Shelley’s Adonais and Arnold’s Thyrsis: Words of Power in Pastoral Elegy
Few poems better reflect the deep discontinuity between Romantic faith in words of power and Victorian distrust of performative language than Shelley’s Adonais and Arnold’s Thyrsis. As pastoral elegies, both poems try to emulate Milton’s Lycidas by recreating quasi-imperative words capable of expressing through verbal magic, as Orpheus expressed through music, an energy common to art and nature. In Shelley, as in Milton, such an energy or force is best expressed as a metaphoric identity of subject and object. Lycidas is the risen sun; Adonais is the beaconing star; and Arnold would like to say that Thyrsis is the ‘single elm-tree,’ ‘Bare on its lonely ridge’ (lines 26, 160). Unfortunately, Arnold, like many Victorians, is a sceptic: he does not believe in the seer’s metaphoric identities. He cannot substitute a tree or even a landscape for the presence of his friend, nor does he share Shelley’s faith in the almost physical energy released by words and their power to tame a hostile or indifferent world.
KeywordsTransitive Verb English Poetry Rhyme Word Romantic Poet Verbal Magic
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