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Mythology as Poetics







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Mythology as Poetics

Keats’s poetry is so often read and re-read that preparing a critical thesis on his poetry

involves increased rigours. Yet I have dared to go for as much, and I owe this daring to

those splendid teachers mainly who built me up academically. I also wish here to

acknowledge the varied support I received from my parents ,friends and relatives

who are responsible for helping me into doing this volume.

However , without the help and guidance of Professor Chidananda Bhattacharya I would

not have been able to compile and edit this volume .He not only supervised my endevour

through and through, , but also, generously allowed me to venture in my speculations

and rectified my inaccuracies .I am also profoundly grateful to Professor Nilagrib

DebRoy for consistent intellectual support and for advice and encouragement .I thank

him for patiently lending his ear through my work and offering helpful insights. I am

indebted to Professor Amitava Roy for his endless help and suggestion for improvement .

I am deeply grateful to my father whose loving wisdom is a constant boost behind my

study .He is also the artist of the sketch illustration of Keats (Cover Jacket).

Lastly I wish to express my deep gratitude to all those concerned in making my effort


Mythology as Poetics


Contents Page no.

1. Acknowledgement : 2

• Introduction : 4

2. Chapter One:
[“The Realm of Flora”] 15

3. Chapter Two: 48
[“Colossal Grandeur”]

4. Chapter Three : 69
[“Salvation of a Poet ”]

5. Conclusion : 80

6. Select Bibliography: 82


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Genius is a wild flower that blossoms in the strange crannies .The history of

Keats’s life and poetry is the product of the reaction of his poetic faculties to the facts of

his experience .The brief span of his poetic potential that extended form autumn 1816 to

autumn 1819 when he composed all of his poems of intrinsic value , is a rare blend of

turns and counter turns of creating mind. It is, in effect, the history of an internal warfare,

and the poems remain as monuments of battles won and lost in that anguished conflict .

The first thirty years of the nineteenth century are remarkable in England for the

number of men of the highest genius who in them gave their best work to the world .This

wonderful age is often called the second Renaissance , because its only parallel in our

literature is the first great Renaissance which gave us Shakespeare and his comrades.With

all their exalted philosophies the Romantics also showed a passion for the wonder of the

world , and to appreciation of all the glories of Greek and Roman mythologies .This

period drew its life largely from the renewed study of Greek letters.Keats shows us in

perfection the working of both the destructive and creative energies.But if Keats was a

Romantic, he was also a Classicist, not as Pope’s school understood the word, but in the

sense that he had much of spirit of the old Greeks - a desire for the perfected rather than

an adumbrated beauty, a delight in finished workmanship rather than in vague

Mythology as Poetics

suggestiveness, a feeling for form .Added to this were a deep interest in the subject

matter of the old Greek writers - the myths of gods and titans, nymphs and fauns - and

that innocent pagan delight in the physical side of life .Perhaps none of our poet has been

so Greek as Keats who never saw Greece and did not read Greek .

It was this Greek strain in Keats, we may suppose , which made him discard the

literary excess of his early models and which showed him the merits even of the despised

Classical school . The history of Keats’s works, indeed, is the history of a series of

experiments : Keats was willing to learn from any poet who had anything to teach .

The present study attempts to elaborate Keats’s nexus with mythology as a major

creative and artistic impulse. It throws light on the substratum of mythical themes that

lend coherence and unity to entire range of his poetry. Mythologizing is an essential

component of his psychic and creative processes. The poet’s own experiences are woven

into the fabric of his larger mythical plot. Infact the mythical mode serves as the deepest

and most fertilizing source of his aesthetic outcome. Much troubled by his own tragic

circumstances, Keats instinctively turns to the cool, chaste world of the past. This is done

through an imaginative resurrection of ancient divinities, remodelling of myths with

symbolic overtones, and most important of all, through presenting on a single canvas

mythologies of different cultures. Keats exhibits a firm belief in the exclusive power of

Mythology as Poetics

mytholgizing. Keats ‘mythic vision’ is an intuitive response to the unconscious designs

and patterns that were absorbed in his poetry.

Myths have an uncanny power to thrill us, uplift us, pull us out of the pettiness of

our ego-lives, and transport us to a realm of magic, noble deeds, and unearthly passion.

But myth does more than that: if we learn to listen it also gives us specific psycological

information and teaches us the deep truths of the psyche. Myths are like dreams. Dreams

are the messenger of the unconscious self. Through them the unconscious communicates

its contents and its concerns to the conscious mind. By learning the symbolic language of

dreams , a person learns to see what is going on within at an unconscious level and even

discovers what needs to be done about it . Yung demonstrated that mythological themes

are clothed in modern dress frequently appear. What is of particular importance for the

study of literature in these manifestations of the collective unconscious is that they are

compensatory to the conscious attitude. But though dream expresses the dynamics within

an individual ,a myth expresses the dynamics within a society, culture or race . A myth is

the collective dream of an entire people at a certain point in their history. It is as though

the entire population dreamed together, and that ‘dream’, the myth , burst forth through

its poetry, songs, paintings and sculptures . But a myth not only lives in literature and

imagination, it immediately finds its way into the behaviour and attitudes of the culture

into the practical daily lives of the people .

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Myth concerns us not only for the part they play in all primitive , illiterate, tribal

or non-urban cultures , which makes them one of the main objects of anthropological

interest , not only for the grip that versions of ancient Greek myths have gained through

the centuries on the literary culture of the Western nations ; but also because of men’s

endearing insistence on carrying quasi-mythical modes of thought, expression, and

communication into a supposedly scientific age .

There is no one definition of myth, no Platonic form of a myth against which all

actual instances can be measured. Etymology is a traditional point of departure, but in

this case an unhelpful one. For the Greeks ‘muthos’ just meant a tale, or something one

uttered, in a wide range of senses : a statement , a story, the plot of a play . The word

‘mythology’ can be confusing in English, since it may denote either the study of myths ,

or their content , or a particular set of myths. Even it is confusing in their admixture of

what might otherwise be called folktale, legend, theology or even sociology.

Myths, legend, fairy tales transmit in the purest form certain archetypal images

which inevitably reappear in all great literature . Myth is the key to artistic creation and

under the stimulus of it poets refashion their own poetics . The possession if this myth

gives the artists a greater opportunity than that afforded the Greek artist of the fifth

century B.C ;for the modern artist not only knows a greater number of myths, he knows

much more about very nature of myth . The increasing respect for the primitive and

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specifically for the myths and legends was actually a characteristic way of expressing

their own thoughts and views . If , as Kant argued, the mind is no passive mirror , merely

giving back the world reflected in it but is rather an active force that affects the very

shape of reality as perceived by us, then the symbolization of the primitive are not absurd

,but had their own interest and perhaps made their own contribution to 'truth' .It is

therefore to be expected of the poet that he will resort to mythology in order to give his

experience its most fitting expression . It would be serious a mistake to suppose that he

works with materials received at second hand .The primordial experience is the source of

his creativeness ; it can not be fathomed , and therefore requires mythological imagery to

give it form .In itself it offers no words or images , for it is a vision seen 'as in a glass,

darkly' . It is merely a deep presentiment that strives to find expression .It is like a

whirlwind that seizes everything within reach and , by carrying it aloft , assumes a visible

shape . Since the particular expression can never exhaust the possibilities of the vision ,

but falls far short of it in richness of content , the poet must have at his disposal a huge

store of materials if he is to communicate even a few of his intimations.

The new stream incorporated a reorientation of the English mind and a

reinterpretation of the classics with special significance attached to mythology . The ideas

and spirit of ancient Greece served as renewed source of inspiration . The Greek

philosophers had been aware of the unity of being ,the ancient Athenian state had

practised political freedom . Helenic art represented beauty that did not adhere to rules ,

and mythology was a manifestation of the strength of the human imagination .

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By its very nature and genesis the Romantic Movement was myth oriented

. It subsisted on the myth of a golden past and the noble savage . From myth to

mythology is a natural corollary . Rational thinking gave way to individual reponse . The


imagination was reborn .It served as a suitable vehicle of communication . The search for

the ‘noble savage’( the ideal man of primitive society) and for the natural society from

which the rational expelled himself , led the poets to the very heart of mythology . In

order to recreate the atmoshphere of the Golden Age , which they felt would provide

clues for reforming the corrupt modern world , they reshuffled the mythological pattern ,

thus giving it a symbolic significance .

Mythology was remodelled with symbolic overtones . Keats's use of mythology is

personal and without any extra-literary design . Keats believed that the artist does not

proceed to the root of all feelings and impulses by the simplest path . His artistic intuition

leads him to the elemental forms of nature and human life incorporated in mythology . In

the mythology of classical antiquity he 'found' a readymade vocabulary and symbolism of

those natural forces and ideal concepts on the balance of which he believed the cultural

health of the individual to depend and which he thought to be artificially stifled by the

prevailing Christian culture . Perhaps it is inaccurate to imply with the word 'found' , that

he suddenly discovered this mine of elemental poetic ore , for his fascination with myth

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antedated his poetic career . But at some point very early in his writing life , certainly

before he had firmly settled upon poetry as a profession , he had discovered the utility of

myth and had constructed a fairly elaborate aesthetic upon its formulation .

Keats's primary interest was in deities and these are extraordinarily prominent
in his poetry . His earliest known poem , the Imitation of Spenser , contains
references to Morning (his name for , presumably , Arora) and Flora .
Endymion and Hyperion , the two long poems upon which Keats expended
perhaps the greatest efforts of his brief career , are entirely given to the
celebration and elaboration of myths centered in deity . Within Endymion are
embedded separate hymns to , characterisations of , or , addresses to Apollo and
Bacchus ,Cupid ,Diana , Neptune , Pan and Venus . In the remaining body of his
work there are odes to Apollo, Maia and Psyche , apostrophic sonnets and odes
to Autumn , Fame , Hope , Peace , Sleep and Solitude all conceived in the vein
of classical personification , and virtually innumerable allusions to and
inclusions of Olympian matter , throughout. Keats's mythopoeic tendencies are
implicit even in his immature early verses .

In his mature works Keats abandoned stereotypes and adopted mythology with

greater originality . The deep rooted philosophy is continued to be transported within the

framework of mythological plots .

Among his contemporaries , Leigh Hunt , who shared and sometimes engendered

Keats's sympathies , recognized and approved of the centrality of myth in Keats's poetic

imagination . For him it was sufficient commendation to say of the poet that ; " he never

beheld an oak tree without seeing the Dryad " .

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Courthope contended that Keats's natural feeling for " the mythological spirit of

Pagan times " , combined with " a voluptuous perception of beauty in natural things and a

brilliant fancy which enabled him readily to abstract ideal from the objects presented to

his eye led him toward a mythologized nature poetry which was essentially pictorial and

therefore static that his motive was the creation of an ideal atmoshphere , free from the

dynamic social flux of his own age* .

Before the end of Keats's own century , a French critic had questioned the extent

to which his extraordinary employment of myth conveyed any of the values associated

with the culture from which it was derived . He concluded that Keats's mythologizing ,

through Endymion , exists for its own sake , and while embodying great intensity of

feeling , is revelatory of nothing profound enough to warrant the use of its machinery**,

but that in his mature work , Keats's acute sensibility to external form and his perception

of the earth - and life centered quality of the Greek spirit entitle him to be called , " the

most Greek of the English poets " .

Much the best treatment of the subject and one of the best essays on Keats ever

written , is Margaret Sherwood's excellent discussion of Keats's mythological orientation

. Its essential statement is that myth was a necessary mode of utterance for the young

poets of Keats's time , who required a new poetic vocabulary for expression of a new

view of man's nature and destiny and that the special role of myth in Keats's work was a

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provision of a means by which he was enabled to interpret and express his insights into

the operative processes of nature , the principle of harmonious unity in all life , and the

fulfillment of individual destiny through obedience to nature's laws*** .

Keats's physique , particularly in the character alignment of forehead , nose and

chin reminded his friends , of the Greek ideal of manly beauty ." The form of his head " ,

Baily said , " was like that of a fine Greek statue , and he realised to my mind the

youthful Apollo, more than any head of a living man whom I have known " . " A painter

or a sculptor might have taken him for a study after the Greek masters " , George Felton

Mathew said , " and have given him a station like the herald Mercury , new lighted on

some heaven-kissing hill " .

With the light of the above discussions we may conclude that without the

use of mythology Keats's poetry could not have touched the zenith as it did . Mythology

helped him to give voice to his deepest and most personal feelings . His greatness lies in

the fact that he has been able to formulate a poetics based upon the timeless relevance of

mythology .

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Age * = William John Courthope , “A History of English Poetry,volume–6

“ The Romantic Movement in English Poetry ” (London , 1910) .

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Machinery ** = Joseph Texte , “ Keats’s et le neo – hellenisime dans las

poise anglaise ” (Paris , 1898)

Laws *** = Margaret Sherwood , “ Keats’s Imaginative Approach to

Myth” , in undercurrents of Influence in English Romantic Poetry .

Cambridge , Massachusets , 1994 .

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Among the formative influences in Keats’s work, classical reading had

contributed a great deal to the maturation of his poetic style and vocabulary. Keats’s ideal

was the Greek ideal of beauty inward and outward, the perfect soul of verse as well as the

perfect form. The characters from classical antiquity had haunted him from the beginning

of his career and he cherished them throughout his life. One of Keats’s preoccupations

was to ensure his place among the ‘mighty dead’. To rise to these heights he chose, to fall

back upon, among other sources, the mythology of the ancient world. There might be

another obvious cause - his own troubled and tragic circumstances. He instinctively

turned to the cool, chaste world of the past. The response of Keats’s mythic vision is

developed throughout his poetry.

Keats’s earlier negotiations with mythology is found in Ode to Apollo (1815). In

it amidst the simplest tone of infantile poesy drawn from imitations of Odes of Gray,

Collins and others, there is a gleam of mythological fancy :

“In thy western halls of gold

when thou sittest in thy state.”

The young poet’s fealty to Apollo might be only a verbal inheritance but it acquired a

deeper meaning in the next four years, pointing to its culmination in Hyperion.

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Keats’s first series of mythological allusions is found in Epistle to George Felton

Mathew (Nov, 1815). The clairvoyant tone was only to trigger off a more mature future.

It also shows us statements of Keats’s conflicting poetic impulses and in the midst of

sensuous pictures lay scattered his focus on humanity, the celebration of the poets whose

genius has helped to cure the stings of the pitiless world. The letters addressed to George

Keats & C. C. Clarke (Aug. & Sept. 1816) show a similar gusto in incarnating these

themes & motives. Sensuous delights & humanitarian aspects were more instinctive and

congenial parts in Keats’s poetry than to be considered two poetic worlds set in


I Stood Tip-toe (1816) is the product of a puerile effort in a transport of sensual

intoxication, “a poesy of luxuries”, as often described, but the essential thing is Keats’s

full affirmation of the identity of nature, myth & poetry. The allusions of the mythical

deities refer to Keats’s progressive adaptation of myth to humanitarian symbolism.

However, it was in the chapters of Wordsworth’s The Excursion where Keats found the

inspiration of mythology. It has transformed the boyish passion for myth into a ripened

understanding. But there were potent distinctions in identifying the nature of myth

between Wordsworth and Keats. Wordsworth was more preoccupied in philosophizing

rather than deciphering the element of pure myth. He did not see a dryad in every Oak

tree. Keats took delight in mythical tales in a half sophisticated, half-primitive manner.

He poured out his imagination to enshrine those mythological tales and deities in his


Mythology as Poetics

It was by the reading of the Elizabethans and especially Spenser that Keats came

to realize the “material sublime” in myth. In a more Modern romantic manner Keats was

able to equate poetry and myth, and was quite comfortable in accepting the allegorical

interpretations of myth. Keats was more inclined into humanizing the mythic figures in

order to convey and carry on his romantic experiences with a flavour of both symbolic

and subjective applications.

In Sleep and Poetry (1816) Keats seemed to have gathered more maturity as it

unraveled his contradictory impulses and ambitions in the process of poetic development.

In the tripartite stage divisions the poet gradually progresses from the realm of Flora and

old Pan to a futuristic anticipation of greater poetry. Keats felt urgency to pass the

luxuries and delights for a nobler kind of poetry, that dealt with the agonies, the strife of

human hearts.

In the sonnet on Chapman’s Homer (1816) Keats discovered a new imaginative

world. It was the new poet who had found the distinctive and authoritative tone and

imagery. The image of Cortes and his crew beholding the pacific magnifies and

transforms the subject, so that, the poem celebrates not just the private enlightening

encounter with Chapman’s volume but rather the human sense of awakening to awe-

inspiring beauties : it is as though Keats is truly recognizing his own destinies. Hunt said

that “the sonnet terminates with so energetic calmness --- completely announced the new

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poet taking possession”. Yet the conflict persisted (the confusion of Cortes with Balboa)

which suggests that even on this peak, Keats’s position was not fully secure.

It was March 1 or 2 in 1817 when Keats with Hay don, went to see the beauty of

the Elgin Marbles. These were a collection of sculptures brought from Greece by lord

Elgin and placed in the British museum in 1816. They consist chiefly of fragments from

the Parthenon at Athens, executed under the direction of Phidias. Keats immediately

composed a second sonnet, On Seeing the Elgin Marbles. The sonnet “reveals the

important and unusual influence exerted over Keats by Greek sculpture” (A. R. Weeks).

One critic has said that “Hyperion is in poetry what the Elgin Marbles are in sculpture”. It

was really an important encounter that the “clam grandeur” of Greek art evolved a thing

majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions and

grand in its simplicity. This influence is most poignant in the Odes On Indolence and On

a Greecian Urn.

The masculine and classic style of the sonnet on Chapman’s Homer was not

recaptured until Keats wrote Hyperion. However, the growth of craftsmanship continued

with Keats’s veneration for beauty. The inclination and philosophic apprehension of myth

is remarkable at this time. The personalization of myth with a youthful vigour is the

backdrop of Endymion (24th April, 1817), one of the longest poems on a classic myth in

English. Much like Alastor, Endymion poses to answer the fundamental questions about

the relation of the artist to his art and to the world. Shelley’s hero is a romantic idealist,

who being dissatisfied in the unlovely world of humanity, frustrated in his quest, dies in

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solitude : that matches with Shelley’s philosophy; “so to pursue the vision and perish than

to live, a finished and finite clod, untroubled by a spark”. But Keats Endymion’s search

for ideal love and beauty at last led him away from purely visionary idealism to the

knowledge that the actual world of human life can only be the ideal.

To furnish his epic poem Keats selected the Greek myth of Endymion and

Cynthia. Keats wanted to fabricate a new mythology out of the common myth connected

to Endymion. In a letter to sister Fanny, Keats had outlined the simple plot of Endymion;

“Many years ago there was a young handsome shepherd who fed his flocks on a

Mountain’s side called Latmus --- he was a very contemplative sort of a person and lived

solitry (sic) among the trees and plains little thinking --- that such a beautiful creature as

the Moon was growing mad with him. However, so it was, and when he was asleep on

the grass, she used to come down from Heaven and admire him excessively from (sic) a

long time; and at last could not refrain from carrying him away in her arms to the top of

that High mountain Latmus while he was dreaming”. This simple story hovers around the

composition of Book-I. Most of Endymion’s confusions in the poem arise from Diana’s

decision to visit the poet prince., first in the form of an unknown goddess, secondly in

guise of an Indian maid. Endymion is constantly bewildered and deceived by his own

feelings which ultimately is resolved in his understanding that all these forms are one.

The poem concludes with the immortalization of Endymion and his marriage to Diana.

Endymion completes his journey in search of ideal. The moon becomes the metaphor for

poetic inspiration, creativity and beauty. Her generative influence is transported to

Endymion who symbolizes the ideal poet. “Endymion’s poetic romance is the first

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sustained example of Keats’s style and highly personal use of mythology, artificial and

yet true to feelings”(John Barnard). With myriad allusions of Greek and Roman deities

and references to mythological motifs Endymion seeks to figure forth Keats’s recreation

of the Greek antiquity with a tincture of modern flavouring. In the preface to the poem

Keats wrote – “I hope I have not too late in the day touched the beautiful mythology of

Greece and dulled its brightness; for I wish to try once more before I bid it farewell”.

Though in Endymion Keats’s source is not the Greek literature itself, but an

amalgamation from second-hand sources, the bold affirmation quoted above lies at the

heart of Keats’s purpose of composing this long poem. Keats loved the ‘natural theology’

of the Greek. Severn reported once, that for Keats, the essence of Greek spirit was “the

religion of the Beautiful, the religion of joy, as he used to call it”. The Helenic revival of

the theme is an example of Keats’s working with pagan beliefs. Keats’s admiration for

the simplicity and the sensuousness of the ancient Greek and his response to the

mythological paintings were the origins of Keats’s understanding of myth. Mythological

paintings made the vitality of Greek myth live again for the modern viewer. Keats

encountered the paintings of Poussin, Claude, Titian, Raphael and had conceived the

theme of romance. But the static framework of a painting was hard to be communicated

through narrative poems. Paintings demonstrate only a modern recreation of the ancient

stories. Keats wanted to explore beauty and truth and he used Endymion’s mythological

painting and inset stories to carry on his project. “Endymion” is “a confessional poem

growing out of the immediate turmoil of spirit” (Douglas Bush), it is also an answer to

contemporary despair and despondency. The failure of the French Revolution had left a

trail of political and social repression and disaster. Fuelled by a shared anger at this

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hopelessness, the second generation Romantics all voiced their emotions in poems and

other writings. Endymion’s mythological Greece purposes an alternative to the dominant

values and beliefs represented by the repressive policies of Castlereagh and Sidmouth,

and the narrow puritanical beliefs of the society for the propagation of Christian

knowledge. The re-imagining of an ancient Greek myth expressed the potential of

humanity at large and Keats’s purpose was not unusual. From Voltaire to Hume everyone

of the Enlightenment era had cultured Pre-Christian mythology to question Christianity’s

claims to unique truth. As Marilyn Butler points out, in the second decade of the 19th

century, Greek mythology provided writers like Hunt, Peacock, Hazlitt, Keats and

Shelley with an important occasion for dissent from prevailing orthodoxies, (quoted from

john Barnard’s Keats ). Keats saw the Greek world as one which attested to the pre-

eminence of Art and Beauty.

In writing Endymion Keats’s primary instinct was to aspire after those high

regions of genius; as is exposed in several letters; He wrote to Bailey in October 1817;

“--- it (Endymion) will be a test, a trial of my powers of imagination and chiefly of my

invention which is a rare thing indeed by which I must make 4000 lines of one bare

circumstance and fill them with poetry”. Keats felt thereafter, that “Besides a long poem

is a test of invention which I take to be the polar star of poetry, as Fancy is the sails and

Imagination the Rudder,” that it was the stimulus of Imagination the faculty that enables

a poet to create Beauty and to seize it as Truth. To Keats Imagination and Beauty were

inclusive terms, “the delicate snail thorn perception of Beauty” is caused by the power of

Imagination. Imagination, ‘the sine qua non’ for a poet, his only passport to the realm of

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Beauty, is used in Endymion as a kind of cosmic consciousness-that enables him to

transcend Time and Space and enter into a “fellowship with essence”.

By this time Keats had already begun to establish his philosophy, “a

comprehension (and a comprehension of a peculiar kind) of the mystery of human life”

(Keats & Shakespeare, J. M. Murry).

The touch of incidental mythology is seen in Hymn to Pan and the Ode to Sorrow.

These were Keats’s early vein of Elizabethan luxuriance. But if these were less satisfying

than Keats’s profounder treatments of myth, can safely be his first ever ventures to

recreate myth.

The spring of 1818 saw the emergence of a new poet. The sensuous, imaginative

and fanciful Endymion expressed “the virgin passion of a soul communing with the

glorious universe” (Douglas Bush). The heavy depression of feelings is revealed in the

letters of late April. In a letter to Bailey he spoke about the dark unpredictabilities of life.

He was a bit subjective while said; “I am not old enough or magnanimous enough to

annihilate self”. Here he was brooding over the final violent dislocation of what was left

of his family-one brother driven by the burden of society to America, and another with

his ‘exquisite’ love of life, so unaccountably and helplessly dying.

Certainly the eight and a half weeks stay at Devonshire was a time of profound

transition for Keats. Though he was tossing along a phase of dejection it was inevitable to

bring forth the mercurial temperament in him. The general spirit had not been

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diminished. There were infinite new horizons - he always loved a wide prospect that

seemed to beckon man’s enterprise, “Great spirits now on earth are sojourning”. He tried

to transcend the narrow boundaries of personal experience venturing to write once with

the impartial sympathy of Shakespeare and sometime with the epic sweep of Milton to

dominate a vast tract of knowledge.

During these weeks down in Teignmouth, with the rain pelting, and with Tom

fretful and coughing, Keats was left alone with his thoughts – “young men for sometime

have an idea such a thing as happiness is to be had”, he wrote to Taylor (Apr. 24,1818).

With every further step in knowledge the inscrutable mystery of things seems to deepen.

Keats was beginning to think that the life of a thinking man must be a search, and,

perhaps that poetry should take the path not of Shakespeare and Milton --- but rather of

Wordsworth, who can make discoveries in the dark passages”. By this time Keats began

to share and subsequently perceived history as a process in which the changes that take

place are fundamental. One can not write exactly as Milton or Shakespeare, out of all

these comes a new realization of crucial importance. This new self clarification was

indispensable to the poetry of his final year and a half.

A long letter to Reynolds on May 3,1818, begins by saying that he has been in so

“uneasy a state of Mind as not to be fit to write to an invalid. I can not write to any length

under a disguised feeling”. He was tangled in the labyrinthian passages of life that

offered only perplexity. His ‘branchings out’ were the effect of Shakespeare, Milton,

Wordsworth but at a time he was willing to face a sence of isolation from the work of

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them. He admitted that, “the greater poets of the past, had in their way, often been

explorers”. Keats was ready to set off a visit to those higher realms of poetry on his own

wings of feeling and thought. In the beginning of this exploration Keats realized; “An

extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people—it takes away the heat and fever; and

helps by widening speculation; to ease the Burden of the Mystery : a thing I begin to

understand a little … the difference of high sensations with and without knowledge

appears to me this – in the latter case we are falling continually ten thousands fathoms

deep and being blown up again without wings and with all (the) horror of a bare

shouldered creature - in the former case our shoulders are fledge, and we go thro’ the

same air and space without fear” (to Reynolds, on May 3,1818).

The fourth period of Keats’s poetry is a complex period in which he was

influenced deeply by opposing philosophies of poetry; he was struggling between the

humanism of Shakespeare and Milton and the humanitarianism of Wordsworth. In the

first place his study of Shakespeare and Milton drew him out of his long allegiance to

Spenser. The philosophy of negative capability which he developed out of Shakespeare’s

plays, absorbed gradually his neo-platonic philosophy of beauty; and the epic style of

Paradise Lost supplanted the romantic style of The Fairie Queene as his model of poetic

style. In the second place his study of Wordsworth drew him out of his allegiance to

Shakespeare and Milton. This vacillating allegiance was the clearest testimonials to the

conflict in himself. It centered around his intuition of Hyperion, in which he alternated

between negative capability and humanitarianism and between the artificial style of

Paradise Lost and the natural style of The Excursion.

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After acknowledging that “Knowledge is sorrow”, to comply with Byron, Keats

realised that “sorrow is wisdom”. The removal of George to America, reviewer’s mauling

of Endymion, physical ailments aggravated by the Scottish tour, the sting of love and

finally, the fatal decline of Tom, all these compelled Keats to seek a “feverous relief” in

“abstract images” “those abstractions which are my only life”. “Poor Tom that woman –

and poetry were ringing changes in my senses”. In such circumstances the long planned

Hyperion got under way. That poem and the revised version must be held over by now,

meanwhile we may discuss Keats’s position in regard to ‘sensation’ and ‘thought’ that

were ripened by his nexus with mythology and is scattered all around his verse.

Keats was desperately in search of a medium that would suit his poetry better and

he found the vehicle in mythology. At this time also there is found in his poetry an

element which requires to be treated apart, the influence of Greece. There was a miracle

combination of the tumultuousness of Renaissance and the southern warmth of a highly

sensuous nature- the passion was vigorous and it was reflected in much of the 1820 work.

Mythic images frequented his poetry. Keats’s mythic sensibility is well captured in his

subtle modulation of the subjects to suit his context.

In January 18th (or 19th), 1819 [according to H. E. Rollins] Keats went to Chi-

chester. He was kept indoors all the time by his sore throat. He took down some sheets of

thin paper Which Haslam had given him to write to George in America. Probably Keats

took them in order to write to America. Instead he wrote on them The Eve of St. Agnes.

Mythology as Poetics

It has “the richness, the bloom, the full form, the enchantment of love after his own

heart” – to describe St. Agnes with words used by Keats himself to Fanny Brawne to

show his ardent passion for her. The Italian legend supplies the thin thread on which were

woven the rich embroideries of The Eve of St. Agnes. This poem is a celebration of

medieval romance. Claude De Finney describes the poem as – “a spontaneous expression

of genius springing like Pallas Athena full grown from the forehead of the poet”. The

erotic fantasy of the poem was the result of Keats’s association with Fanny Brawne.

Keats had already a penchant for love themes. However, this poem was the first

production inspired by Keats’s own love affair. The rich sensuousness, deep rapture and

enchantment are encapsulated in an atmosphere, mythical, magical and supernatural. The

imagery that are of these kinds mark the rendering of Gothic tradition. Every stanza is

like some old painting imbued with the light of “St. Agnes moon”. Keats’s growing

dissatisfaction for his inability to do anything with the book III of Hyperion emphasized

his foray into some kind of romance. There might also be an inspiration bestowed upon

him by Isabella Jones for suggesting him to try that subject. Keats decided to write on

that subject, the legend of St. Agnes Eve (the Eve itself is on January 21). The writing

was completed within two weeks and half (probably within Feb 1 or 2). The Eve of St.

Agnes was in every way a relief from Hyperion. He got a temporary relief from the

“naked and Greecian manner” of Hyperion – that was for a moment seriously bogged

down the poet—he then chose the Spenserian stanza. Keats’s turning from Hyperion to

The Eve of St. Agnes gave him the opportunity to offer a theme more congenial to his


Mythology as Poetics

An ardent lover porphyro using the opportunity of St. Agnes’ Eve has an access to

the bedchamber of Madeline, his fiancée, and there he was able to seduce her while

Madeline is still half-asleep. After the consummation of their union they disappear into

the dark. The portrayal of old beadsman in penance is a typical blending of Christian

character and a mythic archetype. He is a foil character like Saturn. His premonition of

the evil and the subsequent death symbolizes the myth of seasonal cycle. The law of

necessity is preserved in the death of the old and by the union of porphyry and Madeline.

The death of the old order is inevitable to give way the new in order to preserve the

seasonal cycle. Angela also serves the same mythic concern by her death. Porphyro has

been treated as Keats’s negative hero. One critic describes him as – “a young pagan

ravisher with no regard for the religious taboo he is breaking”. [Maria Gilbraith, in The

Etymology of porphyro’s name in Keats St. Agnes in Keats-Shelley journal.] But he may

well be a substitute for Milton’s “rebel Angel” and Keats has given him the superiority in

accomplishing his job.

In The Eve of St. Agnes Keats discovers a beautiful blend of Christian and Pagan

mythology. He has in this course of writing transformed successfully his long quest for

meaning in religion into his love experiences that he found in the spectrum of mythology.

It is during the year or more following the writing of Isabella that the mature style

of Keats developed so rapidly. Isabella or the Pot of Basil is a poetical version of an

anecdote drawn from one of Keats’s favourite books, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Isabella first drafted between early March and 27th April 1818, immediately after

Mythology as Poetics

Endymion, may have been suggested by a remark of Hazlitt’s in a lecture on Dryden and

Pope : “I should think that a translation of some of the other serious tales in Boccaccio

….. as that of Isabella … if executed with taste and spirit could not fail to succeed in the

present day”. Keats picked up the subject but gave it a shade of grotesque, both physical

and psychological violence in his story. The plot is stark and simple. Lorengo and

Isabella are in love. But the brothers who disapprove, murder Lorengo and bury him

secretly. Led by a dream, Isabella finds the corpse, cuts off its head, and conceals it at

home in a ‘garden pot’ under a bush of basil. Her brothers discover the secret, deprive her

of it and Isabella dies of grief.

Initially Keats was against the publication of Isabella. He was susceptible of his

difficulty in writing poetry describing erotic and sensual feelings that would soothe the

ears of fashionable drawing room readership as well as the audience which took poetry

seriously. He wrote in a letter to Woodhouse, “……. I shall persist in not publishing The

Pot of Basil – It is too smokeable … There is too much inexperience of life in it – which

might do very well after one’s death – but not while one is alive. There are very few

would look to the reality. I intend to use more finesse with the public. – Isabella is what I

should call were I a reviewer ‘A weak–sided poem’ with amusing sober sadness about

it”, (22 sept. 1819). Isabella would, he feared, be taken for a ‘feminine’ poem of

‘tenderness and excessive simplicity’. But apart from Keats’s apprehension Reviewers

praised the piece for its depiction of feeling and passion in ‘naked and affecting


Mythology as Poetics

Like other poems of this period Isabella also has a concern for mythology. The

poem follows the seasonal cycle. The love story commences in May –

“A whole long month of May in this sad plight

Made their cheeks paler by the break of June”.

(Stz. IV, II . 254—56)

The lovers’ conversation also contains the substratum of the fertility myth –

“Love, thou art leading me from wintry cold,

Lady, thou leadest me to summer clime,

And I must taste the blossoms that unfold.

In its ripe warmth this gracious morning time”.

Their love reaches its peak in June. The romance comes to an end when Isabella

unearths her lover’s corpse “In the mid days of Autumn”. Isabella through her erotic

association with Lorenzo assumes some aspect of the great goddess. Love inculcates in

Lorenzo ‘the meekness of a child’. His murderers take him beyond the gurgling river into

a silent forest. Water is symbolic of the life principle in Keats’s mythic vision and the

green forest is symbolic of regeneration. Lorenzo is killed in summer. However, he

cannot return until the winter, when preparations for launching of the new seasonal cycle

are to be made. This is a ritual resurrection of the manhood of the lover.

Mythology as Poetics

Isabella is certainly a poem which needs to be read with sympathy. It sets the bliss

of young love against pain and distortions of loss. In its most powerful passages the poem

forces the reader to enter into the heroine’s feelings. The poem claims that love never

dies, although love in the person of Lorezo may be dead, but the true reward of this love

lies in the dead Lorenzo, “the kernel of the grave” (line, 383). Clearly Isabella deals with

Keats’s sense of the indivisibility of joy and sorrow, beauty and pain, love and death. It is

an earlier version of the ‘Ode on Melancholy where the ‘aching pleasure’ turns ‘to poison

while the bee mouth sips’.

Isabella is a chaste and virtuous woman. Her pure, virginal attitudes represent one

aspect of the great goddess. But in a sinister shift, the love goddess becomes the death

goddess in Keats’s poem. Lamia and the Belle Dame, the heroines of the next two poems,

we shall discuss shortly, represent this evil aspect of the goddess of many aspects.

Keats had started composing Lamia in mid-June, 1819 and completed in

September. The poem is a tale of passion, agony & death. Keats’s primary notion behind

writing the poem was that, Lamia had, he believed, ‘that sort of fire in it which must take

hold of people in some way- give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation’ (Rollins,

ii, 189). It was expected to shock the ‘mawkish’ readers of romance and to give them the

taste of ‘knowledge of the world”. ‘Lamia treats the effect of a Circian enchantment upon

the impressionable mind of a young man (Lycius) who is open to the appeal of a magic

world, and who is unable to withstand reality when it is pointed out to him” (W. J. Bate

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in Keats) thus setting the conflict between the illusory beauty and of the intellect and

moral dignity.

Keats derived the plot from Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. Thus it is a

story of how Lycius, a young student of philosophy at Corinth, meets Lamia, a serpent in

Woman’s guise. Debilitated and tantalized as Lycius is, he swoons into a deathlike trance

of love. The cruel lady now leads him to her ‘purple lined palace of sweet sin’. Finally

Apollonius’s intervention saved Lycius from his marriage to Lamia. Burton’s citation

from Philastratus proves the existence of Satanic succubi. Keats had reworked on this

theme. He adds an introductory episode showing Hermes, the messenger god, is in search

for a nymph. He meets an unusual snake with a woman’s mouth. A deal has been made

between them and Hermes’s magic wand helps the serpent to gain her woman shape. This

transformation of Lamia into human form is an arduous and hideous process. The Hermes

episode as explained by Mr. Edward T. Norris, is an integral part of the symbolism: “As

Hermes represents the industrious poet in contrast to Lycius, the poet of sensation, so the

nymph represents Keats’s true ideal of poetry in contrast to Lamia, the poetry of

sensation”. Lamia is a Romantic archetype, who is simultaneously attractive and

threatening and represents both the female principle and the ‘romance’ imagination. She

is at the same time a beautiful woman who loves and should be loved, and an evil

embodiment of the wasting power of love, a belle dame sans merci. The theme of

amorous enchantment was also there in Endymion but in Lamia this dilemma is pressed

upon Lycius with aesthetic and theoretical problems. Despite the exotic story and

trappings, the immediate source or the raw material of the poem was Keats’s actual

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experience, the musings from the derided soul of a lover. The conflict has been

interpreted in terms of poetry, of the senses and of intellect, it embodies not only Keats’s

moods but something of the general romantic protest against a purely scientific view of

the world.

According to Robert Graves the Lamiae of Greece were beautiful woman who

seduced and then sucked the blood of travelers. In Aristophanes’s day they were regarded

as emissaries of the Triple goddess Hecate (The White Goddess, Robert Graves). Keats’s

adaptation and elaboration of myth is a re-enactment of archetypal lure of illusory love

and the inevitable call of menace. The ominous outcome of such a liaison is a vivid

indication toward decay and degeneration. Lycius’s death symbolizes his release from the

clutches of evil. Apollonius plays the role of saviour. He is the ‘reformer of mankind’

who exposes the bestial call of the dark world and allows his foster son to escape into the

world of death which suggests the logical continuation of natural order.

Lamia, according to W. H. Evert, represents ‘Keats’s revised view of the poetic

imagination’ her ‘beauty is false and her effect on human life pernicious’. Not only does

she represent the effects of poetic imagination on Lycius, but she is herself a victim of

imagination. Only brief participation in the world is possible before she is destroyed by

reality. [Aesthetic and Myth in the poetry of Keats – W. H. Evert]

La Belle Dame Sans Merci is an example of the period’s fascination with

medieval poetry and Gothicism. It has many of the characteristics of the medieval ballad.

Mythology as Poetics

Knight errantry was a fashionable poetic pose in those days, “it was a playful but clear

expression of the dependence of fair women upon men’s protection”. Though Keats had

rejected the practice he still fostered a condescending attitude towards women’s

weakness (‘bruised fairness’). The annihilating power of love of women and the threat of

liberated sexuality is the subject of many of Keats’s poems. He thought that if women are

either goddesses or enchantresses, and sexuality is a thing to be feared, then the

fulfilment of human love is a kind of death. Keats once frankly voiced this idea in a letter

to Fanny Brawne : “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and

the hour of my death”.

In Endymion and The Eve of St. Agnes Keats deals with a celebratory dream of

love. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the love has been transformed with an eerie,

destructive import. The poem is strongly influenced by memories of Spenser’s fatal

enchantress in The Faerie Queene and by traditional ballads expressing the

destructiveness of love. Keats was probably familiar with such ballads from Percy’s

Reliques of Ancient Poetry (1765). Robert Graves suggests that the Belle Dame is the

hag death, one of the triple forms of the ‘white Goddess’. Tom had died of consumption

few months earlier. Graves feels that the femme fatale specifically represents the plague

turberculosis which ‘leaves anguish moist and fever dew’ on the brow of its victim. The

Knight’s ‘wild’ experience and the final ‘thrall’ point out that ‘the exquisite rapture of

ruinous sensual allurement is an articulation of the self destructive psychological impulse

ever present in human mind’. Keats’s romantic heroines are the various projections of

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poet’s attitudes. In their mythical plots they represent the mother figures who bind

mankind to the ever revolving wheel of time.

The odes are the most compatible transport to carry out “the genius of a major

poet … working in the material of minor poetry” [Revaluation, F. R. Leavis.]. They are

the most sustainable product of Keats as a mature poet. Together, the odes tend to

formulate a philosophy, enlarged, complicated by a dimension of human experience.

Here in the recesses of the odes the romantic poet tries desperately to find some

permanent refuge in a world of flux, longing for a golden age. The premature blight that

was inflicted upon him by the declining health – all joined together to wear out his spirit,

vitality and joyness of youth. The odes reverberate with a tone of solemnity, deepening

now and then to poignant suffering. Through all of them runs the haunting sense of

unreality. But to incorporate a myth dimension with the Odes will certainly result in the

manifestation of certain philosophy. This quest for philosophy leads the poet to

mythology. The array of Odes starting with Ode to Maia (May, 1818) and ending in To

Autumn (Sept. 1819) exhibits a ‘serene frame for a troubled picture’ [Douglas Bush,

Mythology and the Romantic Tradition]. Within his framework Keats had discovered the

highest manifestations of ‘beauty’ and ultimately of ‘truth’. Keats’s Odes are an enquiry

into the ‘truth’ of ideal visions. The essence of Romanticism seems to be a conflict

between spiritual desires and material realities, strong wishes and hard facts. Keats as a

fine Romantic grapples with this human dilemma. The Odes speak of desires and

yearnings, of the imagination and the frustrations of human state. Keats acknowledged

that our dreams and realities are not the same, and we live in a world where the ideal has

Mythology as Poetics

to give way to the actual and that there is a coexistence on earth of beauty explored in the


The intellectual and the physical meet in the Odes : indeed the idea of transience

is meditated and transformed through the sense. It is given substance and emotional

resonance by being associated with a sense impression which is part of a mood. The

sense of futility runs throughout;

“All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream”.

Indolence is better than ambition. The nightingale’s song is an illusion, and an illusion

which soon fails, learning the listener alone with his cares and grief’s. The world’s truest

sadness dwells with beauty and joy, for the pain of suffering is less keen than the pain of

knowing that beauty and joy will fade. There is no refuge but in Art, the serene,

immortal, unchangeable: the temple of thought which the poet builds for himself in the

Ode To Psyche, the marble world which lives for ever on the carved shape of a Greecian


Ode To Psyche is the only one of the major Odes that is based on a myth. In it

Keats unites myth, nature and literature. Keats has adopted the version of the legend from

William Adlington’s translation (1556) of The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Mrs. Tighe’s

allegoric romance psyche also has some contribution. Lampriere’s Bibliotheea Classica

had provided the idea of Psyche’s tardy godhead [“The word (psyche) signifies ‘the soul’

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and this personification of psyche, first mentioned by Apuleius, is consequently posterior

to the Augustan age, though it is connected with ancient mythology”.] { Kenneth Allott;

The Ode to Psyche, John Keats: Odes (Suffolk, 1971) ed. G. S. Fraser, Casebook Series}

Spenser’s description of “The Garden of Adonis” in The Faerie Queene (Book III, Canto

VI) and Milton’s “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” probably provided further

descriptive hints. What emerges is a celebratory vision of idealised love.

In classical legend, Cupid the winged love-god, had fallen in love with the nymph

Psyche and had often made love to her by night in blissful, Arcadian bowers; eventually

after Cupid’s intercession with Jupiter Psyche became a winged goddess. In the Ode

Keats does not embody the traditional allegory of Cupid and Psyche. Keats discovers his

philosophy in the myth of Cupid and psyche and has fused the two domains – the

mythological & the intellectual.

In the Ode, the poet first describes his vision of the two lovers embracing ‘on the

bedded grass’. The trauma and trials are over and the two have been united. The vision of

this true love proves to be a vision of truth itself for Keats – “I am certain of nothing but

of the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination – what the

imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not --- the

imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream – he awoke and found it truth”. [Rollins;

I; 184-185]. Through this imaginative reinvention of mythology Keats discovers a vision

of purity and truth. Psyche has cast a spell over Keats and led him “onto expanded

consciousness regarding human intellect. Thus mythology has created within Keats a

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kind of renaissance or a reawakening of consciousness … Not only does he experience

this consciousness with her but he also tries to act in accordance with this experience”.

[Myth & Mythology in Keats’s Major Poetry –Seemin Hasan.]

Keats then praises the beauty of Psyche, regrets that she was admitted too late to

the Pantheon to be the object of rituals of worship. The process of deification has begun

and the poet behaves like an ancient bard. After admitting that the world is full of

corruption, impurity and degeneration the poet decides to make Psyche’s altar within his

mind – “Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane,/ In some untrodden region of my


This is “a recognition by Keats that his own exploration is to be of the interior

landscape, that his ultimate devotion is to be neither to the objective world, nor to any

power outside himself”. [The Romantic Poets, Graham Hough.]

Next to Psyche was Ode On a Greecian Urn in Keats’s nexus to mythology. The

very title suggests that Keats had in mind a particular work of Greek art, which he first

describes, then goes on to interpret which culminates in and develops Keats own theory

of poetics. Keats’s fascination with Greek mythology was intense, Severn quotes Keats’s

comments “… the Greek spirit- the Religion of the beautiful; the Religion of Joy …”.

The imaginary vase is a product of Keats’s recollection of the Sosibios vase, still to be

seen in the Louvre. There are also other certain influences; Lampriere’s classical

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dictionary, the Elgin Marbles, the Borghese vase, the Townley vase, the Portland vase,

the Bacchic pictures of Poussin etc.

The Greecian urn crystallizes those ancient days of Greece. The engravings are

recreated and reverberated with Keats’s touch of imagination. Keats observes those

scenes and his perception of eternal beauty combined with a universal experience of

endurance is presented with a colouring of imagination. Keats draws inspirations from

such mythological thinking and has revived the permanence of the truth of life. In Ode

On a Greecian Urn, the poet establishes a contrast between life as it is depicted on the

Urn and life as it is lived. In contemplating the Greecian Urn, the poet is struck by its

permanence and silence, it is an art object that represents human action frozen in mute

gestures for all time. Although made by a specific Greek artisan (its real parent). It is

nevertheless a timeless objective, a ‘child’ adopted and loved through the ages but not

engendered in any one epoch. The contrast between real life and the Urn depends on the

urn’s special liberation from temporality. Instead of the ‘heard melody’ of, for example,

the nightingale, the ‘unheard’ melodies piped on the silent friezes of the Greecian urn

stimulate the poet to contemplate time and eternity, life and art. The urn is more than an

inanimate piece of architecture. The opening lines of the ode sound like an invocation to

a classic deity;

“Thou still unravished bride of quietness,

Thou foster child of silence and slow time”

Mythology as Poetics

The urn is thus enigmatic and enchanting like any mythical goddess. It is a

divinity like Psyche, who has withstood the challenges and ravages of time and purity

and loyalty. The poet, like Apollo, acts as a votary to the urn. The urn is mysterious and

teasing, the poet, as he speculates, seems to be lost in the labyrinthian trellis of the

engravings. He ends the first stanza with a flurry of inquiries. The stanza II gives us the

paradoxical quality of the urn. Here the lovers are like Cupid and Psyche, and also like

poet himself and Fanny, inspite of intense feeling for each other, are not able to attain

fulfilment. In stanza III the poet enthuses over the happiness of the urn’s world, where

spring is permanent. “Placed in proper mythological context, the urn represents the

‘mythic consciousness’ of Keats. Owen Barfield defines the term as “a renewal of lost

insights”. The ‘happy melodist’ may be said to be an Orpheus, whose music is so

captivating that its spellbinding effect is seen even on rocks and stones :

“All breathing human passion far above,

That leaves a heart high—sorrowful and cloyed

A burning forehead and a parching tongue”.

The picture of the sacrificial heifer reminds us at once of the Greek religion. The

scene was perhaps motivated by a painting of Claude’s ‘sacrifice of Apollo’. Ian Jack

says, “the elegiac tone of Keats’s lines is profoundly in sympathy with the serene

nostalgia of Claude’s religious processions”.

The final maxim “Beauty is truth, truth Beauty”, as pronounced by the urn,

captures the whole gamut of Keats’s philosophy. The urn has long been suffered the

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endurance and has achieved a considerable store of wisdom. Now it begins to tease us out

of thought. In its paradoxical statement the urn acquires the status of Sibyl Erythraean of

Greek mythology. It is a prophecy of message to mankind. The oracular qualities of the

ancient Sibyl find expression in this apparent paradox.

Ode On a Greecian Urn represents the arresting of life by art as both profit and

loss – it represents the escape from change and decay into eternity, but at the expense of

eternal unfulfilment : “the unravished bride’ remains forever between the wedding

ceremony & the bridal bed, as it were” (David Daiches). The Ode shows Keats in his last

and greatest phase finding a way to substantiate his growing concern with the relation

between art and life, beauty and reality. Earnst De Selincourt suggests as its motto a

phrase of Leonardo’s : “cosa bella mortal passa e non’d’arte” – Mortal beauties pass

away, but not those of art.

Ode to a Nightingale does not reinterpret any particular Greek myth. The only

myth connection is found in a few allusions. Mythology has become, by then, so intrinsic

a part in Keats’s writing that he could at once resort to it in order to associate his

ideology. Here Keats’s thought is a kind of belief that when momentary beauty is

sojourning, the ideal embodiment of that moment, captured in the bird’s song, is an

imperishable source of Joy. “It is the very acme of melancholy that the joy he celebrates

is joy in beauty that must die” (Douglus Bush). The ode encapsulates poet’s immediately

experienced happiness in the bird’s song, his imaginative participation in an untroubled

life and then a more enduring knowledge of sorrow. But when Keats says that the song of

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the bird is immortal that is beyond the pains of human world, his deepest emotion is fixed

on the obverse side of his theme. The poem represents the exquisite awarness of the

existence, that no mood on earth is unalloyed with other feelings, for it is the very

condition, the impossibility of maintaining the mood of exaltation. The general criteria of

human existence is presented with a set of alternatives, infact paradoxes. And the verbal

ambiguity consolidates the meaning.

The nightingale is a bird with a long literary pedigree. The Romantics sought

refuge in the spontaneous lyrical utterance of this bird. Keats was probably familiar with

Cowden Clarke’s The Nightingale and Coleridge’s two Nightingale poems. Edmund

Blunden notes some possible Horatian parallels with the Nightingale. He also suggests

that it might have been a volume of Horace that Keats had with him when he sat under

the tree to compose his Ode. William Michael Rossetti has found in the Nightingale “a

surfeit of mythological allusions” (Life of John Keats). Keats’s taste in the matter of

allusions is generally that of the Elizabethans & Jacobeans from whom he drew so much

of his mythology (Douglas Bush). If we draw nightingale’s classical inheritance we shall

find that nightingale’s singing heralded Apollo’s arrival. Apollo’s arrival brought vitality

and energy of spring, the freedom from autumnal disease. It can be considered an

emblem of hope. The magical notes of nightingale, like Hermes the conductor of the

souls of the dead to the underworld, carry the poet ‘Lethe wards’. ‘Lethe’ in Greek

mythology is a river in Hades beyond the Elysian Fields where those souls about to

reborn drink oblivion of former lives. The nightingale appears to be an agency who can

relieve the poet from the dreadful misery of his present life. The bird, to the poet, is a

Mythology as Poetics

light winged Dryad’ or a tree nymph of Greek mythology. The poet, like Endymion, then

ventures into the magic forest leaving behind the diseased and maimed world full of

palsied old people and ‘pale and specter thin’ youths. Keats has drawn inspiration from

Hippocrene (Spring on mount Helicon, the haunt of Muses). Being saturated in the depths

of Earth, the wine has imbibed the wisdom, strength, maturity and beneficence of Gaia or

the mother Earth. It also combines the dream or fancy of the poet. The nightingale is a

kind of divinity which can transport the poet beyond mortality. In the stanza IV this

means of wine is rejected, instead the poet chooses ‘poesy’. Here the immediate

association of wine is Bacchus, the God of wine and also the symbol of destructive

potentialities. Stanza VI commences Keats’s ‘courtship with death’ (G. Wilson Knight).

In his voluptuous longing for death Keats again compromises with mythology. Exhausted

by the trauma and trials of life the poet wants to return to the ‘seed’ state of life that will

revitalize his creativity. Stanza VII, as Mr. Riddley suggested of it, offers us “the distilled

sorceries of Romanticism” (Keats’s Craftsmanship). It takes us from ‘Death’ to

deathlessness. The immortality of the bird’s song and the temporality of the fugitive

happiness is strongly insisted upon the lines. The last word ‘forlorn’ breaks in like the

tolling of a bell to signal the end of the poet’s emotional exaltation. ‘Faery lands forlorn’

reads like an exquisite pastiche of a Miltonic cadence: ‘stygian caves forlorn’ (L’Allegro,

line 3); ‘these wild wood forlorn’ (Paradise Lost, IX, 910). The immediate attachment to

this ‘forlorn’ is remoteness and strangeness of an enchanted world. The second ‘forlorn’,

that introduces the next Stanza, has a homely and familiar connotation. It sets the tone of

the poet upon the common world, to which he now returns. The last Stanza exposes

Keats’s rational mind. The sweet melody becomes ‘plaintive anthem’ to the poet. The

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‘still stream’, an oxymoronic patterning of words, refers to the frozen lake or in the

picture. This indicates the lifelessness of Keats’s vision. The poet is in a quandary by

getting back the world of reality. This completes the full circle of the poem. “The

experience has exposed mythology before the poet as a channel for evolution” (Seemin


The Ode on Melancholy witnesses the deification of melancholy in the tradition

of Psyche, Greecian Urn, Maia and Keats’s treatment of other deities. The central idea of

the poem is the contrast between the melancholy that causes life a halt, brings stagnation

and the true melancholy that produces creativity. Here ‘melancholy’ does not signify

those hackneyed terms – clinical gloominess, sad and aching memories, pensive mood,

solitary wanderings. For Romantic Keats it is incorporated with positive, heightened

sensibility that could bring inspiration. Paradoxical romantic belief that pain is an

essential part in happiness and pleasure – was explored in a letter of Keats to George and

Georgiana Keats on April, 1819; “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and

troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul?”

In the first Stanza, Mythological motifs, essentially associated with the sense of

death and oblivion, heightens the negative connotation that the word ‘melancholy’

generally carries with it. Keats says that to seek oblivion through any of the means

described in the first Stanza is to “drown the wakeful anguish of the soul”. Keats’s

heterodox idea appears to be that if you poison the body you drug the soul, so that in the

after-life the soul will be stupefied. The second Stanza presents the ‘melancholy’ with an

Mythology as Poetics

affirmation of life forces. Melancholy becomes associated with rare and precious

moments, even if they are painful like the anger of a loved one. True melancholy is a

constructive gift of the ‘vale of soul making’, a guide towards creative evolution of the

energies. The Stanza is laden with images of fertility and purity. The use of a hyperbolic

verb, ‘glut’, subsumes the negatives of sorrow. Melancholy appears like an independent,

established myth in Keats’s investment life into melancholy.

The third Stanza recognizes that sadness is the inevitable complement of the

moments of intense sensuous happiness. Melancholy springs from the transience of

beauty and joy, that is a part of their nature, With a model shift to abstraction, this Stanza

introduces the resolution of the conflicts presented in the first two Stanzas. The final six

lines articulates the underlying matrix of the entire text. It represents that crossroad in

mental progress where the conscious meets the sub-conscious, they do not overwhelm

each other instead grow side by side to bring forth a complete knowledge. The poet,

being a privileged person can enter melancholy’s ‘Sovran Shrine and confront her ‘veiled

figure’. He alone can taste ‘the sadness of her might leaving himself one of melancholy’s

conquests (‘trophies’). The use of an Oxymoron ‘aching pleasure’ means that even the

intensities of sexual pleasure entail sorrow. That melancholy is to be found at the heart of

every pleasure evokes the traditional maxim, ‘post coitum homo tristis’ – that after coitus

comes the cloyness. The central paradox anticipates Blake’s philosophy: “without

contraries is no progression” (The Marriage of Heaven & Hell). Though Keats’s major

force is on melancholy, he asks us to seek the palliatives – the beauties and pleasures of

Mythology as Poetics

life, when impeded by melancholy. The amalgamation of the opposites can bring forth

the ‘third state’, the sense of higher imagination, a synthesis of joy and melancholy.

‘Ode on Indolence’ does not evoke any particular myth but it shapes a mythic

pattern in the way of Keats’s invocation of ‘indolence’. It is almost like the call of Muse.

Hermes, the god of dreams and sleep, infuses in Keats the bliss of a dream and the entire

thought process of the poet is projected in the form of that dream. In a letter to George

Keats the poet wrote—“This morning I am in a sort of a temper indolent and supremely

careless: I long after a stanza or two of Thomson’s Castle of Indolence. Neither poetry,

nor Ambition, nor Love have any alertness of countenance as they pass by me: they seem

rather like three figures on a Greek vase – A Man and two Women …. This is the only

happiness”. (Rollins, I, 78).

Now once again these three ‘white robed’ figures tease the poet in his dream. The

poet remains in a strong sense of déjà vu. Together the figures form a trinity, the most

important and dominating forces of his poetic life. But the poet determines to follow the

Biblical precept, as is expressed in the epigraph; “they toil not, neither do they spin”: a

quotation from the gospel of St. Matthew, Chapter VI, verse 28, in which Jesus has been

commending the example of the idle and beautiful lilies of the field. After this supreme

identification, his initial longing has been resolved to a dismissal of all three. ‘Sloth’ one

of the seven deadly sins, has been regarded as a process of degeneration and decay. Keats

is deviating from that conventional idea, here he is not repudiating ‘indolence’, instead

creating a new dimension out of the olden myth. Indolence is a mother figure, the

Mythology as Poetics

ultimate provider of comfort, solace, security and Peace. Indolence signifies not lethargy

but a fertile visionary state where truth is clearly visible. Keats in his present condition, is

undergoing a symbolic burial after which he will emerge resurrected as a creative poet.

To Autumn is a celebration of nature in its ultimate fruition. The author sings a

paean for autumn. Keats’s Autumn is a divinity in human shape: she sets hand to all

manner of work, and direct every operation of harvest. In a letter to Reynolds on 21st

September, 1819, Keats had left a genesis of his poem; “How beautiful the season is now

… How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really without joking chaste weather

– Dian skies – I never liked stubble fields as now – Aye better than the chilly green of

spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm … this struck me so much in my Sunday’s

walk that I composed upon it”. Keats associates autumn with ‘Dian skies’. Diana in

Roman mythology is the goddess of fertility. Ian Jack associates Keats’s autumn with

Ceres, the Roman deity who stands for the generation power of nature. Demeter is the

Greecian counterpart of Ceres. Demeter was the goddess of corn and agriculture. The

personifications of autumn with the attributes of such deities combine to create the

“benevolent deity ‘Autumn’ that wants not only to ‘load and bless’”, but also to ‘spare’,

to prolong, to ‘set budding more’ (W. J. Bate). Douglas Bush writes … “the delicate

personifications … exhibit Keats’s mythmaking interest at its ripest and surest

(Mythology & The Romantic Tradition).

The second stanza evokes an image of Ruth – that she lay down at Boaz’ feet in

the ‘threshing floor’ where after ‘winnowing’, he ‘lay at the end of the heap of corn’

Mythology as Poetics

(Ruth, iii, 2-7); that she ‘gleaned in the field and Boaz filled her veil with six measures of

Barley and ‘laid it on her’ (ii, 17; iii, 15) [Arnold Devenport, in John Keats, A

Reassessment. ed. Kenneth Muir]. The final images of swallows may also be influenced

by Keats’s translation of Aeneid. In the sixth book where in a striking show virgil

describes the souls of all generations come together on the banks of the river of the

underworld. Birds, in Keats’s poem, gathering for migration, have a link with that image.

The stress is on both the passing away of autumn and the decay of the dead

generations of mankind. But the main link is one of that direct themes of Hyperion where

the glory of the new gods shines out to eclipse the Titans, the loss of whose old grandeur

is the price that must be paid for the new beauty.

Thus in Keats’s hand the mythological imagination was reborn. Keats’s mythic

vision was so deeply ingrained in his psyche that he could easily communicate the

ancient deities through his poem. It was Keats’s instinctive purpose to transport those

fictionalized experiences into his poetry in order to reveal the poetic potential with which

he wanted to profess his self-discovery.

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“Colossal Grandeur”

:- Hyperion, A Fragment :-

Mythology turns to Aesthetics

After the completion of Endymion in late Nov. 1817 Keats wrote few serious poetry.

Everything except a few sonnets, written in this period was extemporaneous or

occational. This hiatus in serious composition reflects the poet’s disenchantment with the

ideas that governed his poetry so far, and his consequent uncertainty about how, or on

what basis, to proceed.

Mythology had always been a subject to Cherish. The ‘south’ provided the later

Romantics with a repertoire of themes which were used as an ideological, philosophical

Mythology as Poetics

and aesthetic alternatives. Keats, in his poetic career, never got rid of imaginative

inebriation which he sought for.

On April 10, 1818, in his revision of the preface to Endymion, Keats wrote, “I

hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled

its brightness: for I wish to try once more, before I bid it farewell”. In such contemplation

was hidden Keats’s wish to project a specific work on some mythological theme. But he

also gave clues for his specific theme in his letters and poetry. In the last book of

Endymion (IV, 770-74). Keats apostrophizes his hero, Apollo, while writing;

“Ensky’d ere this, but truly that I

Truth the best music in a first deem born-song,

Thy lute voiced brother will I sing ere long,

And thou shalt aid …”

On 23rd January, 1818 Keats wrote to Haydon; “… in Endymion I think, you may

have many bits of deep and sentimental cast – the nature of Hyperion will lead me totreat

it in a more naked and Greecian manner … and the march of passion and endeavour will

be undeviating … and one great contrast between them will be … that the hero of the

written tale being mortal is led on; like Bonaparte, by circumstances; whereas Apollo in

Hyperion being a fore-seeing God will shape his actions like one”.

Mythology as Poetics

The golden theme was once again in his bag but this time Keats wanted to

decorate his idea with a finesse only for the sake of poetry and poet. His fascination was

too deep and he could easily chisel out his purpose from the rocky myths of Greek,

Roman and even of Egyptian legends. Keats conceived the wild and high imaginations of

ancient mythology, the mysterious being and awful histories of the deities of Greece and

Rome and sketched them boldly and skillfully to suit his power in delineating the

immortal spirit of mythology.

“Hyperion is the greatest of poetical torsos” (The Revd. George Gilfillan). It is an

epic fragment in two versions. The second one, an unfinished version is more specifically

named as The Fall of Hyperion, A Dream on which we will focus later in the next


Hyperion ushers in the remarkable twelve months in which all the greatest poetry

of Keats was written. It was begun in Autumn 1818, at the start of what is usually

regarded as Keats’s greatest creative year. Keats got down once more to try the “beautiful

mythology” of Greece. But several events combined to intervene the gradual progress of

his poetry. While nursing his dying brother, Tom, Keats found that “His identity presses

upon me so … I am obliged to write, and plunge into abstract images” (Let. I. 369).

These abstract images were drawn from classical mythology. Keats’s primary intension

was to fill out the old myth with poetical ornament. He had studied and thought deeply;

he had been reading Milton, Wordsworth, Dante and he had derived from them some

valuable lessons. The letters show the extent to which his earlier youthful hedonism was

Mythology as Poetics

giving way to more thoughtful attitudes. He understood the lack of depth and security in

his own work hither to and even contemplated that “nothing is fine for the purposes of

great productions than a very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers”; he wrote to his

brothers in January 1912. In Hyperion Keats strove for impersonality and objectivity.

Keats was inclined to avoid the “deep and sentimental cast” of Endymion in favour of a

more naked and Greecian manner”. Keats concentrates on the psychological

undercurrents that pervade the Titan-Olympian myth rather than retelling the chronology

and the disciplined style which was inspired by a number of sources. On the outset the

story is the expulsion of Saturn and the Titanian deities by Jupiter and his younger

adherents. The Titans in their horrid cave meditating revenge on the usurper, the only

hope being the sun god Hyperion, still unfallen. On the other side, there is a picture of

Apollo breathing in the dawn of his joyous existence. The specific theme, the supplanting

of Hyperion the old Sun God by Apollo the new, is Keats’s own.

As we enter from the outer rim of the conditions we are filled with a host of

complex feelings – fear, wonder, a feeling of unimaginable ghastliness and savagery and

yet a sheer lyrical strain of pulsating rhythms of beauty.

Keats was familiar with the myth of Hyperion long before he selected it as the

subject of his next long poem. He had known about the battle between the Titans and the

Olympians and the consequent defeat of the latter from Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary,

Hesiod’s Theogony, Edward Baldwin’s. The Pantheon, Hyginus’s ‘Fabluae’ printed in

Actores Mythographi Lahiri. Greek and Egyptian sculptures mostly drawn from

Mythology as Poetics

mythological tales had cast a spell over Keats’s imagination. He, though did not visualize

all of them, had an instinctive possession and subjective contemplation in his mind and it

enabled Keats to shape his ‘palpable Gods’ all serene and statuesque in the abstract

identification in Hyperion.

According to Hesiod’s Thegony, from which Keats derived the prime source of

his mythological rendering of Hyperion, Chaos was the first to come into existence. Next

came Earth, Erebus and Eros. Earth bore Heaven, Hills and Sea and Heaven & Earth

mating together, produced Oceanus, Coeus, Creus, Hyperion, Japhet, Thea, Rhea,

Themis, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Tethys, and Saturn, the youngest and the most terrible.

Then came the Brontes, Steropes and Arges, followed by Cottus, Gyges and Briareus.

Heaven confined his third brood in a secret place within Earth. But the strain proving too

much for her, Earth appealed to Saturn for help. Saturn castrated Heaven with a scythe

given to him by Earth. The blood which dripped on to Earth produced the Giants and the

Furies and the Nymphs called Melial. The members, thrown into the sea produced Venus.

According to Hesiod, Heaven named his first brood Titans.

Saturn taking Rhea as wife, became the ruler of the universe. He was
warned by his mother that he would be dethroned by one of his offsprings.
So, soon as each child was born, he swalloed it. Rhea, unhappy at the loss of
her children, gave him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow
when her sixth child was born. This child was Jupiter, when he grew to
maturity, he tricked Saturn into vomiting his children. Led by Jupiter, the
younger Gods declared war against the Titans. They took their stand on
mount Olympus and thus came to be known as the Olympians. The war
continued for ten years. Jupiter now released Cottus, Gyges and Briareus
who had been imprisoned in Earth. They supplied him with thunder and

Mythology as Poetics

lightening in return for their freedom. Ultimately, the Titans fell before the
thunderbolts and the Olympians came to rule over the universe.

Keats uses this myth as the background of Hyperion and he eventually offered a

variation from this traditional myth. He invested the Titans with majestic beauty. To

make the Olympians more beautiful he inculcated the intellectual beauty in them, so that

“the first in beauty, should be first in might”. Traditionally the Titans were monsters

associated with planets and furious elements of nature. The Olympians were a refined

sect and more humanized. The Titans fell short of the intellectual superiority of the

Olympians. Keats deviates from the traditional mythology. He deliberately alters the

conventional concepts in order to employ his own ideas. Keats’s technique of re-

interpreting the myth is a part of his philosophy.

Keats conceived of myth as a comprehensive system that reveals and unfolds the

poetic experiences and the mythic vision of the poet each time it is reconstructed. Keats’s

manipulation of the traditional myth gains a new dimension as it attempts to embody

Keats’s purpose and philosophy. Keats uses it as a vehicle to define the law of succession

but at the same time tries to promulgate several ideals that he had fostered so far; (1) the

role of a poet with relation to major intellectual, political and historical movements of his

time. (2) the attainment of a poethood after incorporating the highest ideals of poetic

values in him (3) Certain competing ideas of the poetic character and method and (4) to

formulate the higher ideal of beauty. Keats wanted to dramatize these truths of ‘heart-

knowledge’ through a return to mythology.

Mythology as Poetics

The Titans led by Saturn, were deposed in a revolutionary coup by the Olympians

led by Jupiter. Here Keats deliberately excludes the epic battles and refers to wars only in

allusive retrospect. The silent grandeur of the opening of the poem exhibits Saturn in his


“Deep in the shady sadness of a vale

Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,

Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,

Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quite as a stone,

Still as the silence round about his lair;

Forest on forest hung above his head

Like cloud on cloud, No stir of air was there,

Not so much life as on a summer’s day

Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,

But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.

A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more

By reason of his fallen divinity

Spreading a shade: the Naiad mid her reeds

Press’d her cold finger closer to her lips.

Along the margin sand large foot-marks went,

No further than to where his feet had stray’d,

And slept there since. Upon the sodden ground

His old right hand lay nerveless, Listless, dead,

Unsceptred; and his realmless eyes were closed;

Mythology as Poetics

while his bow’d head seem’d list’ning to the Earth,

His ancient mother, for some comfort yet”.

The claustrophobic images in these lines evoke a funereal environment. The still

serenity and the blank darkness refer to a paralysis of the time. The tragic grimness as it

befalls Saturn is a perfect setting of an epic rendering. The shadow of Miltonic influence

is obvious in the description of the scene but Keats’s choice of the mythological subject

matter is more than decorative. Its paganism gave Keats a latitude to explore his subject

without constraints of Christianity. Like Medieval and Elizabethan poets, Keats altered

mythology freely, and he welcomed the post-classical accretions thatold stories had

gathered in passing through many hands. Unlike Milton’s exaggerate rendition of

Christian cosmology and the concept of Sin, Hyperion deals with an optimistic and

progressive view of mankind’s history. The ‘reanimation’ of the Greek myth is not

simply to imply past modes of belief. A number of mythological allusions suggestive of

the fall refers to the end of Saturnian epoch. Saturn’s reign was characterized by ‘calm

grandeur’. Change, progress, dynamism all were unknown to the Titan world. Now the

overthrow has crippled the king, like a forlorn child he now turns to his ancient mother,

Gaia. Thus the first two paragraphs set the tone for the coming revival, after the

dethronement of a dynasty. Keats describes to Reynolds of the fundamental change from

“the infant or thoughtless chamber” to a realization that the world is “full of Misery and

Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness and oppression” (vol-I, 280-81). The loss, endemic to the

times is one of those changes from a golden age of innocence to a modern awareness of

the “burden of the Mystery”. It was also a change from an era of godlike assurance to the

Mythology as Poetics

evidences of post revolutionary disillutionment that Keats could observe in the political

and literary thinking of his time.

Saturn in his desperate state, can be interpreted as a lapsed artist, bereft and

impotent. Now comes Thea, wife of the Sun-God Hyperion, to comfort Saturn, but

herself weeps, placing her hand on “that aching spot

Where beats the human heart, as if just there;

Though an immortal, she felt a cruel pain”—

A sign that the immortal gods are becoming mortal (Book, I- 42-44). Saturn feels a crisis

of identity, he is frantically is search of the mystery, that stripped him of his power,

authority and glory. Saturn is also divested of his divinity. His tragedy lies in his inability

to perceive the necessity for a change and to accept the inevitable turn of the cycle.

Saturn can only look to the past, to a heaven he has lost, for the rehabilitation of his god

head. Blinded by his egoism, he is unaware of a strong irony implicit in his words;

It must – it must

Be of ripe-progress—Saturn must be king.

[I, 124-25]

Thea assists Saturn to lift himself up from his stupor and advises to conjoin the defeated

rebels’ council.

Mythology as Poetics

The scene now shifts to Hyperion’s palace. The majestic splendour in these

descriptive passages indicates Hyperion’s still intact divinity. According to the myth the

prominent feature of this god is the cult of the culture hero — and the cult of a soterial

god. This soterial trait is a legacy that the solar redeemer usually saves from ignorance,

sin, damnation or rebirth. But Hyperion is also castrated of his solemn supremacy. He is

also a victim of anxiety and apprehension. Coelus, puts forward and eventually reasons

the downfall of the Titans. According to him the loss of Godhead defines the condition of


“For I have seen my sons most unlike Gods.

Divine ye were created and divine

In sad demeanour, solemn, undisturb’d,

Unruffled, like high Gods, ye liv’d and ruled;

Now I behold in your fear, hope and wrath;

Actions of rage and passion; even as

I see them, on the mortal world beneath,

In men who die – This is the grief, O Son!

Sad sign of ruin, sudden dismay, and fall!

[I, 328-36]

The point is not merely that the gods have fallen but that the change of condition

is a change of kind, which in turn, implies an unbridgeable gulf between the mortal and

the divine. Hyperion now plunges into the deep night, threatens to “scare that infant

thunderer, rebel Jove/And bid old Saturn take his throne again”.

Mythology as Poetics

Thus ends the book I, Keats’s main preoccupation in these passages is to set the

theme for the next book. The whole passage is based on a fundamental sense of suffering.

Keats’s main purpose to choose a classical myth is to express chiefly an experience of

pain and suffering, of agony and strife, and also the troublesome question of how human

misery is to be endured and how it is explained. A number of mythic motifs help to set an

image of numbness, cold and constriction that surround the god. Naiads are stream

nymphs. In her ‘voiceless state’ these Naiad is reminiscent of the tongueless Procne. The

Naiad presses “her cold finger closer to her lips”—suggest Saturn’s loss of power and

vital creativity. Thea’s physical proportion elicits the marbels of Egyptian statuary.

Hyperion’s royal mansion may well be an instance of his superlative omnipotence but the

fear within is implicit and the palace becomes the devil’s palace of pandemonium in

Paradise Lost, Keats, though primarily depicting the ancient gods and goddesses, his

immediate purpose is to deal with a human problem. The Titans have been reduced to a

mortal level precisely because of their downfall, they have given themselves up to

desperate mortal feelings, including hope for the impossible. Book I is an expression of

giant agony and strife:of Saturn in all the anguished dejection of his overthrow; of Thea

in her impotence to offer any solace to Saturn; and of Hyperion afflicted with dark omens

of his imminent doom. Keats’s mastery in the assimilation of different systems of

mythology bring about a fusion of different techniques of philosophy that gives an

additional dimention to his treatment of the classical myth.

Mythology as Poetics

The second book opens with the arrival of Saturn, accompanied by Thea, at the

dark cave where the dethroned Titans are mourning their downfall. The place is

surrounded by waterfalls and huge cliffs. The scene shows a close similarity with the

infernos of both Milton and Dante. The dungeons and nightmarish crags are symbolic of

fear, frustration and anxiety. The colossal gods have lost their godheads; they have been

reduced to a mortal level. Saturn also experiences such distressing emotions as rage, fear,

remorse and revenge. It seems that Fate had robbed him of his divine powers, and

infected him with the weakness and infirmities of human beings. Saturn blows words that

act as a stimulus to the chill despair among the ruined comrades. The vital part of the

book is undoubtedly the speech of Oceanus, when he encourages a wide endurance:

“We fall by course of Nature’s Law, not force

Of thunder, or of Jove” [II, 180-82]

They easy optimism of Keats’s earlier view that man, by making a relatively

simple adjustment of his understanding, can participate directly to the divine, is implicitly

denied, for even the gods once lost to godhead, are impotent and frail.

“Now comes the pain of truth, to whom ‘tis pain;

O folly! for to bear all naked truths,

And to envisage circumstance, all calm,

That is the top of sovereignty” [II, 202-05].

‘The pain of truth’ is, Oceanus says, that life involves change, but it is only pain

to those who resist, because the change he refers to, which has involved their deposition,

is a kind of progress:

Mythology as Poetics

“So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,

A power more strong in beauty, born of us

And fated to excel us”. (II, 212-14).

The Titans should not grieve over the situation and should not envy their

successors …

“For ‘tis the eternal law

That first in beauty shall be first in might”. [228-29]

The words of Oceanus are no incidental exhortation, this is not simply an

advocacy of stoicism. Rather Oceanus sees that there is a connection between pain or

sorrow and its apparent opposite, beauty. Oceanus’s speech cast back to the speech of

Coleus in the first book and they are essential to Keats’s whole conception of the Titans

and the significance of their defeat; that beauty is the principle determinant of the

progressive evolutionary stages of the superiority.

When writing those lines, Keats was aware of the concept of evolutions of consciousness.

As Oceanus lays down the theory of evolutions he was, to some degree, aware of the

multidimentional nature of its manifestation all around himself. Keats believed in

cosmological evolution and understood that we live in not in a static universe but in one

that is part and parcel of a deep time development process. He also believed in the

biological evolution and had little difficulty comprehending how life itself has evolved

from lower to higher levels of development.

Mythology as Poetics

Evolution is a creative process and as a living potential inherent in our own

subjective experience or fact of consciousness that enables Oceanus to adopt the theory

of change and when Keats writes these lines he is pointing to something which is the

living potential inherent in consciousness itself for development and growth.

Oceanus sets out both a chaos theory and a genesis myth. In the beginning was

chaos and darkness and out of this primeval, prelapsarian condition comes light, at the

right, ripe moment;

“From Chaos and Parental Darkness came

Light, the first fruit of that intestine broil,

That sullen ferment, which for wondrous ends

Was ripening in itself. The ripe hour came,

And with it Light, and Light engendering

Upon its own producer, forthwith touch’d

The whole enormous matter into Life”. [II, 191-97]

There are of course Biblical hints in the language and concepts here but, Oceanus

offers a Pagan explanation of mythology, of the origins of the universe. There is no

creator, not even a mind or will behind it all, simply light coupling with its own producer

(Darkness), triggering off the whole of the material universe. However, in time, as light

and substance materialize so too does ‘form and shape’ and then even the Titans

themselves, “The first born of all shaped and palpable Gods”(II,153). These messages lie

at the heart of Oceanus’s conciliatory message to the Titans: in other words, rather than

Mythology as Poetics

feel humiliated by defeat they should view their overthrow as merely an inevitable

consequence of evolution. So, as consequence of evolution. So, as ‘first born’ they

became part of the time sequence, caught up in events emerging from chaos and

darkness: since time caused them to become supreme in the first place they should not

grumble now they are subject to change and casualties of that process. At the very heart

of Hyperion, his anxiety or uncertainty betrays a deficit of truth—and it is this truth

which is the integral premise of Oceanus’s concept of beauty. Only Oceanus, except

weak Clymene, whose glimpse of truth is only sensuous and emotional, can see the glow

of superior beauty in the eyes of his successor and acknowledge the rightness of defeat.

Oceanus is very much a mouthpiece for Keats’s own ideas at this time. Oceanus

also touches another very important thematic element, the role of suffering as an essential

ordeal in the development of a poet. The characteristic Keatsian theme of ripeness is a

familiar facet of Oceanus’s theme of time. Keats was keenly sensitive to the possibility of

his own moment of ripening as a poet. In mythological terms, the poet guides the psyche

from darkness to enlightenment. He defines growth as cyclic. Knowledge in Biblical

mythology, comes through suffering and defeat. Oceanus’s words echo the same

sentiment. The ideas also find parallels in one of Keats’s letters to the same period: “…

there is really a grand march of intellect … it proves that a mighty providence subdues

the mightiest mind of the service of the time being”. [II, Page-282]

Mythology as Poetics

Oceanus’s concern with time draws out the whole central thrust of the poem and

directs it towards Apollo’s climactic moment in Book III, his moment of ripeness and

thus of apotheosis.

The last phase of the book contains Enceladus reacting angrily and reminds the

Titans of their humiliations. War with the Olympians must be continued until the Titans

can “… singe away the swollen clouds of Jove stifling that puny essence in its


Upon the scene now arrives Hyperion, silent, morbid and dejected. The brilliance that he

radiates is too full of heat to be generative. The flare of Hyperion’s radiance matches the

anger of Enceladus but this can only be treated as blind obstinacy.

In these passages Keats’s treatment of mythology seems to explore a symbolic

vista of his philosophy and aesthetics. Hyperion’s retelling of a classical myth also gives

a radical re-reading of human history and its possible future.

The first two books are a series of sculptural friezes, they seem to be too much a

stage setting for Apollo who first appears in the third book. Book III opens with an

invocation of the Muse to leave behind the agony and tension of the Titans and to shift

her attention to Apollo, “the father of all verse” (Book III,13). Apollo has always been

the most symbolically weighted of mythological names for Keats. In pre-Hellenic days,

Delphi was the temple of Mother-Earth, guarded by a python. Apollo slew the serpent

Mythology as Poetics

and established his oracle at Delphi. We found in the previous book Clymene’s account

of the rapturous terror accompanying her premonitory experience of Apollo’s power ;

“A voice came sweeter, sweeter than all tune,

And still it cried, “Apollo; young Apollo!”

The morning-bright Apollo! Young Apollo!”

I fled, it followed me, and cried “Apollo”!”

These portend the entrance of Apollo, in the third book where the scene changes to a

Greek island. Apollo is wandering by a rivulet, weeping with an inexplicable sadness,

when he is approached by Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and the mother of the

Muses. She had watched over him all his life, she tells him, and their conversation brings

him to the sudden realization that his ‘aching pleasure’ is being displaced by ‘knowledge

enormous’, which makes him immortal. He convulsively “die[s] into life”, and the true

poet is born. Here ends the fragment. Thus the action of the poem reaches its climax with

Apollo’s apotheosis. The book forms the crux of Keats’s true poetic soul rising

resplendent above the relic of the old. Thus it seems that what began as an epic poem

about a mythological conflict has become a symbolical poem of a different kind.

Given the beauty might principle expounded by Oceanus the basic premise of Apollo’s

triumph over Hyperion is that he is ‘first in beauty’.De Selincourt suggests that, Apollo,

after being confirmed in his supremacy by Jove, “would have gone forth to meet

Mythology as Poetics

Hyperion who, struck by the power of supreme beauty would have found resistance

impossible”. It is Keats’s view of ‘suffering’ and his view of ‘progress’ that are crucial

here, Keats wished to show that sorrow could be creative: and it has even been said that

his whole poetic output can be regarded as an attempt to find a justification for suffering.

The younger gods in Hyperion are not antipathetic to the forebears, only more vigorous

and capable of facing and transcending the new complexities and oppositions the Titan

can not endure. Apollo achieves his godhead not by shrinking from the burden of the

modern consciousness – the Sense of sorrow, impermanence, and loss but by being

baptized into the agony of full historical awareness and its immensity of pain. Apollo,

prompted by Mnemosyne, discovers the truth about his own nature, instilling in him a

radiant self-assurance, leading him on to deification.

In this context Mnemosyne is a key figure because, as the Call, she represents a

particular type of enlightenment, for Apollo. Mnemosyne belongs to the world both of

the conquered and the conquering ,she was a Titan, but she becomes the foster mother of

Apollo; she is both orders of deity and transition from one to another; she is the womb in

the old order out of which the new order has been born. What Apollo receives from

Mnemosyne, is knowledge of human suffering, which together with feeling, makes the

artist godlike.


Mythology as Poetics

Creations and destroyings, all at once

Pour into the wide hollows of my brain

And deify me, … [III, 117-20]”.

Apollo, like Endymion, is John Keats. The untried idealism of Endymion has under the

stress of realities, become stronger, sterner. The fact of death and love have been proved

on the poet’s pulses. “Sensations” without knowledge have ripened and deepened into

sensations with knowledge. Apollo’s godhead is also his poet hood. He comes to see as a

god sees, as it is the high and final achievement of the poet to see. The poet may come to

the divine vision such as a god has. Apollo and Hyperion are, infact, complementary

figures. They represent the lighter and darker sides, the potential strengths and actual

liabilities of the broad criterion of Negative Capability Keats was seeking to articulate

and refine `into a moral ideal of the poet. In this way Hyperion is, by way of being an

exposition of what poetry, in its highest reaches. Keats is trying to tell us the aim and

object of the poet. The agony and the ecstasy that Apollo suffers in the process of his

apotheosis symbolizes the final stage in Keats’s poetic development. Thus Hyperion

becomes a poem where narrative and contemplation, story and symbol, myth and

meaning clash with and annul each other.

Keats abandoned the poem in about April 1819 – the month that he wrote the

‘vale of soul – making’ letter. We may conjecture about his reasons for this decisions.

Perhaps, with the Titans defeated and Apollo deified, Keats felt the climax of his story

had already been reached. Very probably Keats himself was not fully seized of the deeper

possibilities of his design as he told a close friend that Apollo’s speech “seemed to come

Mythology as Poetics

by chance or magic” rather than by his own intension. Keats proposed to write ten books

over the epic subject but in the process new difficulties had arisen. The new scheme of

evolution in beauty could hardly be embodied in events and actions, and Keats could not

afford such wealth of scenes and incidents. By this time Keats was also wavering among

a series of conflicts. He was frantically in search of an asylum where he could find a state

of changeless happiness and on the other hand an urgent sense of the necessity for change

and development, the necessity to emerge from the chamber of Maiden-Thought was

drastically sought for. Thus reaching the first great point of climax Keats abandones the

subject, for he never knew how to go on after filling one’s mind (Apollo’s) with the

potential of highest knowledge.

C. D. Thorpe [ed] suggests the possibility of Keats’s discontent with the direction

his poem was taking in its third book, i.e. veering away from epic action toward the

expression of incongruous aesthetic ideas, which dated back as far as “sleep and poetry”,

through the person of a Keats like Apollo who seemed to be developing into a prototytpe

of the poet rather than of the hero. [Poems, pp. 309-10]. The Miltonisms of the style seem

to have been a worry to Keats. In one of his letters he explained; “I’ve given up Hyperion

– there were too many Miltonic inversions in it – Miltonic verse can not be written but in

an artful, or rather artist’s humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English

ought to be kept up. It may be interesting to you to pick out some lines from Hyperion

and put a mark χ to the false beauty proceeding from art, and one | | to the true voice of

feeling. Upon my soul, ‘twas imagination I can not make the distinction – Every now and

Mythology as Poetics

then there is a Miltonic intonation – But I can not make the division properly …” [to J H.

Reynolds, 21st sept. 1819]

But Keats himself was in general the first to discovers his own defects and the

first to see how to remedy them. He deliberately chose Milton as a corrective to his lack

of restraint; he also deliberately abandoned Hyperion when he discovered that it was

becoming “too Miltonic”, and that his own natural style was in danger of being

submerged. None has been so successfully imitative and original at the same time, as


Hyperion marked the watershed in Keats’s carrer. The virtuoso in Keats made its

final cut with this epic attempt. The poem is a vision of spiritual and aesthetic growth,

Keats’s own of course, and a growth of his powers as a narrator. Byron announced that it

was “proof of his poetic genius” and Shelly called it second to nothing that was produced

by the deification of Apollo announces the arrival of the mature Keats. So the momentous

acclaim of his contemporaries confirms that Keats had at last fulfilled the desire in Sleep

& Poetry that he might become a ‘glorious denizen’ of poesy. Whatever be his reasons

for leaving Hyperion unfinished, however, Keats returned to the subject three of four

months later, probably in July 1819, with the intension of reworking the poem under a

new name, ridding it of its heavy Miltonic flavour.

Mythology as Poetics


With the recast of Hyperion in September 1819, Keats embarked into a new

philosophy.It took a different way and Keats used his mythic vision in a more complex

manner, in the hypnotic framework of a dream vision. In the first version Keats had failed

to unite idea and narrative. In the second version he plays boldly and simply sunders

them. Hyperion was always in Keats’s mind The Fall of Hyperion. It discovers a mythic

order of vision for Keats’s secular humanism, paradoxically attaining a severe

impersonality through intense objectivity. Hyperion was to be dethroned by Apollo who

had come at the abrupt end of the first version of the poem, through the pain of a death

into life, to a full consciousness of his own godhead. “Knowledge enormous makes a god

of me”. That was the projection, into an imagined world of immortals, of the knowledge

which the the mortal poet Keats had achieved through death into the end of the

third book of Hyperion Keats himself read those lines which Apollo read in the eyes of


“Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions,

Majesties, Sovran voices, agonies

Creations and destroyings” –

This knowledge of the beauty and necessity of human destinies, Keats personified

in Mnemosyne. In the new Hyperion the liquid and lovely name is changed to a sterner

Mythology as Poetics

one: the Greek Mnemosyne becomes the Latin Moneta. The Apollo of the first version

becomes the Keats of the second. The Fall of Hyperion creates a purgatorial and

redemptive pattern in which the modern poet is forced to question the limits and

sufficiency of the imagination’s claims to truth. The poem was Keats’s last effort to

integrate his conception of the poet and the poet’s function in the world.

The very style of the poem authenticates Keats’s fidelity to his mythic
vision. The poem is cast in a dream. And in the mask of dream vision the the
poet enters the.In the mask of the myth he presents his poetic theory and
within the poetic theory is the seed of his mythologizing imagination.

With the Fall of Hyperion Keats develops from sensuous pleasure to humanitarian

concern for the world. Keats’s is here looking back on what seem to him to be the facts of

his brief carrer and he condemns himself, with harsh sincerity, for having dwelt in an

ivory tower, for having given to men the illusive balm of dreams, whereas true poet by

intense effort, seize upon the reality which is not illusive. To them, as to active

benefactors of humanity, the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest.

In The Fall of Hyperion Keats’s guide is Moneta, a much more powerful, vivid

and sinister figure than Mnemosyne. The poem opens with a short prologue and with

distinction between self absorbed ‘dreamers’ and true poets. The prologue affords an

excellent example of the new tense and muscular verse, much in a Greek manner:

“Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave

A paradise for a sect; the savage too

From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep

Mythology as Poetics

Guesses at Heaven: pity these have not

Trac’d upon vellum or wild Indian leaf

The shadows of melodious utterance.

But bare of laurel they live, dream and die;

For poesy alone can tell her dreams,

With the fine spell of words alone can save

Imagination from the sable charm

And dumb enchantment”. [The Fall of Hyperion, Canto I, (1-11)]

This is an attempt to define the position of poetry. The poet has his dreams in

common with other men, but he alone is able to secure them from oblivion. The thought

is same here as in The Greecian Urn – only art can endure.

The narrator finds himself in a strange forest – he drinks a potion, after which he

swoons. The magic potion that lulls him to sleep is actually the eternal natural source

from which life is sustained and renewed, the dreamer now absorbs the divine grace of

the Great Goddess and thus prepares himself for the spiritual experience to come.

Waking up from the slumber, the poet finds himself in a vast shrine. This apparent

awakening from a swoon symbolizes the movement from the subconscious to the

unconscious resulting in a more profound involvement with the myth. The primeval

construction of the temple and its architecture is Greecian in from. It is here when he

Mythology as Poetics

hears a voice, which turns out to be his guide’s, Moneta. Moneta now throws a challenge

to the poet:

“If thou canst not ascend

These steps, die on that marble where thou art.”

Now the poet must accept his destiny of knowledge and make the fearful effort

towards mastery and comprehension, travelling along the road from birth to death. He

struggles to obey the summons, and the struggle is terrible. A palsied Chill strikes upward

from the paved floor. He is on the very brink of death.

“One minute before death, my ice’d foot touched

The lowest stair, and as it touch’d, life seem’d

To pour in at the toes: I mounted up,

As once fair Angels on a ladder flew

From the green turf to heaven.”

In the first version Apollo also had “died into life”. Now the mortal poet turns to

the veiled ministrant and cries; “What am I that should be so saved from death?” And the

veiled shadow explains;

“…Thou hast felt

What ’tis to die and live again before

Thy fated hour. That thou hadst power to do so

Is thy own safety ;thou hast dated on

Thy doom.” …

Mythology as Poetics

This death in life, which is also a death into life is necessary to the progress of the

poet, as Keats conceives it. It is a profound acceptance of death, it is a deliberate

submission of the conscious self which rebels against death. By thus symbolically

confronting his own death he becomes enlightened, since the only one who can climb the

steps are,

“… those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery.” It is, as it were, the

pressing to one’s heart of the pang that includes all pangs. This mysterious conception of

the death into life is undergone by Apollo in the final book of the first Hyperion. That

death and deification comes through the “Knowledge enormous” seen in the eyes of

Mnemosyne; something of the same kind was to befall the poet. Here Keats has entered

into a fuller possession of his own intuition; and declares that the power to feel what it is

to die and live again before his fated hour is the very condition of achieving his

“knowledge enormous”. Moneta is the central figure in this second version of Hyperion.

Keats felt that Moneta was more appropriate to his new conception of the priestess’s

wisdom and prohetic power. Some classical authorities associate Moneta with Minena,

the Greek adaptation of the Egyptian Isis. Isis represents the productive force of nature.

She is also linked with universal knowledge and truth. Lempriere relates that inscriptions

on the statues of the goddess were often in these words:

“I am all that has been, that shall be, and none among

the mortals has hitherto taken off my veil.”

Keats seems to have created the same awe and mystery in his portrayal of

Moneta. Moneta functions as a catalyst both for the poet and for the narrative, in a life

changing way. The problem of the first version is solved here by taking Moneta out of the

Mythology as Poetics

story and present himself inside the story line. But the delineation of Moneta is a complex

one for she combines within a single person both human reason and wisdom-in-suffering.

The fact that she can speak to gods and to poets also emphasizes another duality, the

divine in art, which may infact be the mission of the artist. Both of these roles together

point to a further element of her complex role in the poem, her transcendentalism. Like

Diana, she has the freedom to act equally in human and immortal worlds. She seems to

exist out side of time and accordingly she directs the poet towards the immortality hinted

at in the induction.

The veiled Moneta after giving a rigorous classification of men identifies the

fallen images of Saturn and promises to impart knowledge unto the poet, which would

wonder him, though it will be without pain. The scenes the same parts of the earlier epic

and they are needed only to provide examples of pain and loss. At this Moneta parts her

veils, and in her face we confront the impersonal stoicism that knowledge of endless

suffering has brought:

“… Then saw I a wan face,

Not pined by human sorrows, but bright-blanch’d

By an immortal sickness which kills not;”

The confrontation of Moneta and the Dreamer is similar to the confrontation of

the hero of the Ode on Melancholy with ‘veil’d Melancholy in her Sovran shrine’.

Mythology as Poetics

Thus Moneta is an archetypal Keatsian woman: dominant, drawing man to

knowledge, controlling, initiating, evading. The poet is permitted a privileged sight, to

see into the fall and the purgatorial suffering of the Titans. Thus the coming together of

the poet and Moneta, via ordeal and judgement, represents the essence of Romantic

creativity. The vision of Moneta’s face symbolizes the role of the true poet: impersonal,

immortal, compelling and comforting. Here Keats is offering a significant poetic

doctrine; “The vale of soul Making”, by which he means that when a human soul comes

to the earth it is only part formed and it becomes completed through its experiences

(chiefly suffering) in this world: “A place where the heart must feel and suffer a thousand

diverse ways” (14th February – 3rd May, 1819).

The dreamer must undergo a trial, a sort of dying into life and it is to take place

on the steps of Saturn’s ancient temple. Moneta draws the poet into a trial of his morality.

This is a moment of ripening and even of withering. The poet’s time has arrived but his

mood is still wavering, as if he were about to be annihilated. At the heart of this trial lies

the dilemma, the crisis in Keats’s mind about which type of dreamer he himself might be.

Keats fails to solve this crisis because fanatics and savages inhabit the same circle of the

dreamers and Moneta further torments the poet by pointing out that the poet, a dreamer

merely “vexes” the world, the dreamer “venoms all his days”. Nevertheless the poet

replies that poetry has a social as well as a life giving function,

“Sure not all

Those melodies sung into the world’s ear

Are useless: sure a poet is a sage,

Mythology as Poetics

A humanist, physician to all men”.

Accordingly Moneta must concede, poetry is after all ‘a balm upon the world’. It

were indeed better, Keats is saying, not to have entered the temple of consciousness, not

to suffer unending pain. But for that pain there is a reward: At last he stands safe on the

altar steps.

The fate of Saturn is a symbol of destiny of the world, and Moneta is a symbol of

the world made conscious of its own vicissitude. In Moneta’s ‘cold lips’ and ‘planetary

eyes’ Keats visualizes those ‘high tragedies’, the fallen Saturn:

“Like to the image pedestall’d so high

In Saturn’s temple, Then Moneta’s voice

Came brief upon mine ear, ‘so Saturn sat

When he had lost his realms’ – where on there grew

A power within me of enormous ken,

To see as a god sees, and take the depth

Of things as nimbly as the outward eye

Can size and shape pervade. The loftly theme

At those few words hung vast before my mind,

With half unravel’d web. I set myself

Upon an Eagle’s watch, that I might see,

And seeing ne’er forget”.

Mythology as Poetics

Moneta’s otherness has a weird familiarity: in imagining her capacity to

contemplate suffering, without in any way losing the ability to feel with its victims, Keats

recognizes and so creates his own spectral self. It is a moment of profound self-

realization. In the earlier poem the description of the heavens in Saturn’s speech leads to

an expectation of the arrival of Hyperion,

“to repossess

A heaven he lost erewhile.”(Hyperion, 1, 123-24)

But now the stars lead Saturn to the destructive thought:

“There is no death in all the Universe

No smell of death – there shall be death

-Moan moan”(The Fall of Hyperion, Canto I, 423-24).

His earlier semi-hopeful, semi-questioning—

“But can not I create,

Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forth?

Another world, another Universe[?]” – is in the new version now missing

(Hyperion, I. 141-43). The change is a remarkable one. Keats, here, looking on Thea and

Saturn, endures a ghastly agony. It is infact to Keats, “the giant agony of the world”, and

they represented chiefly that heaped portion of agony which he himself had to bear. For a

moment, looking at the benign eyes of Moneta, Keats could look upon the pattern of life

without pain and know the beauty and accept the necessity, that it must be so and not

otherwise, but he could not remain at that height of comprehension. His own pain broke

through his resolution and the agony becomes so heavy that he says;

Mythology as Poetics

Oftentimes I pray’d

Intense, that death would take me from the vale

And all its burdens – Gasping with despair

Of change, hour after hour I curs’d myself:”

These terrible lines contain the mood in which he was struggling to cope with his

final poetic harmony. Poetry was a revealation of soul-knowledge, and soul-knowledge

was an attitude of the complete being. Keats had struggled for an abiding knowledge, and

in the new Hyperion he recounts the steps of his strange progress. Keats has skillfully

incorporated myth into mystery. The study of all things ends in a mystery, and the

knowledge that does not end in a mystery is not a true knowledge at all.

Again the poem breaks off. Although Keats attributed the impasse in the poem to

the obstinate influence of Milton it is clear that his verse benefits immeasurably from the

assimilation of his literary research, underpinning theme and plot and opening up diverse

allegorical and metaphysical possibilities.

The Fall of Hyperion is an attempt, once more to summon up a bygone mythology

in modern times. The poem suggests Keats’s rendezvous with that poetic impulse that he

had to assertain before his doomsday. The intense autobiographical touch that fashion

forth the whole poem brings out the subjective interpretations of his own ego both poetic

and characteristic.

Mythology as Poetics

The abandoned version of the second Hyperion story constitute Keats’s further

refinements in the ‘beautiful mythology of Greece’. It reveals Keats’s brilliance in

transporting ancient myth into the substance of modern allegory. Mythology serves as the

sensual and fertile metaphor for his poetic vision.In his treatment of the Hyperion myth,

the poet is offering a mythical elaboration of his own poetic desires.

Apart from Miltonisms, Keats’s poetry also frequently echoes Shakespeare’s King

Lear, spenser’s Faeric Queene and Beckford’s Vathek. But Keats’s retelling of the myth

of Hyperion, its adaptation, expansion and treatment are essentially individual. Loaded

with symbolic significance and used as a mode for defining not only his poetic theory but

also his mythic vision and ultimately the attempt to use it as a vehicle for defining the law

of evolution are Keats’s own contributions. Keats’s personal credo has by now reached

such elegance that in The Fall of Hyperion he strongly hints that metaphysical

speculation is no longer the province of the sage but of the poet.

By the fall of 1819, Keats’s tuberculosis had progressed so far that he no longer

considered producing the new work and did little but revised old work, preparing it for

publication. The Fall of Hyperion was left unfinished.

Mythology as Poetics


Keats was the most highly endowed of all our poets in the nineteenth century . His

major preoccupations were to identify the energy and impulses that exist at the root of all

feelings and to bring them alive with objective experiences . Keats’s artistic inclination

led him to the elemental forms of nature and human life incorporated in mythology . But

his use of mythology was different from his contemporaries . Keats did not know Greek .

And the mistiness of mythology drove him to find a new cult based on the primordial

sources . Keatsian doctrine of Negative Capability is the essential base that supplies his

mythic vision . In one of his letters to George and Tom Keats , 21 Dec ,1817 Keats lays

down these lines :

“ …….. I mean Negative Capability , that is when man is

capable of being in uncertainties , Mysteries , doubts , without any irritable reaching after

fact and reason ”. These lines can generate the rich faculty of Keats’s mythologizing

power . But at the same time mythology provides him the substance not only for his

poetry but for his philosophy .

Keats’s philosophy of beauty is manifested in suffering and conflict . It

has an meaning to him . Without them souls could not be made and the business of the

world is the making of the souls. Therefore it is essential for a poetic soul to preserve its

Mythology as Poetics

natural receptiveness and to welcome all the influences that stream in upon it .

This champion of mankind died at Rome at the age of twenty five , paralysed by

tuberculosis , Keats’s parentage was not so remarkable and it can be said that Keats

inherited nothing but the disease of consumption . He had been brought to the warmer

winter of Italy in a vain attempt to prolong his life . This was eked out miserably in

rented rooms in the Piaza di Spagna ,where he was looked after by a young painter friend,

Joseph Severn . He sleeps beneath the pyramid of Caius Cestius , a spot so beautiful that

,in the phrase of Shelley , whose heart was soon to be rest beside him ,“ It makes one in

love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place “.

The inscription on the grave is of his own devising : “ Here lies one whose name

is writ in water” . The lovely, touching words are idle .That name is written, not in the

water, but on the everlasting rock of time .

Mythology as Poetics

Select Bibliography

 Aileen Ward , John Keats’s ;

“The making of a Poet”
( New york , and London , Paperback 1966).

 Brian Wilkie ;
“ Romantic Poets and Epic Tradition”
( Madison and Milwankee , 1965 ) .

 Claude De Finney ;
“ The Evolution of Keats’s Poetry,vols
( New york , Harvard University Press , 1966) .

 D. J . James ;
“ The Romantic Comedy ” (1948) .

 Douglus Bush ;
“ Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in
English Poetry” ( Massachusetts ; Havrard University
Press, 1969).

 E.R.Wasserman ;
“ The Finer Tone : Keats’s Major Poems”
(Baltimore , 1953) .

Mythology as Poetics

 George Santayana ;
“ Interpretations of Poetry and Religion”
(New York ,1926) .

 G.M.Matthews ;
“ Keats , The Critical Heritage ”
( Reprinted , London , Routledge , 1971) .

 Graham Hough ;
“ The Romantic Poets ”
( London : Hutchinson & co , ltd ,1953) .

 G.S.Kirk ;
“ Myth : Its Meaning and Functions in Ancient
and Other Cultures ” ( Cambridge University Press , 1970 ).

 Hyder Edwards Rollins ;

“ The Letters oh John Keats , vol I , II ”
(Cambridge University Press , 1958 ) .

 John Barnard ;
“John Keats , 1795-1821- Criticism and
Interpretation ”
( Cambridge University Press , 1970) .

 John Keats’s ;
“ Selected Poetry.ed.Elizabeth Cook”
(Oxford world’s classics , 1996) .

Mythology as Poetics

 John Middleton Murry ;
“ Keats and Shakespeare ”
( London , Oxford University Press , 1951) .

 Lionel Trilling ;
“ The Opposing Self ”
( New York and London , 1955 ) .
 N.F.Ford ;
“ The Prefigurative Imagination of John Keats”
( Stanford , California ,1951 ) .
 Seemin Hasan ;
“ The Voice of Feeling , Myth and Mythology
in Keats major Poems ”( The Academic press ,
Gurgaon ,1998 ) .
 Sir Herbert Read ;
“ The True Voice of Feeling ”
( London , 1953 ) .
 Stuart M . Sperry , Jnr. ;
“ Keats ,The Poet ”
( Princeton , 1974 University Press).
 Walter H. Evert ;
“ Aesthetic and Myth in the Poetry of
( Princeton , 1965 ) .
 Walter Jackson Bate ;

Mythology as Poetics

“ John Keats”
( Cambridge , Massachusetts , 1964 ) .