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PAGre 200 . 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 o: description of incident, a thing that passes necessarily from change to change, and not on permanent objects, which less elude the artist's 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 ohis great Master, of whom Professor Dowden truly notes that “For Spenser, behind each woman made to worship or love, rises a sacred presence—Womanhood itself.”
This magnificent poem was written by Feb., and revised in Sep. 1819.
201 st. vi-viii. 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 naïveté of Mediaevalism than that of Antiquity.
21o st. xix, 1.9 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 poet's mind?
207 st. xxv, l. 2 gules: a heraldic term for red:—transmitted here throug the coat-of-arms in the casement.
208 st. xxx, l. 5 soother: seems used for sweeter, or softer. 21o st. xxxvii flaw: flying blast.
213 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.
215 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.
216 st. iv, 1.7 this folk :, its (for this) has less improbability than the great majority of the alterations which the ordinary editions present.
217 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.”
doubtless, Auréle.—St. iv, l. 6, 7/edge ; furnish with feathers.
219 Fancy: 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 Milton's Allegro and Penseroso. For the Ode, I find no date given; the A'obin Hood and the Lines on the Mermaid were in existence by Feb. 1818.--These four little masterpieces, if compared with the lines Had'st thou Zized (p. 20), show the rapid advance,—the exotic growth, –of the poet's powers.
225 Autumn: 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.
226 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.
229 Hyperion : Begun in Dec. 1818: in hand during the next
autumn : dropped Sep. 1819.
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 “artist's 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 abillo.
Despite the marvellous grandeur of its execution, the judgment of Keats upon this work appears to be §...; well founded. After an introduction worth 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 hrase 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 HyAerion, or Prometheus Unbound, or the German ///ligeneia. Like the great majority of postclassical 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
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 (1762-1794) 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 Chénier's 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 Codombes (No. xix), and that numbered xii, the influence of which over Alfred de Musset is obvious.-Chénier's longer Idylls, though brilliant in skill, have too much of Gallic epigram and rhetoric to do full justice to his exquisite genius.
242 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.
\ PAGE ~ 253 I This fine sonnet was written by Jan. 1818, soon after the completion of Endymion.
II This song, of a strange and ineffable beauty, with Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, I conjecturally place in 1818-9.
254 III A fragment from an Opera.
254 La belle Dame: 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 AWightingale), for the equal wealth of the details also.
256 V Composed at Teignmouth by Sep. 1818.
258 VIII 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 poet's 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 Poet's 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, .# 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 o: 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