صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

his first introduction to Greek art. Hunt turned his attention to the Elizabethans, to Milton, and to the great Italian poets. In these newly discovered glories of literature Keats revelled to intoxication. We are told that, in company with Charles Cowden Clark, he sat up one whole night reading Chapman's Homer; the next morning Keats sent his friend the magnificent sonnet," On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," by far the finest thing which had yet come from his pen. In 1817, a year after he gave up surgery, he published a little volume containing, besides this sonnet, a number of other early poems. The most interesting of these juvenile pieces is the one beginning, "I Stood Tiptoe Upon a Little Hill," which shows that his feeling for nature was already exquisite, and his observation keen; and "Sleep and Poetry," where his young devotion to his art is beautifully apparent.

"Endymion."—After the publication of his first volume of poems, Keats went to the Isle of Wight, and later to Margate on the seashore. He writes from there that he "thinks so much about poetry, and so long together, that he cannot get to sleep at night," and is "in continual burning of thought." By this time he was deep in his first long poem, Endymion, which tells the story of the Latmian shepherd beloved by the moon-goddess. Endymion was published in 1818. The opening passage of the poem, the Hymn to Pan, and many other lines and short passages, are worthy of the Keats that was to be; but as a whole Endymion is chaotic, and too full of ornament. Nobody knew this better than Keats himself, as is testified to both by his letters and by the proudly humble preface in which he describes the poem as a "feverish attempt rather than a deed accomplished," and hopes that "while it is dwindling I may be plotting, and fitting myself for verses fit to live." This preface should have disarmed the most unfriendly of critics, but it did not. The Quarterly printed a sneering review, and Blackwood's rudely ordered him "back to the shop, Mr. John, back to plasters, pills, and ointment-boxes!"

Keats's Last Volume; His Death.—To what purpose Keats "plotted," the wonderful volume published two years


Photograph, Copyright, by Frederick Hollyer, London

From a painting by Joseph Severn

later, in 1820, shows. It was entitled Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other Poems; besides the pieces named, it contained the great odes, "On Melancholy," "On a Grecian Urn," "To Psyche," and "To a Nightingale," and the heroic fragment, "Hyperion." Two years had done wonders in deepening and strengthening his gift. During these two years he had had experience of death, in the loss of his beloved brother Tom, by consumption; he had met Fanny Brawne, and conceived for her a consuming and hopeless love. The funds which he had inherited were all but exhausted, and he was confronted with poverty. His health began to fail; the disease which had carried off his brother progressed with dreadful rapidity in his highly-strung physique. To Shelley, who had invited him to stay at Pisa, he wrote in the summer of 1820, "There is no doubt that an English winter would put an end to me, and do so in a lingering and hateful manner." In September, under the care of his generous friend, the artist Joseph Severn, he took passage for Naples. While detained by contrary winds off the English coast he wrote his last sonnet, the beautiful one beginning "Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast As Thou Art," with its touching veiled tribute to Fanny Brawne, whom he was not to see again. The poet's eyes were already darkening when he reached Rome. In February of 1821, in a house overlooking the Piazza di Spagna, he died, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery by the Aurelian Wall, where Shelley's ashes were soon to be laid. On his tomb are carved, according to his own request, the words, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." In a hopefuller time and in a mood of noble simplicity, he had said, "I think I shall be among the English poets after my death."

Keats as a Man.—Keats's appearance is thus summed1up by one of his later biographers, from the many descriptions left us by his friends: "A small, handsome, ardent looking youth—the stature little over five feet; the figure compact and well-turned, with the neck thrust eagerly forward, carrying a strong and shapely head set off by thickly clustering gold-brown hair; the features powerful, finished, and mobile; the mouth rich and wide, with an expression at once combat1 ive and sensitive in the extreme; the forehead not high, but broad and strong; the eyebrows nobly arched, and eyes hazel1brown, liquid1flashing, visibly inspired—'an eye that had an inward look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions.'" Of his impulsive generosity of nature all his friends have left warm testimony. "He was the sin- cerest friend," says one, "the most lovable associate, the deepest listener to the griefs and distresses of all around him, that ever lived."

Although the body of Keats's work lies remote from everyday human interest, it is a serious mistake to think of him as indifferent to human affairs, or in any sense effeminate. His wonderful letters, with their rollicking fun, their quick human sympathy, their eager ponderings upon life and clear insight into many of its dark places, show a warm and most vital nature. Through many of his later poems, especially the great odes, there breathes a poignant human undertone, which suggests that if he had lived he might have turned more and more to themes of common human experience. Dying as he did at twenty-five, after only three or four years of opportunity, he yet left behind him a body of poetry which has had a greater influence than any other upon subsequent verse. From the youthful work of Tennyson and Browning down to the present day, the poetry of the Victorian age has been deeply affected by Keats's example.

Qualities of Keats's Poetry.—The essential quality of Keats as a poet is his sensitiveness to beauty, and the singleness of aim with which he seeks for "the principle of beauty in all things." He worships beauty for beauty's sake, with the unreasoning rapture of a lover or a devotee. In his first volume he tells of the "dizzy pain" which the sight of the Elgin marbles gave him, of the "indescribable feud" which they "brought round his heart." He opens his second volume with the memorable line, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"; and in his last volume, at the close of the ode "On a Grecian Urn," he declares that beauty is one with truth.

It is this passion for beauty, working through a very delicate and powerful temperament, which gives to Keats's poetry its richness, and which makes it play magically upon all the senses of the reader. The pure glow of his color reminds us of the great Italian painters; and the music of his best verse has a wonderful mellowness and depth, as if blown softly through golden trumpets. From the first, his poetry has extraordinary freshness, energy, gusto. His use of words is, even in his earliest volume, wonderfully fresh. He revived old words, coined new ones, and put current ones to a new service, with a confidence and success unequalled by any other English poets except Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Spenser.

The sense of form, which is so conspicuous in Keats's later work, was a matter of growth with him. Endymion is formless, a labyrinth of flowery paths which lead nowhere. But the great odes, especially the "Nightingale" and the "Grecian Urn," and the later narrative poems, the "Eve of St. Agnes" and "Lamia," have a wonderful perfection of form, a subordination of part to part in the building up of a beautiful whole, which is the sign of the master-workman. This is particularly true of "St. Agnes' Eve," that latest and perhaps most perfect flower of the old Spenserian tree. The story of Madeline's dream on the haunted eve, of its magical fulfilment through young Porphyro's coming, and of their flight from the castle, is set in a framework of storm and cold, of dreary penance and spectral old age, of barbarous revelry and rude primeval passion, which by a series of subtle and thrilling contrasts marvellously heightens the warm and tender radiance of the central picture; then, when the illusion of reality is at the height, the whole thing is thrown back into the dim and doubtful past by the words

"And they are gone; aye, ages long ago
These lovers fled away into the storm."

Keats's strength, which we see in "The Eve of St. Agnes," "Lamia," and the Odes, working in the service of perfect grace, impelled him in Hyperion to attempt a theme of the largest epic kind, the overthrow of the old Titan sun- deity Hyperion by the new sun-god Apollo. The subject

« السابقةمتابعة »