Mournful Translation: On the Name of Shelley’s Adonais

This essay focuses on Tom McCall's theory of "wrathful translation" and develops this theory in relation to both Walter Benjamin's account of tragic mourning in The Origin of the German Tragic Drama and the purpose of elegiac renaming in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Adonais." McCall's emphasis on "wrath" or "anger" in Hölderlin's "Remarks on Oedipus" provides a concentrated, and therefore properly tragic, instance of how this genre resists resolution through the self-consciousness or recognitions of its central figure. Starting from such resistance this essay examines the transformation of tragic anger into the elegiac. By way of Benjamin's remarks on naming and mourning, the significance and challenge of "Adonais" is reinterpreted as the consequence of Shelley's recognition that elegiac mourning is the form in which tragic anger and its resistance to any katharsis is translated not only within Romanticism but through Romanticism as the subject that modern elegy is compelled to address.