Imatges de pàgina

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 he remembers how often the thought of death has seemed welcome to him, 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 faery 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.

"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."

To 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 him. At his age no man has ever been even by the most powerful intui

a master in the drama; tive 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,

and the fifth act, probably in consequence, shows a great improvement. There is a real dramatic effect, of the violent kind affected by the old English drama, in the disclosure of the body of Auranthe, dead indeed, at the moment when Ludolph in his madness vainly imagines himself to have slain her; and some of the speeches in which his frenzy breaks forth remind us strikingly of Marlowe, not only by their pomp of poetry and allusion, but by the tumult of the soul and senses expressed in them. Of the second historical play, King Stephen, which Keats began by himself at Winchester, too little was written to afford matter for a safe judgment. The few scenes he finished are not only marked by his characteristic splendour and felicity of phrase, they are full of a spirit of heady action and the stir of battle; qualities which he had not shown in any previous work, and for which we might have doubted his capacity had not this fragment been preserved.

But in the mingling of his soul's and body's destinies it had been determined that neither this nor any other of his powers should be suffered to ripen farther upon earth.


Return to Wentworth Place.-Autumn occupations: The Cap and Bells; Recast of Hyperion.-Growing despondency. — Visit of George Keats to England.-Attack of illness in February.-Rally in the Spring-Summer in Kentish Town.-Publication of the Lamia volume.—Relapse.—Ordered South.—Voyage to Italy, Naples, Rome.--Last Days and Death. [October, 1819 — February, 1821.]

WE left Keats at Winchester, with Otho, Lamia, and the Ode to Autumn just written, and with his mind set on trying to face life sanely, and take up arms like other men against his troubles, instead of letting imagination magnify and passion exasperate them as heretofore. At his request Dilke took for him a lodging in his own neighbourhood in Westminster (25 College Street), and here Keats came on the 8th of October to take up his quarters. But alas! his blood proved traitor to his will, and the plan of life and literary work in London broke down at once on trial. The gain of health and composure which he thought he had made at Winchester proved illusory, or at least could only be maintained at a distance from the great perturbing cause. Two days after his return he went to Hampstead-"into the fire"-and in a moment the flames had seized him more fiercely than ever. It was the first time he had seen his mistress for four months. He found her kind, and from that hour was utterly passion's slave again.

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