I JOHN KEATS, born Oct. 29, 1795, died Feb. 23, 1821, published his first volume in 1817. It is datedLondon: Printed for C. & J. Ollier, 3, Welbeck Street, Cavendish Square. The title-page (in addition to the foregoing) bears the woodcut of a laurelled head in profile, which may be meant for Spenser. The text, preceded by three leaves, covers 121 pages in small octavo size.
II Endymion bears on the title (in addition to the title-page) By John Keats. London: Printed for Taylor and Hessey, 93, Fleet Street. 1818. Five leaves, in the example before me, precede the text, which (including titles before each book), extends to 207 pages. Handsomely printed in [a largish sized] 8vo. price 9s. boards, says the Advertisement appended to the next volume.
III Lamia etc., in addition to the title-page, bears By John Keats, author of Endymion. London: Printed for Taylor and Hessey, Fleet-Street, 1820. Four leaves precede the text, which (including separate titles for Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Poems), covers 199 pages in an octavo size between that of the two former volumes.
Lastly, I was printed by C. Richards, 18, Warwick Street, Golden Square, London; II by T. Miller, Noble Street, Cheapside; III by Thomas Davison, Whitefriars.
Dedication. To Leigh Hunt, Esq.
[THE Short Pieces in the middle of the Book, as well as some of the Sonnets, were written at an earlier period than the rest of the Poems.]
This Dedicatory Sonnet was written in 1817, whilst the volume was in course of printing. The acquaintance of Keats with Leigh Hunt, ten or eleven years his senior, had begun by 1816. It is doubtful whether the Poet gained on the whole by the familiarity(for, on his side, it does not seem to me to have risen to real friendship)which followed. Hunt was at the least satisfactory stage of his long life, a State prosecution for a violently personal attack on the Prince Regent having just converted him, in his own eyes and those of his friends, into a political martyr, as the harsh criticism of the day had raised him into the literary idol of a coterie. The self-delusion he entertained that he was a great poet, struck Keats,a man of much stronger nature, and wholly free from such weakness,as lamentable, so early as May, 1817. In December, 1818, writing to his brother George, he describes Hunt as a pleasant enough fellow in the main, when you are with him; but in reality he is vain, egotistic.... Hunt does one harm by making fine things pretty, and beautiful things hateful; through him I am indifferent to Mozart,...and many a glorious thing when associated with him becomes nothing. Some of the gloom of his last years had fallen on Keats when he wrote thus; yet the picture is confirmed in too many ways to be essentially doubtful. On the other hand, Hunts affection for Keats was real; he had genuine tenderness of nature, and strong, though narrow, literary enthusiasm. Had his younger friend lived, he would doubtless have done justice to those fine qualities in Hunt which, as his West Indian blood calmed down, freed themselves, more or less, from their youthful alloy of vanity and intemperateness, during the latter half of his life.
Despite the clear insight into those faults of taste in Hunt which the preceding extract shows, the style of Keats, in his earlier work especially, was in some degree influenced by the elder poet. He seems to owe to him a rather frequent and unpleasing mannerism in the use of the word luxury: and the Rimini and Hero and Leander exhibit sudden lapses into prosaicism, words used with an abrupt or even coarse directness, strange momentary failures in good taste, from which Keats, also, is not always free. Beyond this, there is little in common between the two writers: the similarity, in case of the poems just named, is only a superficial likeness of manner. Where Keats is penetrative, Hunt is decorative: his work is formed on Dryden, but Dryden ornamentalized and without his vigour. It was to very different results that Keats studied the great Fabulist for Lamia.
In regard to the volume of 1817, it may be noted here, in Lord Houghtons words, that this little book, the beloved first-born of so great a genius, scarcely touched the public attention.
I Stood tip-toe upon a little hill.
This nameless Poem, to judge by its style and matter, may be safely placed amongst the latest-written pieces in the volume of 1817, and was, doubtless, chosen by Keats as a kind of Induction, (to use the fine Elizabethan word with which he entitled the piece next following), to his little venture. But we may take it also as a fit preface to the work which his short life enabled him to give us:presenting, as it does, two of the leading colours or motives that appear throughout his poetry,the passion for pure nature-painting, and the love for Hellenic myths, treated, not as the Greeks themselves treated them, but with a lavish descriptiveness which belongs to the English Renaissance movement, as represented in the Faerie Queene, and with a strong tinge of the still more modern movement, which is intelligibly summed up under the name Romantic. Upon both of these dominant features in Keats I propose to add a few words later on. Meanwhile, we may remark that already the tale of Endymion had seized on the Poets imagination, and that his later treatment of it is shadowed forth, in essentials, in the six final paragraphs of this lovely poem.
Two other notable characteristics of Keats should be also observed: his chivalrous devotion to Woman, which is in close analogy with the tone of Milton in the Comus and the Paradise, and his singular gift in closeness and accuracy of descriptive characterization. Here he far surpasses Spenser, whose landscape, like that of the painters of his age, is seen always through a generalizing medium of literature and of human interest, and wants, as a rule, those touches, so frequent in Keats that it would be idle to quote them, which testify to immediate contact with and inspiration from Nature. If, however, the young Poet has here a point of superiority (due, in part, to the influence of his age), his landscape falls short of the landscape of Shelley in its comparative absence of the larger features of sky and earth: it is foreground work in which he excels; whilst again, in comparison with Wordsworth, Keats rests satisfied with exquisitely true delineation, and has little thought (thus far) of allying Nature with human sympathy; still less, of penetrating and rendering her deeper eternal significance.
l. 163 What first inspired: It was fortunate for Keats and for us that, when devising the pretty fancy which he here gives as the possible origin of the Narcissus legend, he was not hampered by the often trivial and prosaic elements, etymological or ethnological, with which the (thus far, at least) inchoate and hypothetical Science of Comparative Mythology has of late years dulled the beautiful legends of Hellas.
Specimen of an Induction to a Poem.
If the attraction of the Grecian world to Keats is represented in the preceding poem, this Induction and Calidore represent the influence of his first love in poetry,Spenser; nor, amongst the many pieces in Spensers style which the magic of that great Master has called forth in our literature, are there any more completely imbued with the picturesque side of his genius.
l. 61 thy lovd Libertas: a name under which Keats, in this first volume, euphemistically signifies Leigh Hunt. There is, however, no nearer affinity between Hunt and Spenser in regard to their respective gifts in poetry, than between Spensers severe Elizabethan politics, pushing justice itself into injustice, and the others vague emotional creed:between the almost ascetic loftiness of manhood which underlies the Faerie Queene, and the slipshod morality of Rimini and Hero.
Calidore: A Fragment.
If the attraction of the Grecian world to Keats is represented in the preceding poem, this Induction and Calidore represent the influence of his first love in poetry,Spenser; nor, amongst the many pieces in Spensers style which the magic of that great Master has called forth in our literature, are there any more completely imbued with the picturesque side of his genius.
Calidore may be a rather earlier piece than the two which precede it;the use of elegantly, of soft luxury, the shining quite transcendent, all belong to the mannerisms which the poets boyhood had learned from his first English contemporary models, and are in curious contrast with the penetrative insight shown in the descriptions of the sequesterd leafy glades, the palfreys slanting out their necks, the far heard trumpets tone, or the voice of the good knight,audible
like something from beyond
His present being.
It is the essence of chivalryits picturesqueness, its tenderness to woman, its manly elevation, which we already find in this Fragment. But the tale itself is yet wanting;we have the artists palette, rather than his picture.
l. 50 cats eyes: Country name for the Speedwell, Veronica Chamaedrys, Linn.
To Some Ladies.
This and the next two poems, without the aid given by the note in brackets after the Dedication, might, upon internal evidence of manner, be safely referred to the earliest surviving work of Keats, written perhaps before he was twenty, or had fully resigned himself to the magic of Spenser. The style here is manifestly formed on the model of the elegant writers of the beginning of this century, whose influence is similarly perceptible in the first poems of Byron or Moore. And it is curious to note how wholly different is the effect between the picture of the knight given us in Calidore, (with all its immaturity in writing), and that given in the stanzas before us:how, in place of the chivalric melody and colours of Spenser, we have something not far removed from melodramatic tinsel, nor free from descent into simple prosaicism.
l. 20 Mrs. Tighe (died 1810) is still faintly remembered as authoress of Psyche, or The Legend of Love, six cantos in the metre of the Faerie Queene, a poem popular when Keats wrote, and which is in truth a really graceful piece of pure and delicate work. It might be a short lyric written for her niece, and published in 1816, which is here alluded to as the blessings of Tighe. I give the first lines:
Sweetest! if thy fairy hand
Culls for me the latest flowers,
Smiling hear me thus demand
Blessings for thy early hours.
But, if so, the poem, (or the stanza), can hardly belongto the earliest work of Keats.
In st. ii, l. 2, 4, the rhyme in the poets mind answeringto bedews was probably muse.
To * * * *.
An early effort, perhaps, in the beautiful metre, (rarely seen in our serious poetry since Miltons youth, probably from its great difficulty), brought to perfection by Keats in his last volume.
Imitation of Spenser.
This Imitation is the earliest known poem by Keats, according to Lord Houghton, who dates it in 1812. A somewhat later date would appear to me more probable.
Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain.
What union of manly sense and exquisite tenderness,not without amusing boyish candour,in these three Sonnets!which, for chivalrous devotion and picturesqueness, I would class between the best of Dante and Petrarch. There are here faults of taste, doubtless, due to early youth and the bad example of some among the models by whom Keats was then influenced: but they will be pardoned easily not only by the lovers of poetry itself, but by those who know how strangely rare, in our recent verse, is the note of disinterested passion.One saying of yours, he says, in a letter of 23 Jan. 1818 to his friend Mr. Bailey, I shall never forget: you may not recollect it:...merely you said, Why should woman suffer? Aye, why should she? By heavens, Id coin my very soul, and drop my blood for drachmas! These things are, and he, who feels how incompetent the most skyey knight-errantry is, to heal this bruised fairness, is like a sensitive leaf on the hot hand of thought.But this is a noble sensitiveness.
To George Felton Mathew.
An early friend of Keats, described by Lord Houghton as of high literary merit.
l. 17 far different cares: His surgical training between 1810 and 1817.
To My Brother George.
Elder brother to John: died in Kentucky, 1841.
l. 99 The Pearls: Apparently, Tears arise from the very pleasure of smiling.
l. 128 The scarlet-coats: So in a letter from Carisbrooke (Ap. 17, 1817) Keats remarks: On the road from Cowes to Newport I saw some extensive Barracks, which disgusted me extremely with the Government for placing such a nest of debauchery in so beautiful a place. I asked a man on the coach about this, and he said that the people had been spoiled.
To Charles Cowden Clarke.
Son to the master of the school at Enfield where Keats was educated till the summer of 1810. Mr. Clarke, who was a man of considerable literary accomplishment, died in 1877.
l. 33 by Mullas stream: The reference is to Spenser.The critical estimates of poetry given here (whilst never falling below the high level of imaginative, as opposed to epigrammatic, verse) are of singular truth and beauty: note especially the and more, Miltonian tenderness; a feature in that great Poet which is often overlooked.
l. 110 divine Mozart: Keats here, as usual, shows his true Poets intuition. Of all musicians, Mozart is the one in whom the passion for beauty, the cry of humanity, are most eminent, most constantly audible. Hence the supremacy naturally and rightly assigned to him.
To My Brother George.
l. 3 laureld peers: Spirits of heroes dead?
Written on the day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison.
3 Feb. 1815. To this fortunate incarceration Hunt has owed no small part of his later celebrity:although its direct result,his politico-literary alliance with Lord Byron,was unsatisfactory for both. For this Hunt, in his Autobiography, generously if justly, takes the blame to himself.
To a Friend who sent me some Roses.
Charles Wells,who gave in his early poem, Joseph and his Brethren, a promise which was never fulfilled,with Joseph Severn, to the last the faithful friend of Keats, overlived him to 1879.
On first looking into Chapmans Homer.
Chapmans fine paraphrase was put before Keats by his friend C. C. Clarke, and they sat up together till daylight to read it: Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination. At ten oclock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table.
On leaving some Friends at an early Hour.
l. 7 diamond jar: Meant to express the flashing of diamonds as they move and clash?
Addressed to the Same.
That frequent absence of prophetic insight as to the future fame of contemporaries which marks not a few of Spensers judgments on his fellow-poets in the magnificent Colin Clout, is shared by Keats in this Sonnet. Time, indeed, the wisest witness, has confirmed the verdict given upon Wordsworth: but Hunt, despite his real merits, is far too wanting in good taste and in power, to deserve the collateral glory here assigned: whilst of Haydon we may now say, when the sad story of his life lies far behind us, that the pictures which he left testify to inborn incapacity for valid success in the art to which he devoted himself with unhappily mistaken ardour and perseverance:
ibi omnis Effusus labor!
l. 7 And: Are is conjecturally read in the Aldine text. If conjecture be needed, I would retain And, inserting are before ever.
Sleep and Poetry.
This fine, though unequal, soliloquy was manifestly intended by Keats to form the Epilogue to his first venture, as the I stood is the young poets Prologue. A more sincere avowal was never made. We see here with what modest self-consciousness, how truly, he understood his art:It alone would justify me (were justification needed), for this literal reprint of the text which passed before his clear and sensitive eyes.
Keats here shows that whilst yielding, (as in the Epistles and other pieces which begin the volume of 1817), to the pleasure of frank and simple description of Nature, he was aware how Poetry, in the high and serious sense with which all who deserve to be called Poets always regard their art, must have far other and higher aims;
the agonies, the strife
Of human hearts:
that Beauty alone, even to this Poet of the Beautiful is insufficient. And if the real things of contemporary life press on him, bearing his soul down to nothingness, he thinks of the great imaginative literature of England before the critical period of comparative coldness in the years of the latter Stuarts and the eighteenth century (symbolized here by Boileau), and gains strength and delightful hopes:destined, even during his short life, to how noble a fulfilment!
The concluding lines describe Leigh Hunts library in his little house at Hampstead.
l. 209 my boundly reverence: Boundly seems an invention by Keats to signify what he felt bound to give.
l. 230235 These lines are harshly and obscurely expressed: Keats appears to be thinking of certain themes, unfit for imaginative literature, which had tempted,or might tempt,his contemporaries to poetry in which Beauty should be supplanted by simple Strength:comparing such subjects to the clubs, (altered to cubs in most editions), with which Polyphemus and his fellows pursued Ulysses.It is, however, difficult to identify the apparent allusion.
l. 274 It is doubtful whether we should supply me, or him, after reach; or whether Keats here thought of reach as a dissyllable:as grand seems to have been considered.
l. 364 liny marble: The epithet, if Keats here describes, not the veining, but the sharp thin flutings and frieze-mouldings of a Greek Temple, is singularly felicitous.
l. 379 unshent: used apparently for purified, or free from.
Endymion: Book I.
KNOWING within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public.
What manner I mean, will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished. The two first books, and indeed the two last, I feel sensible are not of such completion as to warrant their passing the press; nor should they if I thought a years castigation would do them any good;it will not: the foundations are too sandy. It is just that this youngster should die away: a sad thought for me, if I had not some hope that while it is dwindling I may be plotting, and fitting myself for verses fit to live.
This may be speaking too presumptuously, and may deserve a punishment: but no feeling man will be forward to inflict it: he will leave me alone, with the conviction that there is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object. This is not written with the least atom of purpose to forestall criticisms of course, but from the desire I have to conciliate men who are competent to look, and who do look with a zealous eye, to the honour of English literature.
The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.
I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled its brightness: for I wish to try once more, before I bid it farewel.
April 10, 1818.
As with other ancient legends, several variations of the story of Endymion have reached us. Keats has followed little except the mere outline of the simplest form: treating him as a Carian King, who slept on Mount Latmos, and was there visited by Selene. He has passed over the perpetual sleep which is the common point in the old stories, and, in itself, is sufficient to show that the modern interpretation, confidently making Endymion the Sun, and resolving the poetry of the myth into a mode of saying, The sun sets behind a mountain, and the Moon rises over it, is as lame as it is prosaic.
Keats may have framed Peona, the name assigned to the sister with whom he provides Endymion, from Pæana, one of the minor heroines of the Faerie Queene (B. iv, C. 8 and 9): or he may have had in view Paean, the Healer or Deliverer;the name given in Greek mythology to Asclepius.But neither for this poem, nor for Hyperion, have I cared to enquire closely into names employed, or the allusions connected with them. They seem to be either derived from the common mythological works in use seventy years since, or invented by Keats himself. He has here a predecessor, perhaps a guide, in Spenser, who (with wider classical knowledge than Keats had reached), has handled classical legends in the same free, inventive way, and with the same indifference to correct scholarship.
Endymion, in truth, despite the name, is not, on the whole, more genuinely a Grecian tale than the Faerie Queene. Keats need not have feared, with his charming modesty, that he had here dulled the brightness of the beautiful mythology of Hellas. He has taken hardly more than that the goddess Selene loved the youth Endymion, from the old legend. It is not so much the canvas as the framework upon which he has woven and stretched a romantic piece of modern embroidery. To give this simple outline extension, a few of the best-known myths are introduced: they form the scenery, as it were, in and before which the long narrative of passion,or, rather, the picture of passion, for vera passio is hardly here,unfolds itself.It is said that, on some one asking how Keats, the livery-stable-keepers son, the surgeons apprentice, could have learned his Grecian allusions, Shelley replied, Because he was a Greek. In the enthusiastic warmth of this fine answer Shelley was, probably, thinking of Hyperion, the one poem which,at any rate during the lifetime of Keats,he admired. Even in that, however, we have really the same romantic (as opposed to classical) groundwork which we find in Endymion, presented under a Miltonic disguisal.
Where, then, are we to look for the Greek element in Keats? Chiefest and best I find it in that gift which only deserves the name because it is exhibited by Greek literature more perfectly and, on the whole, more continuously and consistently than by any other literature:the gift of absolutely direct and, as it were, spontaneous expression of the thought, whether of description or of emotion, before the poet. Or rather, Nature herself appears to speak for him: the words come by inner law; they do not, as such, strike one either as prose or as poetry:they seem as if they could not have been otherwise. This freedom from conventional colour or phrase, this Simplicity, in one word,and Lucidity and Sanity with Simplicity,is what marks all the great Hellenic poets, from Homer to the followers of Theocritus. When read closely, it is astonishing how little the diction differs from prose, whilst all the while it is felt to be the purest, the most essential, poetry. The early education of Keats had not given him the advantage of this experience, which, with longer life, he would doubtless have attained. Hence one may say that he has done his best, by overrichness of ornament, and by a vocabulary surcharged with Elizabethan verbal experiments and modern mannerism,luxury, to take a favourite word of his youth,to conceal that native Hellenism which was recognized by Shelley. A similar criticism may be made, not unfrequently, upon the language of Shakespeare. And Shakespeare himself, also, has hardly displayed a nobler simplicity, a more complete and appropriate directness of speech, than Keats continually offers for our enjoyment. The freshness of phrase, going straight from his imagination to ours, the absolute sincerity and insight of the descriptive touches, even in the volume of 1817, are amazing. But these wonders, as Keats himself said upon Milton, are, according to the great prerogative of poetry, better described in themselves than by a volume.I had thought of adding examples; but the reader will enjoy them most, if left to his own chase after Beauty.
This word,the one which arises first upon the mind, like sunshine, at the very name of Vergil, Mozart, or Flaxman,is also our first, our truest, thought in the case of that child of genius, upon whom, with reverent diffidence, these notes are offered. Beauty, with him,as with the Greeks above all the world,is the first word and the last of Art; the one quality without which it is not. In this respect, again, Keats is a true son of Hellas. Yet, as he soon felt and acknowledged, in his early days it is too much the beautiful for beautys sake only,too much its outward visible form,that he pursued. It is at this period that we find that splendid outburst of delight in pure natural loveliness which even he could hardly have bettered by verse:In truth, the great Elements we know of, are no mean comforters: the open sky sits upon our senses like a sapphire crown; the air is our robe of state; the earth is our throne, and the sea a mighty minstrel playing before it:and again, O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!It is not thus, however, that the greater poets of Greece thought and wrote. With them, (as indeed with most writers and artists till modern times), the landscape is persistently viewed in reference to human feeling and action, or, occasionally, to the presence of divine beings latent in or about stream and forest; rarely and cursorily painted for its own sake only. Nor, again, despite the Hellenic passion for simple, sensuous, beauty, (although pushed occasionally to a certain extravagance which has been sometimes taken for its normal expression), do the ancients announce such a worship of the Beautiful, in this external sense, for its own sake, as we find revealed in the earlier work of Keats. If they seem to say
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
the Beautiful was taken in its wider and deeper meaning, carrying with it the ideas of eternal Law, of divine Justice, of the Theoretic happiness, man living on earth a life worthy of heaven, which the Master of those who know set forth as the final aim of human existence. In Beauty, thus considered,Man, with his passions, his joys and griefs, his destiny,the world beyond the world, the things beneath the veil,formed necessarily the principal objects: and the Lamia and the Eve of St. Agnes show how soon our youthful poet began to move into that loftier sphere in which alone a thing of beauty can be a joy for ever.
For this first, simply-sensuous Beauty-worship, this picture of a world in which real humanity, with right and wrong, are not so much excluded as not recognized, Keats might have found a precedent, not in the beautiful mythology of Greece, referred to in the Preface to Endymion, but in the beginning of the later half of the Italian Renaissance; the great age of Florentine art and classicalism. It is, however, improbable that he could have drunk deeply, if at all, at that source: nor, as I shall presently endeavour to show, could he have derived his direction from his great Master, Spenser. He was, I conjecture, led in part by the tone of mind, bordering closely on a certain moral laxity, which he was conscious of in Leigh Hunt, mostly by the fervour and rush of perceptive and imaginative energy which boiled like a torrent through his youthful nature. I can best give an idea of this by a quotation,which is not likely to be thought too long by any reader worthy of Keats,from a letter written on his twenty-third birthday (29 Oct. 1818) to his dearly-loved brother George. Nowhere else, perhaps, is his innermost mind shown so freely: nor has any other Poet known to me made his confession with equal intensity and beauty of language, or given us such frank admission to the mysteries of the studio.
Notwithstanding your happiness and your recommendations, I hope I shall never marry: though the most beautiful creature were waiting for me at the end of a journey or a walk; though the carpet were of silk, and the curtains of the morning clouds, the chairs and sofas stuffed with cygnets down, the food manna, the wine beyond claret, the window opening on Winandermere, I should not feel, or rather my happiness should not be, so fine; my solitude is sublimefor, instead of what I have described, there is a sublimity to welcome me home; the roaring of the wind is my wife; and the stars through the window-panes are my children; the mighty abstract Idea of Beauty in all things, I have, stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness.... I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone, but in a thousand worlds. No sooner am I alone, than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around me, and serve my spirit the office which is equivalent to a Kings Body-guard: then Tragedy with scepterd pall comes sweeping by: according to my state of mind, I am with Achilles shouting in the trenches, or with Theocritus in the vales of Sicily; or throw my whole being into Troilus, and, repeating those lines, I wander like a lost soul upon the Stygian bank, staying for waftage, I melt into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate, that I am content to be alone.
The letters of Keats, and, in some degree, his last poems, show that it was not from want of manly power, lofty purpose, or interest in humanity, that he thought and wrote in this almost Epicurean strain:although it is idle to conjecture in what direction his great genius,greater in promise, as his illustrious successor in Poetry has more than once remarked to me, than any born among us since Milton,would have exhibited its maturity. The want of high, human, aim in its noblest sense is, however, the point in which Keats most differs from that Master to whom in early youth he was mainly indebted. In the prefatory letter to the Faerie Queene Spenser,our sage and serious Spenser, as Milton named him,himself sets forth as his object, to fashion a gentleman or a noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. No one, says Mr. Aubrey de Vere in a recent Essay, published in Dr. Grosarts edition, no one was more familiar with forest scenery, or with the charm of mead and meadow and river-bank; but he left it for poets of a later age to find in natural description the chief sphere for the exercise of their faculties. He lived too near the chivalrous age of action and passion.... His imagination and his affections followed the mediæval type. All that he saw was to him the emblem of things unseen; the material world thus became the sacrament of a spiritual world, and the earthly life a betrothal to a life beyond the grave. So Professor Dowden, in his equally able Essay:The high distinction of Spensers poetry is to be found in the rare degree in which it unites sense and soul, moral seriousness and the Renaissance appetite for beauty.... With all its opulence of colour and melody, with all its imagery of delight, the Faerie Queene has primarily a moral or spiritual intention. While Spenser sees the abundant beauty of the world, and the splendour of man and of the life of man, his vision of human life is grave and even stern.
It will easily be seen how far the Endymion falls below this ideal, and suffers, hence, in sustained interest. In one element, indeed, he was without Spensers advantage:Mediaeval types, as employed throughout the Faerie Queene were not available for Keats. That element he has replaced by recurrence to Grecian mythology. And,had he rendered this in its vital essence, though more remote in time than Mediaevalism, its beauty and its breadth of human nature might have supplied some compensation. As it is, the somewhat external Hellenism which he reproduced here and (though in severer style) in Hyperion, was incapable of supplying adequate body or unity to the narrative. These poems want the unifying architectonic faculty:the touch of nature that gives life to the whole.But the Poet, (whose perfect modesty in regard to his own work is in curious contrast with the over-frequent self-laudation of Spenser), himself remarked upon Endymion: I have most likely but moved into the go-cart from the leading-strings.
As a true artist, Keats knew his own deficiencies: nor does Shelleys estimate of Endymion, both at the time of publication and when he wrote his letter of remonstrance to Mr. Gifford, (1820), view the poem more favourably. It would be more agreeable to dwell here upon the magical beauties of detail which even in Spenser himself are not more frequent or more magical. One might transfer Ben Jonsons name for his own minor poems to Endymion: It is not so much a forest, as Underwoods. Or we may think of the luxuria foliorum of that tree in the Garden of Proserpine described by Spenser,
Clothed with leaves, that none the wood mote see,
And loaden all with fruit as thick as it might bee.
Splendid as are the foliage and the flowers, Endymion is an almost pathless intricacy of story: a Paradise without a plan. What page, however, is there here in which the Poet does not give us lines or touches so fresh, so vigorous, so directly going to the very heart of Nature, that more of essential Poetry is concentrated in one than can be found in whole volumes by his imitators? I had marked many such phrases:but, as noticed before, they are best left for the readers delight and discernment. Meanwhile, a few words by the Poets biographer may close this over-lengthy attempt. Let us never forget, says Lord Houghton, that, wonderful as are the poems of Keats, yet, after all, they are rather the records of a poetical education, than the accomplished work of the mature artist. Even thus, however, what poet, in the whole range of literature, at twenty-four, has rivalled them?
l. 3957 Endymion was begun, (it seems at Carisbrooke), April 1817: by September following, (at Oxford), he had reached B. iii: B. iv was finished on 28 November: B. i was given to the publisher January 1818. I am anxious to get Endymion printed that I may forget it, and proceed, Keats says with his usual utter and delightful modesty, in a letter of 27 February. The lovely Preface is dated 10 April.
l. 334 the raft Branch: Apparently, the branch torn off. Keats, who may have taken the word from Spenser, appears either not to have noticed the want of a syllable in l. 335, or to have satisfied his ear with the words as they stand.
l. 411 The last word of this line, with eight others in Endymion, is,I do not doubt, intentionally,left without a rhyme.
l. 4723 One of the rare touches of exquisite human feeling which Keats has allowed himself,perhaps, which his chosen subject and treatment allowed him,in Endymion:a poem, under this aspect, curiously contrasted with the Isabella and the St. Agnes.
l. 4935 A substantive, says Professor Earle, may suddenly by a vigorous stroke of art be transformed into an adverb, as forest in the following passage:
more forest wild.
(Philology of the English Tongue: 1873).
l. 555 ditamy, dittany: In Old French, dictame; whence, probably, the spelling used by Keats.
l. 748757 This analysis of Sleep and Dream is worthy of Shakespeare, in Shakespeares best manner.
Endymion: Book II.
l. 3438 Keats here alludes to the ill-success of his volume of 1817.
l. 39 chaffing: chafing.
l. 60 pight: placed.
l. 318 zephyr-boughs among, the common reading here, was probably in the mind of Keats. But with a poet of literary training so incomplete, so unconventional, and of such imaginative force, conjectural emendation, to which his abnormal phrases and rhythms tempt, is even more than ordinarily uncertain and undesirable.The verbal peculiarities of Keats I have hence, also, in general left unnoticed. He copied much, no doubt, from our elder poets: but he also invents with the freedom which is one of the prerogatives of all Poetry, and of all language in a vital condition.
l. 400 tenting: perhaps, (it has been suggested to me), referring to the drapery of Adonis, stretched from knee to knee.
l. 443 Since Ariadne became companion to Dionysos.
l. 445 Vertumnus: This name, with Pomona, after the fashion of the Italian Renaissance, carries us abruptly from Hellenic to Graeco-Roman mythology.The Cupid picture (l. 506) is classical, but in a similar vein.
l. 761 In this amorous extravagance,which reminds us of the conceits of Lovelace, rather than of the Ancients,it is probably idle to enquire why Ida is introduced.
l. 876 Hermes pipe: Argus was thus lulled to sleep as he was guarding Io, and slain by Hermes at command of Zeus.
Endymion: Book III.
l. 120 It was an unfortunate occurrence, writes Lord Houghton, narrating the introduction of Keats to Leigh Hunt and his associates, that Keats became unwittingly identified, not only with a literary coterie, with whose specialities he had little in common, but with a supposed political association for revolutionary objects with which he entertained nothing beyond the vaguest sympathy.In this atmosphere it is no wonder that the Poets wing should flag, and his verse go heavily. But he soon renews his mighty youth;nor has the whole poem a lovelier passage, nor one more deeply felt, than the moonlight landscape which concludes the paragraph.
Lines 395400, on the other hand, are a specimen of the singular prose matter which occasionally occurs, entwined in the golden tissue of the song. This lapse seems to me especially to characterize the transitions, (always so difficult to manage), in the story.
l. 119 Two other magnificent pictures of the world beneath sea may be compared with this: Clarences dream in Richard III, and the vision related by Panthea in Prometheuus Unbound, Act iv.Keats, at twenty-two, fairly rises to his place beside Shakespeare and Shelley.
l. 405 Hercules: From Gades to Egypt.
l. 999 Doris: daughter to Oceanus, and wife of the wise Nereus,named sometimes the Aegaean, as finding in that sea his chief seat of empire.
Endymion: Book IV.
l. 97 in twain should here, doubtless, follow for them.
l. 459 dædale: Appears used for variable.
l. 485 throe: possibly, to tremble: or, to throw, in its sense of twisting and turning.[??]
l. 512542 This strongly felt and written psychological picture seems to reveal the seriousness of the poets later years, when the sensuous beauty-world of boyhood was no longer sufficient to distract the soul from the burthen of the mystery, which no highly-gifted spirit can long escape recognizing.
l. 599 shent: disgraced.
l. 667 This line presents the single clear trace of experience derived from his medical training which I am aware of, in all the poetry of Keats. The absence of such is remarkable: for anatomy and physiology are fertile in suggestive images, beautiful or powerful, for poetry.
l. 691710 The sustained flow and clear diction of these beautiful lines,like those noticed (515545),foreshadow the poets maturest style. There is in this book,apparently not written in immediate sequence with the preceding,an ideal character, strangely blended with a few notes of sweet human feeling, which seems to me similarly prelusive.
l. 774 Alludes, presumably, to Hyperion.
l. 951 I said: Endymion here, soliloquizing, refers to the phrase in l. 946, and it is needless to change the pronoun for he: See note [?].
Lamia: Part I.
IF any apology be thought necessary for the appearance of the unfinished poem of HYPERION, the publishers beg to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the author. The poem was intended to have been of equal length with ENDYMION, but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding.
Fleet-Street, June 26, 1820.
For this note Messrs. Taylor and Hessey, the publishers appear to be responsible. The reason here alleged for the abandonment of Hyperion may have coexisted in the mind of Keats with that which can be inferred from his letter of Sep. 22, 1819, quoted later on. It should be noticed that he is named on the title-page as Author of Endymion.
My book is coming out, Keats says of this little volume (Summer, 1820), with very low hopes, though not spirits, on my part. This shall be my last trial;Alas! and it was so: not succeeding, I shall try what I can do in the apothecary line. With this compare Shelleys remark (Feb. 1821) upon the failure, as he believed, of his Cenci: Nothing is more difficult and unwelcome than to write without a confidence of finding readers.Lamia, in hand by July 12, was finished by September 5, 1819. I give these and similar dates, because in the short life and (if the phrase may be admitted) tropical rapidity of growth in the mind and powers of Keats, months count like the years of advance in case of ordinary mortals. Lamia, placed first in the volume of 1820, may, however, be considered as his last poem: written with great care, and after much study of Drydens versification. I have great hopes of success, says Keats in his letter of 12 July 1819 because I make use of my judgment more deliberately than I have yet done, but in case of failure with the world, I shall find my content.
The clear, close narration, and the metre of Lamia, reveal at once the influence of Drydens Tales: Keats here freely admits the Alexandrine, and the couplet-structure is much more marked than in Endymion or the Epistles: while he has admirably found and sustained the balance between a blank-verse treatment of the Heroic and the epigrammatic form carried to perfection by Pope. A little of the early mannerism remains: but those overdaring strokes of imaginative diction, those epithets jarringly bold or familiar, which we find in the volumes of 1817 and 1818, have here given place to the secure and lucid touches of masterly art. Details no longer urge themselves forward in lavish and bewildering profusion: the whole is supreme over the parts, every word in its place, and yielding its effect in fulness. The rhyme, in Endymion often forced, is managed with an opulent ease, a Spenserian fluency. Lamia leaves on my ear an echo like the delicate richness of Vergils hexameter in the Eclogues: the note of his magical inner sweetness is, in some degree, reached upon a different instrument. I offer this as an illustration, without wishing to press far the parallel between the two great Poets; yet we are reminded of Vergils grand style by the exquisite skill with which Lamias love-song (l. 296300), like that of Silenus in Eclogue VI, is brought in without breaking the current and continuity of the metre.
After the remarks on the Hellenism of Keats in my note upon Endymion, it may be enough here to add that Lamia is truly Greek in its direct lucidity of phrase, in its touches fresh from Nature, in its descriptive details subordinated to serious human interest. It is Greek also, (though of a lower phase), in its simple sensuousness, which indeed, at times, though rarely, (as in l. 328333), passes the line of taste: whilst here, also, the Peris and Adam touch a dissonant chord. Some writers of modern date have gained the praise of being Greek by linguistic turns, quaint archaeological accuracy, or baldness supposed statuesque:Keats cares for none of these things; so far as he is Greek, he is so by birthright; yet, as mere truthful description, nothing, probably, can be found more true to Hellenic life than such a picture as that given,l. 350361of Colinth at night-fall.
Lamia is, however, essentially romantic rather than classical,as the Eve of St. Agnes is a frank piece of mediaeval legend.
Poetry more absolutely and triumphantly poetical than these two tales display, I know in no literature: if the estimate may be hazarded, they appear to me emphatically the masterpieces among the Poets longer work.
l. 81 the star of Lethe: Hermes, apparently, is here thus named in allusion to his office of soul-leader from life to Tartarus.
l. 171 Whither fled Lamia: Cenchrêae is a seaport on the south side of the Isthmus of Corinth: the Peraea, a mountainous district to north-west. Cleone lies to the southward.
l. 198 unshent: Keats here seems to use this, one of his favourite old words, as equivalent to maiden.
Lamia: Part II.
Footnote: Philostratus, in his fourth book De Vita Apollonii, hath a memorable instance in this kind, which I may not omit, of one Menippus Lycius, a young man twenty-five years of age, that going betwixt Cenchreas and Corinth, met such a phantasm in the habit of a fair gentlewoman, which taking him by the hand, carried him home to her house, in the suburbs of Corinth, and told him she was a Phoenician by birth, and if he would tarry with her, he should hear her sing and play, and drink such wine as never any drank, and no man should molest him; but she, being fair and lovely, would live and die with him, that was fair and lovely to behold. The young man, a philosopher, otherwise staid and discreet, able to moderate his passions, though not this of love, tarried with her a while to his great content, and at last married her, to whose wedding, amongst other guests, came Apollonius; who, by some probable conjectures, found her out to be a serpent, a lamia; and that all her furniture was, like Tantalus gold, described by Homer, no substance but mere illusions. When she saw herself descried, she wept, and desired Apollonius to be silent, but he would not be moved, and thereupon she, plate, house, and all that was in it, vanished in an instant: many thousands took notice of this fact, for it was done in the midst of Greece.
Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy. Part 3. Sect. 2. Memb. 1. Subs. 1.
Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil.
Finished by 27 Ap. 1818, at Teignmouth. The source is Boccaccios Decamerone, Gior. iv, Nov. 5, where the tale is placed in the mouth of Philomena. But the story, rather baldly told, is without the fine detail, the touches of character, the depth of sentiment,the poetry, in short, with which Keats has clothed it. In st. xix he makes a graceful apology for his enlargement of the original theme by the episode upon Isabellas brothers and their trading ventures. Boccaccio, true to his usual creeping morality, treats their conduct to Lorenzo as a piece of natural common sense.The old literary superstition, (analogous to that which placed Ariosto among the supreme poets, or Guido among the supreme painters, of the world), clinging still about Boccaccio, influenced Leigh Hunt, and, probably through him, Keats. But although the Decamerone had great value in its own day as a masterwork in style, singularly graceful and lucid in point of narrative diction, yet it really contains very few stories which, even looking to bare plan and form, have any poetical merit: whilst in his moralization and the general character of his tales, Boccaccio is own brother to Polonius. Even the skill and taste of Keats have not here fully succeeded in turning the coarse, physical motives common to the Decamerone and other mediaeval stories, into beauty. Yet the pathos and picturesqueness of the whole is such that we have no reason to regret that song upon the fate of the lovers which, (according to Philomena), anchora hoggi si canta,in Naples or Messina.
st. ix Some overcolour, some overpressure of the phrase remains here: so in st. xiii:Keats has not yet reached the self-restraint and clearness of his latest work. But the rhyme is very rarely forced.
st. xvi, xvii The general sense of these stanzas is more intelligible than the expression, in which closeness and condensation pass into obscurity. Hawks of the shipmast forests I take to be, Ready to pounce on the trading-vessels as they come in: Malay, Oriental trade in general.
st. l, l. 1 the Persèan sword: Perseus, the slayer of Medusa.
st. liv, l. 8 leafits: In this pretty diminutive, (whether borrowed by Keats or coined), the analogy of floweret may have been followed.
The Eve of St. Agnes.
Keats, doubtless, was indebted for his subject to Brands Popular Antiquities, 1795. On the eve of her day, 21 Jan., that writer says, many kinds of divination were practised by virgins to discover their future husbands. He cites some lines, assigned to Ben Jonson, upon the subject, and refers to Burtons Anatomy of Melancholy, as speaking of Maids fasting on St. Agnes Eve, to know who shall be their first husband. A long quotation from an old chap-book then gives the legend in detail;furnishing obviously the outline of our poem.
St. Agnes wool (st. xiii) is that shorn from two lambs which, (allusive to the Saints name), were upon that day brought to Mass, and offered whilst the Agnus was chanted. The wool was then spun, dressed, and woven by the hand of Nuns.
It is, apparently, as a poetical contrast to the fasting which was generally accepted as the due method by which a maiden was to prepare herself for the Vision, that the gorgeous supper-picture of st. xxx was introduced. Keats, who was Leigh Hunts guest at the time when this volume appeared, read aloud the passage to Hunt, with manifest pleasure in his work:the sole instance I can recall when the poet,modest in proportion to his greatness,yielded even to so innocent an impulse of vanity.
A fine remark by Mr. A. de Vere upon the Faerie Queene is equally applicable to this Poem, and also to Lamia:The gift of delineating beauty finds perhaps its most arduous triumph when exercised on the description of incident, a thing that passes necessarily from change to change,and not on permanent objects, which less elude the artists eye and hand.
There is a tendency to class women in my books with roses and sweetmeats,they never see themselves dominant, said Keats, (about Aug. 1820), alluding to a report that his last book was unpopular among them. This remark applies, perhaps, most to the Eve of St. Agnes. Keats did not live long enough to attain,as, despite his own criticism, many passages in his poems show that he would have attained,the standard of his great Master, of whom Professor Dowden truly notes that For Spenser, behind each woman made to worship or love, rises a sacred presenceWomanhood itself.
This magnificent poem was written by Feb., and revised in Sep. 1819.
st. viviii The mode in which Keats,that Elizabethan born out of due time,here and elsewhere, as in Isabella, dallies with the innocence of love, Like the old age, seems to me rather the naïvetè of Mediaevalism than that of Antiquity.
st. xix, l. 9 Merlin: Can it have been that a confused recollection of the tale how Uther, transformed by Merlin into the likeness of Gorlois, loved Igerna in Tintagel, by night, was in the poets mind?
st. xxv, l. 2 gules: a heraldic term for red:transmitted here through the coat-of-arms in the casement.
st. xxx, l. 5 soother: seems used for sweeter, or softer.
st. xxxvii flaw: flying blast.
Ode to a Nightingale.
What language, except ours, is honoured by three such splendid bird-songs as Skylark and Nightingale have received from Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats?His was written in the spring of 1819, and is one of the six or eight among his poems so unique and perfect in style, that it is hard to see how any experience could have improved them.
Ode on a Grecian Urn.
The rhyme-formulae of the latter six lines are here curiously varied.
Had the first and last stanzas been throughout equal to the second, third, and fourth, this Ode would have had few rivals in our, or any, literature.
st. 4, l. 7 this folk: its (for this) has less improbability than the great majority of the alterations which the ordinary editions present.
Ode to Psyche.
Upon this noble Ode, where Collins and Gray may have been before his mind, Keats, in a letter of Ap. 1819, remarks: The following poem, the last I have written, is the first and only one with which I have taken even moderate pains; I have, for the most part, dashed off my lines in a hurry; this one I have done leisurely; I think it reads the more richly for it, and it will I hope encourage me to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy spirit. You must recollect that Psyche was not embodied as a goddess before the time of Apuleius the Platonist, who lived after the Augustan age, and consequently the goddess was never worshipped or sacrificed to with any of the ancient fervour, and perhaps never thought of in the old religion: I am more orthodox than to let a heathen goddess be so neglected.
l. 4 soft-conched: like a soft shell.
l. 14 Tyrian: doubtless, purple.
l. 55 fledge: furnish with feathers.
Written, apparently, by Nov. 1817. I know no other poem which so closely rivals the richness and melody,and that in this very difficult and rarely attempted metre,of Miltons Allegro and Penseroso. For the Ode, I find no date given: the Robin Hood and the Lines on the Mermaid were in existence by Feb. 1818.These four little masterpieces, if compared with the lines Hadst thou lived, show the rapid advance,the exotic growth,of the poets powers.
Sep. 1819. Another masterpiece: If, in the vulgar sense, not Greek, essentially it is more so than Hyperion: it is such as a Theocritus might have longed to write.
Ode on Melancholy.
Earlier, perhaps, than the preceding Ode. It has (to me) more of youthful mannerism. But this may be due to the somewhat morbid and over-subtle nature of the subject here handled by Keats, which a little out-ran his psychological powers. His letters furnish several analogous speculative passages, full of interest and of promise, even in the tentativeness and immaturity which the writer avows.
Hyperion: A Fragment: Book I.
Begun in Dec. 1818: in hand during the next autumn: dropped Sep. 1819.
This famous fragmentary poem seems to have afforded Keats less satisfaction than any other of his works. It was printed, as the Advertisement shows, at his Publishers desire, and contrary to the wish of the author. Still later, he re-cast it into the shape of a Vision, which remains equally unfinished. I have given up Hyperion, Keats writes from Winchester, Sep. 22, 1819 there were too many Miltonic inversions in itMiltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or rather, artists humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up. This phrase apparently refers to the mood in which he had just written those noble lines to Autumn, which I put, with Lamia, and five or six more pieces, amongst his maturest work; the work wherein art touches its genuine triumph in concealing itself: the work which, in matter and manner alike, embodies his most essential, his most intimate, genius. And, in the remarks which follow, the poet clearly shows a consciousness that in Hyperion the artists humour was too prevalent: the false beauty, proceeding from art, blended with the true voice of feeling.Keats, criticizing here for the last time his own work, touches on the note which is most sensible in his poetry, as it is that which lay the deepest in his own nature. Almost more than passion for beauty,although, indeed it is, rather, itself the fine flower of beauty,tenderness,almost passing into tremulousness,seems to me his characteristic. Here and there, whilst he was little more than a boy, we hear this note in excess. But Keats, in both the qualities just named, true child of Spenser, has also the manliness of nature, the sanity of sentiment, which underlie everywhere that river of gold which ripples through the Faerie Queene. Beyond any of his great compeers during the last two centuries, (if I may here venture thus to sum up the imperfect criticisms on his genius which are offered in these notes), Keats had inherited, not only as Man but as Poet,or rather, as Poet because he was so as Man,the inspiration and the magnanimity of the great age of our Muses;more than any, he is true English-Elizabethan:Had the years of Milton been destined for him, of him, more than of any other it might have been prophesied,
Fortunate puer! Tu nunc eris alter ab illo.
Despite the marvellous grandeur of its execution, the judgment of Keats upon this work appears to be thoroughly well founded. After an introduction worthy to be compared with what the Propylaea of the Acropolis at Athens must have been, at once in severe majesty and in refinement of execution, the interest of the story rapidly and irremediably falls off. It is, truly, to take a phrase from the Preface to Endymion, too late a day. The attempt to revivify an ancient myth,as distinguished from an ancient story of human life,however alluring, however illustrated by poets of genius, seems to me essentially impossible. It is for the details, not for the whole, that we read Hyperion, or Prometheus Unbound, or the German Iphigeneia. Like the great majority of post-classical verse in classical languages, those modern myths are but exercises, (and, as such, with their value to the writer), on a splendid scale. The story of which Hyperion tells the beginning is, in fact, far too remote, too alien from the modern world: it has neither any definite symbolical meaning, nor any of that soft humanity which underlies the wild magic of Lamia, and has rendered possible a picture, true not only to Corinth two thousand years ago, but to all time.Yet, with such strange vital force has he penetrated into the Titan world, and all but given the reality of life to the old shadows before him, that, had this miracle been possible, we may fairly say that Keats would have worked it.
The author was, hence, right in giving up Hyperion. Yet, by a singular irony of literary fate, Hyperion was the first of his poems which seems to have reached fame beyond his own English circle of admirers. Byron, in a passage often quoted, placed its sublimity on a level with Aeschylus. But the criticisms which it called forth from Shelley are the most noteworthy. In Nov. 1820 we find him writing that he has received a volume of poems by Keats; in other respects insignificant enough, but containing the fragment of a poem called Hyperion.... It is certainly an astonishing piece of writing. Nor was this Shelleys first impression only; for on 15 Feb. 1821 he returns to Keats: His other poems are worth little; but, if the Hyperion be not grand poetry, none has been produced by our contemporaries.If we remember the masterpieces contained in the precious little book of 1820, it may be reasonably held that even the political antagonists of Keats and his friends could hardly have exceeded these criticisms in blind prosaic injustice. So may one great poet,and he, snow-pure from taint of envy or malice,misunderstand and misestimate another!
My object in these notes has been only to aid readers to enjoy the Poems before them; not to offer a formal estimate of the genius of Keats, or of his place in English poetry. But, as the writer is little known in England, I will suggest to some readers that in André Chénier (17621704) they will find a poet curiously and, on the whole, (I would venture to think), nearly analogous to Keats. In both, Beauty is the first and last note heard; both were led to the legends of Hellas as a natural source of inspiration; in both, freshness of phrase, picturesqueness of form and presentation, easy abundance of imaginative description, are conspicuous. I may refer, as illustrations, to Chéniers Epistle to Le Brun and the Marquis of Brazais (No. i, Ed. 1852), to the Third Epistle to Le Brun, and that to De Pange (No. iv): to the fragmentary Idyll, Les Colombes (No. xix), and that numbered xii, the influence of which over Alfred de Musset is obvious.Chéniers longer Idylls, though brilliant in skill, have too much of Gallic epigram and rhetoric to do full justice to his exquisite genius.
Hyperion: A Fragment: Book II.
The speech of Oceanus, with its reasonings from natural law and development, may remind us of the rationalistic vein which we find, here and there, throughout the Idylls of the King.
When I have fears that I may cease to be.
This fine sonnet was written by Jan. 1818, soon after the completion of Endymion.
In a drear-nighted December.
This song, of a strange and ineffable beauty, with Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, I conjecturally place in 18189.
Asleep! O sleep a little while, white pearl!
A fragment from an Opera.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
Keats is not quite at his best, not quite himself, in this imitative Ballad,which, alone among his poems, is admirable rather for the picturesqueness of the whole, than, (as with Lamia or the Nightingale), for the equal wealth of the details also.
The Human Seasons.
Composed at Teignmouth by Sep. 1818.
Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art.
Keats wrote this,said to have been his last poem,after landing on the grand Dorset coast at the beginning of his voyage to Italy, Autumn, 1820:when the bright beauty of the day and the scene revived for a moment the poets drooping heart.
What would have been the next development in the genius and poetry of Keats,aged but twenty-four when he sighed out his soul in this lovely Sonnet? I can offer nothing here but the Poets letters: It is better to close the book with his own words. Lamia had been completed, Hyperion laid aside, in September 1819. Two months later, speaking of some poem, undefined, perhaps, even to himself, which he desired to write, he says: As the marvellous is the most enticing, and the surest guarantee of harmonious numbers, I have been endeavouring to persuade myself to untether Fancy, and to let her manage for herself. I and myself cannot agree about this at all. Wonders are no wonders to me. I am more at home amongst men and women. I would rather read Chaucer than Ariosto:adding, (in another letter), with characteristic modest sincerity, Some think I have lost that poetic fire and ardour they say I once had. The fact is, I perhaps have, but instead of that I hope I shall substitute a more thoughtful and quiet power. I am more contented to read and think, but seldom haunted with ambitious thoughts. I am scarcely content to write the best verse from the fever they leave behind. I want to compose without this fever; I hope I shall one day.That day, however, Keats was never to see. His fatal attack followed very shortly upon the letter above quoted, and his medical knowledge forbade him to nourish the hopes which often delude and alleviate consumption. Once more, (Feb. 16, 1820), he turns to Nature, but with what a pathos,with how deeper a sense of humanity, than in his younger days!
How astonishingly does the chance of leaving the world impress a sense of its natural beauties upon me! Like poor Falstaff, though I do not babble, I think of green fields; I muse with the greatest affection on every flower I have known from my infancytheir shapes and colours are as new to me as if I had just created them with a superhuman fancy. It is because they are connected with the most thoughtless and the happiest moments of our lives. I have seen foreign flowers in hothouses, of the most beautiful nature, but I do not care a straw for them. The simple flowers of our Spring are what I want to see again.