John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 20
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
THE INVOCATION TO THE MOON
Endymion is on the sea floor amid sunken wrecks and lost treasure. The moon is visible through the waters. He stands looking up, imploring. In his prayer he exalts the moon as a benevolent force in nature and as the inspiration of man's higher life in beauty. He pleads the devotion of his boyhood and confesses, with some qualms, his later apostasy from the moon to the moon's goddess. This worship is instinct with a fine rapture. It is a striking parallel to Wordsworth's confession of faith in "Tintern Abbey"; it shows the change from the passion for inanimate nature to that for the spiritual presence.
THE PALACE OF NEPTUNE
The sunrise illumines the sea depths. An army of lovers, just revived, is marching through a broad arch into the inner court of Neptune's domain. They are coming to do reverence to the god of the sea. Domes on jasper columns shimmer with opalescent light. Within the golden doors of his palace the god sits on an emerald throne; Venus Anadyomene is beside him; about are dancing nereids. A canopy of gold-green radiance hovers above. Oceanus, dethroned, pauses on the confines to take a last look at the lost empire—
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Before he went into his quiet cave
To muse forever.
These by no means exhaust the splendid fantasies which "Endymion" contains in a kind of turbid solution. It would be futile to maintain that Keats often fuses his details into artistic pictures. But the imagery went surging, powerful, through his heated brain. The lines of the poem are maundering imperfect records. The conceptions have not even the order of Utopian dreams, for in Utopia there are, at least, the laws of human relations. Keats' gorgeous phantasmagorias are rather like the wild outpourings of a bard. They lack the discretion of the modern artist, working with conscious design. They are, in fact, the product of that "fine frenzy" with which Shakespeare describes the lunatic, the lover and the poet; an example of airy nothings turned into shapes and given a local habitation and a name. The names may be borrowed from ancient mythology. But the local habitation is neither in Greece nor on Mount Olympus. It is rather a realm built upon "the baseless fabric of a vision," where dwell the Ancient Mariner and Alastor and Prospero and the genii of Scheherezade's tales—the realm of Poets' No-Man's-Land.
Keats failed in competition with the great masters. He touched sublimity, but he could not dominate it.