John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 18|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
He enters by a cavern and pursues his way through subterranean splendors to a shrine of Diana. To her he makes a prayer and passes on. In the arbor of Adonis he meets Venus, who encourages his pilgrimage and prophesies success. An eagle carries him to a jasmine bower and there the nameless love appears to him, declares himself to be one of the celestials and confesses a secret though heaven-forbidden passion. Before leaving she promises his ultimate happiness. Then he sleeps. On awakening he witnesses in a grotto to pursuit of Arethusa by the amorous Alepheus, both dissolved into darting streams of water. Suddenly his senses are overwhelmed; he finds himself on the sandy floor of the ocean.
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In the sea depths he indulges in a fervent worship of the moon, protesting that this reverence was the passion of his life until the strange love came. Afterward he encounters Glaucus, an old man, enchanted by Circe for a thousand years. Endymion breaks the spell, restores his youth and follows him to a submarine mausoleum of dead lovers. There he revives a multitude, Scylla, beloved of Glaucus, among them; and all proceed, rejoicing, over the sea floor to the temple of Neptune.
In due time Endymion is miraculously transported back to the sylvan earth. An Indian bacchante crosses his path. Endymion, astray, now hopeless of attaining the celestial one, offers to her an earthly union. After some confusing adventures on aerial steeds, the bacchante declares that she is forbidden to his love. The two return to his native hill. There, in the presence of Peona, Endymion vows himself to a hermit life of solitude. It is after this vow—the fact should be emphasized—that the Indian bacchante is suddenly revealed as the celestial Diana and the object of his quest. Before the goddess bears Endymion to the abode of the immortals, she explains the motive of the mysterious pilgrimage:—
And then 't was fit that from this mortal state
Thou shouldst, my love, by some unlook'd for change,
The narrative is bizarre; apparently meaningless; long, diffuse, devoid of any dramatic concentration. No wonder, then, that it fails to arouse a human interest or even to strike the attention. The virtues of the poem must be sought.
"If you should read Richardson for the story," said Dr. Johnson, "your impatience would be so fretted that you would hang yourself. You must read him for the sentiment." Perhaps the sentiment in "Endymion" might have driven the Doctor to the rope as quickly as the story. For that kind of sentiment of which the philistine is particularly intolerant gives to the poem its unique value.
In appreciations so much depends on the mood of approach. For "Endymion" the architectural taste, so keenly satisfied by the Parthenon, by the "Divine Comedy," must be wholly suppressed. One must approach it as one goes into the picture galleries of Europe: to glance casually at the innumerable specimens of innumerable painters; to forget most of them, but to hold in memory the imposing masterpieces. The acres of canvas are many; the rememberable pictures are few. So it is with this poem. If it is read by the selective method, it may become a source of profit and pleasure. Indeed the best way to emphasize its vitality is to pick out some of the best of the fantasies and to comment upon them in the manner of art criticism.
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