John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 27|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
One of the most daring examples of the language of earthly passion used for a metaphysical appeal is the passage about music:—
PAGE 27 OF 81.
Hist, when the airy stress
Of music's kiss impregnates the free winds,
And with a sympathetic touch unbinds
Æolian magic from their lucid wombs.
Such instances of transmutation are numerous in "Endymion." The poem is not a mere collection of odors, tastes, dazzling colors and nerve-thrills which cause lovers to swoon. And when De Quincey called it a piece of folly, "full of affectation, false vapoury sentiment and fantastic effeminacy," he made only a partial report. The poetic faculty of Keats is becoming increasingly alchemic. If he is the poet of all-embracing sensuousness, he is equally the poet of all-embracing supersensuousness. His genius is passing from the real to the sublimity of the ideal. He may dine with Epicurus; but he worships with Plato.
Nothing that Keats wrote afterward shows such fertility, such an abundance of the raw materials of poetry. Why, then, is "Endymion" a failure?
The critical judgment has condemned it on three counts: the language is often a willful offense to good usage; [W. T. Arnold, after a careful study of Keats' vocabulary, concludes that nine tenths of the supposed coinages of words were revivals from former poets.] the narrative is involved and obscure; the style is gaudy with lavish ornament. All these, however, will be comprehended under a general indictment which indicates the fundamental defect in the poet and the poem. "Endymion" fails because of a constant confusion of values.
Keats sought for the æsthetic appeal in everything. Wordsworth sought for the moral appeal in everything. Just as the older poet forced the moral issue on a spade and a kitten playing with falling leaves, so the younger has forced the æsthetic with similar lapses of discretion. The "toying" with fingers is infantile. The gentle "squeeze" in the midst of an ecstasy is humorous. The "tasting" of a face is ludicrous. "Pleasure's nipples" and "milky sovereignties" are grotesque. Even that superb picture of Oceanus, passing into oblivion, is marred by the mixed metaphor of the submarine realm as a sheepfold. There is confusion in the individual lines. Moreover, if the successive incidents of the poem set before the author "gradations of happiness, even like a pleasure thermometer," the reader cannot discern the rising scale. The emotions which play upon Endymion are certainly ordered indiscriminately. There is no semblance of climax. The last book is the weakest of the four. There is confusion of values in the arrangement of parts all through.
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