Study Guide

Adonais Introduction

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Adonais Introduction

In the mood for love? Well, Shmoopers, you're a little off track. Yes, Adonais is a Romantic poem, but not like love-letter romantic; it's part of the Romanticism movement of the 1800s.

Romantic poets were a group of writers who were super into things like nature and expressing their feelings. This formidable crew, including Adonais author Percy Bysshe Shelley, party-boy Lord Byron, Frankenstein-author (and wife of Percy) Mary Shelley, and young-and-passionate John Keats, travelled, partied, and wrote letters to each other over the course of their careers. As a result, they formed a pretty tight posse.

So, when Keats died suddenly at the age of twenty-five, this band of BFFs was quite naturally devastated. They considered Keats one of the best poets around, and they knew that his death was a great, great loss to literature. Plus, they just couldn't understand how such a tragedy could happen to such a bright young star. Shelley, overwhelmed with grief, blamed the critics who had recently written a harsh review of Keats' poetry. He decided that this review must have literally broken Keats' heart. And so Adonais was born.

The 55-stanza, 495-line poem expresses the poet's grief and anger the way only a poem can: with lots and lots of imagery, wordplay, allusions, and metaphors. Shelley calls on gods, nature, and mankind to mourn the loss of Keats. He also has some pretty scathing words for Keats' critics, and for critics in general. The elegy was published in 1821, months after Keats' death, and though it didn't bring him back, it is widely considered one of Shelley's greatest works. Maybe that's some consolation, eh?

What is Adonais About and Why Should I Care?

Why read a 495-line poem about a guy that died almost 200 years ago? We'll tell ya: because it's as lyrical as a rap song that glides off the tongue, and as vengeful as a country ballad about a cheating lover. It's an ode to friendship not unlike the notes you pass to your BFF during study hall. And it's all about the effects of negative criticism, which everyone faces at one point or another.

You can't log into social media without running into a wall of opinions. Everyone likes to chime in on the newest songs, political events, or celebrity hairstyles. And if you are lucky enough to make it big, you know that you'll be facing these opinions at every turn. Whether you're Beyoncé, Tom Cruise, or just make popular YouTube videos– at some point, someone is going to say something negative. To put in another way, "haters gonna hate."

Even 200 hundred years ago (and long before internet comments), those who made it big had their fair share of haters. Keats was a young man on the cusp of fame, so naturally there were plenty of folks who wanted to knock him down a peg or two.

So how did Keats deal with these harsh words? Percy Bysshe Shelley believed that the young poet let all the criticism get him down, way down—so down, in fact, that it affected his health and ultimately killed him. Shelley thought this was a terrible tragedy and decided to write a big, 55-stanza poem taking down the critics and showing how they were wrong about Keats. He then got it published immediately, so that everyone would see it. We guess that's one way to deal with the haters.

So, the next time you're catching (or throwing) some serious shade, check out this poem. Maybe we can learn a thing or two about the power of negative words from Adonais.

Adonais Resources


All Things Shelley
From childhood letters to doodles, all things Shelley are collected here.

Dear Shelley, Love Keats
Check out the correspondence between the two.

Shelley's Grave
Check out Shelley's grave. Note that, when his body was discovered, a copy of Keats' poetry was in his pocket.

Shelley's Life
Learn all about the poet.

Shelley's Work
Check out electronic versions of his poems.

Bright Star
Read one of the most famous poems from Keats, who inspired Adonais.


Mick Jagger Reads Adonais
In 1969, the Rolling Stones' lead singer read several stanzas in front of a massive crowd.

Short Flick
Here's a jazzy little take on Shelley's life and work.


Hear the Whole Thing
Got half an hour? Then enjoy this recording of the poem in full.

Shelley Aloud
Hear audio recordings of several Shelley poems.


The Man
Here's a painting of Shelley (wearing a shirt with a very big collar).

Check out this painting of the poet who inspired Adonais.

Articles and Interviews

Shelley and the Romantics
Here's critic and infamous curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens on the poet and his fellow Romantics.

Shelley's Own Death
As it turned out, Shelley died pretty suddenly and tragically (and dramatically) himself.


The Complete Works
Here are all the poems, in book form.

Ovid's Metamorphoses
Want the scoop on those wacky Greek gods?

Movies & TV

Shelley in Space
Check out the classic Star Trek episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"

Shelley in Character
Here are the many TV and film versions of Shelley.

Anything Else

Shelley's Ghost
This 1952 edition of the Miami News ran a story about Shelley's ghost, who allegedly hung around to cause trouble.

Keats' Love Story
Keats, the subject of Adonais, remains a popular Romantic figure. There's even a movie about his love for Fanny Brawne. Don't forget the tissues.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Percy's wife Mary is arguably the more famous of the two. Read Frankenstein, her most famous (and spooky) work.

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