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The thought of the mythic passion of the moon-goddess for Endymion, and the praises of the poet who first sang it, follow at considerable length. The passage conjuring up the wonders and beneficences of their bridal night is written in part with such a sympathetic touch for the collective feelings and predicaments of men, in the ordinary conditions of human pain and pleasure, health and sickness, as rarely occurs again in Keats's poetry, though his correspondence shows it to have been most natural to his mind—
"The evening weather was so bright, and clear,
The breezes were ethereal, and pure,
Finally Keats abandons and breaks off this tentative exordium of his unwritten poem with the cry—
"Cynthia! I cannot tell the greater blisses
That followed thine and thy dear shepherd's kisses:
My wandering spirit must no farther soar."
1 Mr. W. T. Arnold in his Introduction (p. xxvii.) quotes a parallel passage from Leigh Hunt's Gentle Armour as an example of the degree to which Keats was at this time indebted to Hunt: forgetting that the Gentle Armour was not written till 1831, and that the debt in this instance is therefore the other way.
Was there a poet born? Is the labour and the reward of poetry really and truly destined to be his? The question is one which recurs in this early volume importunately and in many tones: sometimes with words and cadences closely recalling those of Milton in his boyish Vacation Exercise; sometimes with a cry like this, which occurs twice over in the piece called Sleep and Poetry: "O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen,
That am not yet a glorious denizen
and anon, with a less wavering, more confident and daring tone of young ambition
"But off, Despondence! miserable bane!
They should not know thee, who, athirst to gain
A noble end, are thirsty every hour.
What though I am not wealthy in the dower
Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know
The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow
Of man; though no great ministering reason sorts
To clear conceiving; yet there ever rolls
A vast idea before me."
The feeling expressed in these last lines, the sense of the overmastering pressure and amplitude of an inspiration as yet unrealized and indistinct, gives way in other passages to confident anticipations of fame, and of the place which he will hold in the affections of posterity.
There is obviously a great immaturity and uncertainty in all these outpourings, an intensity and effervescence of emotion out of proportion, as yet, both to the intellectual and the voluntary powers, much confusion of idea, and not a little of expression. Yet even in this first book of Keats
there is much that the lover of poetry will always cherish. Literature, indeed, hardly affords another example of work at once so crude and so attractive. Passages that go to pieces under criticism nevertheless have about them a spirit of beauty and of morning, an abounding young vitality and freshness, that exhilarate and charm us, whether with the sanction of our judgment or without it. And alike at its best and worst, the work proceeds manifestly from a spontaneous and intense poetic impulse. The matter of these early poems of Keats is as fresh and unconventional as their form, springing directly from the native poignancy of his sensations and abundance of his fancy. That his inexperience should always make the most discreet use of its freedom could not be expected; but with all its immaturity his work has strokes already which suggest comparison with the great names of literature. Who much exceeds him, even from the first, but Shakspeare in momentary felicity of touch for nature? and in that charm of morning freshness who but Chaucer? Already, too, we find him. showing signs of that capacity for clear and sane selfknowledge which becomes by-and-by so admirable in him. And he has already begun to meditate to good purpose on the aims and methods of his art. He has grasped, and vehemently asserts, the principle that poetry should not strive to enforce particular doctrines, that it should not contend in the field of reason, but that its proper organ is the imagination, and its aim the creation of beauty. With reference to the theory and practice of the poetic art the piece called Sleep and Poetry contains one passage which has become classically familiar to all readers. Often as it has been quoted elsewhere, it must be quoted again here, as indispensable to the understanding of the literary atmosphere in which Keats lived:
"Is there so small a range
In the present strength of manhood that the high
As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd
Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
O ye whose charge
It is to hover round our pleasant hills!
From out its crystal dwelling in a lake
By a swan's ebon bill; from a thick brake,
Nested and quiet in a valley mild,
Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild
Both the strength and the weakness of this are typically characteristic of the time and of the man. The passage is likely to remain for posterity the central expression of the spirit of literary emancipation then militant and about to triumph in England. The two great elder captains of revolution, Coleridge and Wordsworth, have both expound