John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 10|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The child is father of the man and the enthusiasms of the boy are usually the inspiration of a poet's early efforts. Spenser may have turned the attention of Keats to poetry as a calling. But it was the moon which first brought him the light that never was on sea or land. The prominence of the theme in his thought, in his early work, is significant. Its recurrence in his letters, in later years, is corroborative. Certain passages of "Endymion," which may fairly be taken as confessional, are convincing. The moon moved his childish heart potently. It was the consoling mother for his tears. It was the mystic presence that shared his joys, the comrade of his solitude, the substitute for mountains, books, friends, feminine charms. It filled the earth with delight and opened his eyes to the beauty of the inner vision. This child, reared over a stable, educated at a commonplace school, in his moods of loneliness and melancholy chose a pagan object of worship. It was not the Bible, nor the perplexities of science, nor political liberalism, nor nature, nor even love that gave the stimulus to his creative life. It was the cult of the moon.
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Here is the origin of Keats. At first, like primitive man, he viewed the moon as a mere physical wonder, inspiring awe. This is the beginning of natural religion. At school he found the mythology of Greece. By the myth-making faculty the moon was identified with a personality. This is the next, the anthropomorphic stage of religious culture. Upon his reverence for the physical wonder he imposed the worship of Diana. To her he gave the loyalty of a devotee, and the moon, now only her throne, became an underpassion thereafter. The story of Endymion claimed his interest as a picturesque accretion of fable.
All this seems so artificial; the mythology of Greece seems so dead, so irretrievably dead. But Keats will be a closed book to him who is n antiquarian and nothing more. It may be artificial in fact; in the psychology of genius it is very vital. Wordsworth demands as much suspension of disbelief. That huge black peak in the "Prelude" which stirred in his imagination a sense of "unknown modes of being" is just as false in science. Yet that experience is the basis of Wordsworth's vision as a seer. The presence "whose dwelling is the light of setting suns"—Diana in the moon; a difference in terminology; the one abstract, the other specific; both referable, in truth, to the invisible power. The two poets, each in his own way, delivered their messages. Wordsworth, as an anodyne for the world-woe of his generation, developed a moral philosophy in which joy was regained by faith in the eternal benevolence. Keats, as a refuge from the ills of life, was reaching out for an æsthetic philosophy in which joy was attained by faith in eternal beauty. Both, in essence, were poets of a natural religion. And while the elder, having lost "the glory and the freshness of the dream," found his consolation in "the philosophic mind," the younger fought off the philosophic mind and preserved the glory and the freshness of the dream. There is in Keats' character a strain of perpetual youth. It came in large measure from his adoration of a mythology which was vital in the youth of the world. For the piety of the Greeks, so irretrievably dead, had a peculiar virtue,—the virtue of glee.
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