John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 71|
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).
The artist, not the man, was in love with Fanny Brawne. Those qualities of companionableness which made him so welcome among his friends were not brought into play by her. He actually had to shun her to preserve the poise. The fascination came from the illusion of the imagination which saw in a commonplace girl its own mind-made image of beauty. This is not love in our human sense. It is a psychic fever in the guise of a sublime all-demanding passion. Those outcries of agony, those accesses of jealousy, those struggles to escape, those reactions of devotion, those wild dithyrambic avowals of absolute vassalage,—what are they but the concentrated energies of his poetic life calling for a passion in response equal to his own? It could not be given. The deep was calling unto the shadows. The object of worship was an ordinary woman,—tender, perverse, worldly. Her heart was content with the pleasures of the passing day. Her lover's demands had the hunger of all time and space. He lived in the presence of eternities. Marriage for them on earth—let us not contemplate that calamity.
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Poetry as an antidote for this psychic fever. When Keats, finally shattered in health, could write no more, the fever was free to consume. In one way he was a victim of the universal law of compensation. Nature declares, "You may burn your fires, but you must pay the price for the burning." No profounder truth about the danger of genius was ever uttered than that by Dean Swift: "When a man's imagination gets astride of his reason, all is over with him." Keats forsook the path of the golden mean. He neglected to cultivate the faculties that bring intellectual balance. He reduced life to one principle. Forgetful of the nemesis that lurks in the abnormal, he lets his imagination run loose, and it did get astride of his reason. He was young. He was growing slowly into wisdom. Then this unfortunate passion for a woman came, then disease, and then—the end.
As one thinks of him now, with the fatal fire of imagination in the brain and the fatal fire of consumption in the blood, dwelling yet a little longer in the deepening gloom of hope and unquenchable ambition; as one beholds him, suffering, struggling, reaching out for love, while the shadows gather and the gloom darkens into night, his figure begins to command the terrible pathos of King Lear in the storm; and as love bends over him, pale and lurid in that blackness, with love's eagerness to save, one stands aghast at the implacable irony of his fate. Not love! "O, that way madness lies."
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