Life of Keats and Keats as a Poet, Page 5|
by Sidney Carleton Newsom (1900).
Though primarily a poet of the senses, he is not deficient in imaginative power. His arraignment of eighteenth century writers, who
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" . . . were closely wed
To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
And compass vile,
indicates his feeling for the school of Pope, and his statement that "poetry should surprise by a fine excess," suggests at once the imaginative qualities of his own verse. Not so daring as Shelley nor so faithful as Wordsworth, he excels both in the gorgeous color of his imagery. If he sins, as some would have it, it is on the side of over-decoration, yet the ease and absence of all effort with which he works go far toward disarming criticism. In bringing home to one a vivid picture of natural scenery or of any beautiful object, he is unique among poets. The force of his descriptions lies in this, more perhaps than in anything else. His experience becomes out experience, and we seek to be in the actual presence of the objects portrayed.
No analysis, of course, will disclose the ultimate secret of this, any more than it will the subtle charm of any genuine work of art. Yet the remarkable vividness of his imagery is surely heightened by the action and movement which are rarely absent from his descriptions, and by his perfect feeling for word and phrase. "I have loved the principle of beauty in all things," he writes, and this extends to the vehicle as well as the substance of his thought. It is this rare sensitiveness to the power of words that calls forth Matthew Arnold's well-known eulogy, "Shakespearian work it is; not imitative, indeed, of Shakespeare, but Shakespearian, because its expression has that rounded perfection and felicity of loveliness of which Shakespeare is the great master."
Keats died before he was twenty-six years old, and nearly all the poems by which he is most favorably known were produced in rapid succession during a period of twenty months. This is a sufficient explanation of much that is crude in his work. The wonder is that under the circumstances, he produced so much that is without a flaw. His errors are those of youth and immaturity. "Would the faculties that were so swift to reveal the hidden delights of nature, to divine the true spirit of antiquity, to conjure with the spell of the Middle Age—would they with time have gained equal power to unlock the mysteries of the heart, and still, in obedience to the law of beauty, to illuminate and harmonize the great struggles and problems of human life?" There is good reason for believing so, yet, taking his poetry as it is, one must admit that he does not explore the heights and depths of human experience. In a perfectly innocent youthful way he revels in the beauties of the natural world, pointing the way for others, less gifted, to a love of nature not less complete and genuine than his own.
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