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She the high mountains actively assays,
And there amongst the light Oriades,
That ride the swift roes, Phoebe doth resort:
Fletcher, again—a writer with whom Keats was very familiar, and whose inspiration in the idyllic and lyric parts of his work is closely kindred to his own-Fletcher in the Faithful Shepherdess makes Chloe tell, in lines beautifully paraphrased and amplified from Theocritus
"How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
How she convey'd him softly in a sleep,
The subject thus touched by Drayton and Fletcher had been long, as we have seen already, in Keats's thoughts. Not only had the charm of this old pastoral nature-myth of the Greeks interwoven itself in his being with his natural sensibility to the physical and spiritual spell of moonlight, but deeper and more abstract meanings than its own had gathered about the story in his mind. The divine vision which haunts Endymion in dreams is for Keats symbolical of Beauty itself, and it is the passion of the human soul for beauty which he attempts, more or less
consciously, to shadow forth in the quest of the shepherdprince after his love.'
The manner in which Keats set about relating the Greek story, as he had thus conceived it, was as far from being a Greek or "classical" manner as possible. He indeed resembles the Greeks, as we have seen, in his vivid sense of the joyous and multitudinous life of nature; and he loved to follow them in dreaming of the powers of nature as embodied in concrete shapes of supernatural human activity and grace. Moreover, his intuitions for every kind of beauty being admirably swift and true, when he sought to conjure up visions of the classic past, or images from classic fable, he was able to do so often magically well. To this extent Keats may justly be called, as he has been so often called, a Greek, but no farther. The rooted artistic instincts of that race, the instincts which taught them in all the arts alike, during the years when their genius was most itself, to select and simplify, rejecting all beauties but the vital and essential, and paring away their material to the quick that the main masses might stand out unconfused, in just proportions and with outlines rigorously clear-these instincts had neither been implanted in Keats by nature, nor brought home to him by precept and example. Alike by his aims and his gifts, he was in his workmanship essentially "romantic," Gothic, English. A general characteristic of his favourite Elizabethan poetry is its prodigality of incidental and superfluous beauties: even in the drama it takes the powers of a Shakspeare to keep the vital play of character and passion unsmothered by them, and in most narrative poems of the age the quality is quite unchecked. To Keats, at
1 Mrs. Owen was, I think, certainly right in her main conception of an allegoric purpose vaguely underlying Keats's narrative.
the time when he wrote Endymion, such incidental and secondary luxuriance constituted an essential, if not the chief, charm of poetry. "I think poetry," he says, "should surprise by a fine excess ;" and with reference to his own poem during its progress, "It will be a test, a trial of my powers of imagination, and chiefly of my invention— which is a rare thing indeed-by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare circumstance, and fill them with poetry." The " one bare circumstance" of the story was in the result expanded through four long books of intricate and flowery narrative, in the course of which the young poet pauses continually to linger or deviate, amplifying every incident into a thousand circumstances, every passion into a world of subtleties. He interweaves with his central Endymion myth whatever others pleased him best, as those of Pan, of Venus and Adonis, of Cybele, of Alpheus and Arethusa, of Glaucus and Scylla, of Circe, of Neptune, and of Bacchus, leading us through labyrinthine transformations, and on endless journeyings by subterranean antres and aërial gulfs and over the floor of ocean. scenery of the tale, indeed, is often not merely of a Gothic vastness and intricacy; there is something of Oriental bewilderment-an Arabian Nights jugglery with space and time-in the vague suddenness with which its changes are effected. Such organic plan as the poem has can best be traced by fixing our attention on the main divisions adopted by the author of his narrative into books, and by keeping hold at the same time, wherever we can, of the thread of allegoric thought and purpose that seems to run loosely through the whole. The first book, then, is entirely introductory, and does no more than set forth the predicament of the love-sick shepherd-prince, its hero, who appears at a festival of his people held in honour of the
god Pan, and is afterwards induced by his sister Peona' to confide to her the secret of the passion which consumes him. The account of the feast of Pan contains passages which in the quality of direct nature-interpretation are scarcely to be surpassed in poetry:
Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
What can be more fresh and stirring? what happier in rhythmical movement? or what more characteristic of the true instinct by which Keats, in dealing with nature, avoided word-painting and palette work, leaving all merely visible beauties, the stationary world of colours and forms, as they should be left, to the painter, and dealing, as poetry alone is able to deal, with those delights which are felt and divined rather than seen, with the living activities and operant magic of the earth? Not less excellent is the realisation in the course of the same episode of the true spirit of ancient pastoral life and worship: the hymn to Pan, in especial, both expressing perfectly the meaning of the Greek myth to Greeks, and enriching it with touches of northern feeling that are foreign to, and yet most harmonious with, the original. Keats having got from Drayton, as I surmise, his first notion of an introductory feast
1 Lempriere (after Pausanias) mentions Pæon as one of the fifty sons of Endymion (in the Elean version of the myth); and in Spenser's Faerie Queene there is a Pæana-the daughter of the giant Corflambo in the fourth book. Keats probably had both of these in mind when he gave Endymion a sister and called her Peona.
of Pan, in his hymn to that divinity borrowed recognizable touches alike from Chapman's Homer's hymn, from the sacrifice to Pan in Browne's Britannia's Pastorals,' and from the hymns in Ben Jonson's masque, Pan's Anniversary; but borrowed as only genius can, fusing and refashioning whatever he took from other writers in the strong glow of an imagination fed from the living sources of nature:
"O Thou whose mighty palace roof doth hang
Their ruffled locks where meeting hazels darken;
And through whole solemn hours dost sit, and hearken
The dreary melody of bedded reeds
In desolate places where dank moisture breeds
The pipy hemlock to strange overgrowth;
Bethinking thee, how melancholy loth
Thou wast to lose fair Syrinx-do thou now,
By thy love's milky brow!
By all the trembling mazes that she ran,
O Hearkener to the loud-clapping shears,
That come a-swooning over hollow grounds,
Dread opener of the mysterious doors
1 Book 1, Song 4. The point about Browne has been made by Mr. W. T. Arnold.