Imatges de pàgina
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“Nor should I now, but that I've known you long;
That you first taught me all the sweets of song:
The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine,
What swell’d with pathos, and what right divine:
Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,
And float along like birds o'er summer seas;
Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness;
Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve's fair slenderness.
Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly
Up to its climax, and then dying proudly?
Who found for me the grandeur of the ode,
Growing, like Atlas, stronger for its load ?
Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,
The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram ?
Show'd me that Epic was of all the king,

Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn's ring ?” This is characteristic enough of the quieter and lighter manner of Keats in his early work. Blots like the ungrammatical fourth line are not infrequent with him. The preference for Miltonian tenderness over Miltonian storms may remind the reader of a later poet's more masterly expression of the same sentiment: “Me rather all that bowery loneliness.” The two lines on Spenser are of interest as conveying one of those incidental criticisms on poetry by a poet of which no one has left us more or better than Keats. The habit of Spenser to which he here alludes is that of coupling or repeating the same vowels, both in their open and their closed sounds, in the same or successive lines, for example,

“Eftsoones her shallow ship away did slide,

More swift than swallow sheres the liquid skye;
Withouten oare or pilot it to guide,
Or winged canvas with the wind to fly.”

The run here is on a and i, principally on i, which occurs five times in its open and ten times in its closed sound in the four lines-if we are indeed to reckon as one vowel these two unlike sounds denoted by the same sign. Keats was a close and conscious student of the musical effects of verse, and the practice of Spenser is said to have suggested to him a special theory as to the use and value of the iteration of vowel sounds in poetry. What his theory was we are not clearly told, neither do I think it can easily be discovered from his practice, though every one must feel a great beauty of his verse to be in the richness of the vowel and diphthong sequences. He often spoke of the subject, and once maintained his view against Wordsworth, when the latter seemed to be advocating a mechanical principle of vowel variation.

Hear next how the joys of brotherly affection, of poetry, and of nature coine näively jostling one another in the Epistle addressed from the sea-side to his brother George:

“As to my sonnets, though none else should heed them,
I feel delighted, still, that you should read them.
Of late, too, I have had much calm enjoyment,
Stretch'd on the grass at my best loved employment
Of scribbling lines for you. These things I thought
While in my face the freshest breeze I caught.
E'en now I am pillow'd on a bed of flowers
That crowns a lofty cliff, which proudly towers
Above the ocean waves. The stalks and blades
Chequer my tablet with their quivering shades.
On one side is a field of drooping oats,
Through which the poppies show their scarlet coats ;
So pert and useless that they bring to mind
The scarlet coats that pester human kind.
And on the other side, outspread is seen
Ocean's blue mantle, streak'd with purple and green.
Now 'tis I see a canvass'd ship, and now
Mark the bright silver curling round her brow;

I see the lark down-dropping to his nest,
And the broad-wing'd sea-gull never at rest;
For when no more he spreads his feathers free,
His breast is dancing on the restless sea."

It is interesting to watch the newly awakened literary faculty in Keats this exercising itself in the narrow circle of personal sensation, and on the description of the objects immediately before his eyes. The effect of rhythmical movement attempted in the last lines, to correspond with the buoyancy and variety of the motions described, bas a certain felicity, and the whole passage is touched already with Keats's exquisite perception and enjoyment of external nature. His character as a poet of nature begins, indeed, distinctly to declare itself in this first volume. He differs by it alike from Wordsworth and from Shelley. The instinct of Wordsworth was to interpret all the operations of nature by those of his own strenuous soul; and the imaginative impressions he had received in youth from the scenery of his home, deepened and enriched by continual after-meditation, and mingling with all the currents of his adult thought and feeling, constituted for him throughout his life the most vital part alike of patriotisın, of philosophy, and of religion. For Shelley, on his part, natural beauty was in a twofold sense symbolical. In the visible glories of the world his philosophy saw the veil of the unseen, while his philanthropy found in them types and auguries of a better life on earth, and all that imagery of nature's more remote and skyey phenomena, of wbich no other poet has had an equal mastery, and which comes borne to us along the music of the verse

"With many a mingled close
Of wild Æolian sound and mountain odour keen ".

was inseparable in his soul from visions of a radiant future and a renovated-alas! not a human-humanity. In Keats the sentiment of nature was simpler than in either of these two other masters; more direct, and, so to speak, more disinterested. It was his instinct to love and interpret nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and aspirations. He had grown up neither like Wordsworth, under the spell of lake and mountain, nor in the glow of millennial dreains, like Shelley, but London - born and Middlesex - bred, was gifted, we know not whence, as if by some mysterious birthright, with a delighted insight into all the beauties, and sympathy with all the life, of the woods and fields. Evidences of the gift appear, as every reader knows, in the longer poems of his first volume, with their lingering trains of peaceful summer imagery, and loving inventories of "Nature's gentle doings;" and pleasant touches of the same kind are scattered also among the sonnets, as in that To Charles Wells




As late I rambled in the happy fields,
What time the skylark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush clover covert;"

or again in that To Solitude

“Let me thy vigils keep
'Mongst boughs pavilion’d, where the deer's swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.” 1



Compare Wordsworth :

“ Bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest peak of Furness Fells,

Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells."
Is the line of Keats an echo or merely a coincidence ?

Such intuitive familiarity with the blithe activities, unnoted by common eyes, which make up the life and magic of nature, is a gift we attribute to men of primitive race and forest nurture; and Mr. Matthew Arnold would bave us recognize it as peculiarly characteristic of the Celtic element in the English genius and English poetry. It was allied in Keats to another instinct of the early world which we associate especially with the Greeks, the instinct for personifying the powers of nature in clearly defined imaginary shapes endowed with human beauty and halfhuman faculties. The classical teaching of the Enfield school had not gone beyond Latin, and neither in boyhood nor afterwards did Keats acquire any Greek; but towards the creations of the Greek mythology he was attracted by an overmastering delight in their beauty, and a natural sympathy with the phase of imagination that engendered them. Especially he shows himself possessed and fancybound by the mythology, as well as by the physical enchantment, of the moon. Never was bard in youth so literally moonstruck. He had planned a poem on the ancient story of the loves of Diana, with whom the Greek moon-goddess Selene is identified in the Latin mythology, and the shepherd-prince Endymion; and had begun a sort of prelude to it in the piece that opens, “I stood tiptoe upon a little hill.” Afterwards, without abandoning the subject, Keats laid aside this particular exordium, and printed it, as we have seen, as an independent piece at the head of his first volume. It is at the climax of a passage rehearsing the delights of evening that he first bethinks hiinself of the moon

“Lifting her silver rim Above a cloud, and with a gradual swim Coming into the blue with all her light."

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