Roget's Int'l Thesaurus
Fowler's King's English
The King James Bible
Brewer's Phrase & Fable
Frazer's Golden Bough
Shelf of Fiction
The Romantic Revival
INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS
The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.
§ 8. Odes.
It is natural to contrast with these light and sparkling improvisations the rich and concentrated styleloaded with gold in every riftand the intricate interwoven harmonies of the majority of the contemporary odes. But, most of these were impromptus, too, born of the same sudden inspiration, and their crowded felicities were not studiously inlaid, but of the vital essence of the speech. A May morning, an autumn afternoon, a nightingales song in a Hampstead garden, a mood of dreamy relaxation after sleepfrom intense, almost momentary, experiences like these sprang poems which, beyond anything else in Keats, touch a universal note. In the earliest of these, the fragmentary
Ode to Maia
(May, 1818), the recent singer of
breathes yet another lyric prayer to the old divinities of antique Greece, seeking the old vigour of its bards, and, yet more, their noble simplicity, content to make great verse for few hearers. The author of the preface to
already possessed that temper; and, if he ever won the pellucid purity of Greek speech, it was in these lines. The other odes belonged to the spring of 1819, save
the latest, written in September.
almost the last of the group, was, he tells his brother George, the first and only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. Yet this, like
falls somewhat short of the flawless art of the rest. In both, he is, at moments, luxuriant and unstrung like his earlier self. Psyche, loveliest vision far of faded Olympus, becomes now, like Maia, a living symbol of the beauty he worships, and he will be the priest of her sanctuary. The Miltonic reminiscences are palpable, and by no means confined to an incidental phrase or image. The passing of the gods of Greece, moving, in spite of himself, to the poet of the
Keats mourned more naively than Schiller had done twenty years before; then, by a beautiful, perhaps illogical, transition, lament passes into a rapturous hymn to the deathless Psyche whose living temple was the poets mind.
commemorates a mood, as genuine, indeed, but less nearly allied to the creative springs of Keatss genius. Love and ambition and poetry itself appear as ghostly or masque-like figures on a dreamy urn; for them he builds no sanctuary, but turns away from their lure to the honied joys of sensethe sweetness of drowsy noons, his head cool-bedded in the flowery grass.
In the nearly contemporary
Ode on a Grecian Urn,
the symbolism of the urn-figures became far more vital. From the drowsed intoxication of the senses, he rises to a glorious clear-eyed apprehension of the spiritual eternity which art, with its unheard melodies, affords. The three consummate central stanzas have themselves the impassioned serenity of great sculpture. Only less noble are the daring and splendid imagery of the opening, and the immortal paradox of the close. Their lips touched not, but had not bade adieu, Keats later said of the sleeping lovers in
recalling, perhaps, with the carved figures of the
the wistful joy of
In both these great odes, however, the words imply a more spiritual and complex passion than the naïve bliss of Psyche and Cupid. They meant a stranger and rarer insight into the springs of both joy and sorrow than was thus conveyed. The worship of beauty is the clue to everything in Keats; and, as he came to feel that an experience into which no sadness enters belongs to an inferior order of beauty, so he found the most soul-searching sorrow in the very Temple of Delight. But the emotional poise is other than in the
there, he contemplates the passing of breathing human beauty from the serene heights of eternal art; here, it fills him with a poignant, yet subtly Epicurean, sadness.
is thus nearer to the mood of
and, like it, suffers from some resurgence of the earlier Keats; but the closing lines are of consummate quality. In the
Ode to a Nightingale,
the work of a morning in his friend Browns Hampstead garden, the poignant sense of life as it is, where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, and the reaching out to a visionary refugethe enchanted world created by the birds songare present together, but with changing dominance, the moods ecstatic self-abandonment being shattered, at its very acme, by the knell-like forlorn, which tolls him back to his sole self.
finally, written after an interval of some months, the sense that beauty, though not without some glorious compensation, perishes, which, in varying degrees, dominates these three odes, yields to a serene and joyous contemplation of beauty itself. The season of mellow fruitfulness wakens no romantic vision, no romantic longing, like the nightingales song; it satisfies all senses, but enthralls and intoxicates none; everything breathes contented fulfilment without satiety, and beauty, too, is fulfilled and complete. Shelley, whose yet greater ode was written a few weeks later, gloried in the breath of autumns beingthe wild west wind as the forerunner and creator of spring. Keats feels here no need either of prophecy or of retrospect. If, for a moment, he asks, Where are the songs of spring? it is only to reply, Think not of them, thou hast thy music too. This is the secret of his strength, if, also, of his limitationto be able to take the beauty of the present moment so completely into his heart that it seems an eternal possession.
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