John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 22|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The garbled quotation thus turns out to be his first conscious endeavor to define the poetic in distinction from the philosophic mind.
PAGE 22 OF 81.
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
he asked two years afterward in "Lamia." Keats disliked rigorous analysis. The imagination to him was the supremely desirable faculty. Imagination brought the vision of truth to the heart invested with sublime emotion, while logic brought it to the head, cold and barren. In this same letter to Bailey is the first formal statement of his æsthetic principle, in which Beauty is identified with Truth. "I am certain of nothing," he wrote, "but the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination. What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth." He cited for illustration Adam's dream of Eve and his awakening to the reality in "Paradise Lost."
The exclamation and the æsthetic principle will help us to fix the precise meaning of "spiritualize." For in "Endymion" this line of thought is elaborated into a definite scheme of life.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases.
The argument then runs that if a beautiful perception is once made our own, it becomes a permanent possession; an inalienable power in the spirit to counteract the ills of human life. Instances of such things are the sun, the moon, the forest, clear streams of water, memories of the great dead. These, once seized and held, enter into our natures as haunting shapes of beauty: finer essences, which shed a cheering light amid the gloom of mortal depressions. They do not pass with the hour. They abide with us, else we die—die the death of the higher life.
Endymion himself, when making his confession to Peona on the bowery island, extends the argument. Happiness, he urges, is found in the divine fellowship of the soul with the supreme essence. It is obtained by some alchemic change and it results in releasing the soul from its earthly limitations. Of the ministrants to happiness, lowest of all are physical pleasures, like the perfume of a rose. Higher in the scale are delights like music, which wakens old memories, prophesyings and martial energies. Such influences lift us from the carnal level; "our state is like a floating spirit's." Yet there are more elevating ministrants than these. Highest of all are friendship and love; the one a substantial splendor, the other a winged power which lifts the soul into a radiance above earthly ambition. Love is "an ardent listlessness," an intensity in repose. It may be the creative beautifying force in nature. It is the power which transforms mortal man into an immortal.
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