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,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.-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.
From to Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Peace, peace! Shelley starts this stanza with peace as if the remaining place to seek peace in this world is gone, eradicated by conflict; as if the only way to find peace in this world is by fighting for it to get to a peaceful spot nourished by the blood of many who sacrificed for the sake of a final eternal unblemished peace. Oh yes, Mr. Shelley figured that out a long time ago that there are no places you can find peace in this world anymore, and the only place peace is found is in death.
But then how can we continue our lives knowing that we can never find peace in this world, and what on earth is this sadistic power that want us to suffer this world’s atrocities to finally find peace? Why cannot we find it right here, right now? Can’t we find it while we are still alive? Shelley did not say that we cannot, he just said that we are the ones who are lost in stormy visions, and the fight we are leading is not getting us anywhere because we are fighting ghosts, phantoms, illusions, not ourselves, not our-real-selves.
We have created giants and monsters, princes and kings, tyrants and leaders inside ourselves throughout the years, and we have fought too hard to keep the visions we created for our own egos. We never questioned the reasons behind our holy war, nor did we take a break to look at the long line of bodies we have laid behind us and downtrodden was the truth hidden beneath our heroic pictures everywhere, silenced by the loud cheering for our sentimental speeches that moved the public and turned them against nature. This is the place where Shelley said that we decay like corpses in a charnel. The further we move from ourselves, our true nature, the more dead we become, and we garnish our false lives with false hopes that eat us from the inside like worms in our living clay.
We have failed to look into ourselves to seek the truth, to know who we are, to know what we want and then to go on with our so-called war for peace. We have waged our war without a cause, so we forged one on the way. We have ventured into the ocean without a ship, so we used the bodies of our drowned brothers to step on and stay on top. We haven’t taken the time to look into ourselves, know ourselves and know how we can add to this great painting painted by whoever you think has painted it, but it is there and we are all parts of it. Take but one part out, exclude but one piece and the painting will not be perfect, will not be complete. But Shelley knew that his friend Keats was alive because after losing the crowds around him, he could finally listen to his own voice coming from the inside singing the pure song of his own person that matters to the whole picture of humanity only when it knows the different colors it is, and its place to complete this picture and make it perfect.
Shelley is not telling us that we are dead, but that we can be. Shelley is trying to show us that if we don’t notice that life is passing us by, and the only place we can grab hold of it is inside ourselves when we are true to ourselves, we will be dead. But Keats is alive, Shelley is alive, you and I can be alive if we know exactly who we are and what we really want to do for this world, and not only for ourselves. Only then can we make a difference and be alive.