John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 56
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
Keats found in nature only intense transitory pleasure. He had for her no transcendental vision. But he did have this vision for art. In art as symbolized by the urn he found a permanent refuge from pessimism. There he was secure from Melancholy—who dwells with "Beauty that must die"—the beauty of form and substance. In the idealism of art he attained fixity of faith in transcendental beauty and truth and rested content. For these divine ideas, illusive, metaphysical, like the necessary vagueness of our notion of God, can never become earthly idols or be destroyed by realization. Art, therefore, is akin to religion.
So Keats stands, in his full stature, as the pure artist, with a triumphant pagan faith.
THE PRINCIPLE OF BEAUTY
It was "Hyperion" that turned the tide of Keats' reputation toward fame. Note its effect on three men. Shelley, previously tepid, was stirred by it to an enthusiasm that gave sincerity to his "Adonais." Byron, disgusted at the early work, had cried, "No more of Keats, I entreat. Flay him alive." Later he wrote, "The fragment of 'Hyperion' seems actually inspired by the Titans and is as sublime as Æschylus." De Quincey's censure of "Endymion" was as severe as the "Quarterly's." He called "Hyperion" "the greatest of poetical torsos" and added that it had the simplicity, the austere beauty, the majesty of Greek temples. Posterity agrees with these judgments.
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Why did "Hyperion" conquer the prejudice and compel this admiration? A clear answer requires some preliminary study of Keats' conception of beauty.
He lived like a hermit in seclusion. In "the Palace of Art" Tennyson portrays the experience of a soul isolated among æsthetic pleasures. It is lord over nature, lord of the visible earth, lord of the five senses. The end of that exclusive devotion to art is nausea. Keats' artistic life is a parallel with a different conclusion. His isolation produced no nausea; it produced great poetry and a passion for length of days. And the reason is that he preserved the freshness of creative desire.