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Glory and Loveliness have pass'd away;
For if we wander out in early morn,
No wreathèd incense do we see upborne
In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
Roses and pinks, and violets, to adorn
And I shall ever bless my destiny,
Pan is no longer sought, I feel a free,
With these poor offerings, a man like thee."
With this confession of a longing retrospect towards the beauty of the old pagan world, and of gratitude for present friendship, the young poet's first venture was sent forth in the month of March, 1817.
The Poems of 1817.
The note of Keats's early. volume is accurately struck in the motto from Spenser which he prefixed to it:
“What more felicity fall to creature
The element in which his poetry moves is liberty, the consciousness of release from those conventions and restraints, not inherent in its true nature, by which the art had for the last hundred years been hampered. And the spirit which animates him is essentially the spirit of delightdelight in the beauty of nature and the vividness of sensation, delight in the charm of fable and romance, in the thoughts of friendship and affection, in anticipations of the future, and in the exercise of the art itself which expresses and communicates all these joys.
We have already glanced, in connection with the occasions which gave rise to them, at a few of the miscellaneous boyish pieces, in various metres, which are included in the volume, as well as at some of the sonnets. maining, and much the chief portion of the book consists of half a dozen poems in the rhymed decasyllabic couplet. These had all been written during the period between November, 1815, and April, 1817, under the combined influ
ence of the older English poets and of Leigh Hunt. The former influence shows itself everywhere in the substance and spirit of the poems, but less, for the present, in their form and style. Keats had by this time thrown off the eighteenth-century stiffness which clung to his earliest efforts, but he had not yet adopted, as he was about to do, a vocabulary and diction of his own, full of licences caught from the Elizabethans and from Milton. The chief verbal echoes of Spenser to be found in his first volume are a line quoted from him entire in the epistle to G. F. Mathew, and the use of the archaic“teen” in the stanzas professedly Spenserian. We can, indeed, trace Keats's familiarity with Chapman, and especially with one poem of Chapman's, his translation of the Homeric Hymn to Pan, in a predilection for a particular form of abstract descriptive substan
“The pillowy silkiness that rests Full in the speculation of the stars :"
“Or the quaint mossiness of aged roots :"
“Ere I can have explored its widenesses.” 1
The only other distinguishing marks of Keats's diction in this first volume consist, I think, in the use of the Miltonic “ sphery,” and of an unmeaning coinage of his own,
Compare Chapman, Hymn to Pan:
“The bright-hair'd god of pastoral,
"boundly," with a habit-for which Milton, Spenser, and, among the moderns, Leigh Hunt, all alike furnished him the example-of turning nouns into verbs, and verbs into nouns at his convenience. For the rest, Keats writes in the ordinary English of his day, with much more feeling for beauty of language than for correctness, and as yet without any formed or assured poetic style. Single lines and passages declare, indeed, abundantly his vital poetic faculty and instinct. But they are mixed up with much that only illustrates his crudity of taste, and the tendency he at this time shared with Leigh Hunt to mistake the air of chatty, trivial gusto for an air of poetic ease and grace.
In the matter of metre, we can see Keats in these poems making a succession of experiments for varying the regularity of the heroic couplet. In the colloquial Epistles, addressed severally to G. F. Mathew, to his brother George, and to Cowden Clarke, he contents himself with the use of frequent dissyllabic rhymes, and an occasional enjambement
overflow.” In the Specimen of an Induction to a Poem, and in the fragment of the poem itself, entitled Calidore (a name borrowed from the hero of Spenser's sixth book), as well as in the unnamed piece beginning “I stood tiptoe upon a little hill," which opens the volume, he further modifies the measure by shortening now and then the second line of the couplet, with a lyric beat that may have been caught either from Spenser's nuptial odes or Milton's Lycidas
“Open afresh your round of starry folds,
Ye ardent marigolds."
In Sleep and Poetry, which is the most personal and interesting, as well as probably the last-written, poem in the volume, Keats drops this practice, but in other respects va ries the rhythm far more boldly, making free use of the overflow, placing his full pauses at any point in a line rather than at the end, and adopting as a principle rather than an exception the Chaucerian and Elizabethan fashion of breaking the couplet by closing a sentence or paragraph with its first line.
Passing from the form of the poems to their substance, we find that they are experiments or poetic preludes merely, with no pretension to be organic or complete works of art. To rehearse ramblingly the pleasures and aspirations of the poetic life, letting one train of images follow another with no particular plan or sequence, is all that Keats as yet attempts, except in the Calidore fragment, and that is on the whole feeble and confused. From the outset the poet loses himself in a maze of young,
luxuriant imagery; once and again, however, he gets clear, and we have some good lines in an approach to the Dryden manner :
'Softly the breezes from the forest came,
To set against this are occasionally expressions in the complete taste of Leigh Hunt, as for instance,
“The lamps that from the high-roof'd wall were pendent,
The Epistles are full of cordial tributes to the conjoint pleasures of literature and friendship. In that to Cowden Clarke, Keats acknowledges to his friend that he had been shy at first of addressing verses to him: