Keats

by Paul Elmer More

In its pleasures and its toils the case of the critic, I often think, is not unlike that of the adventurous traveller. Every author into whose life in turn he diverts his own is to him a new voyage of exploration. He comes back laden with memories, whether the land he has traversed be one in the highways of commerce and already trodden by many feet, or an island almost forgotten in far-off seas. Cities of men he visits, and walks in crowded streets, or sits by sheltered hearths. Again, it is a country of unpeopled solitudes, where things of loveliness waylay him, or monstrous forms startle and affright. There are recollections of homely comfort to reward his toil; and of high adventures, as when, like Balboa, he stands and looks out, the first of men, over the infinite unknown Pacific; and there are ways of terror where he wanders alone on desolate frozen coasts and, far as the eye can reach, sees only ruinous death. All these visions and remembered emotions he carries to his desk, counting himself blessed if some happy chance of language or some unusual quickening of the blood shall enable him to convey to others though it be but a small part of his experience. That good fortune, he feels, with all noble conquests, is reserved for the poets:
Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken,
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
It is the sonnet that to most people probably comes first to mind when Keats is named and his destiny remembered. There is about it the golden flush and wonder of youth--it was written in his twentieth year--and one catches in it also, or seems to catch, a certain quickness of breath which forebodes the rapture so soon quenched. The inspiration of unsoiled nature and of England's clear-voiced early singers is here mingled as in no other of our poets. And especially this inheritance of the Elizabethan age rediscovered in a later century will have a new significance to any one who has just gone through the poems in the volume edited by Mr. E. de Selincourt.[1]

There is a good deal to commend in this scholarly edition of Keats; the text has been prepared with extreme accuracy, and the notes, properly placed at the end of the book, are thorough and apposite. Mr. de Selincourt's interest has lain more particularly in the study of sources, and Keats, among the most derivative and at the same time original of English poets, offered him here a rich field. For one thing, he has exploded the silly myth of the Lempriere. To that dictionary (still a serviceable book, be it said, in its own way) Keats no doubt owed his acquaintance with many details of antiquity, but most of his information and all of the colour and movement that made of those legends a living inspiration he got from the translations of Chapman and Sandys and from the innumerable allusions in Spenser and the other great Elizabethans. One might have surmised as much from his sonnet to Chapman's Homer without waiting for the present editor's erudition. To call him a Greek, as Shelley did explicitly and as Matthew Arnold once did by implication, is to miss the mark. "Keats was no scholar," says Mr. de Selincourt aptly, "and of the literature in which the Greek spirit found true expression he could know nothing. But just as it was through his devotion to Spenser that he became a poet, so was it through his kinship, both in spirit and taste, with the Elizabethans, that he became the poet of ancient Greece."

I am inclined to think that the essential kinship of Keats to "The fervid choir that lifted up a noise of harmony," as he called them, rests upon something even deeper than similarity of language and poetic method or than "natural magic," that it goes down to that faculty of vision in his mind which, like theirs, beheld the marriage of the ideas of beauty and death. As an editor concerned with the minutiae of the poet's manner, Mr. de Selincourt may well be pardoned for overlooking this more essential relationship; his services are sufficiently great after every deduction. It is not a small thing, for instance, to find in the Glossary a careful tabulation of the sources from which Keats drew his extraordinary vocabulary, and from the first word, "a-cold," to see how constantly he borrowed from Shakespeare and Milton and the writers that lie between, and how deliberately he sought to echo "that large utterance of the early Gods." The curious thing is that in the end all this borrowing should produce the impression of a fine spontaneity. Just as we are discovering more and more in the spaciousness of the Elizabethans a literary inspiration from foreign lands, so the freedom of diction in Keats was in large measure the influence of a remote age--which may be taken as another lesson in the nature of originality. The effect is as if the language were undergoing a kind of rejuvenation and no dulness of long custom lay between words and objects. Wordsworth's endeavour to introduce the speech of daily use is in comparison the mere adopting of another artifice.

It is scarcely necessary to add that this spontaneity in a mind so untrained as Keats's often fell into license and barbarism. From the days of the first reviewers his ill-formed compound terms and his other solecisms have, and quite rightly, been ridiculed and repudiated. Sometimes, indeed, his super-grammatical creations have a strange quality of genius that rebukes criticism to modesty. Thus in the familiar lines:

As when, upon a tranced summer-night,
Those green-robed senators of mighty woods,
Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
Save from one gradual solitary gust
Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
As if the ebbing air had but one wave--
it is not easy to justify "branch-charmed" by any common linguistic process; and yet who does not feel that the spell of the passage, the very mystery of its utter beauty, is concentrated in that one lawless word? It is the keystone of a perfect arch. By a stroke of rarer insight Keats, when he came to rewrite the scene for the later Hyperion, left that phrase untouched, though he changed, and in changing marred, nearly all the rest. But if occasionally these unlicensed expressions add to the magic of his style, more often they are merely annoying blemishes. There is no beauty in such a phrase as "unslumbrous night," to take the first words that occur, no force in "most drowningly doth sing," and his elision (which occurs more than once) of perhaps into p'rhaps is of a sort to make even a hardened reader wince.

The fact is, Keats might learn from the Elizabethans almost every element of style except taste, and here where he most needed guidance they seemed rather to sanction his lawlessness. But there was a difference between their circumstances and his. When a language is young and expanding, the absence of restraining taste is not so much felt, and liberty is a principle of growth; whereas at a later stage the same freedom leads often to mere eccentricity and vulgarisms. So it is that in Keats's language we are often obliged to distinguish between a true Elizabethan spontaneity and a spurious imitation that smacks too much of his London surroundings. We resent justly the review of Endymion in Blackwood's in which the author was labelled as belonging to "the Cockney School of Poetry"; we take almost as a personal affront the reviewer's coarse derision: "So back to the shop, Mr. John, stick to 'plasters, pills, ointment boxes' "; yet there is a hideous particle of truth in the insult which will forever cling to Keats's name. Great poets have come out of London, but only Keats among the immortals can be pointed at as "cockney."

There is, in fact, something disconcerting in the circumstances of the poet's early life. He was born in London in 1795. His father, a west-countryman, probably with Celtic blood in his veins, was employed in a livery stable, of which he afterwards became manager, marrying the owner's daughter. He died when John was nine years old. The mother soon married a Mr. William Rawlings, also stable-keeper, who apparently had succeeded her first husband in the Moorgate business. She lived but a few years, and the family of children, of which John was the eldest, were left orphans. There was some money, and though towards the end pecuniary troubles came upon him, Keats was in this respect more fortunate than many others; he never had to waste his powers by writing for bread. Between the years of 1806 and 1810 he attended a fairly good school kept by the Rev. John Clarke at Enfield. After this he was apprenticed for five years to a surgeon at Edmonton, and then went, as the phrase is, to walk the London hospitals. Meanwhile he had been studying other things besides the human anatomy. Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of his schoolmaster, one day memorable in the annals of literature, had read Spenser's Epithalamium to him, and lent him The Faerie Queen to take home. It was letting the wind in upon a sleeping fire. Said a friend in after days: "Though born to be a poet, he was ignorant of his birthright until he had completed his eighteenth year. It was The Faerie Queen that awakened his genius. In Spenser's fairyland he was enchanted, breathed in a new world, and became another being; till enamoured of the stanza, he attempted to imitate it, and succeeded. This account of the sudden development of his poetic powers I first received from his brothers and afterwards from himself. This, his earliest attempt, the Imitation of Spenser, is in his first volume of poems, and it is peculiarly interesting to those acquainted with his history."

There was no more walking of hospitals for Keats. His first volume of Poems was published in 1817, with the significant motto from Spenser:

What more felicity can fall to creature
Than to enjoy delight with liberty.
It contains the first project of Endymion, the Epistles, in which Keats unfurls the flag of rebellion against poetic "rules," and a group of sonnets, including that on Chapman's Homer. The next year appeared the true Endymion, which won him the abuse of the reviewers and the admiration of Shelley. Only two years later, in 1820, when he was not yet twenty-five, there followed that wonderful book which has assured to him the passionate desire of his life, a place "among the English Poets." No poet of England at that age, barely four or five at any age, had published such works as these,--Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, Hyperion, and the great Odes. What else he wrote was only to be printed posthumously, including, among other poems, the revised Fall of Hyperion, the exquisite fragment on The Eve of Saint Mark, the haunting ballad of La Belle Dame sans Merci, and the Dramas. Over some of this later work there seems to be a flush of hectic impatience, the creeping on of that'dread which he had expressed in a sonnet, written indeed as early as 1818, but not published until after his death:
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like full garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore
Of the wide world ! stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
It expresses the ever-present fear of his brief life, but it contains also, at the close, the nearest approach in Keats to that profounder vision of disillusion which separates the Elizabethans from him; it calls to mind what are, I think, the greatest lines of Keats's Italian contemporary, Leopardi:
Io quello
Infinito silenzio a questa voce
Vo comparando: e mi sovvien l'eterno,
E le morte stagioni, e la presente
E viva, e il suon di lei. Cosi tra questa
Immensita s'annega il pensier mio;
E il naufragar m'e dolce in questo mare
.[2]
But Keats owed to Cowden Clarke something more than his intellectual awakening; it was through the same friend he was introduced to the circle of literary and artistic men in London who supported and stimulated him in his work. Chief among these in his early impressionable years were Leigh Hunt and the half-mad painter, B. R. Haydon, and unfortunately both of these advisers reinforced the natural qualities of his mind with what may be called a kind of bastard, or cockney, Elizabethanism. It is painful to follow that influence, as so much in Keats's life is painful. In his maturity he could see the weakness of these friends and speak of them dispassionately enough. Of Leigh Hunt he wrote to his brother George, then in America: "Hunt does one harm by making fine things petty and beautiful things hateful. Through him I am indifferent to Mozart, I care not for white Busts--and many a glorious thing when associated with him becomes a nothing." So much Keats could see, but never, even in his greatest works, could he quite free himself from that malign influence; for it had laid hold of a corresponding tendency in his own nature. He was never quite able to distinguish between the large liberties of the strong and the jaunty flippancy of the underbred; his passion for beauty could never entirely save him from mawkish prettinesses, and his idea of love was too often a mere sickly sweetness. Never after the days of Endymion, perhaps, did he write anything quite in the character of "Those lips, O slippery blisses"; but even in the volume of 1820 he could not be sure of himself. There are too many passages there like these lines in Lamia:
He, sick to lose
The amorous promise of her lone complain,
Swoon'd, murmuring of love, and pale with pain.
Not a little of this uncertainty of taste was due to Leigh Hunt.

And in the same way Haydon confirmed Keats on another side of his cockney Elizabethanism. Haydon himself was a man of vast and undisciplined, almost insane, enthusiasms, and he undoubtedly did much to keep the ambitious longings of Keats in a state of morbid fermentation. It would be a curious study to trace the friendship and humorous rupture of these two men in Keats's letters and in those journals of Haydon where so many of the geniuses of the day are presented in startling undress. At first all is smoothness. Keats tells Haydon in a letter "that there are three things to rejoice at in this Age--The Excursion, Your Pictures, and Hazlitt's depth of Taste"--poor Hazlitt being supplanted in a sonnet on the same theme by Hunt,

He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
The social smile, the chain for Freedom's sake.
On his part the painter describes his friend as the ideal poet; "Keats was the only man I ever met," he wrote, "who seemed and looked conscious of a high calling, except Wordsworth." Then it is a letter from Haydon:
I love you like my own brother. Beware, for God's sake, of the delusions and sophistications that are ripping up the talents and morality of our friend! LA kindly allusion to Hunt] . . . Do not despair. Collect incident, study character, read Shakespeare, and trust in Providence, and you will do, you must.
Which brings from Keats this exalted reply:
I know no one but you who can be fully sensible of the turmoil and anxiety, the sacrifice of all what [sic] is called comfort, the readiness to measure time by what is done and to die in six hours could plans be brought to conclusions--the looking upon the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Earth and its contents, as materials to form greater things--that is to say, ethereal things --but here I am talking like a Madman--greater things than our Creator himself made!!
Later a coolness sets in, occasioned by a common habit of asking for money--Haydon, indeed, was thought by some to have sat to Charles Lamb as a model for Ralph Bigod, Esq., captain of the mighty "men who borrow"--and at the last a mutual estrangement. On hearing of Keats's death Haydon summed up his character thus:
A genius more purely poetical never existed. In fireside conversation he was weak and inconsequent, but he was in his glory in the fields .... He was the most unselfish of human creatures; unadapted to the world, he eared not for himself, and put himself to any inconvenience for the sake of his friends. He was haughty, and had a fierce hatred of rank; but he had a kind heart, and would have shared his fortune with any one who wanted it. [Keats, by the way, had quarrelled with Haydon over the repayment of a loan.] He had an exquisite sense of humour, and too refined a notion of female purity to bear the little sweet arts of love with patience .... He began life full of hopes, fury, impetuous, and ungovernable, expecting the world to fall at once beneath his powers. Unable to bear the sneers of ignorance nor the attacks of envy, he began to despond, and flew to dissipation as a relief. For six weeks he was scarcely sober, and--to show what a man does to gratify his appetites when they get the better of him--once covered his tongue and throat as far as he could with cayenne pepper, in order to appreciate the "delicious coldness of claret in all its glory"--his own expression.
I should like to be as sure as are some others, of Keats's own time and of the present, that this is a distorted view of the man's failings; they may well be somewhat exaggerated, yet Haydon had for the most part a wicked penetration into character, and his words here ring remarkably true. Nor is it the only place in which he asserts that Keats was beaten down by the cruelty of the reviewers, leading us to think that Byron's cynical rhyme on the "fiery particle .... snuffed out by an article'' may have contained just a grain of truth. And as for the cayenne pepper, is it much more than a childish illustration of the thought repeated in many a verse--to "burst Joy's grape against his palate fine"? After all this is but the frailer, and, so to speak ephemeral, side of Keats; unfortunately, his associations were not of a kind to help him to overcome the initial lack of training, by correcting his flaws of taste and egotistic enthusiasm, and by purging what I have called his Elizabethan spontaneity of its cockney dross. As Wordsworth wrote in his patronising way: "How is Keats? He is a youth of promise, too great for the sorry company he keeps."

The wonder of it is that he grew so rapidly, and that so large a part of the volume of 1820 should have attained the true and lofty liberties of the spirit. In many aspects he stands curiously apart from his age. One feels this in his attitude toward nature, which in his verse is still unsubjected to the destinies of mankind. With Wordsworth and Shelley, even with Byron, some thought of man's sufferings and aspirations rises between the poet's eye and the vision of Nature, but with Keats she is still a great primeval force, inhuman and self-centred, beautiful, and sublime, and cruel, by turns. One catches this note at times in the earlier poems, as in the largeness and aloofness of such a picture as this:

On a lone winter evening, when the frost
Has wrought a silence.
It speaks with greater clearness in the later poems--in the elfin call of the nightingale's song,
The same that hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn;
and in the imagery, calling us back to times before man's feebler creation, of that "sad place" where
Crag jutting forth to crag, and rocks, that seemed
Ever as if just rising from a sleep,
Forehead to forehead held their monstrous horns.
One has the feeling that the poet's mind is in immediate contact with the object described, and the imagination of the reader is shocked from self-complacency by a kind of sympathetic surprise. It is at bottom a mark of that unperverted and untheorised sincerity whose presence condones so many faults in the Elizabethan writers, and whose absence mars so many brilliant qualities in the contemporaries of Keats. But more particularly I see this backward-reaching kinship of Keats in his constant association of the ideas of beauty (or love) and death. In the dramatists that association attained its climax in the broken cry of Webster, which rings and sobs like a paroxysm of jealous rage against the all-embracing power:
Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle: she died young,--
but everywhere in them it is present or implied. Of their thirst for beauty there is no need to give separate examples; nor yet of their constant brooding on the law of mutability. They cannot get away from the remembrance of life's brevity:
On pain of death, let no man name death to me:
It is a word infinitely terrible.
But for the tedium of repetition one might go through Keats's volume of 1820, and show how completely the pattern of that book is wrought on the same background of ideas. Perhaps the most striking illustration may be found in those two stanzas which relate how Isabella in the lonely forest unearths the body of her buried lover:
She gazed into the fresh-thrown mould, as though
One glance did fully all its secrets tell;
Clearly she saw, as other eyes would know
Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;
Upon the murderous spot she seem'd to grow,
Like to a native lily of the dell:
Then with her knife, all sudden, she began
To dig more fervently than misers can.

Soon she turn'd up a soiled glove, whereon
Her silk had play'd in purple phantasies,
She kiss'd it with a lip more chill than stone,
And put it in her bosom, where it dries
And freezes utterly unto the bone
Those dainties made to still an infant's cries:
Than 'gan she work again; nor stay'd her care,
But to throw back at times her veiling hair.

Every age has its peculiar adaptation of this universal theme, and chants in its own way the everlasting hymeneal of beauty and death; but in these stanzas there is something that calls the mind back to the poetry of Webster and Ford. This poignant meeting of the shapes of loveliness and decay is the inheritance of the middle ages, which in England more especially was carried over into the new birth and made gorgeous with all the cunning splendours of the Renaissance. Keats did not learn his art from the real antiquity. The Greeks, too, had their version of the theme, and in the story of Persephone and Dis gave it its most perfect mythological form. But its interest with them lay primarily in its ethical associations, and the Powers of beauty and death were minor agents only in the great moral drama moved by the supreme unwritten laws. No Greek could have so gloated over the purely physical contrast of ideas--"A skull upon a mat of roses lying"--or put into it the same hungering emotion, as did Keats in these stanzas that follow the forest scene in Isabella:
In anxious secrecy they took it home,
And then the prize was all for Isabel:
She calm'd its wild hair with a golden comb,
And all around each eye's sepulchral cell
Pointed each fringed lash; the smeared loam
With tears, as chilly as a dripping well,
She dreneh'd away:--and still she comb'd, and kept
Sighing all day--and still she kiss'd, and wept.

Then in a silken scarf--sweet with the dews
Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,
She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose
A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set
And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
And she forgot the blue above the trees,
And she forgot the dells where waters run,
And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
She had no knowledge when the day was done,
And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,
And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.

To see how far Keats is from the spirit of Greece, we need only turn from this last stanza to the scene of Antigone, in the play of Sophocles, treading the last road for the love of one dead, and looking for the last time on the light of the sun and never again any more. She, too, bids farewell to the bright things of the world, the springs of Dirce and the grove of Thebes, but it is not in the language of Isabella.

The same music wrung from the transience of lovely things runs like a monotone through the other poems of Keats's great volume, but in a different key. The incongruity (as it appears, yet it lies at the bottom of human thought) intrudes even into The Eve of St. Agnes, with the opening image of the benumbed beadsman among the sculptured dead and with the closing return to the same contrast. In the Odes it is subdued to a musing regret--heard pensively in the Ode to a Nightingale:

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mus&d rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst though sing, and I have ears in vain--
To thy high requiem become a sod;--
speaking with a still more chastened beauty in the Ode on a Grecian Urn:
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor even can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal--yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!--
uttered with greater poignancy in the Ode on Melancholy:
She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips.
It is the secret, for those who can read that mystery, of what is to many his most perfect work, the ballad of La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

From these ideal poems one turns naturally to the letters in which the fever and unrest, the glimpses of philosophy, and the broken hopes of Keats's actual life are expressed with such pathetic earnestness. The picture that results is of a strong man fighting against what he calls, with some self-depreciation, "a horrid Morbidity of Temperament." There is much to lament in this revelation never meant for the public; but in the end the sense of the man's greatness, the feeling of his reliance on the divine call, outweighs the impression of his painful susceptibility, and of his struggles to free himself from "the mire of a bad reputation." He may write on one day: "My name with the literary fashionables is vulgar, I am a weaver-boy to them, a tragedy would lift me out of this mess"; but the truer Keats is to be found in his moments of proud independence: "I value more the privilege of seeing great things in loneliness than the fame of a Prophet." Great things in loneliness! These were to him, as almost every page of the letters would prove, The mighty abstract Idea of Beauty and the ever-present consciousness of death. The pity of it is that these relentless powers should have passed for him from the realm of reflection to the coarse realities of life, and that the experience of his few years (they were only twenty-five) should have been torn by them as by a warring destiny. It was inevitable that this contention should take the form of love; nay, from the beginning, in his flippant, half-frightened allusions to the other sex, one feels that he is laying himself open to the recrimination of the deity. "I am certain," he says, "I have not a right feeling toward women"; and again, with a kind of foreboding, he avows that his idea of beauty "stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness." Through all the correspondence his thought seems to be leaping on as if pursued by a dreaded Necessity; one hears the footsteps of the spurned goddess behind him. So, he was overtaken at last, and his brief story was made another example of the ways of Nemesis. The letters in which he pours out the agony of his love for Fanny Brawne resemble Hazlitt's Liber Amoris more than anything else in literature. They have the same uncontrolled passion, and the same unfortunate note of vulgarity, due not so much to the exuberance of his emotion as to the lack of any corresponding force in the woman. The flaccidity of her temperament deprives the episode of tragic ideality, and lowers it to the common things of the street. It even changes his master-vision to something approaching a sickly sentimentalism. "I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks," he writes, "your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.'' It helped to kill the poet in him,--save for that last sonnet, his wild swan-song written on his journey to Rome and a Roman grave:

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like Nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or grazing on the new soft fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
As it seemed to him in those evil days when disease had laid hold of his body, Death was the victor in the contention of Fate. "If I should die," he wrote to Fanny Brawne, "I have left no immortal work behind me--nothing to make my friends proud of my memory--but I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered." And the epitaph which he composed for himself--how well it is remembered!--was carved on stone: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." But to the world, not Death but eternal Loveliness carried the palm. We think of him as the Marcellus of literature, who could not break through the rata aspera, and as one of "the inheritors of unfulfilled renown"; and still we know that he accomplished a glorious destiny. His promise was greater than the achievement of others.

And yet a word to avoid misunderstanding, for it is so easy in these voyages of criticism to bring back a one-sided report, and to emphasise overmuch the broad aspects of a land while neglecting the nicer points of distinction. Thus, in pointing out the kinship of Keats to the Elizabethans, we should not forget that he is, like all men, still of his own age. By his depth and sincerity he differs, indeed, from certain other writers of the century who deal with the same subjects--from William Morris, for example, whose Earthly Paradise runs on the strange companionship of love and death with almost a frivolous persistence; but he is still far from the brave furor and exultation of the great passages in Marlowe. Again he has more than once imitated the simplicity of William Browne--notably in the Ode on a Grecian Urn where the lines to the "bold lover" already quoted are evidently an echo of a passage in the Pastorals:

Here from the rest a lovely shepherd's boy
Sits piping on a hill, as if his joy
Would still endure, or else that age's frost
Should never make him think what he had lost.
(Which is itself borrowed from Sir Philip Sidney's "Shepherd boy piping as though he should never be old.") But who does not feel that the young beauty of Keats is different from that first careless rapture, which has gone never to be recovered? Perhaps the very fact that he is speaking a language largely foreign to his own generation adds a personal eagerness, a touch at times of feverish straining, to his song.

I have already intimated that side by side with the superb zest of beauty there is another note in the dramatists which Keats rarely or never attains. That note is caught in such lines as Ford's

For he is like to something I remember
A great while since, a long, long time ago;
and always when it is struck, a curtain is drawn from behind the fretful human actors and we look beyond into infinite space. On the other hand, there is but little in Keats of the rich humanity and high passions that for the most part fill the Elizabethan stage. The pathos of Isabella is the nearest approach in him to that deeper source of poetry. Keats himself was aware that this background was lacking to his work, and harps on the subject continually. He perceived dimly that the motto of his faith,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"--that is all
Ye know on earth; and all ye need to know,
was but a partial glimpse of the reality. Had he been sufficiently a Greek to read Plato, he might have been carried beyond that imperfect view; even the piteous incompleteness of his own life might have laid bare to him the danger lurking in its fair deception. As it is, his letters are filled with vague yearnings for a clearer knowledge; he is, he says, as one "writing at random, straining after particles of light in the midst of a great darkness." Unfortunately, inevitably perhaps, when he came to put his half-digested theories into practice, he turned, not to the moral drama of the Greeks or to the passionate human nature of the Elizabethans, but to the humanitarian philosophy that was in the air about him, and, accepting this, he fell into a crude dualism. "I find there is no worthy pursuit," he writes, "but the idea of doing some good to the world ... I have been hovering for some time between an exquisite sense of the luxurious, and a love for philosophy."

It has been generally supposed that Keats abandoned his unfinished Hyperion, and started to rewrite it in the form of a vision, through dissatisfaction with the Miltonic inversions of language in the earlier draft and through the influence of Dante's Commedia. That view is demonstrably true in part, but I think the real motive for the change goes deeper˙ There is, in fact, an inherent contradiction in his treatment of the theme which rendered a completion of the original poem almost impracticable. The subject is the overthrow of the Titans by the new race of gods--Saturn succumbing to the arms of his own child and Hyperion, Lord of the Sun, fleeing before Apollo of the golden bow and the lyre; it is the old dynasty of formless powers, driven into oblivion by the new creators of form and order. That was the design, but it is easy to see how in the execution the poet's dominant idea overmastered him and turned his intended paean on the birth of the new beauty into a sonorous dirge for the passing away of the old. Our imagination is indeed lord of the past and not of the future˙ The instinctive sympathy of the poet for the fallen deities is felt in the very first line of the poem, and it never changes. Consider the picture of Hyperion's home:

His palace bright,
Bastion'd with pyramids of glowing gold,
And touch'd with shade of bronzed obelisks,
Glared a blood-red through all its thousand courts,
Arches, and domes, and fiery galleries;
And all its curtains of Aurorian clouds Flush'd angerly--
or consider the apparition of Hyperion himself:
He look'd upon them all,
And in each face he saw a gleam of light,
But splendider in Saturn's, whose hoar locks
Shone like the bubbling foam about a keel
When the prow sweeps into a midnight cove.
In pale and silver silence they remain'd,
Till suddenly a splendour, like the morn,
Pervaded all the beetling gloomy steeps,
All the sad spaces of oblivion,
And every gulf, and every chasm old,
And every height, and every sullen depth,
Voiceless, or hoarse with loud tormented
streams: ...
It was Hyperion;--
are there any words left in the poet's armory after this to describe the glory of Apollo? As a matter of fact, the third book in which he introduces the young usurper is distinctly below the other two in force and beauty, and Keats knew it and broke off in the middle. That was, probably, in September of 1819; about two months later he was engaged in reshaping his work into The Fall of Hyperion, which was also left unfinished and was not published until 1856. In its altered form the poem is east into a vision. The poet finds himself in a garden of rare flowers and delicious fruits. These vanish away and in their place is "an old sanctuary with roof august," wherein is a mystic shrine and a woman ministering thereat. Her name had once been Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, the mother of the Muses, but now she is called Moneta, that is to say, the guide or admonisher--alas, for all the change means! The poet cries to her for help:
"High Prophetess," said I, "purge off,
Benign, if so it please thee, my mind's film."
"None can usurp this height," returned that shade,
"But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest˙"
But are there not others, cries the poet, who have felt the agony of the world, and have laboured for its redemption? Where are they that they are not here? And then:
"Those whom thou spakest of are no visionaries,"
Rejoin'd that voice; "they are no dreamers weak;
They seek no wonder but the human face,
No music but a happy-noted voice:
They come not here, they have no thought to come;
And thou art here, for thou art less than they.
What benefit canst thou do, or all thy tribe,
To the great world? Thou art a dreaming thing."
And thereupon, in a vision, she unfolds before his eyes the fall of Hyperion and the progress of humanity symbolised in the advent of Apollo. To compare this mutilated version with the poem Keats had written under the instinctive inspiration of his genius is one of the saddest tasks of the student of literature.

No, it was not any dislike of Miltonic idioms or any impulse from Dante that brought about this change in his ambition; it was the working of the ineluctable Time-spirit. His early associations with Leigh Hunt had prepared him for this treachery to his nature, but there was a poverty in the imagination of those cockney enthusiasts for progress which would have saved him ultimately from their influence. It was the richer note of Wordsworth, the still sad music of humanity running through that poet's mighty song, that wrought the fatal revolution. As early as May of 1818 he had written to a friend (and the passage is worthy of quoting at some length):

My Branchings out therefrom have been numerous: one of them is the consideration of Wordsworth's genius.., and how he differs from Milton. And here I have nothing but surmises, from an uncertainty whether Milton's apparently less anxiety for Humanity proceeds from his seeing further or not than Wordsworth: and whether Wordsworth has in truth epic passion, and martyrs himself to the human heart, the main region of his song. [After some wandering there follows the famous comparison of human life to a large mansion of many apartments, which may be used as a key to the symbolism of the later Hyperion, and then] We see not the balance of good and evil; we are in a mist, we are now in that state, we feel the "Burden of the Mystery." To this point was Wordsworth come, as far as I can conceive, when he wrote Tintern Abbey, and it seems to me that his genius is explorative of those dark Passages. Now if we live, and go on thinking, we too shall explore them. He is a genius and superior to us, in so far as he can, more than we, make discoveries and shed a light in them. Here I must think Wordsworth is deeper than Milton, though I think it has depended more upon the general and gregarious advance of intellect, than individual greatness of Mind.
The Fall of Hyperion is nothing less than the attempt of Keats, against the native grain of his genius, to pass from the inspiration of Milton and Shakespeare to that of Wordsworth. The thought of the two poems, and of the living beauty of the one and the disrelish of the other, brings up the remembrance of that story, told by Edward FitzGerald from a Persian poet, of the traveller in the desert who dips his hand into a spring of water and drinks. By and by comes another who drinks of the same spring from an earthen bowl, and departs, leaving his bowl behind him. The first traveller takes it up for another draught, but finds that the water which has tasted sweet from his own hand is now bitter from the earthen bowl. He wonders; but a voice from heaven tells him the clay from which the bowl is made was once Man, and can never lose the bitter flavour of mortality.
[1] The Poems of John Keats, Edited with an Introduction and Notes by E. de Selincourt. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1905.

[2] "I anon
That infinite silence with this voice compare:
And I remember the eternal one,
The seasoils of the dead, and this of care
About us and its sound. So as I wonder,
My thought in this immensity sinks under:
And shipwreck in that sea is sweet to bear."


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