On Death

Shelley, Percy Bysshe

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Jan-30-1997


Shelley compares man's ability to stay alive to the flickering light of a passing meteor. Our light of life is wavering and brief. He urges man to strive on and live life fully nevertheless.

In the third stanza, he compares earth to a mother and a nurse; it is that which comforts and sustains us and we are afraid to leave it. Again, however, Shelley argues that life must be lived anyway. Indeed, he argues that life (and poetry) is enhanced by its close relationship with death. The hopes of what will be after death must be united with the love for the here and now.


Shelley's poem articulates the Romantic line on death and suffering. Pain and pleasure are two sides of one coin. One cannot be experienced without the other. Just so, life is nothing without an ever-present sense of death. The structure of the poem reflects this attitude. Each expression of life's preciousness is balanced by an image of impending doom. See also Keats' Ode on Melancholy (see this database).


First published: 1816

Primary Source

Poetical Works


Oxford Univ. Press

Place Published

New York




Thomas Hutchinson