John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 51|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
It is the spirit of reverence, mindful of his vow to Angela, that impels his first utterance:—
PAGE 51 OF 81.
And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
Thou art my heaven and I thine eremite.
But the natural man, before the maiden helplessness, is shaken by the exquisite danger.
Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes' sake.
Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.
Keats has given no subtler poise to a dramatic situation where the senses are in full cry and the spirit of chivalrous love restrains. Here passion contends with passion and the crisis turns. Porphyro seizes her lute and love's mortal desire melts into song.
He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenly
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon her knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.
Madeline hovers between the world of dreams and the world of reality. While her judgment is beclouded, mistaking him for the illusions of sleep, unwittingly she utters the longing of her heart into the lover's ears.
Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go.
Beyond a mortal man impassion'd far
At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
Ethereal, flushed and like a throbbing star
Seen 'mid the sapphire heaven's deep repose;
Into her dream he melted, as the rose
Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
This is the moment of triumph. Romantic love has here found ultimate expression. But all that follows is dramatic,—dramatic in the swift action; in the intensity of joyous realities evolving themselves out of dreams; in the leaping of joy unto joy; in the flight of love into the refuge of the driving sleet and storm.
Criticism has not sufficiently perceived the sweeping undercurrent in Keats slowly infusing his genius with power in motion. Those moods of luxurious languor are borne along with this current. Criticism has contented itself too much with pointing out his "fine felicity of phrase" and with indicating his rapturous instants. The truths is that he was growing into a grasp of larger things; passing from dainty trifles to those conceptions which, rising from the small, expand and lose themselves in the grand.
And they are gone: aye, ages long ago,
These lovers fled away into the storm.
It is a common tale, this story of Porphyro and Madeline. It has been sung in a hundred ballads. Keats has told it anew—with the richness of jeweled brocade, to be sure. Yet he has done more. For these lovers, sent out into the night, the sleet, the beating winds,—and lost there by a poet's forgetfulness of satiety and domestic ills,—hover forever in the imagination as the types of eternal happiness, just as Paolo and Francesca have become the types of eternal sorrow in the pitiless storms of hell.
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