« AnteriorContinuar »
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-keeper's son, the surgeon's 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 HyAerion, 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 onl deserves the name because it is exhibited by ğ. 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 over-
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
the Beautiful was taken in its wider and deeper meaning,
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 Fredymion, 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 ji 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 cygnet's 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 ...”. 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 King's Body-guard : “then Tragedy with scepter'd pall comes sweeping by:” according to my
state of mind, I am with Achilles shouting in the trenches,
The letters of Keats, and, in some degree, his last
oems, show that it was not from want of manly power, ofty 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. Grosart's 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 mediaeval 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 . Essay:-‘‘The high distinction of Spenser's 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 Spenser's 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
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. hat 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 reader's delight and discernment. Meanwhile, a few words by the Poet's 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?
581. 39-57 Endymion was begun, (it seems at Carisbrooke),
April 1817; by September following, (at Oxford), he had reached #. 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,” Keat says with his usual utter and delightful modesty, in a letter of 27 February. The lovely Preface is dated 10 April.
34 the raft Branch : Apparently, the branch torn off.
65 l. Koš 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.