“Hyperion, A Fragment”: An Introduction

Date of Composition
Hyperion was begun by Keats beside his brother’s sickbed in September or October, 1818. It is to Hyperion that he refers when he speaks in those days of “plunging into abstract images”, and finding a “feverous relief” in the “abstractions” of poetry. These phrases are applicable only to Hyperion. It was finished some time in April, 1819.

Keats’s Original Plan About This Poem
The subject of Hyperion had long been in Keats’s mind, and both in the text and the preface of Endymion he indicated his inten­tion to attempt it. At first he thought of the poem to be written as a “romance”, but his plan changed to that of a blank verse epic in ten or twelve books. His purpose was to describe the warfare of the earlier Titanic dynasty with the later Olympian dynasty of the Greek gods; and in particular one episode of that warfare, the dethronement of the sun-god Hyperion and the assumption of his kingdom by Apollo. Hyperion exists in two versions, both incomplete. The second version was a revision of the first, with the addition of a long induction in a new style which makes it into a different poem. The two versions of the poem extend over Keats’s greatest creative period. The first version was written mostly before the great Odes, the second mostly after them. As a matter of fact, the period covered by Hyperion is the period of Keats’s most intense experience, both of joy and sorrow, in actual life, and of his most rapid development.
The Dethronement of Hyperion, the Proposed Theme
The theme of the war between the Titans or the earlier generation of gods, and the later Olympians who overthrew them often occurs in the literature which Keats was fond of reading. The specific theme, the dethronement of Hyperion, the old sun-god, by Apollo the new, is Keats’s own. Apollo is also the god of poetry, and as Endymion had symbolised the fate of the lover of beauty in the world, so the story of Apollo and Hyperion was perhaps going to symbolise the fate of the poet as creator. Since the poem is unfinished, we cannot know.
The Miltonic Influence
The design of Hyperion owes much to Milton. The poem opens in the regular epic manner, in the middle of the story. The Titans, like Milton’s fallen angels, are already outcasts and have lost their power. Hyperion alone is not yet overthrown, and, like Milton’s Satan, he is the one hope of further existence. The open­ing scene is followed by a council to discuss the regaining of the lost dominion, in which Enceladus, like Moloch,[1] pronounces his sentence for open war, and Oceanus, like Belial,[2] stands for more moderate measures. Externally, at least, this is modelled on Paradise Lost, and marks a clear break with the loose and incoherent struc-ure of Endymion.
Keatsian Originality of Style Despite the Debt to Milton
In spite of its fragmentary condition, Hyperion remains Keats’s most imposing piece of work. According to the publishers, ‘the hostile reception given to Endymion discouraged Keats from conti­nuing with the poem. Keats himself said that he gave it up because of the excessive Miltonism of the style. “There were too many Miltonic inversions in it”, he wrote to Reynolds. “Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather in an artist’s humour.” The Miltonic influence is certainly obvious in the verse and diction of the first Hyperion as it is in the design. There is, for instance, a constant use of inversions (“stride colossal”, “rest divine”) typical of Milton’s Latinized style. Especially noticeable is the trick of sandwiching a noun between two adjectives (“gold clouds metropolitan”). There are other fragmsnts of classical sentence-structure too:
                save what solemn tubes,   
Blown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweet              
And wandering sounds, slow-breathed melodies.
But the poem is hardly Miltonic in any stricter sense. In the matter of rhythm, Keats’s blank verse has not the flight of Milton’s. “Its periods do not wheel through such stately evolutions to so solemn and far-foreseen close; though it indeed lacks neither power nor music.” It is still the verse of Keats, but immensely purged and strengthened by contact with a severer master. Some of the most beautiful images in their delicacy and precision are utterly unlike Milton’s generalised verbal grandeur, and indeed could be by nobody but Keats:
                . . . .No stir of air was there                                                 
Not so much life as on a summer’s day                                           
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,                         
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.                  
(1, 7-10)
Books I and II. The Speeches of Oceanus and Clyniene
The first book of Hyperion gives us a picture of the fallen Titans, with Saturn as the central figure, but Hyperion as the only one who remains even potentially active. The second book shows them in council and the vital part of it is undoubtedly the speech of Oceanus. The sum and substance of his speech is as follows:
My voice is not a bellows unto ire.
Yet listen, ye who will, whilst I bring proof
How ye, perforce, must be content to stoop:
And in this proof much comfort will I give,
If ye will take that comfort in its truth.
We fall by course of Nature’s law, not force
Of thunder, or of Jove.                                                      (11,176-82)
Saturn was not the first power in the universe, and should not expect to be the last. Chaos and darkness produced light; light brought heaven and earth and life itself into existence; and the Titans were the first-born of life. Just as heaven and earth are more beautiful than chaos and darkness,
So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
A power more strong in beauty, born of us
And fated to excel us. …                                                  (11, 212-15)
The Titans should not grieve over the situation and should not envy their successors
                . . . .for ‘tis the eternal law,                                                  
That first in beauty shall be first in might.                  (11, 228-29)
The simple Clyniene follows and supports Oceanus by bearing testimony to the beauty of young Apollo’s music which she has heard. The lesson of all this is that Hyperion is to be a poem of evolution, of the super-session of lower forms by higher; and that the successors are to prevail because they are superior in beauty.
Apollo, the Subject of Book III
In the fragment of the third book the interest shifts from the Titans to the young Apollo. Mnemosyne (Memory) alone among the Titans has formed relations with the younger gods. She has watched over the childhood of Apollo, and now she finds him wavering and uncertain of his course. In his talk with her he finds the consciousness of his destiny and assumes his new-found godhead. At this point the poem breaks off.
Reasons Why the Poem Could not be Completed
It seems that what began as an epic poem about a mythological conflict has become a symbolical poem of a different kind. But in the process new difficulties have arisen for the poet. The conventional epic conflict would have afforded a wealth of scenes and incidents. The new scheme, of an evolution in beauty, presents far greater problems. It could hardly be put forth in events and actions, and would not therefore afford material for the ten books originally proposed. Perhaps there were other difficulties as well. The poem remains unfinished because Keats did not know how it was to go on.
Treatment of Greek Things, But Not in a Greek Manner
Although Keats has been called a Greek, he does not write of Greek things in a Greek manner. The very description of the palace of Hyperion, with its vague, far-dazzling pomps and phantom terrors of coming doom, shows that. Keats is here far in workmanship from the Greek purity and precision of outline, and from definition of individual images. Some of his pictures of Nature, too, show not the simplicity of the Greek, but the complexity of the modern, sentiment of Nature. But Keats shows a thorough grasp of the essential meaning of the war between Titans and Olympians. He illustrates with great beauty and force (in the speech of Oceanus in the second book) that essential meaning : the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts held a larger place beside ideas of Nature and her brute powers.
Keats’s Success in Animating the Colossal Gods
Again, Keats attains great success in conceiving and animating the colossal shapes of the early gods. He shows a masterly instinct in the choice of comparisons, drawn from Nature by which he tries to make us realise the voices of those gods, with their personalities between the elemental and the human.
A Dramatic Representation of Human Emotions
Indeed, Hyperion is Keats’s most serious and considerable attempt at the dramatic presentation of emotion, because the Titans are conceived in human terms, and their sorrows are human sorrows. There is far greater power, too, of discourse, of argument in verse, than ever before; there is no parallel in Keats’s earlier work to the speech of Oceanus.
Sublimity of Book I, and Intensity of Book III
The second book of Hyperion, relating the council of the dethroned Titans, has neither the sublimity of the first, nor the intensity of the unfinished third. In the first book we have a solemn vision of the fallen Saturn, followed by a resplendent vision of Hyperion threatened in his empire. In the third book we see Apollo undergoing a convulsive change under the afflatus of Mnemosyne, and about to put on the full powers of his godhead. But the third book has a ripeness and controlled power of its own which places it quite on a level with the other two.
One of the Grandest English Poems
“With a few slips and inequalities, and one or two instances of verbal incorrectness, Hyperion is indeed one of the grandest poems in the English language, and in its grandeur seems one of the easiest and most spontaneous. Keats, however, had never been able to apply himself to it continuously, but only by fits and starts. Partly this was due to the distractions of bereavement, of material anxiety, and of dawning passion amid which it was begun and continued: partly (if we may trust the statement of the publishers) to disapointment at the reception of Endymion; and partly, it is clear, to something not wholly congenial to his powers in the task itself.”
Important Note. Wherever Hyperion is printed in italics or within inverted commas, the reference is to the poem; and wherever Hyperion is printed in the ordinary type or without inverted commas, the reference is to the sun-god.
For instance: Hyperion is an epic poem. Or, “Hyperion” bears a Miltonic stamp.
In both these cases the poem is meant.
But: Hyperion had begun to feel apprehensive of a threat to his security.
Here the sun-god is being referred to.

Show that the great Odes of Keats are a sequence showing an interrelationship of mood and subject.

The Chronology of Keats’s Odes
It is generally believed that the Ode on Indolence was chronologically the first among the great Odes of Keats. The germ of this ode is to be found in one of his letters that he had written a month or two earlier, a letter in which he had said that neither Poetry nor Ambition nor Love had much meaning for him, thus giving expression to the mood which forms the basis of the Ode on Indolence. Keats excluded this ode from the 1820 volume perhaps because it is less highly wrought than the others. This ode combines a praise of indolence with a rejection of Poetry, Ambition, and Love though this rejection is expressed satirically:

For I would not be dieted with praise,          
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce.
Several turns of phrase or thought in this ode re-appear in the others. Of these, the drowsy indolence is one; so is the idea that ambition is worthless. The indolent mood which is the source of this poem and which somehow mingles sleeping and waking, is not lethary but in some sense a visionary state. On Indolence seems at first to reject poetry, but it is really a poem about the mood from which Keats’s poetry at that time sprang. In the weeks before the writing of the odes, Keats was gradually realising the creative function of indolence. He was anxious to achieve a state of non-attachment, and he was filled with a desire to find a meaning in human suffering so that not only his own but other people’s suffering could in some way be justified. He was torn between his continuing passion for Fancy Brawne and a wish to escape from the nets of ambition and love.
The Similarities Between Some of the Odes
The Ode to Psyche clarifies the situation. Keats’s mood here is much like the mood of On Indolence: “Surely I dreamt today…..” Here is the same inertia and oblivion, and a mixture of sleeping and waking. When he finds Cupid and Psyche in “soft-handed slumber” together, it is almost like his own condition in On Indolence; and the interaction between Keats’s own emotions, and the emotions of the subject he is dealing with, will prove later to be an important aspect of the Ode to a Nightingale. As the poem proceeds, drowsy numbness is raised to a higher power of itself: “I see, and sing, by my own eyes inspired”. Keats desires to serve Psyche in a mood whose expression is more complex, more impassioned, and indeed more intellectual, than anything in the Ode on Indolence. His mood tends towards activity; is a balanced tension of excitement; and here it has something of an intellectual insight, a fuller understanding. The stress falls largely on the melancholic aspects of Psyche, the love-goddess. (She is called “mournful Psyche” in the Ode on Melancholy.)
The Nightingale Ode, an Expression of a Series of Moods
The Ode to a Nightingale begins with a description of the poet falling into a drugged sleep, and then the poet feeling too happy in the happiness of the bird. This paradox is resolved in the sixth stanza in which Keats tells us that he has often been “half in love with easeful death” and that in listening to the nightingale “more than ever seems it rich to die”. (In the third stanza, Keats’s account of the miseries of life is coloured by thoughts of the death of his brother Tom.) Keats dreams of escaping from the miseries of the world, first by drinking wine, and then on the wings of Poesy. He would like to leave the world unseen, and even in the richly sensuous description of the surrounding darkness we are reminded again of death in the phrase “embalmed darkness”. It is no use complaining about the so-called illogicality of Keats’s pretending that he is listening to the same bird as the one that sang to Ruth. Symbolically interpreted the song of the tyrd is the song’ of the poet. Keats is contrasting the immortality of poetry ‘with the mortality of the poet. This is the climax of the poem and the point where the different themes are harmonised—the beauty of the nightingale’s song, the loveliness of the Spring night, the miseries of the world, and the desire to escape from those miseries by wine, or by poetry, or by death. The nightingale’s song acquires a greater poignancy from the miseries of the world. This ode is not the expression of a single mood, but of a series of moods. From being too happy in the happiness of the bird’s song, Keats becomes aware of the contrast between the bird’s joy and the misery of human life, from the thought of which he can only momentarily escape by wine, by poetry, by the beauty of Nature, or by the thought of death. In the seventh stanza, the contrast is sharpened: the immortal bird, representing natural beauty as well as poetry, is set against the “hungry generations” of mankind. The contrast is followed by the poet’s going back to history and legend, to Ruth in tears, and the “magic casements opening on the foam of perilous seas”. But the “faery lands” are “forlorn”. Reality now breaks in on the poetic dream and tolls the poet back to his self. Fancy, the Muse of escapist poetry, is “deceiving elf. Keats expresses with a maximum of intensity the desire to escape from reality and yet he recognises that no escape is possible.
The Close Connection Between the Nightingale and the Grecian Urn Odes
In the Ode to a Nightingale, we are left thinking that neither beauty of Nature (the nightingale’s song) nor the beauty of art (the flights of Poesy) can console us for the miseries of life. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats makes another effort in the same direction. The life of the figures depicted on the urn possesses the beauty, the significance, and the externality of art; and this is contrasted (some times implicitly and sometimes explicitly) with the transitoriness, the meaninglessness, and the unpoetic nature of actual life. The “unwearied” melodist “for ever piping songs, for ever new”, and the uncloying love of the imaginary world of the artist are contrasted with the inevitable imperfections of human existence. In the last stanza, Keats proclaims that the sorrows and the meaninglessness of life can be transcended if we learn the lesson that “beauty is truth, truth beauty”. The poet recognises the proposition that beauty is an image of truth and that, therefore, if we see life steadily and see it whole, the disagreeables of life will evaporate as they do in a great work of art. Thus art points to the fact that life can be as meaningful as art. Keats is fully aware of the limitation of art. Even when he is congratulating the lover on the permanence of his unsatisfied love, he hankers after “breathing human passion”. When he is describing the scene of sacrifice which will remain for ever beautiful, he thinks of the desolate town, emptied for ever of its inhabitants. Art is invaded by human suffering. The “cold pastoral”, although perfect, is lacking in the warmth of reality.
The Link Between the Melancholy Ode and Several Other Odes
The Ode on Melancholy has links with several of the other odes. The song of the nightingale had made the poet too happy, his heart aching, and his senses pained by a “drowsy numbness”. There is a strain of melancholy in the scene of desolation in the Ode on a Grecian Urn. Now in the Ode on Melancholy, Keats introduces “Lethe”, “nightshade” and “Yew” but rejects them as being unsuitable means of arousing melancholy. These, and even the “beetle”, “death-moth”, and the “owl” are all to be avoided because they drown “the wakeful anguish of the soul” and prevent us from experiencing to the full the subtler melancholy of which Keats is writing. Melancholy is to be sought in beauty and joy—in a rose, a rainbow, or the anger of a beloved. Because beauty is transient, because love and joy fade, the enjoyment of them must be accompanied with melancholy. Beauty is lovely because it dies and impermanence is the essence of joy; so that only those who are exquisitely sensuous and able to relish the finest joys can taste true sadness. Keats is here writing really about the poetical character. The fine sensitivity necessary for the writing of poetry makes the poet susceptible both to joy and sorrow. The realisation that love and beauty are short-lived intensifies his joy in them. In fact, the relationship between beauty and melancholy works both ways. That is, either joy or sadness is most intensely felt when it is attended by a consciousness of the experience which is opposite and yet so closely related to it. The theme is thus more complex and subtle than the aspect of it which appears on the surface in this poem.
The Mood in the Ode to Autumn, Related to the Mood in Other Odes
To Autumn opens with a description of the sensuous abundance of the season—fruits, flowers, bees, etc. But in the final lines of the opening stanza, slight implications about the passage of time begin to operate. The flowers are called “later”; the bees are imagined as thinking that warm days will never cease; and there is a reference to the summer which has already passed. In the second stanza, we get a personification of the season in several appropriate postures and settings. The whole stanza presents the paradoxical qualities of autumn, its aspects both of lingering and passing. This is specially true of the last two lines in the stanza where we see autumn as the season of dying as well as of fulfilling. It is with a patten; look that Autumn watches the last oozings hours by hours. Oozing, or a steady dripping, is of course, well-known as a symbol of the passage of time. But it is in the last stanza that the theme emerges in a most striking manner: “Where are the songs of Spring?” This opening question implies that the season of youth and re-birth, with its beauties of sight and sound, has passed, and that the season of autumn is passing. The earlier imagery (of the first stanza) is that of ripeness which means ageing and ending as well as ripening. The final imagery is more truly autumnal. The music of autumn is “wailful” and “mournful”. Also, we have in the last stanza the “soft-dying day” after the passing of “hours and hours” (of the second stanza); the imagery is that of sunset and deepening twilight when the clouds impact their glow to the day and the plains. Thus the poem’s latent theme of transitoriness and mortality is symbolically dramatised by the passing course of the day. (The opening stanza suggested the height of day when the sun was strong.) All these characteristics of the poem are to be found in its final image: “And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.” Birds habitually gather in flocks toward nightfall. This means that the day is coming to a close. Also, birds gather particularly when they are preparing to fly southwards at the approach of winter. This means that the season too is drawing to a close. A feeling of melancholy is inevitable because of these suggestions. Thus the theme and mood of the Ode to Autumn are connected with the theme and mood of the preceding odes, though the connection may not seem to be very intimate.

“The Odes of Keats reflect his persistent endeavour for something beautiful and permanent in a transient world.” Discuss and Illustrate.

Keats’s Inner Conflicts Expressed in His Odes
The Odes of Keats deal basically with some of the conflicts that troubled Keats. These conflicts give to his odes a dramatic quality. The principal conflict, of course, is between the real world and the ideal world. Keats is always trying to escape to the world of imagination, the world of beauty, the world of perfection, such as, the world of the nightingale or the Grecian urn. But his escape is always obstructed or thwarted by a painful realisation of the actualities of life. Almost each of the great odes of Keats reveals this conflict in one form or the other.

Keats’s Glorification of the Imagination in the “Ode to Psyche”
The Ode to Psyche may be considered first. Psyche symbolises for Keats the soul in the old sense of the word: the sum-total of human consciousness. For Keats a most important ingredient of that consciousness was the imagination. In promising to worship Psyche, he was announcing his intention of glorifying the imagination but at the same time his intention of becoming a psychological poet and of analysing the human mind in order to show how an awareness of its complexity could enrich human experience. Keats chose Psyche as his object of worship, because for him the best means of approaching the immortal world was through the use of the most active component of the human soul, namely, the imagination. A man might still employ the imagination to break through the bonds of the mortal and the finite. Psyche was an excellent symbol for the imagination as an instrument to bridge the gap between the mortal and the immortal because she stood between both: she had been a mortal and she then became a goddess. Thus there is a duality in Keats’s very concept of Psyche. In the last stanza, the poet declares that the paradise for the soul is to be built by the imagination within the poet’s own consciousness. The temple to Psyche will be built in “some untrodden region” of Keats’s mind. To build Psyche’s temple is to widen the consciousness. But the increase in consciousness carries with it the dual capacity for pleasure and for pain.
The Central Idea of the “Ode to a Nightingale”
The Ode to a Nightingale has as one of its central ideas, the contrast between the happiness and immortality of the bird and the misery and mortality of human life. Through wine or through the exercise of his imagination, the poet would like to escape from the world of reality. He would like to “fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget the weariness, the fever, and the fret”. He would like to leave this world “where men sit and hear each other groan”, “where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hair”, “where youth grows pale, spectre-thin, and dies”, where beauty and love are fleeting and transient, and “where but to think is to be full of sorrow”. Accordingly, the poet is carried into the forest on the wings of Poesy and in the midst of the flowers and under the moon he listens to the nightingale’s song and thinks of the bird’s immortality:
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!           
No hungry generations tread thee down.
The use of the word “forlorn”, however, summons him back from the world of beauty and romance to the everyday world. The poet discovers that his imagination cannot provide him with a lasting escape from the actual world. The conflict introduces several tensions in the poem, making it highly dramatic. The desire to escape to a world of eternal beauty and joy ends in failure.
The Idea of the Immortality of Art in the “Grecian Urn”
The Ode on a Grecian Urn also begins with a symbol, in this case an inanimate object, namely the urn which-has survived through many centuries and which therefore represents the immortality of art. On the urn are depicted young people in a moment of sensuous ecstasy, men pursuing women amid the music of pipes and timbrels; and there is the repeated question: Are they deities or mortals, men or gods? But the question shifts to the central contrast between the unending happiness arrested in art and the brevity of happiness in mortal life. This contrast is developed in the second and third stanzas. To the crowded scene of amorous pursuit (in the first stanza), is now added the piper beneath the trees, and in both stanzas the happiness of the piper and the leafy trees is perfect: the piper on the urn will pipe songs for ever new without feeling tired, and the trees on the urn will never shed their leaves. But the theme of love brings in frustration and negation. The poet thinks first of the perpetual non-fulfilment of love on the urn: “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss”, although there is the consolation that the beloved cannot fade and that he will love her always: “For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair”. Love depicted on the urn has an ideal quality: it has all the joy and none of the suffering that goes with actual human passion and satiety. Thus the first three stanzas interpret the scenes on the urn in terms of the contrast between its happy and permanent world and the human world of mortality, change, and suffering. But the poet finds refuge in the world of beauty and imagination (as represented by the urn) only temporarily. In the fourth stanza, he realises that the little town depicted on the urn will always remain empty and silent. Thus the eternity of joy and beauty (of the town on the urn) becomes an eternity of silence and desolation. The illusion created by the imagination fails, as it fails, in the Ode to a Nightingale. The message of the final stanza is that beauty is the criterion and proof of truth and that truth is the criterion and proof of beauty. (‘Truth” should here be interpreted as “reality”). Thus Keats, after escaping into the world of beauty and permanence, finds himself compelled to return to the real world of impermanence and suffering and to reach the conclusion that true beauty consists not in an escape from this world but in an acceptance of it. This ode certainly celebrates the immortal beauty of art as contrasted with the fleeting human life and love. But the poet cannot forget that a flesh-and-blood experience, with all its pains, is more satisfying than the cold, remote perfection of the marble urn.
The World of Realities as Depicted in the “Ode on Melancholy”
The Ode on Melancholy is not a poem of escape. Here the poet concentrates on the world of realities. The poem offers a paradox. True melancholy, we are told, is to be found in everything that is beautiful and joyful:
She dwells with Beauty, Beauty that must die;           
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips        
Bidding adieu.
But the paradox is easily resolved. True melancholy lives with beauty and joy, because in the very act of our apprehending beauty and joy, we realise that both beauty and joy are short-lived, and because such a realisation produces the truest sadness in our hearts. The poem thus expresses Keats’s experience of the habitual interchange and alternation of the emotions of joy and pain. In this poem Keats is unable to escape into any ideal world. The haunting thought of the transitoriness of beauty and joy makes any flight to remote ideal world impossible.
No Escape from Reality Even in the “Ode to Autumn”
To Autumn may at first seem a poem of untroubled serenity. It seems to be an unquestioning surrender to sensuous luxury. But that is not so. The first two stanzas build up, or seem to build up, a wholly happy picture of warmth and bursting ripeness in everything, of vines and trees and fruits and nuts and bees. But there is, even in these stanzas, the overshadowing fact of impermanence. The summer has done its work and is departing; and if autumn comes, winter cannot be far behind. Indeed, we cannot escape the melancholy implications of exuberant ripeness. In the final stanza, the poet describes the music of autumn against the songs of spring and we have, though in a subdued form, the return from vision to actuality. (It is the kind of return which we find in the concluding stanza of the Nightingale ode.) Whereas in the first stanza fruits as well as bees seemed almost conscious of fulfilment, in the last stanza every item carries an elegiac note. In To Autumn, Keats does not evade or challenge actuality; he achieves the power to see and accept life as it is, a perpetual process of ripening, decay, and death.
Q.5.        What are the qualities of Keats’s poetry that account for its continued appeal to the modern reader?
The Essential Keats
The story of Keats is the story of a poet’s rise from the status of a very minor writer, in orthodox circles, a despised minor writer, to a major rank. It did seem at first as if Keats’s name had been “writ in water”. One reason for this was that his best poetry required more sophisticated taste and insight than most early readers possessed. Roughly, it may be said that, during the first decades after 1821, his general reputation grew very slowly, but that it did grow. But Milnes’s Life Letters and Literary Remains (1848) changed the climate, though even Milnes said that Keats would never be a popular poet, because he could be enjoyed only by the few who possessed the poetic faculty. Milnes’s biography of Keats expressly rejected the common image of Keats as a sensuous or sensual weakling who was killed by hostile reviews. This biography did much to establish Keats’s real character and literary stature. Matthew Arnold, in an essay (1880), strongly emphasised Keats’s strength of character, the “flint and iron” in him, as well as his Shakespearean gift of “natural magic” and “rounded perfection and felicity of loneliness”. Arnold also wrote that, although Keats was not ripe for Shakespeare’s “faculty of moral interpretation”, his passion for beauty was not that of “the sensuous or sentimental poet” but that it was “an intellectual and spiritual passion”.
Keats’s Poetry, Not Divorced from the Cares of Life
It is this picture of Keats, as defined by Matthew Arnold, that appeals to the modern mind. Cazamian, for instance, has pointed out that the “aestheticism” of Keats has also an ‘intellectual’ side. No one has ever reaped such a rich harvest of thoughts out of the suggestions which life had to offer. Keats’s letters show how closely the cult of Shakespeare was interwoven with his thinking. From various sources, besides that of life, Keats had built for himself a personal store of reflections and ideas. It was not Keats’s aim, says Sidney Colvin, merely to create a paradise of an and beauty divorced from the cares and interests of the world. His conception of poetry covered the whole range of life and imagination. It is true that, because he did not live long enough, he was not able fully to illustrate the vast range of his conception of poetry. But his best work has the stamp of poetic greatness. In the modern age the view of Keats as wholly or mainly a poet of the senses has had few champions (H.W. Garrod being one). The modern view of Keats is overwhelmingly that of a poet of philosophic reach and depth. (It is a view to which his letters have also contributed much.) This view was first fully expounded in C.D. Thorpe’s book, The Mind of John Keats (1926), and supported by the successive writings of John Middleton Murry. During the last fifty years, the scope and seriousness, the dimensions and tensions of Keats’s mind and major poems have thoroughly been appreciated. Indeed, the temptation of the modern critic has been to confuse the actual performance of Keats with what he was potentially capable of. It would not be unfair to say that Keats’s chief poems and letters have been assimilated by all serious modern poets. (One eloquent testimony is the final discourse in Archibald MacLeish’s Poetry and Experience, 1961). His influence may be traced by conventional literary techniques through a line of poets, from G.M. Hopkins through W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot to the American, Wallace Stevens, much of whose fine poetry seems like an attempt to develop some of Keats’s intentions, moral, and poetic, to their further limits.
The First Truly Modern Poet, Besides Wordsworth
Shakespeare’s name occurs time and again in talk about Keats. Of course, Keats is not as great as Shakespeare, nor as great as many other English poets. But he has, to a remarkable degree, that same power of self-absorption, that wonderful sympathy and identification with all things, that “Negative Capability” which he saw as essential to the creation of great poetry and which Shakespeare possessed so abundantly. Keats’s tremendous value for literary and moral experience in the modern time is the example he sets, the allegory he is. Here, he says to us, is a way of learning to face life, and to create art. In this brave attitude, he is with Wordsworth the first truly modern poet.
The Core of Keats’s Work and its Intellectual Appeal
The portion of Keats’s work that has its appeal and value for modern readers consists of the original version of Hyperion, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, some of the sonnets and, above all, the odes. Here we find no superfluities, no surplusage, no decorativeness for its own sake, no swooning sensuousness or sensuality. This work is characterised by a perfect fusion of sobriety with the force of touch and the wealth of expression. Here we find a rare union of classical discipline, guided by the example of the ancients, with the more precious matter which Keats found in romanticism. Keats brings here a strong force of selection, order, and harmony to bear on an unlimited range of intensely felt sensations and emotions. And this accounts for the appeal of this body of work for our times.
The Symbolic Elements in Keats’s Poetry
Symbolism has been much valued in the modern age. There is symbolism in much of Keats’s poetry. Even Endymion has an allegorical and mystical significance. Hyperion symbolically conveys to us the idea of evolutionary development, the supersession of what has become obsolete and useless by new knowledge and new modes of life. The nightingale and the Grecian urn serve as valuable symbols for Keats. La Belle Dame Sans Merci, a masterpiece of sheer “magic” and a precious poem by virtue of that alone, is also capable of an allegorical interpretation.
Shakespearean Heights Touched by Keats in His Odes
But it, is the Odes which mark the highest development of Keats’s poetic genius and give promise of the Shakespearean heights that might have been achieved by our poet had he lived longer.
A Central Theme of Modern Poetry, Also the Basic Themes of Keats’s Odes
The basic theme of the great Odes of Keats is a central theme of modern poetry. This theme is the tension between our painful sense of transience and our intuitions of the eternal, or the relationship between the pain of life and the delight of poetry, or the relationship between life, art and death. Yeats’s Sailing to Byzantium and ByzatJium, for instance, can be read as modern variations on the themes of Keats’s odes and, though these poems by Yeats are great, they are not greater than Keats’s odes. The odes are also modern, as has already been said above, in being symbolic poems: they show, rather than say. They are modern in finding “objective correlatives” for intimate and painful states of personal feeling. We get away in them from the too “personal touch”, that faintly cloying note which flaws so much of Keats’s other work.
The Construction and Structure of Keats’s Odes
The Odes of Keats are constructed with harmonious skill. They deal with the favourite themes in Keats’s romanticism—the artistic quality of a Greek urn which gives us the message that beauty and truth are one, the charming myths of Hellas (Ode to Psyche), the painful craving of the soul to find a beauty which endures and the fascination of death (Ode To a Nightingale), the changing seasons and the joys of the earth (To Autumn). The language in these poems sparkles with all the gems of speech, without their brilliance predominating over the conciseness and exactness of the whole. The rhythms are perfectly adapted to the supreme unity of impression. That exactly is the taste of the modern literary reader who demands an intellectual discipline but is not averse to a highly imaginative handling of a theme or an emotional treatment of it.
The Notable Sonnets of Keats
Among the sonnets the most notable are On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer, When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be, and Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast As Thou Art. The first of these is an expression of the ecstatic joy and wonder at the opening out of a new, rich world of beauty and poetic experience of Keats.
A Critic’s View of Keats’s Modernity
Douglas Bush looks upon Keats as almost a contemporary poet. Keats’s Shakespearean or humanitarian ambition, his critical and self-critical insights, his acute awareness of the conditions enveloping the modern poet, his struggles toward a vision that would comprehend all experience (joy and suffering, the natural and the ideal, the transient and the eternal)—these are the factors which make Keats more a poet of our times than a poet of his own age. His romantic preoccupation with beauty did somewhat limit and weaken his poetry, but his finest writing is not merely beautiful. His finest work is solid and weighty and significant because he had seen not only the glory of his universe but also “the boredom and the horror” of human life.
Another Critic’s View
We might conclude by quoting the opinion of another critic (Bernard Blackstone): “No other verse, outside Shakespeare and Blake, rewards minute scrutiny as Keats’s. Its texture is truly organic, we can put it under the microscope, and it doesn’t degenerate into a blur of dots like a photographic reproduction, it opens out into new patterns like a piece of living tissue. It is full poetry.” This richness, this complexity and depth, this “ore” cannot fail to appeal to the thoughtful modern reader.

“Keats as a poet is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous; the question with some people will be whether he is anything else.” Discuss.

Keats’s Love of Beauty in Nature, in Woman, in Art
There is no doubt that Keats was a passionate lover of beauty, beauty in all its forms, shapes, and manifestations. He loved the principle of beauty in all things. Beauty, indeed, was his polestar, beauty in Nature, in woman, and in art. “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”, he writes, and again: “With a great poet the sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all considerations”.

The Sensuousness Resulting From His Love of Beauty
It is this love of beauty which introduces the element of sensuousness in his poetry. His poetry is richly, abundantly, and enchantingly sensuous. This is true especially of his early poetry till the time of the writing of Hyperion and the great odes, but even the odes contain ample sensuous imagery. However, it will be wrong to say that Keats is merely sensuous and nothing more. It would be incorrect to say that he luxuriates in the expression of sensations only and has no thoughts to express. It would be unfair to say that his passion for beauty is purely sensuous or sentimental, without an intellectual or spiritual basis.
Sensuous Imagery in “The Eve of St. Agnes”
Let us first take stock of the sensuous element in some of his major poems. The Eve of St. Agnes is replete with sensuous pictures. The description of the feast spread by Porphyro by the side of his sleeping mistress is richly sensuous. Candied apple quince, plum, jelly, manna, dates, appeal to our senses of taste, smell, and Sight not only by their own natural richness but the associations of the distant countries from which they come. The picture of the windowpane with its splendid colours is perfect in its beauty of visual appeal. Even more sensuous are the pictures of the moonlight falling on Madeline’s fair breast and on other parts of her glorious body. As Madeline removes the pearls from her hair, “unclasps the jewels” one by one, and “loosens her bodice”, she looks like “a mermaid in seaweed”. The stanza in which the poet describes the passionate love-making of Porphyro and Madeline in the bed-chamber has a richly sensuous appeal. Here sensuousness takes the form of sensuality which we find in certain other poems also (for instance, in Endymion, and in the sonnet Bright Star). It is passages like these that gave rise to the notion of Keats as a poet of sensuous luxury and as a voluptuary of sensation.
Sensuousness in the “Ode to Psyche”
In the Ode to Psyche, we have the picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrace in deep grass in the midst of flowers of varied colours. Besides this touch of sensuality, we get one of the most exquisite pictures in the following two lines with their admirable felicity of word and phrase:
Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers fragrant-eyed,          
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian         
Sensuous Pictures in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
The sensuous appeal of this ode is one of its principal charms. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, we have the sensuous pictures of passionate men and gods chasing maidens, flute-players playing ecstatic music, a handsome young man advancing to kiss his beloved, and so on. The ecstasy of the sensations of youthful love is depicted in the following lines:
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed          
For ever panting and for ever young.
Sensuous Pictures in the Other Odes
The Ode to a Nightingale contains lines expressing an intense desire for a red wine, lines containing a magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky with the stars around her, and lines offering a rich feast of flowers:
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;             
Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;     
And mid-May’s eldest child,           
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine.
In the Ode on Melancholy, we have a delightfully sensuous picture of the mistress showing “some rich anger” and raving, while the lover holds her hand in his tight grip and feeds deep upon her peerless eyes. The Ode to Autumn, makes our mouths water with its delicious fruits in the first stanza.
The Intellectual Side of Keats’s Aestheticism
Critics and readers have, however, not been slow to recognise the substantiality and the depth of the major poems of Keats. Cazamian has pointed out mat the aestheticism of Keats has also an intellectual side. No one has ever reaped such a rich harvest of thoughts out of the suggestions which life had to offer. Through reading and a thirst for knowledge, Keats became acquinted with Greece, paganism, and ancient art. He read the writers of the Renaissance, loved and cultivated Spenser, Chapman, Fletcher, and Milton. His letters show how closely the cult of Shakespeare was interwoven with his thinking. From all these element Keats built for himself a personal store of reflections and ideas. Keats’s love of beauty is sensuous but it is also idealistic and spiritual. Even in Endymion, there is a nc4e of mysticism, a sustained allegory; some of its passages have an obvious symbolic meaning. Endymion’s union with Cynthia represents the poet’s attainment of the goal of ideal beauty. Furthermore, Keats did not try to create a paradise of art and beauty divorced from the cares and interests of the world. His conception of poetry covered the whole range of life and imagination.
The Human Appeal of “The Eve of St Agnes”
The Eve of St. Agnes, famous chiefly for its aesthetic qualities, is not without its human appeal. The figure of the ancient Beadsman is finely touched. The old nurse Angela, a “poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing”, is still more successfully drawn. Her debate with Porphyro in her little room is admirably conveyed to us. Madeline, too, is realistically, though briefly, drawn whether in her meeting with the nurse on the staircase or when she closes her chamber-door, “panting” with the candle gone out, or when she wakes up to find her lover beside her.
The Intellectual Aspect of “Hyperion”
Hyperion was intended to be a poem of evolution. It aimed at expressing the valuable and incontrovertible idea that lower forms of life are superseded by higher ones. The subject of this poem is the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts hold a larger place beside ideas of Nature and her brute powers. In the revised version of this poem, there are lines which show Keats’s realisation that poetry must have a realistic and social context:
“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.”
Almost from the beginning, Keats had looked beyond the mere sweets of poetry towards
a nobler life         
Where I may find the agonies, the strife      
Of human hearts.
The Kernel of Keats’s Thinking in the Great Odes of Keats
The great odes contain the kernel of Keats’s thinking. These odes clearly show that if there is in his work a pre-occupation with sensuous beauty, there is also a preoccupation with stark reality. In fact, the greatest of these odes represent the conflict that was, always going on in Keats between the world of beauty and the world of realty. If he tries to escape into the world of beauty and reality, it is only to realise that the claims of real life are so strong, as to hinder the escape. In the Ode to a Nightingale, the poet is keenly aware of “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” or real life where youth, hearty, and love are short-lived. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, the poet cannot ignore the warmth, passion, vigour, and the turbulence of real life as compared with the artistic carvings on the urn. The superiority of art over real life is therefore questionable. The conclusion of the poet is that “beauty is truth, truth beauty”. In other words, beauty lies in the real world of men, not merely in art or in the fairyland of fancy. (Of course there are also other interpretations of this famous line.) In the Ode on Melancholy, the theme of transiency and permanence and the poet’s conflicting attitudes are open and central. True melancholy, says the poet, can be tasted only by him who has a capacity for experiencing the keenest pleasures. Like the rest of Keats’s odes, this poem is tragic: ‘True melancholy is the ache at the heart of felicity”. In the Ode to Autumn, Keats again accepts impermanence, but here he does so without any sadness. Death is recognised in the final stanza of this poem as something inherent in the course of things, the condition and price of all fulfilment.
A Combination of the Aesthetic and the Intellectual Sides
A critic has neatly summed up Keats’s poetic achievement. This summing up takes note of both the aesthetic and the intellectual aspects of his poetry. Says this critic: “Keats’s Shakespearean or, humanitarian ambitions, his critical and self-critical insights, his acute awareness of the conditions enveloping the modern poet, his struggles toward a vision that would comprehend all experience, joy and suffering, the natural and the ideal, the transient and the eternal—all this made him capable of greater poetry than he actually wrote, and makes him, more than his fellow romantics, our contemporary. Though his poetry in general was is some measure limited and even weakened by the romantic preoccupation with beauty, his finest writing is not merely beautiful, because he had seen the boredom and the horror as well as the glory.”

All the Odes of Keats are closely bound up with the theme of transience and permanence. Explain, analysing two of the Odes of Keats, to show how this theme is handled.

The Odes, a Product of Keats’s Inner Conflicts
It would be true to say that the odes of Keats are the product of certain inner struggles or conflicts. The principal stress in the most important of these odes is a struggle between ideal and actual. They also imply the opposition between pleasure and pain, imagination and reason, fullness and privation, permanence and change, Nature and the human, art and life, freedom and bondage, waking and dream.

The “Ode to a Nightingale”: Keats’s Desire to Escape from Reality
Let us first consider the Ode to a Nightingale. In this poem the draught of vintage symbolises an imaginative escape from reality. The longing to fade away into the forest dim results from a desire to avoid another kind of fading away, namely, the melancholy dissolution of change and physical decay. In the third stanza, the actual world of distress and privation is described. The actual world, as depicted in this stanza, is the world of weariness, fever, and fret, a world where palsy shakes a few sad last grey hairs, and where youth, beauty, and love are transient. This picture of the actual world is in direct opposition to the ecstasy of the nightingale and the golden world of Flora, “Provencal song”, and the nightingale’s forest as described in the second stanza. Both the ideal abundance of the second stanza and the privation of the third stanza are vividly depicted. The poet in this ode affirms the value of the ideal, but he also recognises the power of the actual. He feels agonised by the inescapable discrepancy between them. He reconciles them by a prior imaginative acceptance of the unity of experience, by means of which he invests them with a common extremity and intensity of feeling.
The Mortalilty of Man, and the Immortality of the Nightingale
The poem also contrasts the mortality of human beings with the immortality of the nightingale. Of course, Keats here thinks of the race of nightingales, and not the individual nightingale, though in the case of mankind he thinks not of the race but of the individual human being. The bird here represents a universal and undying voice: the voice of Nature, of imaginative sympathy, and therefore of an ideal romantic poetry, infinitely powerful and profuse. As sympathy, the voice of the nightingale resolves all differences: it speaks to high and low (emperor and clown): it comforts the human home-sickness of Ruth and frees her from bitter isolation; and equally it opens the casements of the remote and magical. The “magic casements” are the climax of the imaginative experience. In the final stanza, the word “forlorn” is like a bell which tolls the death of the imagination. The poet realises that fancy cannot cheat so well.
The Human World Versus the World of Nature
This is a poem about man’s world as contrasted, with the world of Nature or death contrasted with deathlessness. The bird shares in the immortality of Nature which remains, through all its changes, unwearied and beautiful. The bird is in harmony with its environment, unlike man who is in competition with his (“No hungry generations tread thee down”); and the bird cannot conceive of its separation from the world which it expresses and of which’it is a part. It is in this sense that the nightingale is immortal. Man knows that he is born to die, knows “What thou among the leaves hast never known”; and this knowledge overshadows man’s life and all his songs. Such knowledge overshadows this poem and gives it its special poignancy.
The “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: Its Duality of Theme
In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, the duality of the theme is indicated in the very opening stanza where Keats gives us a contrast between something unchanging (the urn) because it is dead, and something transient because it is alive. This equipoise is continued in the second stanza, but the poet continues to toy with his dual matter without asserting or implying that lifeless permanence is superior or transient reality. Nor does he indicate any preference in the third stanza, though the emphasis here, as in the second stanza, is upon the warmth and the turbulence of life. We have not been made to feel that Keats has any distinct preference for an unrealised but permanent love over an actually experienced but transient but actual passion. In the fourth stanza, we are carried into a world (the little town) that is permanent, but permanently empty, just as the figures on the urn are permanent but permanently lifeless. In the final stanza, the poet ends his dual game. Here he emphatically addresses this thing of beauty as just what it is a Grecian urn. This work of art, he says, has “teased” us out of thought, that is, out of the actual world into an ideal world where we can momentarily and imaginatively enjoy the life that is free from the imperfections of our lot here. But this ideal world is not free of all imperfections: it has very grave deficiencies because it is lifeless, motionless, cold, unreal (“silent form”, “cold pastoral”, etc).
Keats’s Treatment of Two Kinds of Experience in this Poem
Keeping in mind the duality of the theme in the poem, it is clear that Keats deals with two kinds of experience: (1) human life in actuality and (2) the appreciation of an imaginary representation of several human activities (love, music, community life, and religious ritual). The two kinds of experience are related. Art alone can never satisfy us completely (because the urn is a “cold pastoral”); it is only an imitation of reality. But this work of art can, tell us something important about the real or actual experience, the love passion that is fleeting and transient. That is, the essence of physical love is participation in the life-force and the continuing life-process; only the individual experience is transient and short-lived. “Beauty is truth”, then, means that beauty is total reality properly understood; that is, beauty is the true significance of things in our world and in the ideal world.
The “Ode on Melancholy”, Also a Poem of Contrasts
The Ode on Melancholy is another poem of contrasts. The general idea of this poem is that true melancholy is to be found not in the sad and ugly things of life, such as wolf’s-bane, nightshade, yew-berries, the beetle, and death-moth, but in the beauty and pleasures of the world. The world’s true sadness dwells with beauty and joy, for the pain of suffering is less acute than the pain of knowing that beauty and joy will soon fade. The poem expresses Keats’s experience of the habitual interchange and alteration of the emotions of joy and pain.
The Dwelling-Place of Melancholy
True melancholy, says Keats, lies in the ache at the heart of felicity. It comes to a man suddenly even as rain may suddenly begin to fall from a cloud above. In that state a man can have his fill of sorrow by gazing at the beauty of a morning rose or by feeding deep upon the peerless eyes of one’s mistress when she “some rich anger shows”.
The Transience of Beauty and Joy
The idea of the transitoriness of beauty and joy is vividly conveyed by means of a concrete picture. Melancholy, we are told, dwells with Beauty, Beauty that must die, and Joy whose hand is ever at his lips bidding adieu. Pleasure, we are told, turns to poison, in the very process of being enjoyed. True melancholy can be experienced only by him who has a capacity for enjoying the keenest pleasures. “In the very temple of Delight, veiled Melancholy has her sovereign shrine.”
A Most Explicit Statement in the Final Stanza
Thus this poem too has a dual theme. It shows the inseparability of pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, transience and permanence. The poem is about the inter-relations of beauty that must die, passing joy, aching pleasure. The final stanza is Keats’s most explicit statement about one of his central themes. A full involvement in joy leads inevitably to intense melancholy, a melancholy which becomes recurrent and incurable. Also, the intensity of the melancholy lends it a queer pleasure, because intensity is part of full living.

“With the great Odes, we are probably at the apex of Keats’s poetic powers”. Trace the evolution of Keats’s art till the achievement in the Odes.

Keats, a Conscious and Hard-Working Artist
Keats was a conscious artist, anxious to load his poetry as fully as possible, with its own special kind of excellence. We see the result of it in the devoted critical care he gives to his own poetical development. As we peruse his work, we become aware of a constant effort on his part to correct faults in technique and emotional tone. He constantly rejects harmful models and chooses better ones. Above all, he is always thinking out the essentials of his own kind of poetry to the exclusion of everything else.

Keats’s First Volume of Poems
Keats’s first volume of poems appeared in 1817. The best pieces in this volume are the introductory I Stood Tip-toe Upon a Little Hill, the concluding Sleep and Poetry, and the famous sonnet, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer. There is in this early experimental and immature work an extravagance of speech and excess of emotion. These poems are overcharged with Spenserian imagery and Elizabethan conceits. But even in his early experiments, there is an individual note. In I Stood Tip-toe, there are touches that no other poet than Keats could have given us:
A little noiseless noise among the leaves,    
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves.
We find felicities of phrase and a sensitive insight into Nature in this poem:
Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight: 
With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,           
And taper fingers catching at all things,      
To bind them all about with tiny rings.
In Sleep and Poetry, the writer throws a challenge at the whole army of the neo-classical critics. This poem is faulty in execution, but the point of view of the young Keats is unmistakable:
                Beauty was awake:             
Why were ye not awake?
We cannot ignore in his early efforts the ornate extravagance, the abuse of double rhymes, the faulty emphasis, the ugly vulgarities, the poetic stammerings, etc. But the soul of a poet is already there. Surely, we can expect splendid things from a young man of nineteen who could write On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer which is certainly deserving of high praise.
The Poem Entitled “Endymion”
The next to appear was Endymion (1818). It is a long narrative poem based upon the Greek myth of the love of the shepherd-prince Endymion for the moon-goddess, Cynthia. It is rambling and confused, broken by episodes, and in its descriptive passages overloaded with detail. In style it is diffuse and florid. In its loose romantic couplets, Keats followed the lead of Leigh Hunt’s Story of Rimini. But he carried freedom to excess, and his verse is at times almost formless. He himself afterwards spoke of the “slipshod” Endymion, adding: “I have written independently and without judgment—I may write independently, and with judgment, hereafter. I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” It is undoubtedly an immature poem and has its faults. But if contains many passages of great poetical beauty. It is based, too, upon a remarkable view of love and life. This view is the key to the plot of the story which is otherwise fantastic and unintelligible. Endymion is man, the poet; the Moon is poetry or the principle of Beauty in all things; and Cynthia, the moon-goddess is the ideal beauty or love of woman. Man, seeing ideal beauty in his desire, mingles with it his longing for excellence, fame, and immortality. Endymion is a young man’s poem about a central experience of young manhood. Inevitably, it has been compared to Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. Endymion lacks the verbal control and dramatic power of Shakespeare’s poem; but Shakespeare was twenty-eight when he wrote the poem, and Keats was only twenty-one. The poem was ruthlessly criticised by reviewers. The chief fault of the poem, Keats himself realised, was the inexperience of life underlying the original conception. But writing it was a major factor in Keats’s creative development. Endymion made Keats a poet, whatever Keats made of Endymion.
Several Great Poems in Keats’s Next Publication
The next publication bore the title Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820). Isabella was written in April, 1818, Hyperion in September-December, 1818, and The Eve of St. Agnes in January, 1819. Isabella is more or less a failure. About this poem we might say: “It requires more than a willing suspension of disbelief to read. It requires a willing suspension of intelligence.” The poem is based upon a story from Boccaccio telling of the love of a damsel for a young man in the service of her merchant-brothers, with its tragic end and pathetic sequel. Keats amplifies and adorns the original story, enriching it, with tones of sentiment and colours of romance, and dwelling over every image of beauty or passion. His adornments and embellishments are, however, not excessive as they were in the case of Endymion. His powers of imagination and of expression have now gained strength and discipline. His characters make themselves seen and felt in living shape, action and motive. But the language of Isabella is still occasionally slipshod.
“The Eve of St. Agnes”, a Series of Gorgeous Pictures
The Eve of St. Agnes is a romantic story based on a medieval superstition. The poem, however, is less a story than a series of gorgeous pictures, outdoing in splendour even the work of Spenser in whose stanza it is written. It is chiefly remarkable for its atmosphere, imagery, and diction. It is also characterised by a complete unity of structure. It has a unique charm which lies in, apart from its atmosphere, its glow of passionate colour and music, its decorative images (especially the picture of the triple-arched Gothic window), its ornamental style, and its beautiful phrases (like “azure-lidded sleep”, “warmed jewels”, “fragrant bodice”). In this poem Keats shows a marked advance over his previous work. The rhythm is more supple and more subtly related to syntax and meaning than in Isabella. The high point of this poem is the celebrated group of stanzas describing the events in Madeline’s chamber. Keats shows himself capable of a new firmness in outline and form, of new flexibility of attitude and expression.
The Two Versions of the Poem “Hyperion”
Of Hyperion (which is a fragment dealing with the Greek myth of the overthrow of the dynasty of god Saturn), there are two drafts. The first is in majestic blank verse which testifies to a careful study of Milton. The poem remains unfinished but, in spite of its fragmentary condition, it is Keats’s most imposing piece of work. According to Keats himself, he gave it up because of the excessive Miltonism of the style. However, some of the most beautiful images in their delicacy and precision are utterly unlike Milton’s generalised verbal grandeur, and indeed could be by nobody but Keats. Here is an example:
No stir of air was there,    
Not so much life as on a summer’s day         
Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,      
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
Keats attains great success in conceiving and animating the colossal shapes of the gods. “With a few slips and inequalities, and one or two instances of verbal incorrectness, Hyperion is indeed one of the grandest poems in the English language, and in its grandeur seems one of the easiest and most spontaneous”. The poem contains some admirable poetry and a number of lovely lines, and its failure is principally due to its conception. Subsequently Keats re-cast Hyperion into the shape of a vision, which remains equally unfinished. The imagery and description in this second version are freed of redundancies, and are far finer for being kept within bounds. There is also an enormous gain of dignity and force in the presentation of emotion. This second version is, after the odes, surely Keats’s greatest verse.
The Poem Called “Lamia
Lamia is in some parts too feverish and in others too unequal. It contains descriptions not entirely successful as, for instance, that of the palace built by Lamia’s magic. In certain reflective passages, Keats relapses into his early strain of affected ease and fireside trivialities. Besides, there is a weakness in the moral of the story:
Do not all charms fly        
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
But Lamia is a more polished poem and more unified in tone than The Eve of St. Agnes. The description of the death of Lamia is a very controlled, modulated affair. The technical advance over Endymion is also here noteworthy.
The Incomplete Poem “The Eve of St. Mark”
The Eve of St. Mark is incomplete. But the scene is set consummately, and the atmosphere is suggested most successfully. The restraint, the balance, the simplicity, the ease are beyond praise. With rare economy of effort, the poet arrests the reader and makes him feel the impending tragedy.
The Ripeness and Maturity of Keats’s Poetic Powers in the Odes
But it is in the odes that we see the ripeness and maturity of Keats’s poetic powers. The odes not only reveal Keats’s highly thoughtful and intensely reflective nature but also possess musical effects that are unsurpassed in English lyric poetry. In the odes, Keats gives us most of his inmost self, and he does so with the sure hand of a great artist. Most of these odes arise from inner conflicts and have as their theme the contrast between joy and suffering, transience and permanence, the actual and the ideal. The note of sadness sounds through them all; and the vivid joy of the perceptive life, the ideal permanence of art, the glamour of romance, the benison of Nature’s varying moods, are contrasted with the mutability of life and the short duration of pleasure.
“Ode to a Nightingale”, Voluptuous and Passionate
To a Nightingale is the most voluptuous and passionate in its emotion. But for the most part the passion, for all its intensity, is focused ‘and controlled as, for instance, in such inspired felicities as
magic casements, opening on the foam       
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn,
in the lovely image of Ruth
when sick for home,         
She stood in tears amid the alien corn:
and, above all, in the wistful beauty of the stanza where the poet expresses a desire to “fade far away dissolve, and quite forget…….”
The Unity of Truth and Beauty
On a Grecian Urn expresses with perfect poetic felicity and insight the vital differences between life, which pays for its unique prerogative of reality by satiety and decay, and art, which in forfeiting reality gains in exchange permanence of beauty, and the power to charm by imagined experience even richer than the real: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard/Are sweeter……”and:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave  
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare.
The central thought of this ode is the unity of truth and beauty: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
The Transitoriness of Beauty and Joy
On Melancholy expresses the transitoriness of beauty and joy, and the idea that true melancholy lies in the ache at the heart of felicity:
She dwells with Beauty, Beauty that must die;           
And joy, whose hand is ever at his lips        
Bidding adieu……
An Acceptance of Impermanence
To Autumn is one of the most nearly perfect poems. The different parts of it contribute directly to the whole, with nothing left dangling or independent. While On Melancholy accepts the impermanence of beauty and joy as inevitable, To Autumn also accepts impermanence and accepts it without the least trace of sadness because Keats is able to see it as part of a larger and richer permanence.
The Odes at the Apex of Keats’s Poetic Achievement
The odes mark the highest development of Keats’s poetic genius and stand at the apex of his poetic achievement. Here we find a perfect fusion of sobriety with the force of touch and the wealth of expression. Here we find a rare union of classical discipline with what is greatest in romanticism. Keats brings here a strong force of selection, order, and harmony to bear on an unlimited range of intensely felt sensations and emotions.


The Pleasures of Fancy
In this poem, Keats describes the pleasures which one can enjoy by means of the exercise of one’s fancy or imagination. It is regarded as one of the most beautiful poems of Keats. It certainly possesses an outdoor, refreshing quality. The central idea that reality, however beautiful it may be, can never satisfy us fully and that true satisfaction can be found only in the pleasures of the imagination, is perfectly convincing. The poem shows the influence of Milton in its exquisite metrical harmony. There are echoes in it from Milton’s L’Allegro and II Peqseroso.

The Fleeting Nature of the Pleasures of Reality
The pleasures of reality, says the poet, melt away soon, but the pleasures of the imagination are ever-fresh and everlasting. We should, therefore, give free reins to our imagination. Pleasure is never to be found at home. If we let our fancy loose, it will bring for us from abroad all the pleasures that we wish to enjoy. (Lines 1-9)
The Temporary Pleasures of Three of the Seasons
Summer, spring, and autumn, all have their beauties. But these seasons can never give us real and lasting pleasure, because of the imperfections which all the pleasures of reality suffer from, and because of the feeling of weariness or disgust to which they all ultimately lead. The flowers and fruits of these different seasons soon fade; and we soon tire of the pleasures which these seasons provide. (Lines 10-15)
Winter, the True Season of Pleasure
The true season for pleasure, says the poet, is winter. (This is, of course, a paradoxical statement because winter in England is a season of great hardship and suffering. What the poet means is that in winter one can sit down in a cosy corner of the house and give free reins to one’s fancy.) Sitting by the fireside on a wintry night, we can send our fancy on her travels, and we can enjoy all the beauties of summer, spring, and autumn. The buds and bells of May, and the heaped wealth of autumn, with all the delights of summer will be mingled together for us, and we can enjoy these as we might enjoy three excellent wines mingled in a cup. We can hear the distant harvest songs, the sweet birds welcoming the morning, and the rooks cawing and searching for stick and straws. We can see in our imagination the flowers different seasons, such as the daisy, the marigold, the lily, the primrose and the hyacinth. We can see the field-mouse and the snake emerging from their underground abode after their winter-long hibernation. We can see the nest-eggs being hatched; we can see the swarm of bees; we can hear the ripe acorns falling down to the ground. (Lines 16-66)
The Ever-fresh and Ever-lasting Pleasures of Fancy
Only the pleasures of fancy are ever-fresh and everlasting. Pleasures of reality are lost as soon as they are enjoyed. The beauty of even the loveliest woman becomes stale if we see her everyday. Her cheeks, her lips, her eyes, and her voice lose all their appeal and charm as a result of too much familiarity. But a beloved who has been created by fancy will retain her beauty and charm always. It is better to have an imaginary sweetheart than to have a real woman as one’s sweetheart. This imaginary sweetheart will have eyes as beautiful and sweet as Proserpina had before she was carried off by Pluto, the god of the underworld. This imaginary sweetheart will have a waist as beautiful as that of Hebe, the goddess of youth and the cup-bearer of the gods. (Lines 67-89)
Fancy (or Imagination), a Great Blessing for Human Beings
Indeed, the pleasures of reality are as short-lived as the bubbles formed when rain is falling. We should, therefore, remove all restraint and restrictions upon our fancy. If fancy is allowed to roam and to soar freely, it will bring a multitude of pleasures. Let the winged fancy be given unlimited freedom to wander abroad, and we shall find that it has the capacity to provide us with those exquisite pleasures which cannot be found at home. (Lines 89-94)
The Main Idea
The subject of this poem is the pleasures of the “fancy”, which here means the “imagination”. The pleasures of the imagination, says the poet, are ever-fresh and everlasting, while the pleasures of reality are short-lived. The pleasures of reality are lost as soon as they are enjoyed, but the pleasures of the imagination have the quality of permanence. The beauty of even the loveliest woman becomes stale and tiresome as a result of too much familiarity; but the beauty of an imaginary sweet-heart can never fade or decline. This poem is typical of Keats’s aesthetic temperament. It teaches us the value of the imagination in lending a permanent appeal and freshness to the pleasures of reality. One must observe the beautiful things in this world and then one must use one’s imagination to re-call those things and to create new thing, and thus to enjoy their charm:
Ever let the Fancy roam, 
                Pleasure never is at home.
Sensuous Quality
The poem has a richly sensuous appeal. We have numerous pictures of beautiful things which please our senses. The fruits of autumn, buds and bells of May, the sweet singing of the birds, the various flowers—the daisy, the marigold, the lily, the primrose—are a kind of feast which we enjoy as we go through the poem. By the exercise of our fancy, we can see at one glance all the flowers:
Thou shall, at one glance, behold
The daisy and the marigold;
White-plumed lilies, and the first
Hedge-grown primrose that hath burst;
Shaded hyacinth, alway
Sapphire queen of the mid-May;
And every leaf, and every flower
Pearled with the self same shower.
Similarly, the sweet-heart whom the imagination has to create would be an embodiment of perfect beauty and would remind us of Proserpina of ancient mythology. This imaginary sweet-heart would have a waist and a side as white as Hebe’s. We are here given a lovely picture of Hebe’s petticoat slipping down to her feet, and Jove becoming “languid” with passion on beholding her naked physical charms. Even Jove seems to swoon with passion as Porphyro in The Eve of St. Agnes does:
With a waist and with a side
White as Hebe’s, when her zone
Slipt its golden clasp, and down
Fell her kirtle to her feet,
While she held the goblet sweet,,
And Jove grew languid.
The reference is to ancient mythology in the poem which brings before us the stories of Pluto’s abduction of Proserpina, and of Jove’s lustful desire for Hebe.
Minute Observation of Nature
The poem shows not only Keats’s love of Nature, but also his close and minute observation of everything that happens in the world of Nature. We have a vivid picture of the winter and of the other seasons. The pictures of the field-mouse, the snake, the eggs being hatched in the nests of birds, the ripe acorns falling down, and the rooks searching for sticks and straws, are examples of the poet’s interest in even the small details of the life of Nature:
Or the rooks, with busy caw,           
Foraging for sticks and straw,         
Thou shall see the field-mouse peep             
Meagre from its celled sleep;          
And the snake, all winter-thin       
Cast on sunny bank its skin!           
Freckled nest eggs thou shall see   
Hatching in the hawthorn-tree,     
When the hen-bird’s wing doth rest             
Quiet on her mossy nest……
These pictures fully illustrate Keats’s preference for vivid and concrete imagery.
Jubilation and Melancholy
The mood of the poem on the whole is one of jubilation and exultation, although a streak of melancholy runs through it. The feeling of melancholy is due to our realisation that the sweet pleasures of reality melt away quickly; while the feeling of jubilation is due to the fact that our imagination can more than compensate us for the transitoriness of real pleasures.
Technical Merits
The poem is remarkable also because of its sweet music and harmony. There are some’ very appropriate similes and some felicitous phrases and expressions. The shortness of the duration of the pleasures of reality is aptly compared to the melting of bubbles:
At a touch sweet Pleasure melteth,
Like to bubbles when rain pelteth.
The imaginative combination of the pleasures of winter, summer and autumn is compared to the mixing of three wines in a cup which one can enjoy drinking:
She will mix these pleasures up     
Like three fit wines in a cup,          
And thou shall quaff it:
An imaginary mistress may be as “dulcet-eyed as Ceres’ daughter”, while her waist and side may be “white as Hebe’s”. Then we have such metaphorical expressions as “the mesh of the Fancy’s silken leash”, and “Fancy’s prison string”. Among the felicitous phrases we have “Autumn’s red-lipp’d fruitage”, “Fancy, high-commission’d”, “all the heaped Autumn’s wealth”, “sweet birds antheming the morn”, “white-plumed lilies”, and “sapphire queen of the mid-May”.
A Critic’s View of this Poem
Speaking about this poem, a commentator says: “Light-hearted though it is, it suggests a first trying-over of material eventually woven into the Odes; many suggestive images and actual phrases will be recognised (‘all the heaped Autumn’s wealth’, ‘mid-May’, ‘All the buds and bells of May’), and the theme of the poem contrasts the transience of natural beauty with the vision of unfading beauty called up by the poetic imagination.”