Imatges de pÓgina
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approaching those of Spenser's nuptial odes, but not regularly repeated) Keats recurs to a theme of which he had long been enamoured, as we know by the lines in the opening poem of his first book, beginning,

"So felt he, who first told how Psyche went

On the smooth wind to realms of wonderment."

Following these lines, in his early piece, came others disfigured by cloying touches of the kind too common in his love-scenes. Nor are like touches quite absent from the ode; but they are more than compensated by the exquisite freshness of the natural scenery where the mythic lovers are disclosed-"Mid hush'd, cool-rooted flowers fragrant-eyed." What other poet has compressed into a single line so much of the true life and charm of flowers, of their power to minister to the spirit of man through all his senses at once? Such felicity in compound epithets is by this time habitual with Keats; and of Spenser, with his "sea-shouldering whales," he is now in his own manner the equal. The "azure-lidded sleep" of the maiden in St. Agnes's Eve is matched in this ode by the "moss - lain Dryads" and the "soft-conchèd ear" of Psyche, though the last epithet perhaps jars on us a little with a sense of oddity, like the "cirque-couchant" snake in Lamia. For the rest there is certainly something strained in the turn of thought and expression whereby the poet offers himself and the homage of his own mind to the divinity he addresses in lieu of the worship of antiquity for which she came too late; and especially in the terms of the metaphor which opens the famous fourth stanza:

"Yes, I will be thy priest and build a fane

In some untrodden region of my mind,

Where branched thoughts, new-blown with pleasant pain,
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind."

Yet over such difficulties the true lover of poetry will find himself swiftly borne, until he pauses breathless and delighted at the threshold of the sanctuary prepared by the "gardener Fancy," his ear charmed by the glow and music of the verse, with its hurrying pace and artfully iterated vowels towards the close, his mind enthralled by the beauty of the invocation and the imagery.

Less glowing, but of finer conception and more rare poetic value, is the Ode on a Grecian Urn. Instead of the long and unequal stanza of the Psyche, it is written in a regular stanza of five rhymes, the first two arranged in a quatrain, and the second three in a sestet: a plan to which Keats adhered in the rest of his odes, only varying the order of the sestet, and in one instance—the ode to Melancholy-expanding it into a septet. The sight, or the imagination, of a piece of ancient sculpture had set the poet's mind at work, on the one hand conjuring up the scenes of ancient life and worship which lay behind and suggested the sculptured images; on the other, speculating on the abstract relations of plastic art to life. The opening invocation is followed by a string of questions which flash their own answer upon us out of the darkness of antiquity-interrogatories which are at the same time pictures "What men or gods are these, what maidens loth," etc. The second and third stanzas express with perfect poetic felicity and insight the vital differences between life, which pays for its unique prerogative of reality by satiety and decay, and art, which in forfeiting reality gains in exchange permanence of beauty, and the power to charm by imagined experiences even richer than the real. Then the questioning begins again, and yields the incomparable choice of pictures

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"What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of its folk, this quite morn ?"

In the answering lines—

"And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell

Why thou art desolate, can e'er return ".

in these lines there seems a dissonance, inasmuch as they speak of the arrest of life as though it were an infliction in the sphere of reality, and not merely, like the instances of such arrest given farther back, a necessary condition in the sphere of art, having in that sphere its own compensations. But it is a dissonance which the attentive reader can easily reconcile for himself; and none but an attentive reader will notice it. Finally, dropping the airy play of the mind backward and forward between the two spheres, the poet consigns the work of ancient skill to the future, to remain,

"in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,

Beauty is truth, truth beauty;"

thus proclaiming in the last words what, amidst the gropings of reason and the flux of things, is to the poet and artist at least to one of Keats's temper-an immutable law.

It seems clear that no single extant work of antiquity can have supplied Keats with the suggestion for this poem. There exists, indeed, at Holland House an urn wrought with just such a scene of pastoral sacrifice as is described in his fourth stanza:' and of course no subject

1 This has been pointed out by my colleague, Mr. A. S. Murray (see Forman, Works, vol. iii., p. 115, note; and W. T. Arnold, Poetical Works, etc., p. xxii,, note).

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 masFrom the old Leigh Hunt days Keats had been fond of what he calls

ter.

"the pleasant flow

Of words at opening a portfolio ;"

and in the scene of sacrifice in Endymion (Book I., 136– 163) 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 suspended 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 easy 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 had 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

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