For Better for Verse: An interactive learning tool that can help you understand what makes metered poetry in English tick.

Link to U.Va. English Department

Adonais (stanzas 54-55)(1821)

Percy Bysshe Shelley

That light whose smile kindles the Universe,
MeterThat light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That Beauty in which all things work and move,
MeterThat Beauty in which all things work and move,
That Benediction which the eclipsing curse
MeterThat Benediction which the eclipsing curse
Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
MeterOf birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which through the web of being blindly wove
MeterWhich through the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
MeterBy man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim as each are mirrors of
MeterBurns bright or dim as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,
MeterThe fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,

Note on line 8:A great moment, where the stanza’s accumulated syntax, and the steady iambs that have run since line four like a power loom (weaving Shelleyan love throughout the creation), mount to the climactic caesura. The poet himself is thereby thrust into the limelight, or laser beam, that is about to ignite his long elegy’s amazing final stanza.

Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
MeterConsuming the last clouds of cold mortality.

The breath whose might I have invoked in song
MeterThe breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven
MeterDescends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
MeterFar from the shore, far from the trembling throng

Note on line 12: Maybe Shelley wrote “trembling” as a disyllable, but 4B4V doubts it. The whole line is quaking with holy awe, and a trisyllabic “trembling” gives the line its third shiver of consecutive slacks.

Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
MeterWhose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
MeterThe massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
MeterI am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
MeterWhilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
MeterThe soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
MeterBeacons from the abode where the Eternal are.

Note on line 18:With half of its six feet trochees, this may seem one of those alexandrines that Pope derisively likened to “a wounded snake.” But in fact it’s remarkably poised — a coiled snake, if you like, about to spring out of this world — thanks to the mirroring symmetry of stresses and slacks around its strict (if unpunctuated) medial caesura. The Spenserian stanza, for all the rigidity of its rhyme scheme, proves a surprisingly flexible instrument. Compare the adrenalin rush Shelley gets out of the form with its inventor Spenser’s much gentler, narcotic manner elsewhere in this tutorial (“Despayre in Praise of Suicide”).


Rhyme
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