Imatges de pàgina

enabled by Endymion's help to rescue her, and together with her the whole sorrowful fellowship of true lovers drowned at sea. From the point in the hero's submarine adventures where he first meets Glaucus,

“He saw far in the green concave of the sea
An old man sitting calm and peacefully.
Upon a weeded rock this old man sat,
And his white hair was awful, and a mat
Of weeds was cold beneath his cold thin feet"

—from this passage to the end of the book, in spite of redundance and occasional ugly flaws, Keats brings home his version of the myth with strong and often exquisite effect to the imagination. No picture can well be more vivid than that of Circe pouring the magic phial upon her victims, and no speech much more telling than that with which the detected enchantress turns and scathes her unhappy lover. In the same book the description of the sunk treasures cumbering the ocean floor challenges comparison, not all unequally, with the famous similar passage in Shakspeare's Richard III. In the halls of Neptune Endymion again meets Venus, and receives from her more explicit encouragement than heretofore. Thence Nereids bear him earthward in a trance, during which he reads in spirit words of still more reassuring omen written in starlight on the dark. Since, in his adventure with Glaucus, he has allowed himself to be diverted from his own quest for the sake of relieving the sorrows of others, the hope which before seemed ever to elude him draws at last nearer to fulfilment.

It might seem fanciful to suppose that Keats had really in his mind a meaning such as this, but for the conviction he habitually declares that the pursuit of beauty as an aim


in life is only justified when it is accompanied by the idea of devotion to human service. And in his fourth book he leads his hero through a chain of adventures which seem certainly to have a moral and allegorical meaning, or none at all. Returning in that book to upper air, Endymion before long half forgets his goddess for the charms of an Indian maiden, the sound of whose lamentations reaches him while he is sacrificing in the forest, and who tells him how she has come wandering in the train of Bacchus from the east. This mysterious Indian maiden proves in fact to be no other than his goddess herself in disguise. But it is long before he discovers this, and in the meantime he is conducted by her side through a bewildering series of ærial ascents, descents, enchanted slumbers, and Olympian visions. All these, with his infidelity, which is no infidelity after all, his broodings in the Cave of Quietude, his illusions and awakenings, his final farewell to mortality and to Peona, and reunion with his celestial mistress in her own shape, make up a narrative inextricably confused, which only becomes partially intelligible when we take it as a parable of a soul's experience in pursuit of the ideal. Let a soul enamoured of the idealsuch would seem the argument—once suffer itself to forget its goal, and to quench for a time its longings in the real, nevertheless it will be still haunted by that lost vision; amidst all intoxications, disappointment and lassitude will still dog it, until it awakes at last to find that the reality which has thus allured it derives from the ideal its power to charm, that it is after all but a reflection from the ideal, a phantom of it. What chiefly or alone makes the episode poetically acceptable is the strain of lyric poetry which Keats has put into the mouth of the supposed Indian maiden when she tells her story. His later and more



famous lyrics, though they are free from the faults and immaturities which disfigure this, yet do not, to my mind at least, show a command over such various sources of imaginative and musical effect, or touch so thrillingly so many chords of the spirit. A mood of tender irony and wistful pathos like that of the best Elizabethan love-songs; a sense as keen as Heine's of the immemorial romance of India and the East; a power like that of Coleridge, and perhaps partly caught from him, of evoking the remotest weird and beautiful associations almost with a word; clear visions of Greek beauty and wild wood - notes of Celtic imagination—all these elements come here commingled, yet in a strain perfectly individual. Keats calls the piece a “roundelay, a form,” which it only so far resembles that its opening measures are repeated at the close. It begins with a tender invocation to sorrow, and then with a first change of movement conjures up image of a deserted maidenhood beside Indian streams; till suddenly with another change comes the irruption of the Asian Bacchus on his march; next follows the detailed picture of the god and of his rout, suggested in part by the famous Titian at the National Gallery, and then, arranged as if for music, the challenge of the maiden to the Maenads and Satyrs, and their choral answers :

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“Whence came ye, merry Damsels! Whence came ye !
So many, and so many, and such glee?
Why have

left your

bowers desolate,
Your lutes, and gentler fate ?'
We follow Bacchus, Bacchus on the wing,

A conquering!
Bacchus, young us! good or ill betide,
We dance before him through kingdoms wide :
Come hither, lady fair, and joined be

To our wild minstrelsy!

"Whence came ye, jolly Satyrs! Whence came ye !
So many, and so many, and such glee?
Why have ye left your forest haunts, why left

Your nuts in oak-tree cleft ??-
For wine, for wine we left our kernel tree;
For wine we left our heath, and yellow brooms,

And cold mushrooms;
For wine we follow Bacchus through the earth;
Great God of breathless cups and chirping mirth !-
Come hither, lady fair, and joined be

To our mad minstrelsy !'”

The strophes recounting the victorious journeys are very unequal; and finally, returning to the opening motive, the lyric ends as it began, with an exquisite strain of lovelorn pathos:

Come then, sorrow !

Sweetest sorrow !
Like an own babe I nurse thee on my breast :

I thought to leave thee,

And deceive thee,
But now of all the world I love thee best.

There is not one,

No, no, not one
But thee to comfort a poor lonely maid;

Thou art her mother

And her brother,
Her playmate, and her wooer in the shade."

The high-water mark of poetry in Endymion is thus reached in the two lyrics of the first and fourth book. Of these, at least, may be said with justice that which Jeffrey was inclined to say of the poem as a whole, that the degree to which any reader appreciates them will furnish as good a test as can be obtained of his having in him" native relish for poetry, and a genuine sensibility to its intrinsic charm.” In the main body of the work beauties


and faults are so bound up together that a critic may

well be struck almost as much by one as by the other. Admirable truth and charm of imagination, exquisite freshness and felicity of touch, mark such brief passages as we have quoted above; the very soul of poetry breathes them and in a hundred others throughout the work; but read farther, and you will in almost every case be brought up by hardly tolerable blemishes of execution and of taste. Thus in the tale told by Glaucus we find a line of strong poetic vision, such as

“Ææa's isle was wondering at the moon,”

standing alone in a passage of rambling and ineffective over-honeyed narrative; or again, a couplet forced and vulgar like this, both in rhyme and expression:

“I look'd—'twas Scylla! Cursed, cursed Circe !

O vulture-witch, hast never heard of mercy ?” is followed three lines farther on by a masterly touch of imagination and the heart :

“ Cold, O cold indeed Were her fair limbs, and like a common weed The sea-swell took her hair."

One, indeed, of the besetting faults of his earlier poetry Keats has shaken off-his muse is seldom tempted now to echo the familiar sentimental chirp of Hunt's. But that tendency which he by nature shared with Hunt, the tendency to linger and luxuriate over every imagined pleasure with an over-fond and doting relish, is still strong in him. And to the weaknesses native to his own youth and temperament are joined others derived from an exclusive devotion to the earlier masters of English poetry. The creative impulse of the Elizabethan age, in its waywardness

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