The Old and The New Gods in Hyperion

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      In portraying two kinds of gods in Hyperion, Keats is in fact portraying two orders or two systems, old order and new order or old system & new system.

      The old gods, lethargic by nature
The old gods are passive by their very nature. They are dull and lethargic. Their faculties have stopped working. They never think of rising above their fall or of finding a way out of their agony. Rather they show complete submission to their defeat and the consequent fall. There is no conflict of any sort in their mind. So any longing for a new creation is just out of question in their case. They do not have any desire or enthusiasm for attaining knowledge for the sake of art or creation. They are huge in size and stature which is also a factor for their lethargy. Their bodies being too big, they are not fit for any action demanding agility or swiftness. So they are stately and still like statues. They are dull and lazy. That is why they belong to the old order, an order which, by its very name suggests, that it is out-dated and unneeded. That is why they have lost to the new race of gods.

New gods: in a perpetual struggle for the better

      The new gods, being smaller in size, are alert and active. They have an intensly felt desire for a passionate existence. They are rich both in body and spirit. They are always eager to give new shape to things, always struggling for new creations. They want to keep things in the making. They want to attain more and more knowledge in order to give birth to art and beauty. Their struggle is perpetual and unending. So they belong to the new order which is always fresh, always prepared to undergo a change for the better. They cannot be dethroned unless and until a more active race poses a threat to their superiority.


      Apollo is a god, who in a world of mortality seeks and struggles for immortality and achieves it after a torturing experience—gains knowledge enormous that makes a god of him.

Symbolic meaning

      Whatever its merits as an epic fragment, Hyperion holds our interest from first to last as a piece of verse narrative and description in the grand style. Its inner meaning, though vital to the appreciation of the poem, does not ask for first preference in our interest. The allegory is implicit in the story—rather, story and allegory are inseparably fused, though there is not much of a story. “All allegory bites—bites into the nobler vitals of poetry,” says Professor Garrod. But tucked up, in the background, it may not bite, but caress with an intriguing charm. Great works of art may suggest a secondary meaning without harming themselves. The allegorical meaning behind Hyperion does not derogate from its value, but it shatters the story,

      “The Revolutionary Idea” was then in the air. Shelley and Byron were possessed by it. Shelley was possessed by the idea of emancipating the world from the thraldom of custom, priestcraft, superstition and tyranny in all spheres. His Prometheus is the Great Deliverer and Prometheus Unbound rings from first to last with the note of Freedom and what we should now call ‘A New World Order.’ It closes with the memorable vision:

Man, one harmonious soul of many a soul, Whose nature is its divine control,
Where all things flow to all, as rivers to the sea:

Familiar acts are beautiful through love;
Labour and pain, and grief, in life’s green grove Sport like tame beasts, none knew how

Gentle they could be?
His will, with all mean passions, bad delights, And selfish cares, its trembling satellites
And spirit ill to guide, but mighty to obey, Is a tempest-winged ship whose helm Love rules.

      The old order must be changed so that the new may emerge. Though Keats was not dedicated to the Idea as Shelley was, he nursed it deep in his heart. The overthrow of Saturn by Jove, of Hyperion by Apollo, meant to him the disappearance from human societies of crude forms of worship animated by fear of the brute powers of Nature, and the awakening of man to nobler ideas of ethics and arts Clymenc throws away her primitive shell, and listens to the strains of Appollo’s lyre. Perhaps, on the face of it, it suggested to Keats the passing away of the narrow reason of the Neo-classical age and the advent of Romanticism. But, at bottom, it shadowed forth man’s advance towards finer conceptions of Beauty in the realm of Art. The birth-anguish of Apollo, with, which the poem closes, symbolizes the secret of genuine, sovereign poetic power. A poet becomes great only if he has learned to view "the pain and sorrow of others as his own. His small self must die, and gain new life in the life of the world. Like Apollo he must “die in io life”. He is expected to have contemplated and faced squarely:

the gloomy days
Of all the unhealthy and o’erdarkened ways
Made for our searching:

      As Keats says in The Fall of Hyperion, “none can usurp his height”—that is, the great poets—

But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest.

      Even Apollo must undergo a 'fire Baptism' of the spirit, before he can be truly and fully satisfy himself. So must be every poet worthy of the name. Hyperion might live in his Empyrean Place of Art, “snuffing the incense, teeming up From man to Sun’s God,” but not Apollo with his quivering compassion. The contrast between Hyperion and Apollo has been interpreted as the contrast between the visionary and the humanitarian.

      Hyperion is the parable of what Carlyle would call the “Phoenix-birth” of Society; of the disintegration of effete forms, institutions and political machinery, under the impact of forces that seek to take society on to a fresh stage of progress. The poet puts this central idea of the poem into the mouth of Ocean us:

And as we show beyond that Heaven and Earth
In form and shape compact and beautiful,
In will, in action free, companionship.
And thousand other signs of purer life;
So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,
A power more strong in beauty, born of us
And fated to excel us, as we pass
In glory that old Darkness.

      Had Keats heard of 'Emergent Evolution' he could not have made the lines more closely fit in with that conception of Loyd Morgan’s.

      We may re-state the symbolic significance in Bridges’ words:

      ‘‘There is a self-destructive progress in nature towards good, and that beauty, and not force, is the law of this flux or change. It seems also probable that Keats intended to make Hyperion and Mnemosyne instruct Apollo, and thus to show Light and Song passing into union and perfection out of elemental chaos and crudeness. However, this may be. Ocean us bids Saturn take comfort in his dethronement, for he says,

To bear all naked truths,
And to envisage circumstance, all calm
That is the top of sovereignty”.

University Questions

The two kinds of gods in Hyperion represent two systems. Elaborate the statement.

Keats has linked the concept of might with his concept of beauty, judge the validity of this statement in relation to Keats’s portrayal of the old and new gods in Hyperion,

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