Keats; poems published in 1820/Notes

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Page 2. See Introduction to Hyperion, p. 245.


Lamia, like Endymion, is written in the heroic couplet, but the difference in style is very marked. The influence of Dryden's narrative-poems (his translations from Boccaccio and Chaucer) is clearly traceable in the metre, style, and construction of the later poem. Like Dryden, Keats now makes frequent use of the Alexandrine, or 6-foot line, and of the triplet. He has also restrained the exuberance of his language and gained force, whilst in imaginative power and felicity of diction he surpasses anything of which Dryden was capable. The flaws in his style are mainly due to carelessness in the rimes and some questionable coining of words. He also occasionally lapses into the vulgarity and triviality which marred certain of his early poems.

The best he gained from his study of Dryden's Fables, a debt perhaps to Chaucer rather than to Dryden, was a notable advance in constructive power. In Lamia he shows a very much greater sense of proportion and power of selection than in his earlier work. There is, as it were, more light and shade.

Thus we find that whenever the occasion demands it his style rises to supreme force and beauty. The metamorphosis of the serpent, the entry of Lamia and Lycius into Corinth, the building by Lamia of the Fairy Hall, and her final withering under the eye of Apollonius—these are the most important points in the story, and the passages in which they are described are also the most striking in the poem.

The allegorical meaning of the story seems to be, that it is fatal to attempt to separate the sensuous and emotional life from the life of reason. Philosophy alone is cold and destructive, but the pleasures of the senses alone are unreal and unsatisfying. The man who attempts such a divorce between the two parts of his nature will fail miserably as did Lycius, who, unable permanently to exclude reason, was compelled to face the death of his illusions, and could not, himself, survive them.

Of the poem Keats himself says, writing to his brother in September, 1819: 'I have been reading over a part of a short poem I have composed lately, called Lamia, and I am certain there is that sort of fire in it that must take hold of people some way; give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation—what they want is a sensation of some sort.' But to the greatest of Keats's critics, Charles Lamb, the poem appealed somewhat differently, for he writes, 'More exuberantly rich in imagery and painting [than Isabella] is the story of Lamia. It is of as gorgeous stuff as ever romance was composed of,' and, after enumerating the most striking pictures in the poem, he adds, '[these] are all that fairy-land can do for us.' Lamia struck his imagination, but his heart was given to Isabella.


Part I.

Page 3. II. 1-6. before the faery broods . . . lawns, i.e. before mediaeval fairy-lore had superseded classical mythology.

I. 2. Satyr, a homed and goat-legged demi-god of the woods.

I. 5. Dryads, wood-nymphs, who lived in trees. The life of each terminated with that of the tree over which she presided. Cf. Landor's 'Hamadryad'.

I. 6. Fauns. The Roman name corresponding to the Greek Satyr.

I. 7. Hermes, or Mercury, the messenger of the Gods. He is always represented with winged shoes, a winged helmet, and a winged staff, bound about with living serpents.

Page 4. I. 15. Tritons, sea-gods, half-man, half-fish. Cf. Wordsworth, 'Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn' (Sonnet—'The World is too much with us').

I. 19. unknown to any Muse, beyond the imagination of any poet.

Page 5. I. 28. passion new. He has often before been to earth on similar errands. Cf. ever-smitten, I. 7, also II. 80-93.

I. 42. dove-footed. Cf. note on I. 7.

Page 6. I. 46. cirque-couchant, lying twisted into a circle. Cf. wreathed tomb, I. 38.

I. 47. gordian, knotted, from the famous knot in the harness of Gordius, King of Phrygia, which only the conqueror of the world was to be able to untie. Alexander cut it with his sword. Cf. Henry V, I. i. 46.

l. 58. Ariadne's tiar. Ariadne was a nymph beloved of Bacchus, the god of wine. He gave her a crown of seven stars, which, after her death, was made into a constellation. Keats has, no doubt, in his mind Titian's picture of Bacchus and Ariadne in the National Gallery. Cf. Ode to Sorrow, Endymion.

Page 7. l. 63. As Proserpine . . . air. Proserpine, gathering flowers in the Vale of Enna, in Sicily, was carried off by Pluto, the king of the underworld, to be his queen. Cf. Winter's Tale, IV. iii, and Paradise Lost, iv. 268, known to be a favourite passage with Keats.

l. 75. his throbbing . . . moan. Cf. Hyperion, iii. 81.

l. 77. as morning breaks, the freshness and splendour of the youthful god.

Page 8. l. 78. Phoebean dart, a ray of the sun, Phoebus being the god of the sun.

l. 80. Too gentle Hermes. Cf. l. 28 and note.

l. 81. not delay'd: classical construction. See Introduction to Hyperion.

Star of Lethe. Hermes is so called because he had to lead the souls of the dead to Hades, where was Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Lamb comments: '. . . Hermes, the Star of Lethe, as he is called by one of those prodigal phrases which Mr. Keats abounds in, which are each a poem in a word, and which in this instance lays open to us at once, like a picture, all the dim regions and their habitants, and the sudden coming of a celestial among them.'

Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/233 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/234 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/235 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/236 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/237 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/238 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/239 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/240 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/241 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/242 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/243 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/244 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/245 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/246 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/247 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/248 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/249 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/250 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/251 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/252 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/253 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/254 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/255 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/256 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/257 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/258 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/259 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/260 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/261 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/262


This poem is not, apparently, inspired by any one actual vase, but by many Greek sculptures, some seen in the British Museum, some known only from engravings. Keats, in his imagination, combines them all into one work of supreme beauty.

Perhaps Keats had some recollection of Wordsworth's sonnet 'Upon the sight of a beautiful picture,' beginning 'Praised be the art.'

Page 113. l. 2. foster-child. The child of its maker, but preserved and cared for by these foster-parents.

l. 7. Tempe was a famous glen in Thessaly.

Arcady. Arcadia, a very mountainous country, the centre of the Peloponnese, was the last stronghold of the aboriginal Greeks. The people were largely shepherds and goatherds, and Pan was a local Arcadian god till the Persian wars (c. 400 B.C.). In late Greek and in Roman pastoral poetry, as in modern literature, Arcadia is a sort of ideal land of poetic shepherds.

Page 114. ll. 17-18. Bold . . . goal. The one thing denied to the figures—actual life. But Keats quickly turns to their rich compensations.

Page 115. ll. 28-30. All . . . tongue. Cf. Shelley's To a Skylark:

Thou lovest— but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

ll. 31 seq. Keats is now looking at the other side of the urn. This verse strongly recalls certain parts of the frieze of the Parthenon (British Museum).

Page 116. l. 41. Attic, Greek.

brede, embroidery. Cf. Lamia, i. 159. Here used of carving.

l. 44. tease us out of thought. Make us think till thought is lost in mystery.


In one of his long journal-letters to his brother George, Keats writes, at the beginning of May, 1819: 'The following poem—the last I have written—is the first and the only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. I have for the most part dashed off my lines in a hurry. This I have done leisurely—I think it reads the more richly for it, and will I hope encourage me to write other things in even a more peaceable and healthy spirit. You must recollect that Psyche was not embodied as a goddess before the time of Apuleius the Platonist, who lived after the Augustan age, and consequently the goddess was never worshipped or sacrificed to with any of the ancient fervour, and perhaps never thought of in the old religion—I am more orthodox than to let a heathen goddess be so neglected.' The Ode to Psyche follows.

The story of Psyche may be best told in the words of William Morris in the 'argument' to 'the story of Cupid and Psyche' in his Earthly Paradise:

'Psyche, a king's daughter, by her exceeding beauty caused the people to forget. Venus; therefore the goddess would fain have destroyed her: nevertheless she became the bride of Love, yet in an unhappy moment lost him by her own fault, and wandering through the world suffered many evils at the hands of Venus, for whom she must Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/265 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/266 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/267 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/268 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/269 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/270 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/271


This poem deals with the overthrow of the primaeval order of Gods by Jupiter, son of Saturn the old king. There are many versions of the fable in Greek mythology, and there are many sources from which it may have come to Keats. At school he is said to have known the classical dictionary by heart, but his inspiration is more likely to have been due to his later reading of the Elizabethan poets, and their translations of classic story. One thing is certain, that he did not confine himself to any one authority, nor did he consider it necessary to be circumscribed by authorities at all. He used, rather than followed, the Greek fable, dealing freely with it and giving it his own interpretation.

The situation when the poem opens is as follows:—Saturn, king of the gods, has been driven from Olympus down into a deep dell, by his son Jupiter, who has seized and used his father's weapon, the thunderbolt. A similar fate has overtaken nearly all his brethren, who are called by Keats Titans and Giants indiscriminately, though in Greek mythology the two races are quite distinct. These Titans are the children of Tellus and Coelus, the earth and sky, thus representing, as it were, the first birth of form and personality from formless nature. Before the separation of earth and sky, Chaos, a confusion of the elements of all things, had reigned supreme. One only of the Titans, Hyperion the sun-god, still keeps his kingdom, and he is about to be superseded by young Apollo, the god of light and song.

In the second book we hear Oceanus and Clymene his daughter tell how both were defeated not by battle or violence, but by the irresistible beauty of their dispossessors; and from this Oceanus deduces 'the eternal law, that first in beauty should be first in might'. He recalls the fact that Saturn himself was not the first ruler, but received his kingdom from his parents, the earth and sky, and he prophesies that progress will continue in the overthrow of Jove by a yet brighter and better order. Enceladus is, however, furious at what he considers a cowardly acceptance of their fate, and urges his brethren to resist.

In Book I we saw Hyperion, though still a god, distressed by portents, and now in Book III we see the rise to divinity of his successor, the young Apollo. The poem breaks off short at the moment of Apollo's metamorphosis, and how Keats intended to complete it we can never know.

It is certain that he originally meant to write an epic in ten books, and the publisher's remark[1] at the beginning of the 1820 volume would lead us to think that he was in the same mind when he wrote the poem. This statement, however, must be altogether discounted, as Keats, in his copy of the poems, crossed it right out and wrote above, 'I had no part in this; I was ill at the time.' Moreover, the last sentence (from 'but' to 'proceeding') he bracketed, writing below, 'This is a lie.'

This, together with other evidence external and internal, has led Dr. de Sélincourt to the conclusion that Keats had modified his plan and, when he was writing the poem, intended to conclude it in four books. Of the probable contents of the one-and-half unwritten books Mr. de Sélincourt writes: 'I conceive that Apollo, now conscious of his divinity, would have gone to Olympus, heard from the lips of Jove of his newly-acquired supremacy, and been called upon by the rebel three to secure the kingdom that awaited him. He would have gone forth to meet Hyperion, who, struck by the power of supreme beauty, would have found resistance impossible. Critics have inclined to take for granted the supposition that an actual battle was contemplated by Keats, but I do not believe that such was, at least, his final intention. In the first place, he had the example of Milton, whom he was studying very closely, to warn him of its dangers; in the second, if Hyperion had been meant to fight he would hardly be represented as already, before the battle, shorn of much of his strength; thus making the victory of Apollo depend upon his enemy's unnatural weakness and not upon his own strength. One may add that a combat would have been completely alien to the whole idea of the poem as Keats conceived it, and as, in fact, it is universally interpreted from the speech of Oceanus in the second book. The resistance of Enceladus and the Giants, themselves rebels against an order already established, would have been dealt with summarily, and the poem would have closed with a description of the new age which had been inaugurated by the triumph of the Olympians, and, in particular, of Apollo the god of light and song.'

The central idea, then, of the poem is that the new age triumphs over the old by virtue of its acknowledged superiority—that intellectual supremacy makes physical force feel its power and yield. Dignity and moral conquest lies, for the conquered, in the capacity to recognize the truth and look upon the inevitable undismayed.

Keats broke the poem off because it was too 'Miltonic', and it is easy to see what he meant. Not only does the treatment of the subject recall that of Paradise Lost, the council of the fallen gods bearing special resemblance to that of the fallen angels in Book II of Milton's epic, but in its style and syntax the influence of Milton is everywhere apparent. If is to be seen in the restraint and concentration of the language, which is in marked contrast to the wordiness of Keats's early work, as well as in the constant use of classical constructions,[2] Miltonic inversions[3] and repetitions,[4] and in occasional reminiscences of actual lines and phrases in Paradise Lost.[5]

In Hyperion we see, too, the influence of the study of Greek sculpture upon Keats's mind and art. This study had taught him that the highest beauty is not incompatible with definiteness of form and clearness of detail. To his romantic appreciation of mystery was now added an equal sense of the importance of simplicity, form, and proportion, these being, from its nature, inevitable characteristics of the art of sculpture. So we see that again and again the figures described in Hyperion are like great statues—clear-cut, massive, and motionless. Such are the pictures of Saturn and Thea in Book I, and of each of the group of Titans at the opening of Book II.

Striking too is Keats's very Greek identification of the gods with the powers of Nature which they represent. It is this attitude of mind which has led some people—Shelley and Landor among them—to declare Keats, in spite of his ignorance of the language, the most truly Greek of all English poets. Very beautiful instances of this are the sunset and sunrise in Book I, when the departure of the sun-god and his return to earth are so described that the pictures we see are of an evening and morning sky, an angry sunset, and a grey and misty dawn.

But neither Miltonic nor Greek is Keats's marvellous treatment of nature as he feels, and makes us feel, the magic of its mystery in such a picture as that of the

tall oaks
Branch-charmèd by the earnest stars,
or of thedismal cirque
Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor,

When the chill rain begins at shut of eve,
In dull November, and their chancel vault,
The heaven itself, is blinded throughout night.

This Keats, and Keats alone, could do; and his achievement is unique in throwing all the glamour of romance over a fragment 'sublime as Aeschylus'.


Book I.

Page 145. II. 2-3. By thus giving us a vivid picture of the changing day—at morning, noon, and night—Keats makes us realize the terrible loneliness and gloom of a place too deep to feel these changes.

I. 10. See how the sense is expressed in the cadence of the line.

Page 146. I. 11. voiceless. As if it felt and knew, and were deliberately silent.

II. 13, 14. Influence of Greek sculpture. See Introduction, p. 248.

I. 18. nerveless . . . dead. Cf. Eve of St. Agnes, I. 12, note.

I. 19. realmless eyes. The tragedy of his fall is felt in every feature.

II. 20, 21. Earth, His ancient mother. Tellus. See Introduction, p. 244.

Page 147. 1. 27. Amazon. The Amazons were a warlike race of women of whom many traditions exist. On the frieze of the Mausoleum (British Museum) they are seen warring with the Centaurs.

1. 30. Ixion's wheel. For insolence to Jove, Ixion was tied to an ever-revolving wheel in Hell.

Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/278 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/279 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/280 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/281 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/282 Page:Keats, poems published in 1820 (Robertson, 1909).djvu/283 l. 113. So Apollo leaches his divinity—by knowledge which includes experience of human suffering—feeling 'the giant-agony of the world'.

Page 198. l. 114. gray, hoary with antiquity.

l. 128. immortal death. Cf. Swinburne's Garden of Proserpine, st. 7.

Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands.

Page 199. l. 136. Filled in, in pencil, in a transcript of Hyperion by Keats's friend Richard Woodhouse—

Glory dawn'd, he was a god.




  1. If any apology be thought necessary for the appearance of the unfinished poem of Hyperion, the publishers beg to state that they alone are responsible, as it was printed at their particular request, and contrary to the wish of the author. The poem was intended to have been of equal length with Endymion, but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding.'
  2. e.g. i. 56 Knows thee not, thus afflicted, for a god
    i. 206 save what solemn tubes
    . . . . . gave
    ii. 70 that second war Not long delayed.
  3. e.g. ii. 8 torrents hoarse32 covert dreari. 265 season due286 plumes immense
  4. e.g. i. 35 How beautiful . . . self182 While sometimes . . . wondering menii. 116, 122 Such noise . . . pines.
  5. e.g. ii. 79 No shape distinguishable.Cf. Paradise Lost, ii. 667.
    i. 2 breath of morn.Cf. Paradise Lost. iv. 641.