John Keats: Life and Works, Page 5|
by James Weber Linn (1911).
Compared with the amount of poetry that Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Tennyson, or Browning wrote, Keats's total production is very slight. It may all be put into one small volume. But even one or two poems, as in Gray's case, are sometimes sufficient to ensure fame, and Keats wrote enough to make the wonderful nature of his powers clear. The longest poem, Endymion, though it contains many beautiful passages, he was right in thinking immature. The next longest, Hyperion, he never finished. Other extended efforts, Isabella and Lamia, are well known, but not quite of the first rank. His finest achievements were The Eve of St. Agnes, half a dozen splendid sonnets, the little ballad called La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and the famous group of odes—to Autumn, to Indolence, to Melancholy, to a Nightingale, and on a Grecian Urn. For vividness of color, beauty of figure, and witchery of melody, it would be hard if not impossible to find any lines in English poetry to equal his. "The silver snarling trumpets 'gan to chide," "And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep," "Its little smoke in pallid moonshine died," "From silken Samarcand to cedared Lebanon," "Beaded bubbles winking at the brim," "Forever wilt thou love and she be fair"—there is about all these, whether elaborately worked like the first or simplified almost to monosyllables like the last, a marvelous fascination to the ear—a fascination that rises to its greatest height, perhaps, in two lines from the Ode to a Nightingale—
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"Charm'd magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."
Critics have called Keats's poetry "sensuous," that is, concerned with things that delight the senses, like odors and flavors and sounds, rather than with what delights the mind and the spirit. Some of it is sensuous, frankly so. Keats was attracted by physical sensations. The story goes, for instance, that on one occasions he covered his tongue with cayenne pepper, to thrill with the fiery torment of the smart. His imagination played with rich colors and poignant perfumes and sweet sounds. But if such had been his only material, his work must have died. He goes far beyond physical sensations in such lines as these from the Grecian Urn:—
"Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity! Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man";
or these again from the Nightingale:—
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan."
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