The Fall of Hyperion: by John Keats - Detailed Summary

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      Most critics agree that The Fall of Hyperion is a re-cast of Hyperion. It is an attempt to do in a Keatsian manner what the earlier Hyperion does in a manner which owes a great deal to Milton. Keats’s new plan was to relate the fall of the Titans, not, as before, in direct narrative, but in the form of a vision. Hence the subtitles: “A Dream”. However, The Fall of Hyperion is, like its predecessor, incomplete.


      The narrative begins against a background suggestive of the richness and abundance of life and growth. In his dream, the poet find; himself in a serene, luxuriant landscape—trees, fountains and fragrance. In the midst of this profusion, the poet finds what appears to be “a feast of summer fruits”, spread on a mound before the entrance to an arbor. He partakes, not only of the food, but of ‘a cool vessel of transparent juice’, which plunges him into deep slumber. The poet has made a pledge to the poets of the past and the draught he has drunk is poetry. The poet, however, struggles hard against the slumber, but in vain.

      The strong draught removes him from the rich abundance he has been enjoying. When he wakes (in his dream) the whole scene has changed to that of “an old sanctuary”. The description hints at disconcerting experiences to come. Comfort and security have been left behind with the ‘fair trees’. He is unwilling to go, but is irresistibly impelled forward. He finds himself in an ancient temple of Saturn, dwarfed by a massive, brooding statue, and suddenly commanded by a voice to ascend the altar-steps before the gummed leaves on it are burnt away. If he. fails to do this, he must die. So there ensues what is symbolically a desperate race with death. Once on the lowest step ‘one minute before death’ he is reprieved from the death sentence and he mounts without labor.

      At the summit he meets the ‘veiled shadow’, the priestess of the altar—Moneta, the Roman goddess of admonition, sometimes identified with the Greek goddess of memory Mnemosyne (whom Apollo met in Hyperion). He begs her to tell him why he should have been saved; she answers that he has learned

What it is to die and Jive again before
Thy fated hour;

      Pressed for more enlightenment about the place and why the poet is there, she answers that only those who have had in light into human suffering can reach this place. But the poet cannot understand why he should be there alone, for surely there must be others who feel “the giant agony of the world”. Moneta replies that he is distinguished from them by being a “dreamer” a visionary. This is not a sign of superiority, however, for the “dreaming thing” is a weaker creature than those who are selfless slaves to poor humanity who “seek no wonder but the human face”.

      The poet is anxious of his own identity. Surely poetry itself is not useless and contemptible, even if he cannot truly call himself a poet. What does Moneia mean by his “tribe”? Moneta answers by repeating that he is a dreamer, and emphasizes that poet and dreamer are utterly distinct from one another, for

The one pours out a balm upon the world,
The other vexes it.

      He may be one of the those who feel “the miseries of the world”, but he is also, paradoxically, one who actually adds to them.

      For his “good will”, however, he will be shown a vision of the scenes still vividly present in Moneta’s mind—the vision of the primeval war between the Titans and the revolting Olympians—the vision which will make him a poet. (The scenes, had the poem been finished, would have told the tale of the fall of Hyperion).

      The poet is filled with wonder at the soft tenderness of Moneta’s speech, but is, at the same time, fearful—“And yet I had a terror of her robes’’. Seeing this, Moneta parts her veils to reveal her face—“wan” as well as “bright blanch’d/By an immortal sickness”. It is a face whose uncanny whiteness is beyond the whiteness even of the lily and the snow. Her eyes

Half closed, and vision less entire they seem’d
Of all external things

      Moneta is both tender and frightening, serene in her sad authority and also profoundly disquieting: “Not pined by human sorrows”, she yet stands as an embodiment of the very idea of sorrow itself, at an immortal level far above the incidental sorrows of the individual human being. It is the poet’s power that Moneta’s words describe—to present suffering so that ordinary human beings feel only wonder. The comfort offered in Moneta’s eyes is the comfort offered by an understanding of human suffering The poet is then shown scenes of the age of Saturn’s rule.

      In Canto II, Keats reverts to the method of Hyperion. The lines are almost wholly from Hyperion, Book I, with some slight modifications. The work is abandoned in the middle of the description of Hyperion, the Sun God of the Titans.

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