The Geeta and Shelley's Adonais

B S Tyagi

B. S. Tyagi

    Hegel-the great German thinker, said, ‘A poet should make his life poetry.’ The remark is true of no other English poet as of P B Shelley. At once spontaneous, passionate and impulsive Shelley is a great genius, ever pursuing his quest for truth or intellectual beauty. His poetry is the testimony to his belief. Like a metaphysical thinker he looks upon the worldly impressions on man as imperfect shadows of a higher world. He conceives of a Supreme Power prevailing through nature as well as human life. In Adonais he says:
    That Light whose smile kindles the universe,
    That beauty in which all things work and move, (Stanza 54)
The more Shelley thinks over life, the more he grapples with the questions related to it. He sets about finding their possible solutions like other thinkers. And it makes him a persistent seeker of truth. His serious speculation over life and its purpose sets him apart from other romantic poets.
    Interestingly enough like a student of the Vedanta philosophy Shelley ponders over the serious questions- where do we come from? Why do we come in the world? What is this world where we play our destined roles? Is there any worth seeking in life?
    Where are we, and why are we? Of what scene
    The actors or spectators? Great and mean
    Meet massed in death. Who lends what life must borrow. (Stanza 21)
Further Shelley thinks about soul and its nature. Does the soul perish with the body? Do our dreams end with death? Is it all illusion-maya in life? These perplexing questions leave all thinking humans upset. Arjuna is also greatly perturbed at the mind-boggling questions. Then Lord Krishna comes to his rescue and tells him:
    Avinasi tu tad viddhi yena sarvam idam tatam
    Vinasam avyayasya na kascit kartum arhati (2. 17)
      That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.
    Antavanta ime deha nityasyoktah saririnah
    Anasino prameyasya tasmad yudhyasva bharata (2. 18)
      That material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharat.
Lord Krishna further explains that soul does not perish even when the body perishes. Man must understand the real nature of soul to attain peace. It cannot be destroyed by any material weapon. What is destroyed or supposed to be destroyed is the body only.
      Ya enam vetti hantaram yas caiman manyate hatam
      Ubhau tau na vijanito nayam hanti na hanyate (2.19)
     Neither he who thinks the living entity the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain.
Shelley says:
    Like incarnations of the stars, when splendor
    Is changed to fragrance, they illumine death
    And mock the merry worm that wakes beneath
    Nought we know dies: shall that alone which knows
    Be as a sword consumed before the sheath
    By sightless lightning? The intense atom glows
    A moment, then is quenched in a most cold repose. (Stanza 20)
      Thus Shelley believes in the immortality of soul. It hardly matters if body is destroyed. God is the creator of this universe; and all things after death go back to Him for eternal rest. Noble souls shine through various objects of nature. Their pure radiance can be felt. Their sacredness is all palpable.
    God dawned on chaos. In its stream immersed.
    The lamps of heaven flash with a softer light;
    All baser things pant with life’s sacred thirst.
    Diffuse themselves, and spend in love’s delight. (Stanza 19)
Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:
      Anta kale ca mam eva smaran muktva kalevaram
      Yah prayati sa mad-bhavam yati nasty atra samsayah (8. 5)
      And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.
      Yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram
      Tam tam evaiti kaunteya sada tad-bhava-bhavitah (8.6)
      Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.
Further Shelley looks upon nature as possible origin of man’s life and vital significance of death which is not terrible or frightening at all. It ends all worldly evils which eat our body away day and night and weaken it. Nothing can destroy soul. It is ever unaffected. It is eternal and a perennial source of bliss. The Geeta says:
      Nainam chindanti sastrani nainam dahati pavakah
      Na cainam kledayanty apo na sasayati marutah (2.23)
     The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
      Acchedyo ’yam adahyo ’yam akledyo ’sosya eva ca
      Nityah sarva-gatah sthanur acalo ’yam sanatanah (2.24)
      This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting; present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
    Shelley is wholly aware of the fact that soul being the part of the Eternal is awakened, clean and eternal source of bliss and on the way to mingle with Him. Therefore, there is no reason to mourn the death of Keats who has become one with the Eternal. Nothing can tease or tire him. Death can do no harm to him.
    Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep!
    He hath awakened from the dream of life.
    ‘Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
    With phantoms an unprofitable strife, (Stanza 39)
    He lives, he wakes-’tis Death is dead, not he;
    Mourn not for Adonais-Thou young Dawn,
    Turn all thy dew to splendor, for from thee
    The spirit thou lamentest is not gone! (Stanza 41)
The Geeta says:
      Na jayate mriyate va kadacin nayam, bhutva bhavita va  na bhuyah
     Ajo nityah sasvato ’yam purano, na hanyate hanyamane sarire (2. 20)
      For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.                          
Lord Krishna forbids Arjuna to mourn the death of his kith and kin because it is body (and never the soul) that dies. He must understand this fact of life and try hard to come out of this great illusion that keeps man ever so low. Due to this illusion he mistakes body for the divine spark.
     Avyakto ’yam acintyo ’yam avikaryo ’yam ucyate
     Tasmad evam viditvainam nanusocitum arhasi (2. 25)
     It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
      Atha cainam nitya-jatam nityam va manyase mrtam
      Tathapi tvam maha-baho nainam socitum arhasi (2. 26)
     If, however, you think that the soul (or the symptoms of life) will always be born and die forever, you will have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed.
Shelley says:
    He is made one with nature. There is heard
    His voice in all her music. (Stanza 42)
The Geeta says:
      Avyaktadini bhutani  vyakta-madhyani bharata
      Avyakta-nidhanany eva tatra ka paridevana (2.28)
      All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?
Shelley firmly believes:
   The One remains, the many change and pass;
   Heaven’s light for ever shines, earth’s shadows fly;
   Life, like a dome of many colored glass,
   Stains the white radiance of eternity,
   Until Death tramples it to fragments-Die, (Stanza 52)
Shelley holds that body is only a means to reach the goal. It is dust and to the dust it returns; so nothing to be proud of. Only the soul remains and it goes back to its eternal source.
    Dust to the dust; but the pure spirit shall flow
    Back to the burning fountain whence it came,
    A portion of the Eternal, which must glow
    Through time and change, unquenchably the same, (Stanza 38)
 In the Geeta Arjuna says:
      Yatha nadinam bahavo ’mbu-vegah, samudram evabhimukhkha dravanti
      Tatha tavami nara-loka-vira , visanti vaktrany abhivijalanti (11. 28)
    As the many waves of the rivers flow into the ocean, so do all these great warriors enter blazing into Your mouth.
      Yatha pradiptam jvalanam patanga
      Visanti nasaya samrdha-vegah
      Tathaiva nasaya visanti lokas
      Tavapi vaktrani samrdha-vegah (11. 29)
    I see all people rushing full speed into Your mouths, as moths dash to destruction in a blazing fire.
The soul gives up the body and mingles itself with its fountain-head. Shelley is further led to propound that the soul after liberation from the body becomes one with nature. In fact, here Shelley’s theism has come out spontaneously; otherwise he is believed to be an atheist. His theism, however, is closely akin to the Greek pantheism (i.e.-the belief that God is everything and everything is God)
    He is a presence to be felt and known
    In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,-
    Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
    Which has withdrawn his being to its own, (Stanza 42)
    He is a portion of the loveliness
    Which once he made more lovely. He doth bear
    His part, while the One Spirit’s plastic stress
    Sweeps through the dull dense world; compelling there (Stanza 43)
      Shelley believes in God’s omnipresence. It is He who is reflected in every soul. Without His presence no life can be imagined in the universe. Arjuna is overwhelmed to see Him in every object of Nature. He fell prostrate in utter blissfulness.
      Tvam adi-devah purusah puranas
      Tvam asya visvasya param nidhanam
      Vettasi vedyam ca param ca dhama
      Tvaya tatam visvam ananta-rupa (11. 38)
    You are the original Personality of Godhead, the oldest, the ultimate sanctuary of this manifested cosmic world. You are the knower of everything, and You are all that is knowable. You are the supreme refuge, above the material modes. O limitless form! This whole cosmic manifestation is pervaded by You!
    Neither life nor death has power to blot the brightness of Nature; it may veil it for a while. All human beings are the living entities of that great heavenly beauty in which all beings work and move.
…as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality. (Stanza 54)
    The mortal attraction of flesh hampers man’s spiritual growth and inner journey toward consciousness. And we are eaten constantly by fears, desires, aspirations, attachments, avarice, hopes, lust, joys, sorrows et al like worms.
    …We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay. (Stanza 39)
Actually man awakes after enlightenment; he realizes his true nature and meaning of life.
    He hath awakened from the dream of life.
    ‘tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
    With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
    And in mad trance strike with our spirit’s knife
    Invulnerable nothings. (Stanza 39)
Man’s whole life is spent in petty and worthless pursuits. It is death that frees us from all worldly bondages, weaknesses and vices which bind us to the illusionary world and its mortal things which look joyful outwardly. But in fact, this world is a constant source of sorrow and shackles.
    He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
    Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
    And that unrest which men miscall delight,
    Can touch him not and torture not again; (Stanza 40)
The Geeta says:
      Vihaya Kaman yah sarvan pumams carati nihsprhah
      Nirmamo nirahankarah sa santim adhigacchati (2. 71)
    A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego-he alone can attain real peace.
    Death is not a disgusting thing; nor horrible as perceived in general. It is an inevitable phase of life. It is a gentle touch of divinity that makes us unite with the Great Spirit of the universe, annihilates the work of time, only to clothe it with Eternity. Lord Krishna advises Arjuna not to lament for the bodily change.
      Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
      Navani grhnati naro ’parani
      Tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany
      Anyani samyati navani dehi (2.22)
    As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
    It is crystal-clear that Shelley was much more than Arnold’s ineffectual angel. He did speculate on the most philosophical problems of life and made them the plank of some of his most ambitious work such as Adonais. And he has discussed them threadbare in the light of his awakening. To quote Edmund, ‘No man ever preached the triumph of the spiritual over the material more eloquently than he. It is the undertone of all his poetry and in Adonais it bursts forth into a mighty symphony which voices all the warrants of our immortality in everlasting music.’

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