of a present” (310). What McCall sets out to demonstrate is that within the practice of translation, on which the survival of literature as a cultural form has been increasingly dependent since Romanticism, there is a tension that possesses a crucial, critical potential. [3]  For McCall, this critical function no longer depends on the old cliché of translation studies which states that any translation is predicated on the loss of the original—as if translation were an elegiac exercise always mourning an impossible task and as if solace could be found in the necessity of endlessly repeating this task.

3.        McCall defines the tension present in Hölderlin’s translations as “the disjunction between the arbitrariness of signs, on the one hand, and the deep embeddedness of meanings in their historical traditions, on the other” (1). Lest this remark be dismissed as if it were a transparent, deconstructive gesture, it is important to keep in mind that McCall does not evoke Saussure’s fundamental insight concerning the arbitrariness of the sign as if it were the beginning and end of a deconstructive reading. McCall locates this insight on one side of a tension between the embeddedness of meaning in a tradition and the language through which such tradition exists and reproduces (or retranslates) itself. What this tension then sets up is a historical problem in which neither embedded meaning nor the condition of its transmission can prevail. In this respect, McCall is correct to speak of a tension that is historical and critical at the same time. Adopting Hölderlin’s language, McCall locates this tension in the “wrath” (Zorn) of Oedipus, which is subsequently developed as the hallmark of Hölderlin’s own translations of Sophocles—hence the title of McCall’s essay, “Wrathful Translation.”

4.        Hölderlin’s emphasis on the “wrathfulness” of Oedipus defines the tragic experience according to an affective state that runs counter to the tradition in which tragedy has become the carrier of an ahistorical, human truth whose affirmation informs the task of cultural interpretation and its practice of translation. Against such a tradition, Hölderlin points to Oedipus’s wrath or anger (both translate Zorn) as the result of a desire for knowledge that cannot grasp what it seeks to attain. Instead, it experiences an “enormity” (das Ungeheure) that the hero cannot resolve or reconcile. McCall summarizes Hölderlin’s account of this irreconcilable enormity as follows:

As the human vehicle of this energy, Oedipus is driven mad, enraged in “the mad and frantic questing for a consciousness.” Driven by “wrathful curiosity (zornige Neugier) [. . .] the knowledge-desire (Wissen)” of Oedipus “provokes itself to know more than it can bear or grasp.” (16)
 [4]  By focusing on the force of this moment, McCall asserts Hölderlin’s resistance to the long shadow cast upon tragedy by the kind of formal, structural device that Aristotle introduces in the Poetics when he insists on katharsis as the crucial outcome of the tragedy. Indeed, Aristotle’s formalization of tragedy and its leading concept, katharsis, have become so embedded within the critical discussion of tragedy that one begins to suspect that what is at stake in this account of tragedy is a katharsis whose task is to prevent the infection of critical interpretation by the kind of emotional states (pity, fear, etc.) that this critical concept is called upon to purge from tragedy, and, by so doing, secure the pleasure of a mimetic and historically transmissible knowledge.

5.        Hölderlin, by turning our attention away from such a katharsis and back to the tragic, refuses the role of this structuring concept as a means of re-establishing the link between knowledge and pleasure on which the origin of Aristotle’s mimetic account of tragedy rests. [5]  For Hölderlin, the suffering of the tragic takes a different path, one that does not entertain the mediation and disappearance of sorrow through joy. Rather, this suffering follows what Hölderlin refers to in his remarks on Oedipus’s exchange with Kreon as a time that “tears apart.” Hölderlin writes (here cited in McCall’s stronger—Hölderlin-like one might say—translation): “the true [. . .] Spirit suffers in wrathful unmeasure (im zornigen Unmaas), which, in destruction-joy (zerstörungsfroh), only follows lacerating time” (der reissenden Zeit nur folgt)”. [6]  In this sentence, McCall’s attention falls upon the adverb, “only” in order to emphasize that the tragic figure is left with nothing but time to follow. McCall writes, “the hero literally ‘follows time’ by rejecting and renouncing all meanings, in such a way that consciousness and self-identity cannot be consolidated, a failure that is, precisely, the spirit of tragedy, the spirit of (the) time” (16). McCall’s identification of this moment of failure provides the basis for a literal relation to time on the condition of a rejection and renunciation of “all meanings.” It is as if time, as what tears apart, has completed its task, leaving behind an empty time that Oedipus can only follow now that the organization of time according to knowledge has met an impasse. Such a moment provides tragedy with a moment of culmination, which, in the later and Christian-influenced development of the genre, will be solidified into the demand that the tragic hero must die—until such a demand begins to border on farce with the arrival of the revenge tragedy and, later, the Baroque mourning-play. But, in a subsequent and more precise remark, McCall recognizes that neither the rejection nor renunciation of all meanings, in which this moment of culmination occurs, permits the separation of time from its “tearing apart.” Accordingly, the time which tears apart remains a time that has never really been separated from the “tearing” in which it appears. This is because such time is not an object of knowledge but the condition on which the representation of knowledge rests. [7]  The rejection and renunciation of “all meanings” is therefore an act that must submit to this condition with the result that it must also be renewed constantly lest this rejection and renunciation of all meanings should be allowed to satisfy, albeit negatively, the desire it cannot fulfill.

6.        McCall’s reading of Oedipus’s wrath and the time it follows is undertaken in order to isolate a critical-historical sequence, namely, the “constant collapsing—and intertwining—of symbol and allegory” (20). In doing so, his strong and violent translation of “reissenden Zeit” as “lacerating time” brings to the fore an undeveloped aspect of his reading of Hölderlin’s “Remarks on Oedipus”: an experience of time that occurs as affect. [8]  In the context of Hölderlin’s remarks, this experience offers an understanding of time no longer confined to a succession—which Hölderlin associates with “lawful calculation”—that can be “repeated reliably.” This is precisely the lawful succession over which Aristotle’s katharsis would stand guard. [9]  Against this succession, Hölderlin distinguishes a content that the “lawful calculation” cannot renounce or reject and that remains in a relation of balance to this calculation. It is through the inability to renounce this content that the tragic and the elegiac coincide. In what follows, I will take up this coincidence in order to question the history of a genre whose embedded traditional practices—namely a recourse to the pastoral and an experience of time as mourning or lamentation—have given rise to a generic pattern that also aims at the katharsis of emotion. If read according to this pattern, the elegy and its tradition does little more than conform to the Aristotelian account of tragedy; it allows a loss to generate the pleasure of mimetic knowledge by defining that loss according to the needs of the historical present and the future it demands (pleasure, mimesis, etc.). But, in recognizing this pattern in a genre that is older than tragedy, are we not also recognizing that what Aristotle has given to the tradition of understanding tragedy is itself an elegiac account that will reach its culmination in George Steiner’s The Death of Tragedy? If so, then the critical success of the Aristotelian account of tragedy will have removed any other account of the suffering and the task of mourning within the elegiac.

2. The Time of Mourning

7.        Walter Benjamin’s study of the transformation of the tragic in his Origin of the German Tragic Drama draws attention to this removal of mourning when he remarks that “Aristotle’s Poetics is silent on mourning as the resonance of the tragic” (OGT 118; translation modified). [10]  This resonance, Benjamin argues, occurs nowhere with more significance than in the German Baroque drama, where “mournfulness,” like Hölderlin’s “wrathful translation,” registers the “enormity” at the core of Athenian tragedy. McCall alludes to this resonance when, in a taxonomy of the emotional terms through which the western critical tradition has confronted its own embedded meanings, he refers to Benjamin’s account of modern tragic consciousness in the “mourning-plays” as “another modulation” in which “‘wrath’ is toned down into the less rabid but steadier Trauer (mourning) and melancholy.” If this modulation is followed according to Benjamin’s account of mourning as the resonance of the tragic, then tragedy is no longer conceivable as a singular moment determining the value of a cultural tradition, but is rather the intensification of what Hölderlin would understand as the counter-measure through which history is exposed to the “time that tears apart.” In this case, since the modulation between “wrath” and mourning becomes a matter of emotional intensity, the tragic “wrathful unmeasure” that requires critical and historical katharsis is still present in the act of mourning.

8.        For Benjamin, the emotional experience Hölderlin links to “unmeasure” is sustained across this modulation from the tragic to the mournful: he writes, “one of the laws of the Trauerspiel” is that “in the heart of mourning” these laws are represented in “a feeling” (OGT 139). Benjamin then goes on to define this feeling as something that is both “detached [gelöst] from any empirical subject” and is also “intimately bound to the fullness of an object” (OGT 139; translation modified). Mourning, like wrath in Hölderlin’s “Remarks on Oedipus,” is not determined by the subject (if it were, it would follow modern aesthetics when it believes that it “grasps” the feeling of the tragic mimetically); rather, Benjamin defines this feeling as an intention capable of a “special intensification” matched only by love and how it relates to its object. The intensifying of intention through mourning is the correlate of the wrath which Oedipus also suffers as the result of an intention to know more than he can grasp or bear. However, in its modulation of wrath, mourning has a different relation to “tearing-apart time” since it lacks the rapidity with which the moment of anger appears.

9.        In the elegy, Hölderlin’s “unmeasure” can be (and has been) easily displaced into an individual subject’s experience of loss, which can take the form of a death, an absent lover, or the effect of exile. But, what is out of measure is not such a loss; it belongs only to the past. What is out of measure is always so in the present, that is, in the time that elegy dwells on through mourning and lamentation. If the significance of this moment, what occurs within it, and its relation to “tearing-apart time” is to be approached, then close attention should be paid to the complete sentence in which Hölderlin introduces this understanding of time. Hölderlin writes:

Hence, later on, in the scene with Kreon, the wonderfully wrathful curiosity, because thought, ungovernable and loaded with tragic secrets, becomes insecure, and the true certain spirit suffers in wrathful unmeasure, suspicion, destruction-joy, only follows lacerating time. (“Remarks on Oedipus”; translation mine). [11] 
What is out of measure—that is, what not conform to the measured relation of reconciliation—is experienced in a combination, “destruction-joy.” This combination is not only outside the balance of opposed terms (joy/unhappiness), but it is also what follows a time defined by the power to “rip,” “tear,” and “rupture”—all senses of the verb from which the adjective “reiβend” is formed. The recognition of time as something that tears arises at the moment when thought becomes ungovernable and insecure—the moment when spirit suffers in “wrathful unmeasure.” “Destruction-joy” alone follows such a time. As such, it remains unpurgeable, since the joy that should follow from the catharsis of a destructive emotion also carries destruction with it. Here, destruction is not something that already mediates joy, as is the case in Aristotle’s Poetics. Furthermore, wrath is not synonymous with this destruction either; wrath arises because of the inseparability of destruction and joy in their unreconciled relation.

10.        In his “Remarks on Oedipus,” Hölderlin refers to this tearing-apart as a wrath that boundlessly unites, on the one hand, natural force and, on the other, what is “most inward” in the human (gränzenlos die Naturmacht und des Menschen Innerstes im Zorn eins wird). In describing how this boundless uniting occurs, Hölderlin uses precisely the language of purification that has been used to translate Aristotle’s katharsis, but he does so with entirely different effect. Hölderlin writes: “boundless union purifies itself through boundless separation” (gränzenlose Eineswerden durch gränzenloses Scheiden sich reinigt) (FHA 16.257). [12]  Unlike Aristotelian katharsis, this purification maintains each element of the joy-destruction pair in a balance. The Aristotelian purification asserts that the disturbing elements (those that contribute to unmeasure) can be overcome by union, that destruction can be transformed or “purified” by joy, that the emotions of pity, fear, etc., can be removed by the subsequent reassertion of the pleasure taken in mimetic knowledge. [13]  Hölderlin’s account of a boundless union purified through boundless separation demands that the joy-destruction pair occurs as irreconcilable confrontation and that this confrontation is experienced in an emotional state that has no counter-resolution. Such irreconcilability confirms the extent to which this relation cannot be assimilated by its subject as an object of knowledge. To do so is to resolve tragic experience into a historical sequence whereby joy is removed from its temporal co-presence with destruction. Only through this removal can joy claim a historical time that is proper to itself (historical because this moment is defined only in relation to what is temporally separate from it). Hölderlin counters this kathartic separation by defining the relation of destruction and joy in terms of a purification that maintains rather than denies the tearing-apart of time embodied in the joy-destruction pair. In short, for Hölderlin, the tragic is what witnesses a present in which two forces are bound irreconcilably to one another in the same time. Separating these forces and maintaining their separation is the task of a history that seeks to produce an imitation of time in which both the present and its future find satisfaction in the irreversible pastness of the past. Such a past would be so irretrievably lost that it may always reappear in the present in the safe form of translations so much less wrathful than what they translate.

11.        Despite the separation of past and present and the transformation of their “wrathful unmeasure” into a mimetic as well as aesthetic pleasure through a historically oriented katharsis, the only means by which this separation is sustained is through mourning. Here, the cathartic anticipation of pleasure turns to a form of feeling defined by relation to a preceding loss. But, as Benjamin points out in a remark on the mourning-play in which history and this attenuation is most at stake, the feeling of mourning counters its own promise of a future in which history, as the measure of time, is restored. Benjamin remarks:

Mourning is the state of mind in which feeling revives [neubelebt] the empty world in the form of a mask in order to possess [haben] an enigmatic satisfaction in its contemplation. Every feeling is bound to an a priori object, and the representation of this object is its phenomenology. (OGT 139)
If mourning revives an empty world in the form of a mask, it is in order to have something in the world to mourn. Since mourning demands an object—its a priori condition, Benjamin states—then the phenomenology we know as history is grounded in a mask that stands in the place of the silence of the past. This mask may take the form of either an image or a word—both of which, Benjamin notes, proliferate in the mourning-plays to the point of excess or unmeasure (to use Hölderlin’s term). In this proliferation the tragic appears but is not defined as something singular. Benjamin writes: “what is tragic is the word and the silence of the past” (OGT 118; emphasis added). One is not present without the other. This is why Benjamin also states, “There is in all mourning a tendency to silence [Sprachlösigkeit] and this infinitely more than inability or reluctance to communicate. The mournful feels [fühlt sich] it is known through and through by the unknowable” (OGT, 224; translation modified). These two sentences mark the point at which Benjamin’s remarks touch on the cause of Oedipus’s “wrathful measure”: to know more than he “can bear or grasp.” At the same time, they touch unintentionally on the tendency that defines the history of the elegy, in particular, the recurrent moment in the tradition of this genre when its mourning invokes both an inability and reluctance to communicate its suffering—a tendency nowhere more evident than in the ironic and anti-elegiac mode that twentieth-century elegy turns to as its experience of loss. But what if this recurrent moment, in which the elegy laments its own power of mourning, were masking a “wrathful unmeasure” and translating it knowingly into an object of loss as its cathartic act? This question marks the starting point of Shelley’s Adonais—the elegiac name in which wrathful unmeasure becomes mournful translation.

3. The Silence of Naming

12.        More than any other aspect of this poem, the critical reception of Shelley’s Adonais has centered on the name that takes the place of Keats. This act of naming, once read in the context of Benjamin’s observation, which forms the epigraph to this paper (“to be named [. . .] remains perhaps always a presentiment of mourning” [OGT, 224]), indicates a significance quite different from those attempts to decipher the name of Adonais according to the promise that such a deciphering could yield the meaning of this elegy and thereby bring the critical mourning directed at this name to an end. In light of Benjamin’s observation, it is important to keep in mind that it is the intent of naming that contains the presentiment (Ahnung) of mourning. Given Benjamin’s claim, that mourning is an intention bound to an object, then the name that entitles Shelley’s poem can be understood, first, as placing the elegiac in the presentiment or anticipation of such an object, and, second, as the mask by which the poet “revives the empty world.” Yet, in Shelley’s case, the promise of such a revival remains in question, and does so beginning with the name it is written under: who or what is to be revived in the compounded name of Adonais? And, can the enigmatic nature of this name still produce the satisfaction that, in accordance to the expectations of elegiac tradition, successfully sustains a phenomenology that speaks for the silence of death?

13.        The preceding questions have surfaced in the reception of Adonais through the tendency to read Shelley’s elegy either as a failure or as an act of writing that the elegiac can barely survive. Of the first, the most exemplary is the judgment of W. H. Auden (who otherwise lauded the success of poets in writing elegies) that Adonais is “the only elegy I know of which seems to me a failure” (147). Auden’s measure of failure indicates that this elegy is a singular example in the genre (rather than the object of Auden’s repeated antipathy to Shelley). If the context in which Auden’s judgment is expressed provides any clue, what constitutes such a failure appears to be a mournfulness that exceeds its subject. [14]  Peter Sacks, who places Adonais at the limit of elegiac writing, is less restrained in describing such an excess when he writes that “Adonais marks an extremity that no later elegy would reach” (165). Both Auden and Sacks react to an “unmeasure” in Adonais. While this unmeasure is the clear sign of a failure for Auden, it is not so clear in the case of Sacks who, despite recognizing an extremity that threatens the genre, still allows Shelley to have accomplished many of the goals embedded in the elegiac tradition, including what is perhaps the most important of these goals: “[Shelley] has expressed and purged his anger” (165). The admission of “tragic” language here, as well as the vocabulary of Aristotle’s account of tragedy (purgation), indicates how much Sacks still retains the “lawful calculation” through which tragedy has been read despite the evidence of its texts, not to mention Hölderlin’s corrective which McCall brings to the fore in his account of the former’s “wrathful” translations. But if an inability to experience anything other than this “lawful calculation” is the result of Shelley’s elegy, even when it goes to the edge of its own ruin, then the affective moment that Hölderlin identifies as central to tragic experience and its account of time would also be removed. In the more exacting terms of Benjamin’s account of mourning, this pattern removes the intensification of intention in the elegy, which is not the same thing as the achievement of that intention or its near destruction. In both these cases, the temporal relation between the object of suffering and the language of mourning in which that suffering takes place would be obscured.

14.        Sacks recognizes the danger of achieving the intention of elegy when he makes this achievement the extremity at whose edge Shelley stands. Yet, it is Sacks who drives Shelley to this extremity before pulling back into the kind of figurative solace that follows from the threat of ruin. Only in the hypothetical substitution of intention and object in the act of mourning, and after the subsequent rejection of that hypothesis, can Sacks still preserve the historical tradition of elegy. Sacks writes: Shelley’s “mourning imagination, its apparently literal rather than literary thrust [. . .] draws him on to what all mourners need to avoid—their own drive beyond life and beyond language whose detours and saving distances keep them alive” (165). The moment of hesitancy in this account of Shelley’s extremity is pronounced. Shelley’s “mourning imagination” is “apparently literal,” and this is not the only moment of hesitation expressed by Sacks as he seeks to protect the “literary thrust” from what appears to be an equally thrust-like “drive beyond life.” In the preceding sentence, Sacks writes: “Shelley insists on what seems to be a literal rather than a figurative identification with the consolatory image” (167; emphasis added). Sacks’s remarks all tend towards an account of mourning that protects the subject from too close an identification with its object, lest it succumb to what it mourns. But, in doing so, Sacks’s rhetorical use of “seems” and “apparently” indicates that the extremity he attributes to Shelley’s Adonais still falls within the realm of an intention that cannot quite be fulfilled. This does not mean that the image Sacks refers to as “consolatory” can be resurrected in order to save Shelley’s elegy from its extremity. The issue sidestepped here is the one Benjamin points to: mourning can only produce such an image because the world it refers to is an empty one. To argue that the purpose of the elegy, and with it the literary, is to preserve the significance of figurative language by locating the elegiac in a world whose transport of meaning is not empty but merely lost or missing. Loss is the figure that has been embedded in the historical tradition of the elegiac mourning as the guarantee that its literary mode—its mournful language—will not miss the mark even as it fails to attain its object. On this point, Sacks again hesitates despite the confidence with which the communal “we” is assumed: “we recognize now how thoroughly he has driven his version of the genre to the brink of its own ruin” (167; emphasis added).

15.        To go to the brink is not to cross to the other side. Like the loss that elegy places before itself, the promise of transcendence and reconciliation that should flow from this loss is the name of an extremity that occurs neither in the world nor beyond it. The time of such extremity is always the present. The hesitation of Sacks’s reading is the effect of this extremity, even when all that remains is an intent to preserve a model of mourning in which the subject derives mimetic or figurative consolation in the image it produces for its own contemplation. To literalize this image is, on the one hand, as Sacks points out, to attempt to go beyond it, but, on the other hand, to take this image as the sign of the literary is also to literalize it in order to define literature as nothing less than a phenomenology of language whose purpose is to protect us from an empty world. This world responds with silence to the images of loss and transcendence thrust before it. Such silence is the only witness to an empty world that stands apart from the names through which it is addressed and through which the elegy intensifies the intention of mourning. When Benjamin locates this intention in the act of naming that also contains a presentiment of mourning, he gives it an intention that drives it toward the object as its meaning, but this drive only intensifies the separation in which the promise of all intentional acts is preserved. Mourning exposes the extremity of naming in the empty silence of the world’s response to such naming. To mourn one must name, but such naming stands apart from the dangerous possibility of a translation that achieves an over-identification and an over-determination of its source. This is precisely what happens when emptiness is figured as the sign of loss or transcendence: the same silence triggers the possibility of both. As if to work against this figuration, Benjamin gives one more twist to this relation between naming and the presentiment of mourning when he states that such a presentiment is even more present when naming is replaced by reading:

To be named [. . .] remains perhaps always a presentiment of mourning. But how much more so not to be named, only read rather, read uncertainly by the allegorist [nicht benannt, sondern nur gelesen, unsicher durch den Allegoriker gelesen], and to have become highly significant only through him. (OGT 225; emphasis added, trans. modified)
In order to function as a more significant presentiment of mourning, the task of reading must proceed uncertainly, or without safety (both senses of unsicher). It is here that Keats, in not being named by Shelley, is preserved as the object of an intention that guards against any katharsis even as that intention employs the embedded traditions of elegy but within a sense of time that counters the historical succession implied in such traditions.

4. The Mournful Name, Adonais [15] 

“I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar”

(Adonais, line 493)

16.        It is not the name of Keats that marks the historical loss against which this poem contends, but a name combined (in no particular order of importance) of a Greek mythological figure, Adonis; the Hebrew word, adonai (lord or ruler), used to address the divine in the place of a proper name; the Greek word for nightingale aēdōn, which if not for the long ē would be an exact homophone for the adōn of Adonis; and finally the Greek sound of lament, “ai.” The role of these different elements in determining the meaning of Shelley’s poem has been a subject of considerable critical concern, even anxiety, as indicated by the recurring attempts to explain why Shelley coined the name “Adonais” as title to this elegy. The anxiety that drives this concern is how to decide among these four choices so that the challenge posed by Shelley’s invented name can be resolved; namely, the challenge of locating an addressee as the meaning of the poem rather than its occasion.

17.        As a result of Earl Wasserman’s essays on this poem, this challenge became defined around his attempt to fold the Hebraic adonai within the always desired classical genealogy that elegy has demanded. [16]  The challenge Wasserman first introduced just over fifty years ago remains a critical reference point, as a recent essay indicates by its enlisting of an extensive, associative philology in order to marginalize the Hebraic adonai. As a means of resolving this issue, such an associative philological account provides no more persuasive an argument than the absence of any evidence documenting Shelley’s knowledge of Hebrew. [17]  What is at stake here is the desire to resolve the absence of any verifiable indirect—never mind direct—naming of its addressee, or, in other words, to return propriety to what appears in the form of a proper name. In this respect, the challenge embodied in the name Adonais functions in relation to Keats in the same way that adonai does in relation to Yahweh in the Hebrew Old Testament: both name what cannot appear in itself and certainly not in the time in which this naming occurs. In both cases, what is emphasized is the temporality of address, which is precisely the question that informs Shelley’s engagement with the elegiac across this poem, not just in its title. In contrast to this question, the dislodging of adonai, or even its appropriation in the name of evoking symbolic archetypes (as in Wasserman), become examples of a restrictive reading that is more confident than Shelley of how and where the elegiac can place its subject.

18.        Before any ascribing of meaning to adonai, the presence of this word in Shelley’s title complicates the traditional use of a classical name in order to evoke a setting (above all, classical Greek pastoral) that promises a transmutation of the mournful task that defines the elegiac. In this respect, the name Adonais is not comparable to Milton’s substitution of an already-existing classical name, Lycidas, for his drowned friend, Edward King. Yet, already in Milton’s substitution it is possible to discern the task that the name Adonais exposes in the classically influenced elegiac tradition: translation, namely, the transposition of a subject into a name whose existence invokes the solace of an idealized world. Two senses of translation are involved in this task in its classical adoption: the prevailing modern use of this word which involves the task of finding one word for another across linguistic boundaries, and the etymological sense of a transfer from one location to another. [18]  This second sense has figured prominently in the elegy as a means of invoking a literary setting and a place in which human life is no longer defined by the complications of its temporality. Such a sense gives the elegy its generic tendency to relocate death in a topography, a tendency that survives its classical models—as is the case with Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” in which even the act of writing an elegy, never mind the subject it addresses, is translated into a very specific space. Within this tradition, the difference Shelley introduces in the name “Adonais” is to pose the central question that informs elegiac writing: how and where to locate the name this writing invokes so that it may translate what Benjamin calls “the empty mask of mourning” into a figure for an idealized object and, in so doing, transform the loss and mourning occasioned by this mask as if it were an object of satisfying contemplation.

19.        The task Shelley faces in Adonais, as the opening line indicates, is one in which both mourning and translation are implicated: mourning because of the initial act of weeping expressed by Shelley; translation, since this line, except for one word, repeats the opening of Bion’s “Epitaph on Adonis”: “I weep for Adonais—he is dead!” [19]  For Shelley to open his elegy with another’s words, Bion’s, in the place of his own, and to do so in an elegy that addresses its subject in the name of another, is already to affirm an aspect of the Hebrew use of adonai as the generalized issue from which Shelley’s elegy proceeds: the impropriety of a name that never had or no longer has a temporal subject. The effect of this issue is immediately present in the second line of Shelley’s poem as Shelley diverges from the repetition that occurs in Bion’s “Epitaph on Adonis.” Where Bion’s announcement of his own mourning is followed by the repeated antiphonal response “Fair Adonis is dead” made by the “Loves,” Shelley’s version takes a different turn. No antiphonal response is made to his mourning as a means of affirming that mourning. Instead, Shelley gives a command to mourn:

I weep for Adonis—he is dead!
O, weep for Adonis! (1-2)

20.        Already the task faced by this elegy can be discerned in its the opening declaration as “I weep” is interrupted in the second line when its verb is suspended subjectless and the subject, “I,” is replaced by the interjection “O” which stands in the place where the subject formerly stood (I weep / O, weep). The tenuous hold of a subject on this elegy is only increased by the imperative. To whom is it addressed? The subsequent lines provide some clarification when Shelley identifies a universalized “we” whose answer to the command, “weep,” are tears that remain ineffective:

though our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head! (2-3)
From the very beginning of Shelley’s elegy, the task of mourning is not a facile unbinding or recovery of life from death; it is not, in this case, a project that aims at a successful figuration of death in a mask that the living demand to contemplate even if it operates under that imperative. This is why the empty “O” of the second line can be read in the place of the “I” from which elegy and the experience of loss proceeds and never more so than when it is falsely figured in a collective experience on whose behalf the poet claims to speak. This interjected “O” also has its own role to play in this elegy of displaced beginnings. Following immediately upon the word “dead” at the end of the first line, the second line which makes the command to weep begins with a letter that suggests there is something else displaced in this poem’s address to death, and like the title, Adonais, it is a matter of a letter. As observed above, the second word of the second line is again “weep” but the place of “I” in the first line is occupied by a letter which stands facing us with an emptiness that points to its failure to symbolize the death this elegy addresses. Absent from this “O” is the line that transforms it into theta (Θ) which, when used alone, stands for the Greek word for death, Θανατος (thanatos). [20]  And, lest we miss the play of these letters, its least obvious one (the absent theta) is precisely what occurs at the beginning of the immediate following phrase (“though”) and the opening word of the next line (“Thaw”). Each begins with the letters by which theta is transliterated, thus forming a sequence at the beginning of the first three lines that runs “I [. . .] O [. . .] Th [Θ] [. . .]”: the subject’s address to death (“I weep for Adonis—he is dead”), the interruption of that address by an interjection and command that does not identify the subject to which it is addressed, then the obscured appearance of what has been displaced all along but to which the poem is bound: death. Death, which occasions the subject of this elegy, does not appear, but is separated and dispersed so that it unbinds the traditional pattern of elegy in a way that does not presume that it, its language, or its images, can be taken for granted. The fate of this latter element, the image, is forcefully present as a result of the “frost” that holds the head of Adonais in its bind in the form an unidentifiable figure, “head,” that not only remains torn apart from the tears it provokes, but also provides the sole bodily part in which the subject of the poem’s address is figured.

21.        From this opening, it is clear that what Auden calls this poem’s failure is not a failing, nor is it an exercise to be made subordinate to a spirit that cannot be measured. After the displacement of the poet in the first two lines and the recognition that our tears cannot thaw the frost that now binds Adonais to the figure of a head, the poem turns to time in the form of a “sad Hour” as one whose mourning should offer more than has been achieved so far. But, as it turns out, this Hour, in order to mourn, needs to be instructed in the art of lawful calculation and its repeatability:

And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow, say: with me
Died Adonais, till the future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!
The Hour addressed by Shelley is both one of the Hōrai, the goddesses of the seasons in whom time is figured as nature, and an address to something more than such a measure of time since this “sad Hour” is “selected from all years.” It is not just part of a generalized cycle repeated each year. In addition this “Hour” is distinguished from “all years,” that is, it is distinguished from any measure of time and from any claim to completion resonant in the word “all.” In this respect, it has more in common with the sense of hōra as the specific moment in which the time for something to happen has come (the “hour has arrived,” for example). What is invoked in line 4 of Adonais is such an hour, but what arrives with it is not the measure of time but time defined as an affect: it is a “sad Hour.” This “hour” stands apart from “all years”; it is a time called upon to mourn the loss that the poet identifies with in the second line when he writes of “our tears.” For this mourning to occur, the “sad Hour” is given three tasks by the poet: first, “rouse thy obscure compeers”; second, “teach them thine own sorrow”; third, in order to fulfill this second imperative, “say: with me /Died Adonais.” What is revealed in these lines is that the poet must not only instruct the “sad Hour” about how to teach a sorrow that is intensively identified with that Hour (“thine own”) but must also communicate what is at stake in this mourning: that the time of an event—Adonais’s death—must stand with a significance that is not given by such a measure of historical time. The disjunction which appears here is amplified in the closing lines of this first stanza when Shelley voices the sentiment that Adonais’s fate and fame “shall be an echo and a light unto eternity,” but then binds this sentiment to a future that “dares to forget the past.” The inevitability of this binding has already been expressed in the words through which the sorrow of the “sad Hour” is to teach its own sorrow to its “obscure compeers”: “with me / Adonais died.” In this phrase, the time of mourning and the time of the event it addresses are made contiguous by means of a spatial and temporal metonymy. In this metonymy, two unreconciled senses of time are forced to stand in balance with one another: the moment of an event (Adonais’s death) and the experience of that event. Together these form the emotional affect from which Shelley’s elegy proceeds.

22.        What already surfaces through the figure of the “sad Hour” is taken up by the second figure Shelley invokes, except on this occasion the focus is no longer time but shifts to place in relation to Adonais’s death. Shelley asks at the beginning of the second stanza:

Where were you mighty Mother, when he lay,
When thy Son lay pierced by the shaft which flies
In darkness? Where was Urania
When Adonais died? (10-13)
Repeated here is the disjunction in which the elegy originates and to which one of its strongest thematic strains seeks to return: the coincidence of place and experience. Also repeated is the obscurity of comparison evoked by reference to “compeers” in the first stanza. This obscurity resurfaces here when the event that defines the elegiac, death, is described as occurring “in darkness,” in what remains obscure because it cannot be seen. Yet, the fate achieved in this darkness is also what is meant to become “an echo and light unto eternity.” The disjunctive conjunction of the darkness of the event with the assertion of a light that the future will at some point dare to extinguish also extends to the solitary Echo who “rekindles faint melodies” in this passage. This rekindling, as a form of repetition, not only recalls the imperative to teach that Shelley gives to the “sad Hour” in the first stanza; it is also present when Shelley answers here his own question, “Where was Urania when Adonis died?” and tells us where she was as well as what she was doing:
With veiled eyes,
’Mid listening Echoes, in her Paradise
She sate, while one, with soft enamoured breath,
Rekindled all the fading melodies,
With which, like flowers that mock the corse beneath,
He had adorned and hid the coming bulk of death. (13-18)
With veiled eyes, Urania is surrounded by Echoes who, contrary to their name, are not being listened to but are themselves the listeners. By reversing the expected order, the lawful calculation that defines the place of an echo, Shelley not only separates the echo from the event of a sound in which it originates, but also puts these Echoes in the position of waiting to have a sound to echo. But, no such sound occurs. Instead, one Echo repeats already-heard sounds, “fading melodies,” that mask the arrival of death which comes, not with sound or visibility (the shaft that kills flies in darkness), but with “bulk,” the “bulk of death.” The clash between sound—its lightness of breath, its repetitions, and its melodiousness—with the bulk of death not only brings a condition that cannot be repeated into a scene filled with repetitions that are given no origin, but it also sets up this scene as one that already mocks—“like flowers that mock the corse beneath”—the event that is about to arrive.

23.        The disjunction fuelled by this mockery will later force Urania to the recognition that her mourning is driven by an identification to which she is doubly bound and to which she gives voice in her address to the dead Adonais:

I would give
All that I am to be as thou now art!
But I am chained to Time and cannot thence depart. (232-34)
The time to which Urania is chained contains both the demand for identification as well as its denial. To become Adonais is to become the bulk that no sound, no word, and no name can achieve without first relinquishing the meaning and destroying the intention of that identification. The effect of this situation on the task of elegy is already recognized by Shelley when, in one of his few direct interjections into this poem, he remarks:
Alas! That all we loved of him should be,
But for our grief, as if it had not been,
And grief itself be mortal! Woe is me!
Whence are we, and why are we? of what scene
The actors or spectators? (181-85)
Only in the echo of grief does the past have a time in which to be present; otherwise, as Shelley observes, the living will be as if they had not been. Shelley goes on to note that this present, this grief, is bound by the same condition that makes grief possible in the first place: mortality. The result of this condition is that the address expressed in grief is separated from what it would address by the presence of a mortality within that same address. The “I” who weeps at the very beginning of Adonais now becomes the source and object of the suffering as it fails to find its proper destination in a name that has always kept its impropriety. On the heels of this recognition, there then arrives the arrest of knowledge Hölderlin locates in the wrath of Oedipus: “Whence are we, and why are we? of what scene the actors or spectators?” Bereft of a place of departure and bereft of a reason to guard the possibility of such a place, Shelley can only account for the past as a scene, a performance that allows no decision as to whether one is its actor or spectator. Such a decision presumes a knowledge that can be grasped and calculated in the form of a history that can be repeated and purified in that repetition.

24.        When such purification or catharsis is not possible, the question of who mourns and for what comes to the fore. It does so precisely because the elegy mourns for the scene it produces as if it were a past that could be reenacted or translated into another place, another time. Here, the full force of the name of Shelley’s elegy is felt but not simply for its challenge to the critical demand that has taken hold of genre: whence is it and why? What is at stake in this name, Adonais, is that it is more flower than “corse.” [21]  To read Adonais as more “corse” than “flower” would be, according to Benjamin’s account of mourning, to remain unnamed since it is only from the name that mourning can arise (“To be named [. . .] remains perhaps always a presentiment of mourning”). To demand the body of Keats as the subject of this elegy’s name is to misunderstand that we mourn for the name that remains, for the name whose meaning is granted by the death of what it names in its act of naming. Such naming points to an experience of death in the only form that this experience can take: a presentiment of mourning. As another poet, this time one who takes the name of Adonis, writes in a poem addressing yet another unnamed poet, such a death is always preceded by a word, its name. It is for the name of such a word that we mourn and, as these lines by Adonis recognize, it is in the necessity of that mourning that the tragic remains, as long as we do not forget McCall’s admonition and mistake the painting for a mirror:

Should I mourn him now that he is dead?
What should I say?
Should I say that his life was a word,
but only his death could give it meaning. [22] 

Works Cited

Aristotle. Ars Rhetorica. Ed. and trans. W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959. Print.

Auden, W. H. A Certain World: A Commonplace Book. New York: Viking, 1979. Print.

Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator.” Selected Writings. 4 vols. Ed. Michael Jennings, et al. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1996. 1: 253-263. Print.

- - -. The Origin of the German Tragic Drama. trans. Peter Osborne. London: Verso, 1985. Print.

Berman, Antoine. The Experience of the Past: Culture and Translation in Romantic Germany. Trans. S. Heyvaert. Albany: SUNY Press, 1992. Print.

Bion. Bion of Smyrna: The Fragments and the Adonis. Ed. J. D. Reed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 33.

Epstein, Andrew. “‘Flowers That Mock the Corse beneath’: Shelley’s Adonais, Keats, and Poetic Influence.” Keats-Shelley Journal 48 (1999): 90-128. Print

Everest, Kelvin. “Shelley’s Adonais and John Keats.” Essays in Criticism 57.3 (2007): 237-64. Print.

Golden, Leon. “The Clarification Theory of Katharsis.” Hermes 104.4 (1976): 447-52. Print.

Hölderlin, Friedrich. “Anmerkungen zur Ödipus.” Sämtliche Werke, Frankfurter Ausgabe. 20 Vols. Stroemfeld/Roter Stern, 1975-2008. Print.

Jackson, H. J. “The ‘ai’ in ‘Adonais.’” Review of English Studies 62.257 (2011): 777-784. Print.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Mimique,” in “Crayonné au Théâtre.” Oeuvres Complètes. Paris: Gallimard, 1947. Print. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. 

McCall, Tom. “Wrathful Translation.” Tragedy, Translation and Theory: Essays In Honor of the Work of Thomas J. McCall. Romantic Circles Praxis Series. College Park, MD: University of Maryland, 2014. Web.

Sacks, Peter. The English Elegy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1985. Print.

Said, Ali Ahmed (Adonis). “The Desert.” The Pages of Day and Night. Trans. Samuel Hazo. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 2000. Print.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. Ed. Donald Reiman and Sharon B. Powers. New York: Norton, 1977. Print.

Wasserman, Earl. The Subtler Language. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1959. Print.

- - -. Shelley: A Critical Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1971. Print.

Wetzsteon, Rachel. Influential Ghosts: A Study of Auden’s Sources. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.


[1] McCall’s s essay belongs to a book project that had the working title, “Vortexts.” The second epigraph to this paper is the concluding sentence of McCall’s “Wrathful Translation.” McCall had first written about Hölderlin’s translations in his doctoral thesis at Yale. This thesis, “Allegories of Translation: Hölderlin’s Translations of Sophocles,” was completed in 1987 under the direction of J. Hillis Miller. BACK

[2] Benjamin recalls this reception in the context of a remark about Hölderlin’s “literal rendering of syntax.” BACK

[3] On the significance of the translation to Romanticism, see Antoine Berman. BACK

[4] The phrases in single quotes are translated by McCall from Hölderlin’s “Anmerkungen zur Ödipus,” 53. This work will subsequently be referred parenthetically using the abbreviation FHA. BACK

[5] This return occurs in Chapter 14 of the Poetics when Aristotle states that pity and fear are experienced through the mimetic portrayal of the facts of Oedipus’ history—a result, Aristotle claims, that is true even if one does not see the play but only hears the history of Oedipus (“it is what anyone who hears the story of Oedipus would feel” [14.53b6-7]). This embedding of pity, fear and suffering in the facts of the Oedipus story makes the mimetic portrayal of those facts become the source of such emotions for Aristotle. As a result, they are already experienced in a manner of presentation, mimesis, which, from almost the very beginning of the Poetics, is defined in terms of producing pleasure. Aristotle speaks of pleasure as a universal effect of mimesis: “everyone takes joy in what is mimetic” (to khairen tois mimēmasi pantas) (4.48b8-9). In this respect, the mimetic account of tragedy has already purged such emotions as pity and fear, leaving only the introduction and identification of a formal moment (the Aristotelian katharsis) to authorize this purification as a structural device. BACK

[6] Aristotle is clear that what katharsis does is purge emotional states that are considered destructive so that the pleasure resulting from this purification of the tragic is alone what remains. He refers to both pity (eleos) and fear (phobos) as pathēmata (Poetics 6.49b28). More significantly, in relation to Hölderlin’s remark that Oedipus “suffers in wrathful unmeasure” (discussed below), Aristotle not only defines these emotions in his Rhetoric as painful to the body (lupē) but, in the case of phobos, he uses a word to characterize this pain, tarakhē, that signifies something which is out of order with respect to the body and to the mind (Estō dē ho phobos lupē tis ē tarakhē) (Ars Rhetorica 2.5). BACK

[7] In the “Remarks on Oedipus,” Hölderlin speaks of a similar moment in terms of the caesura which, within the succession of representations within a work, allows representation itself to appear in the form of an “empty transport” (FHA 16.250). BACK

[8] McCall’s main remarks focus on time in Hölderlin’s translation of “Zeus” as “Vater der Zeit” (“Wrathful Translation,” 4-20), and do so in order to indicate that “by treating the proper name (Greek ‘Zeus’) as a common name that must be translated (‘Vater der Zeit’), Hölderlin’s example undoes a fundamental linguistic distinction and shows that even the god—that most proper of all entities—has to be re-denominated again and again” (7). BACK

[9] Hölderlin’s account of this “lawful calculation” occurs at the beginning of his “Remarks on Oedipus” and it provides the example of what tragedy both embodies and against which it asserts a counter-measure: “The law, the calculation, the way in which a feeling-system, man in his entirety, develops as if under the influence of the elemental, and how representation, sensation and reason appear in different successions yet always according to a certain law, exists in tragedy more as a state than as a succession.” (FHA 16.250; translation mine). BACK

[10] This work will subsequently be referred parenthetically using the abbreviation OGT. Benjamin does go on to observe that “modern aesthetics has often believed itself to have grasped a feeling in the concept of the tragic itself” but this feeling is then clarified to be the “emotional reaction [Gefühlsreaktion] to tragedy and the mourning-play” (118; translation modified). What Benjamin points to here is that this removal of mourning in Aristotle is not corrected in modern aesthetics, since all the latter has done is to impose the emotional reaction of the audience onto the tragic, and then confuse this reaction with what occurs in the events of the drama. This appropriation of the tragic by modern aesthetics does not therefore grasp the place of mourning in the tragic. As Benjamin subsequently observes with respect to the Trauerspiel, whose name invokes mourning, “these are not so much the plays which cause mourning as plays in which mournfulness finds satisfaction: plays [that take place] before the mournful” (119). BACK

[11] In Hölderlin’s words: “Daher in der Scene mit Kreon nachher der Argwohn, weil der unbändige, und von traurigen Geheimnissen beladene Gedanke unsicher wird, und der treue gewisse Geist im zornigen Unmass leidet, das, zerstörungsfroh, der reiβenden Zeit nur folgt” (FHA 16.253). BACK

[12] The shift away from the purification of Aristotelian tragedy is completed here. Katharsis, as purification, does away with the enormity (Hölderlin’s word) of the emotions. But here, what Hölderlin invokes as purification is precisely what produces such an emotion and does so without check; it is boundless whereas Aristotelian purification is the establishment of boundary and measure as the source of meaning so that the human is no longer out of step with natural force. This understanding is emphatically underscored by Hölderlin when he changes a citation from the tenth-century Byzantine encyclopedia, the Suda, in which it is stated “that Aristotle was nature’s scribe, dipping the quill into meaning” (Hoti Aristotelēs tēs phuseōs grammateus ēn, ton kalamon apobrekhōn ). In Hölderlin’s version, Aristotle is omitted, and the act that links meaning to nature (and which is directly relevant to what Hölderlin says immediately prior this phrase when he speaks of natural force and what is most inner to the human) becomes a well-intentioned act: “Nature’s scribe, dipping the well-meaning quill” (ton kalamon apobrekhōn ) thus relieving Aristotle of his reputation as the one who unites nature and meaning in language. The original phrase from the Suda is cited in FHA 16.257n. Hölderlin also addressed the relation of anger and purification in the poem, “Ganymede”; Hölderlin writes, “Im Zorne reinigt aber / Sich der Gefesselte nun, nun eilt er” (But now in anger the restrained one purifies itself, now hurries). BACK

[13] A later critical-historical interpretation of katharsis will emphasize the significance of knowledge to katharsis in the form of clarification. Thus Leon Golden: “it is only katharsis in the sense of ‘intellectual clarification’ that can provide a telos for tragedy that is in harmony with the general argument of the Poetics” (447). Although Golden champions this sense of katharsis, he also points out that he is not the first to advance it, but is rather the most recent in a long tradition. Golden provides a summary of prior accounts of the interpretation of katharsis (447-449). BACK

[14] Rachel Wetzsteon observes that Auden’s preference in elegy appears to run toward a language that is “subdued in tone and matter of fact in subject-matter” (114n.25)—if the examples of elegies he includes in A Certain World are any indication of elegies that do not fail. BACK

[15] The following remarks on the opening lines of Shelley’s Adonais form part of larger study of both this poem and the elegiac in general—forthcoming under the title, Taking Leave: Exile and the Modern Elegy. BACK

[16] See Earl Wasserman’s The Subtler Language (285-361) and Shelley: A Critical Reading (462-502). BACK

[17] See, H.J. Jackson’s “The ‘ai’ in Adonais.” Jackson argues for a “dislodging” of the Hebrew adonai from “its current domination of the field” (782) by isolating two elements: the Greek word for nightingale, “adōn” [sic] and the presence of the Greek sound of lament, “ai,” used by Shelley in other works, notably Prometheus Unbound. Having done so, Jackson calls in the plural form of the Greek word “adōnes” thus handily accounting for the stray “s” that comes after “ai” sound of lamentation: adon-ai-s/adon-e-s. If we disregard the philological inexactitude of eliding the Greek spelling of the word for nightingale from aēdōn to adōn then perhaps this would be, as Jackson says, the “least controversial of the other suggestions” (meaning one suggestion in particular, the Hebrew “adonai”). A more measured account of the presence of the nightingale in the name Adonais is given by Kelvin Everest in “Shelly’s Adonais and John Keats.” Everest rightly notes that the presence of aēdōn in Adonis is more in the manner of a pun and cites Socrates’ etymologies in Plato’s Cratylus in order to show how similarity in sound is confused with etymological relation. The connection between Keats and the name Adonais on the basis of aēdōn remains a thematic argument that requires either the general association of poetry with the song of the nightingale, or else the evocation of Keats’s famous ode, which, beyond its title, does not address the nightingale again by its name—an aspect of the ode that draws attention to the question of naming posed by the title of Shelley’s elegy for Keats. Beyond this ode, the word “nightingale” occurs thirteen times in the whole of Keats’s poetry, and mostly does so in poems which are less than memorable. Only in Endymion does the word occur more than once. See the Keats concordance elsewhere at Romantic Circles. BACK

[18] This etymological meaning survives only in the specialized context of ecclesiastical terminology, where it is used to describe the transfer, for example, of a bishop from one diocese to another. BACK

[19] All references to Shelley’s Adonais are to Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. Bion’s “Epitaph on Adonis” begins “Aiazō ton Adōnis, ‘apōleto kalos Adōnis!’ / ‘ōleto kalos Adōnis,’ epaiazousin Erōtes.” In J. D. Reed’s translation: “I mourn for Adonis: ‘Fair Adonis is dead!’ / ‘Fair Adonis is dead,’ the Loves mourn in reply” (Bion of Smyrna 122-23). BACK

[20] In addition to the general use of Θ, the tokens used to vote for the death penalty in classical Athens would be inscribed with this single letter. This letter, in a reference to death, occurs in a citation attributed to Plato which forms the first epigraph to Adonais. BACK

[21] On this image, see, Andrew Epstein. BACK

[22] From Adonis’s (the pen name of the Syrian poet, Ali Ahmed Said) “The Desert” (98). BACK

Published @ RC

October 2014