This short poem consists of only two four-line stanzas. It exhibits a curious approach of defining and expanding upon its primary images in order to tie them together. In particular, Shelley writes “Music, when soft voices die” in order to focus and define the time and place (a quiet and personal place) where this particular music exists. This then allows him to bring extra emphasis to the second line which explains the first and emphasizes why it is memoroable(“Vibrates in the memory”). “Odours, when the sweet violet sicken” is likewise a specific definition of the time and place which creates the smell. Thus “Live within the sense they quicken” serves as an explanation of the resultant feeling. Shelley uses this approach, the word “when” in alternating lines of the poem, in order to establish a simile or a comparison to the second to last line, “thoughts, when though art gone” and make it easier for the reader to understand.
This is a long poem, consisting of seven twelve-line stanzas. My discussion focuses on the first stanza in order to discuss details and to avoid sweeping generalizations. In the first stanza, Shelley introduces the idea of “intellectual beauty” which “floats, through unseen, among us-visiting/This various world with as inconstant wing.” He elaborates on the idea of floating through air by comparing it to the summer wind and its ability to “creep from flower to flower.” As a natural phenomenon, the wind (especially a light summer wind) is rarely seen except possibly in the case of tornadoes. It is this unseen nature of wind, as well as that of other images, like “moonbeams,” “hues,” and “harmonies,” mentioned in the stanza that allow Shelley to play with the concept of the ethereal, unseen, yet real qualities of “intellectual beauty.”
This long poem of a total of fifty eight stanzas has a poignant introduction to the life and death of John Keats. Shelley writes in first person in order to convey his grief of Keats’ early and unfair death. It is clear from the introduction, that Shelley believes that Keats died of grief and that it was the “wretched men” at the Quarterly Review who “scatter their insults and their slanders without heed” who are responsible for his death. In the poem, Shelley refers to Keats metaphorically, as Adonais and shows anger toward the “melancholy Mother” who remains asleep and does not weep while Adonais is dead. This stanza conveys anger, a common psychological response to a surprising death. The grieving party is angry that the rest of the world seems to continue on, not knowing or even caring, that it had lost someone so important. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), human beings are egocentric maniacs who have an uncanny ability to believe that the world not only revolves around them but should also stop when they see fit. This poem does an excellent job of conveying the anger that Shelley (and all of us) feel when the whole world does not stop and share in our grief.