Hyperion: Brief Story of the Poem

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Fall of Titans

      The poem written on the scale of an epic remains but a fragment of it. In the right epic spirit, Keats picks up a story that deals with the incidents of the lives of super-human beings. The subject matter of the poem is the dethronment of the Titans, (with whom Keats ranks the Giants also,) by the Olympians. The Titans had Saturn as their supreme ruler and all of them had in their hands, the final control over the powers of Nature. Saturn knew that one day his son will overthrow him. So he tried to destroy all his children, but his youngest son, Jupiter escaped the merciless slaughter and later became the cause of his father’s fall.

Book I: Fallen gods

      The very opening of the poem presents Saturn, full of woe and despair after his humiliating defeat in the war. The other Titans are also suffering the pangs of their fall like the fallen angels of Milton in Paradise Lost. Hyperion is the only Titan, left undefeated but he also is well aware of his fast-approaching catastrophe, and is at pains to think of it. No amount of encouragement offered resistance, given by Hyperion’s father to Hyperion, can infuse in him any confidence. He undertakes a journey to see for himself the tragic fate of his fellow gods.

Book II: Theme of the poem

      In the second book of Hyperion, we see the fallen gods at a council where Saturn also goes at the invitation of Thea, the wife of Hyperion. This council reminds us of the council of Milton’s fallen angels. It is here that the theme of ‘Hyperion’ is uttered through the speech of Oceanus who justifies the fall on grounds of the natural law of nature—that old order must yield place to new and that the first in beauty should be the first in might also. He appeals to his fellow-gods to accept their fall because those who have dethroned them and taken their place are definitely superior to them in beauty. This also sums up Keats's fundamental concept of beauty which he considered above all other things. Enceladus appeals to his fellow-gods to raise arms to recapture their supremacy by gathering around Hyperion who still holds his position, but at witnessing Hyperion’s own disturbed state of mind, the fallen gods do not pay any heed to the idea of taking up a revolution.

Book III

      The third book of Hyperion presents a, very important dialogue between Apollo and Mnemosyne, the former being the patron of all the arts and the latter, mother of the Muses. The meeting takes place at Delos, an island in the Cyclades, the birthplace of Apollo. From their short dialogue, we learn of a very painful struggle that Apollo had to undergo to transform himself into a new god of light and song thus attaining eternity for himself. It is here that the poem ends abrutly, unfinished. How would have Keats proceeded with the poem, is anybody’s guess, but as history tells us and as Wodehouse, a close associate of Keats suggests, we can say that Keats might have taken up the fall of Hyperion at the hands of Apollo and the war of Giants for Saturn’s establishment of which we also get a hint from Keats’s still another Fragment ‘The Fall of Hyperion’.

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