John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 25|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
CRITICISM OF ENDYMION
Why, then, is "Endymion" a failure?
PAGE 25 OF 81.
During the composition Keats sometimes walked with his friends and recited passages with quiet enthusiasm. When the poem was done there came a reaction, the inevitable nausea, known to every creative artist. In this abnormal mood he wrote the preface, that curious blending of self-detraction, exaggeration and sane judgment. He told the truth when he said that the poem was "a feverish attempt" and not "a deed accomplished." He uttered wisdom when he wrote that the imagination of a boy is healthy and the mature imagination of a man is healthy, but that there is a time between in which the soul is in a state of ferment and mawkishness. Yet he exaggerated when he implied that this mawkishness is the prevailing flavor of the poem. It is only the element of weakness. The ferment of yeasting youth, in the evolution of genius, also produces strength.
Let us consider the strength. If "Endymion" cannot be saved as a poem, it may be worthy of honor as a human document about Keats.
The masculinemind is preëminently constructive; the feminine is finely perceptive. Genius has been declared essentially feminine. That is, of course, only a half-truth which emphasizes a characteristic, the delicate sensitivity of genius to impressions. Keats gave evidence of the feminine fineness of perception in his first volume. In "Endymion" it is immensely increased in range and quality. His faculties are more expert in detecting the elusive stimulus in nature, in transmuting the stimulus in older poetry. Lowell, one of the first to penetrate deep into Keats, speaks of "the flush of his fine senses and the flutter of his electrical nerves." Poets perceive the external world principally through the eyes. Keats is alert in all the senses. Touch, taste, odors, sounds are often equal in power to splendid vision. His whole body is alive, responsive like a sensitive film to the actinic rays beyond the violet. A thrill at the finger-tips quickens his consciousness into whirling forgetfulness. And this acuteness of feeling begets a craving for the luxurious. In "Endymion" he revels in feasts of dainties, mingled perfumes; the musk-rose amid new-mown hay. He rests with languorous delight on couches of heaped-up flowers. This acuteness also craves the subtle. Plain manna, gathered by day, sufficed for the Hebrews. This poet-connoiseur would have it gathered under the cool magic of the stars. His language, too, commands the imagination with a larger dignity. Endymion's mind swims before the celestial image of Diana like one—
Who dives three fathoms where the waters run,
Gurgling in beds of coral.
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