The Third Book of ‘Hyperion’: History of Keats Soul

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      John Middleton Murray has pointed out that it is the history of Keats’s own soul that is being unfolded in the third book of Hyperion. He maintains that Apollo is no other than Keats himself and that in Apollo’s struggle for dying into an immortal life, Keats is in fact narrating the story of his own poetic career, the torturing and pulsating experiences that he had to undergo in order to attain the heights of poetic maturity and to come true to the concept of an ideal poet.

Keats’s struggle

      The story of Keats’s struggle is like this: He had served his brother, Tom, with dedication, during the illness of the latter. The illness of Tom was so prolonged and serious that it consumed the entire energy and time of Keats. He was almost cut off from poetic life as such. His mind remained too disturbed for a real poetic endeavor. Finally the inevitable occurred, the death of Tom. Whereas in one way it shocked Keats, on the other hand it also gave him some relief so that he could have a breath of life again. He fell in love and wrote some of the very beautiful lines of Hyperion:

“Rejoice, O Delos, with thine olives green,
And poplars, and lawn-shading palms and beach,
In which the Zephyr breathes the loudest song,
And hazels-thick, dark Btemm’d beneath the shade, Apollo is once more the golden theme”.

      But soon Keats had realized that Hyperion was too dull a poem to absorb the golden theme of rejoicing and rapture. Hyperion was an epic whereas Keats wanted to be lyrical. So Keats wrote The Eve of St. Agnes which is full of Keats’s rapture and joy. It is therefore, that just after describing Apollo as a source of golden theme Keats presents him full of woe and pain:

“He listened and he wept, and bright tears Went trickling down the golden bow he held”.

      Thus Keats returned to Hyperion with a heavy heart. He had realized that even his love could not become a material reality. Soon a goddess came to Apollo with:

“Purport in her looks for him”.

      The goddess was Mnemosyne—the goddess of memory who had left the old order for the sake of new and had come to Apollo to give him comfort in the hour of his agony. She tells him:

‘‘Thou hast first dreamed of me; and awoking up
Did’st find a lyre all golden by thy side,
Whose str ngs touch’d by thy fingers, all the vast
Unwearied ear of the whole universe
Listen’d in pain and pleasure at the birth
Of such new tuneful wonder”.

      Then the goddess asks Apollo as to why he was weeping when he was so gifted an artist,

“Is’t not strange
That thou shouldst weep, so gifted? Tell me youth”.

      Apollo tells the goddess that he is suffering from a sense of nothingness, that his art doesn’t have perfection of any sort:

      Apollo means to say that he has lost contact with the world of art and beauty. So he makes a very humble request to the goddess:

“Goddess benign, point forth some unknown thing,
Are there not other regions than this isle?...
...point me out the way.
To any one particular beauteous star,
And I will flit into it with my lyre,
And make its silver splendor pant with bliss”.

      This is not the immortal Apollo making a request in the style of a mortal. In fact it is a mortal himself Keats the poet who is crying for help to come out of the perplexity of life and death. It is the Keats of Ode to a Nightingale longing for some means of escape to fade far away from the world of reality “where but to think is too full of sorrow”, “Where men sit and each other groan”, “where palsy shakes a few”, “Where youth grows pale, and spectre thin and dies”.

      And thus Keats has become immortal, not as a man but as a poet. Now he is rich with ripeness to the core. The wide hollows of his brain are now full of knowledge past and present. He has come fece to face with a goddess who being the goddess of memory, represents past as well as present, a goddess who belongs to both orders, old as well as new and above all the goddess who is the eternal existence of the universe and a pure mirror of what is “agonies, creations and destroying”. Keats has seen with his own eyes the mighty abstract idea of beauty in all things which the goddess represents. After a torturing struggle through “purgatory blind” Keats has acquired “Knowledge enormous” that has made a god of him. He has died into an immortal life after the pain of a death in life and a second birth. He has achieved his long-cherished goal. He has acquired the highest form of poetic perfection and has become an ideal poet.

      The question as to why Keats could not complete Hyperion when he had attained poetic maturity remains a perplexing mystery. The only answer to this question is that the continuation of the poem was just not possible on purely objective grounds. His later poetry can be called a continuation of Hyperion because there he lives up to the standard of an ideal poet. The great Odes, Lamia and the Second Hyperion prove that Keats is really rich with ripeness to the core by virtue of the knowledge enormous that has immortalized him as a poet His Odes have a quality that touches the soul of the reader. They really haunt the minds of men for their extraordinary perfection in both art and beauty. The Grecian Urn does not remain just a piece of art. It becomes a friend of man and the permanent messenger of the message that beauty is truth and truth beauty. It acquires an immortalizing force that has immortalized not only the poem but also the poet. So in order to do real justice to Keats, we may better read his later poetry as a continuation of the incomplete Hyperion and it is only then that we can enjoy the history or Keats’s poetic soul and the result of its struggle.

Why did Keats Break Off in The Middle?

      In a letter to his friend Reynolds (22nd September, 1819), Keats wrote: “I have given up Hyperion; there are too many Miltonic inversions in it—Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or rather artist’s humor. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up”. But the grammatical inversions are by no means a blot on the poem, nor are they too many, or indulged in as a mannerism. In English the common use,—just the reverse of the French—sets the epithet before the object, but where this does not follow the right order of ideas a poet, as Bridges points out, “must invert either his grammar or his ideas”, and Keats “often gets good effect from the proper use of inversion”. The ‘excessive presence’ of inversions can hardly be the reason for the discontinuance of the poem. Woodhouse, as Literary Adviser of Keats’ publisher's (Messrs. Taylor and Hessey) said in the advertisement: “The poem, if completed, would have treated of the dethronement of Hyperion, the former god of the sun, by Apollo— and incidentally of those of Oceanus by Neptune, of Saturn by Jupiter, etc., and of war of the Giants for Saturn’s re-establishment with other events of which we have but very dark hints in the mythological poets of Greece and Rome. In fact, the incidents would have been pure creations of the brain”. The poem, as it stands, affords no ground to think that it could have been, completed in the way adumbrated by the advertisement. Keats would have found it difficult to make the fall of Hyperion the central event of the poem, having already shown him in Book I as being under the sway of fear, hope and wrath such as assailing “men who die” (329-335). He is a doomed spirit; and he is to be dethroned by Apollo who makes his entry in the third Book not as a conquering hero, with confident power, but with a desperate wail and a confession of paralyzing melancholy:

      He is supposed to regain his latent power under the influence of Mnemosyne, who has deserted the old regime for the new. But what energy can be struck into his veins by a goddess who is described as woe-begone and wailing every morn and eventide (iii,109-110)? It is doubtful whether Keats could have sustained the interest of the reader in long passages or whole books describing a Homeric contest. Such a war is not particularly interesting even in Paradise Lost. Much less would it have been here. Keats’s genius was not fitted her heroic poetry, and he knew it only too well; at the beginning of Book III he takes us into his confidence:

For thou art week to sing such tumults dire:
A solitary sorrow best befits.
Thy lips, and antheming a lonely grief.

      He would, if only for this reason, never have embarked on the stormy verse of a Giant’s war. In all conscience it was not his intention. De Selincourt rightly asks: “If Keats had intended to narrate this war, would he have spoilt his story by anticipating its most interesting feature?”—as he does in Book ii, 69-72. Episodical narrations of the fall of Saturn and Oceanus - even had they not been anticipated by (i) 322-29 and (ii) 236-39—would have been in the nature of an anti-climax.

      In spite of the unlifted style there is ‘languor in the main design’, which rendered continuation impossible— ‘‘at least to an artist like Keats”. For as Bridges reminds us, “whatever mental qualities go to make a born artist, none is more essential than an unconscious enthralment to his creative conception. When any sane and true artist has strayed into a fault that falsifies his conception, then his inspiration comes to a stand. Gould, he go on, as if all were well, it would be because he was lacking in the essential faculty which makes artistic work good”.

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