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expression have alike gained strength and discipline; and through the shining veils of his poetry his creations make themselves seen and felt in living shape, action, and motive. False touches and misplaced beauties are indeed not wanting. For example, in the phrase
“his erewhile timid lips grew bold And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme,”
we have an effusively false touch, in the sugared taste not infrequent in his earliest verses. And in the call of the wicked brothers to Lorenzo
" To-day we purpose, aye this hour we mount
To spur three leagues towards the Apennine.
His dewy rosary on the eglantine"
the last two lines are a beauty, indeed, and of the kind most characteristic of the poet, yet a beauty (as Leigh Hunt long ago pointed out) misplaced in the mouths that utter it. Moreover, the language of Isabella is still occasionally slipshod, and there are turns and passages where we feel, as we felt so often in Endymion, that the poetic will has abdicated to obey the chance dictation or suggestion of the rhyme. But these are the minor blemishes of a poem otherwise conspicuous for power and charm.
For his Italian story Keats chose an Italian metre, the octave stanza introduced in English by Wyatt and Sidney, and naturalised before long by Daniel, Drayton, and Edward Fairfax. Since their day the stanza had been little used in serious poetry, though Frere and Byron had lately revived it for the poetry of light narrative and satire, the purpose for which the epigrammatic snap and suddenness of the closing couplet in truth best fit it. Keats, however, contrived generally to avoid this effect, and handles the
measure flowingly and well in a manner suited to his tale of pathos. Over the purely musical and emotional resources of his art he shows a singular command in stanzas like that beginning, “O Melancholy, linger here awhile," repeated with variations as a kind of melodious interlude of the main narrative. And there is a brilliant alertness of imagination in such episodical passages as that where he pauses to realise the varieties of human toil contributing to the wealth of the merchant brothers. But the true test of a poem like this is that it should combine, at the essential points and central moments of action and passion, imaginative vitality and truth with beauty and charm. This test Isabella admirably bears. For instance, in the account of the vision which appears to the heroine of her lover's mouldering corpse :
“Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy-bright
With love, and kept all phantom fear aloof
With what a true poignancy of human tenderness is the story of the apparition invested by this touch, and all its charnel horror and grimness mitigated! Or again in the stanzas describing Isabella's actions at her lover's burialplace:
“She gazed into the fresh thrown mould, as though
One glance did fully all its secrets tell;
Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;
Like to a native lily of the dell:
“Soon she turn'd up a soiled glove, whereon
Her silk had play'd in purple phantasies;
She kiss'd it with a lip more chill than stone,
And put it in her bosom, where it dries
Those dainties made to still an infant's cries :
The lines are not all of equal workmanship, but the scene is realised with unerring vision. The swift despairing gaze of the girl, anticipating with too dire a certainty the realisation of her dream; the simile in the third and fourth lines, emphasizing the clearness of that certainty, and at the same time relieving its terror by an image of beauty; the new simile of the lily, again striking the note of beauty, while it intensifies the impression of her rooted fixity of posture and purpose; the sudden solution of that fixity, with the final couplet, into vehement action, as she begins to dig“ more fervently than misers can” (what a commentary on the relative strength of passions might be drawn from this simple text!); then the first reward of her toil, in the shape of a relic, not ghastly, but beautiful both in itself and for the tenderness of which it is a token; her womanly action in kissing it and putting it in her bosom, while all the woman and mother in her is in the same words revealed to us as blighted by the tragedy of her life; then the resumption and continuance of her labours, with gestures once more of vital dramatic truth as well as grace—to imagine and to write like this is the privilege of the best poets only, and even the best have not often combined such concentrated force and beauty of conception with such a limpid and flowing ease of narrative. Poetry had always come to Keats, as he considered it ought to come, as naturally as leaves to a tree; and now that it came of a quality like this, he had fairly earned the right,
which his rash youth had too soon arrogated, to look down on the fine artificers of the school of Pope. In comparison with the illuminating power of true imaginative poetry, the closest rhetorical condensations of that school seem loose and thin, their most glittering points and aphorisms dull; nay, those who admire them most justly will know better than to think the two kinds of writing comparable.
After the completion of Isabella followed the Scotch tour, of which the only poetic fruits of value were the lines on Meg Merrilies and those on Fingal's Cave. Returning in shaken health to the bedside of a brother mortally ill, Keats plunged at once into the most arduous poetic labour he had yet undertaken. This was the composition of Hyperion. The subject had been long 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 under the influence of Paradise Lost, and no doubt also considering the height and vastness of the subject, his plan changed to that of a blank verse epic in ten books. His purpose was to sing the Titanomachia, or warfare of the carlier 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 kindgom by Apollo. Critics, even intelligent critics, sometimes complain that Keats should have taken this and other subjects of his art from what they call the “ dead” mythology of ancient Greece. As if that mythology could ever die ; as if the ancient fables, in passing out of the transitory state of things believed into the state of things remembered and cherished in imagination, had not put on a second life more enduring and more fruitful than the first. Faiths as faiths perish one after another, but each in passing away bequeaths for the enrichment of the after-world whatever elements it has contained of imaginative or moral truth or beanty. The polytheism of ancient Greece, embodying the instinctive effort of the brightliest-gifted human race to explain its earliest experiences of nature and civilization, of the thousand moral and material forces, cruel or kindly, which environ and control the life of man on earth, is rich beyond measure in such elements; and if the modern world at any time fails to value them, it is the modern mind which is in so far dead, and not they. One of the great symptoms of returning vitality in the imagination of Europe towards the close of the last century, was its awakening to the forgotten charın of past modes of faith and life. When men, in the earlier part of that century, spoke of Greek antiquity, it was in stale and borrowed terms which showed that they bad never felt its power; just as, when they spoke of nature, it was in set phrases that showed that they had never looked at her On matters of daily social experience the gifts of observation and of reason were brilliantly exercised, but all the best thoughts of the time were thoughts of the street, the mart, and the assembly. The human genius was for the time being like some pilgrim long detained within city walls, and unused to see or think of anything beyond them. At length resuming its march, it emerged on open ground, where it fell to enjoying with a forgotten zest the beauties of the earth and sky, and whence, at the same time, it could turn back to gaze on regions it had long left behind, discerning with new clearness and a new emotion bere, under cloud
1 As to the date when Hyperion was written, see Appendix, p. 225; and as to the error by which Keats's later recast of his work has been taken for an earlier draft, ibid., p. 226.