« AnteriorContinua »
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:
"Whence came ye, merry Damsels! Whence came ye!
Why have ye left your bowers desolate,
'We follow Bacchus, Bacchus on the wing,
Bacchus, young Bacchus! good or ill betide,
Come hither, lady fair, and joined be
To our wild minstrelsy!'
'Whence came ye, jolly Satyrs! Whence came ye!
Why have ye left your forest haunts, why left
'For wine, for wine we left our kernel tree;
For wine we follow Bacchus through the earth;
Great God of breathless cups and chirping mirth !—
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!
Like an own babe I nurse thee on my breast:
The high-water mark of poetry in Endymion is thus reached in the two lyrics of the first and fourth book. 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 “a 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 in 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
"Ema'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
and lack of discipline and discrimination, not less than in its luxuriant strength and freshness, seems actually revived in him. He outdoes even Spenser in his proneness to let Invention ramble and loiter uncontrolled through what wildernesses she will, with Imagination at her heels to dress if possible in living beauty the wonders that she finds there; and sometimes Imagination is equal to the task and sometimes not: and even busy Invention herself occasionally flags, and is content to grasp at any idle clue the rhyme holds out to her:
"-a nymph of Dian's Wearing a coronal of tender scions ❞—
"Does yonder thrush,
Schooling its half-fledged little ones to brush
About the dewy forest, whisper tales ?—
Speak not of grief, young stranger, or cold snails
Chapman especially, among Keats's masters, had this trick of letting thought follow the chance dictation of rhyme. Spenser and Chapman-to say nothing of Chatterton-had farther accustomed his ear to experimental and rash dealings with their mother-tongue. English was almost as unsettled a language for him as for them, and he strives to extend its resources, and make them adequate to the range and freshness of his imagery, by the use of compound and other adjectival coinages in Chapman's spirit—" far-spooming Ocean," "eye-earnestly," "dead-drifting," "their surly eyes brow-hidden," nervy knees," "surgy murmurs "coinages sometimes legitimate or even happy, but often fantastic and tasteless, as well as by sprinkling his nineteenth-century diction with such archaisms as shent,"
sith," and "seemlihed" from Spenser, "eterne" from Spenser and William Browne; or with arbitrary verbal
forms, as "to folly," "to monitor," "gordian'd up," to "fragment up;" or with neuter verbs used as active, as to "travel" an eye, to “pace” a team of horses, and vice versa. Hence even when in the other qualities of poetry his work is good, in diction and expression it is apt to be lax and wavering, and full of oddities and discords.
In rhythm Keats adheres in Endymion to the method he had adopted in Sleep and Poetry, deliberately keeping the sentence independent of the metre, putting full pauses anywhere in his lines rather than at the end, and avoiding any regular beat upon the rhyme. Leigh Hunt thought Keats had carried this method too far, even to the negation of metre. Some later critics have supposed the rhythm of Endymion to have been influenced by the Pharonnida of Chamberlayne: a fourth-rate poet, remarkable chiefly for two things for the inextricable trailing involution of his sentences, exceeding that of the very worst prose of his time, and for a perverse persistency in ending his heroic lines with the lightest syllables-prepositions, adverbs, and conjunctions on which neither pause nor emphasis is possible.1
But Keats, even where his verse runs most diffusely, 1 The following is a fair and characteristic enough specimen of Chamberlayne:
"Upon the throne, in such a glorious state
As earth's adored favourites, there sat
The image of a monarch, vested in
The spoils of nature's robes, whose price had been
A diadem's redemption; his large size,
Beyond this pigmy age, did equalize
The admired proportions of those mighty men
Whose cast-up bones, grown modern wonders, when
Found out, are carefully preserved to tell
Posterity how much these times are fell
From nature's youthful strength."