Imatges de pàgina

is commoner in Greek relief-sculpture than a Bacchanalian procession. But the two subjects do not, so far as I know, occur together on any single work of ancient art; and Keats probably imagined his urn by a combination of sculptures actually seen in the British Museum, with others known to him only from engravings, and particularly from Piranesi's etchings. Lord Holland's urn is duly figured in the Vasi e Candelabri of that admirable master. From the old Leigh Hunt days Keats had been fond of what he calls

“the pleasant flow
Of words at opening a portfolio ;"

and in the scene of sacrifice in Endymion (Book I., 136163) we may perhaps already find a proof of familiarity with this particular print, as well as an anticipation of the more masterly poetic rendering of the subject in the ode.

The ode On Indolence stands midway, not necessarily in date of composition, but in scope and feeling, between the two Greek and the two personal odes, as I have above distinguished them. In it Keats again calls up the image of a marble urn, but not for its own sake, only to illustrate the guise in which he feigns the allegoric presences of Love, Ambition, and Poetry to have appeared to him in a day-dream. This ode, less highly wrought and more unequal than the rest, contains the imaginative record of a passing mood (mentioned also in his correspondence) when the wonted intensity of his emotional life was suispended under the spell of an agreeable physical languor. Well had it been for him had such moods come more frequently to give him rest. Most sensitive among

the sons of men, the sources of joy and pain lay close together in his nature, and unsatisfied passion kept both sources filled

to bursting. One of the attributes he assigns to his enchantress Lamia is a

" sciential brain
To unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain."

In the fragmentary ode On Melancholy (which has no proper beginning, its first stanza having been discarded) he treats the theme of Beaumont and of Milton in a manner entirely his own, expressing his experience of the habitual interchange and alternation of emotions of joy and pain with a characteristic casy magnificence of imagery and style:

“Aye, in the very Temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovereign shrine,

Though known to none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst joy's grape against his palate fine:
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,

And be among her cloudy trophies hung."

The same crossing and intermingling of opposite currents of feeling finds expression, together with unequalled touches of the poet's feeling for nature and romance, in the Ode to a Nightingale. Just as his Grecian urn was no single specimen of antiquity that he had seen, so it is not the particular nightingale he bad heard singing in the Hampstead garden that he in his poem invokes, but a type of the race imagined as singing in some far-off scene of woodland mystery and beauty. Thither he sighs to follow her; first by aid of the spell of some southern vintage-a spell which he makes us realise in lines redolent of the southern richness and joy. Then follows a contrasted vision of all his own and mankind's tribulations, which he will leave behind him. Nay, he needs not the aid of Bacchus - Poetry alone shall transport him. For a moment

[ocr errors]

he mistrusts her power, but the next moment finds himself where he would be, listening to the imagined song in the imagined woodland, and divining in the darkness, by that gift whereby his mind is a match for nature, all the secrets of the season and the night. In this joy be remembers how often the thought of death has seemed welcome to bim, and thinks it would be more welcome now than ever. The nightingale would not cease her song—and here, by a breach of logic which is also, I think, a flaw in the poetry, he contrasts the transitoriness of human life, meaning the life of the individual, with the permanence of the songbird's life, meaning the life of the type. This last thought leads him off into the ages, whence he brings back those memorable touches of far-off Bible and legendary romance in the stanza closing with the words,“ in facry lands forlorn;" and then, catching up his own last word," forlorn," with an abrupt change of mood and meaning, he returns to daily consciousness, and with the fading away of his forest dream the poem closes. In this group of the odes it takes rank beside the Grecian Urn in the other. Neither is strictly faultless, but such revealing imaginative insight and such conquering poetic charm, the touch that in striking so lightly strikes so deep, who does not prefer to faultlessness ? Both odes are among the veriest glories of our poctry. Both are at the same time too long and too well known to quote. Let us therefore place here, as an example of this class of Keats's work, the ode To Autumn, which is the last he wrote, and contains the record of his quiet September days at Winchester. It opens out, indeed, no such far-reaching avenues of thought and feeling as the two last mentioned, but in execution is perhaps the completest of them all. In the first stanza the bounty, in the last the pensiveness, of the time are expressed in words so transparent and direct that we almost forget they are words at all, and nature herself and the season seem speaking to us; while in the middle stanza the touches of literary art and Greek personification have an exquisite congruity and lightness :

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him now to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core ;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet kernel ; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,

For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

“Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store ?

Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind ;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers :
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

Steady thy laden head across a brook ;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,

Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

[ocr errors]

“Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft

Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies ;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

And gathering swallows twitter in the skies."

pass from our poet's work at this time in the several fields of romance, epic, ballad, and ode, to those in the field of drama, is to pass from a region of happy and assured conquest to one of failure, though of failure not unredeemed by auguries of future success, had any future been in store for bim. At his age no man bas ever been a master in the drama ; even by the most powerful intuitive genius neither human nature nor the difficulties of the art itself can be so early mastered. The manner in which Keats wrote his first play, merely supplying the words to a plot contrived as they went along by a friend of gifts radically inferior to his own, was moreover the least favourable that he could have attempted. He brought to the task the mastery over poetic colour and diction which we have seen: he brought an impassioned sentiment of romance, and a mind prepared to enter by sympathy into the hearts of men and women ; while Brown contributed his amateur stage-craft, such as it was. But these things were not enough. The power of sympathetic insight had not yet developed in Keats into one of dramatic creation; and the joint work of the friends is confused in order and sequence, and far from masterly in conception. Keats, indeed, makes the characters speak in lines flashing with all the hues of poetry. But in themselves they have the effect only of puppets inexpertly agitated : Otho, a puppet type of royal dignity and fatherly affection ; Ludolph, of febrile passion and vacillation ; Erminia, of maidenly purity; Conrad and Auranthe, of ambitious lust and treachery. At least until the end of the fourth act these strictures hold good. From that point Keats worked alone,

« AnteriorContinua »