Imatges de pÓgina

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,
That men of health were of unusual cheer.

The breezes were ethereal, and pure,
And crept through half-closed lattices to cure
The languid sick; it cool'd their fever'd sleep,
And sooth'd them into slumbers full and deep.
Soon they awoke clear-ey'd: nor burnt with thirsting,
Nor with hot fingers, nor with temples bursting:
And springing up, they met the wond'ring sight
Of their dear friends, nigh foolish with delight;
Who feel their arms and breasts, and kiss and stare,
And on their placid foreheads part the hair." 1

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:
Was there a poet born? But now no more

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
Of thy wide heaven;"

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
Hither and thither all the changing thoughts

Of man; though no great ministering reason sorts
Out the dark mysteries of human souls

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
Imagination cannot freely fly

As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
Upon the clouds? Has she not shown us all?
From the clear space of ether, to the small
Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
Of Jove's large eyebrow, to the tender greening
Of April meadows? here her altar shone,
E'en in this isle; and who could paragon
The fervid choir that lifted up a noise
Of harmony, to where it aye will poise
Its mighty self of convoluting sound,
Huge as a planet, and like that roll round,
Eternally around a dizzy void?

Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy'd
With honours; nor had any other care
Than to sing out and soothe their wavy hair.

Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
Nurtured by foppery and barbarism

Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
Men were thought wise who could not understand
His glories; with a puling infant's force
They sway'd about upon a rocking-horse,
And thought it Pegasus. Ah, dismal-soul'd!
The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd
Its gathering waves-ye felt it not. The blue
Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew
Of summer night collected still to make
The morning precious: Beauty was awake!
Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
To things ye knew not of-were closely wed
To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
And compass vile; so that ye taught a school
Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit,
Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask

Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!

That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
And did not know it-no, they went about,
Holding a poor, decrepit standard out,

Mark'd with most flimsy mottoes, and in large
The name of one Boileau!

O ye whose charge

It is to hover round our pleasant hills!
Whose congregated majesty so fills
My boundly reverence that I cannot trace
Your hallow'd names in this unholy place,
So near those common folk; did not their shames
Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames
Delight you? did ye never cluster round
Delicious Avon with a mournful sound,
And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu
To regions where no more the laurel grew?
Or did ye stay to give a welcoming
To some lone spirits who could proudly sing
Their youth away, and die? 'Twas even so.
But let me think away those times of woe:
Now 'tis a fairer season; ye have breathed
Rich benedictions o'er us; ye have wreathed
Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard
In many places; some has been upstirr'd

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
About the earth: happy are ye, and glad."

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

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