John Keats: The Apothecary Poet, Page 4
by Sir William Osler (1908).
The gospel of 'living' as against that of 'doing', which Milton preached in the celebrated sonnet of his blindness, found in Keats a warm advocate. 'Let us not, therefore,' he says, 'go hurrying about and collecting honey, bee-like buzzing here and there for a knowledge of what is not to be arrived at, but let us open our leaves like a flower, and be passive and receptive, budding patiently under the eye of Apollo, and taking truths from every noble insect that favours us with a visit.' Fatal to encourage in an active man of affairs, this dreamy state, this passive existence, favours in 'bards of passion and of mirth' the development of a fruitful mental attitude. The dreamer spins from his 'own inwards his own airy citadel'; and as the spider needs but few points of leaves and twigs from which to begin his airy circuit, so, Keats says, 'man should be content with as few points to tip with the fine web of his soul, and weave a tapestry empyrean, full of symbols for his spiritual eye, of softness for his spiritual touch, of space for his wanderings, of distinctness for his luxury.' All the while Keats was 'budding patiently', feeling his powers expand, and with the 'viewless wings of Poesy' taking ever larger flights. An absorption in ideals, a yearning passion for the beautiful, was, he says, his master-passion. Matthew Arnold remarks it was with him 'an intellectual and spiritual passion. It is "connected and made one" as Keats declares that in his case it was "with the ambition of the intellect".' It is, as he again says, the 'mighty abstract Idea of Beauty in all things.' Listen to one or two striking passages from his letters: 'This morning Poetry has conquered,—I have relapsed into those abstractions which are my only life.' 'I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone, but in a thousand worlds. No sooner round me, and serve my spirit the office which is equivalent to a King's body-guard. Then "Tragedy with scepter'd pall comes sweeping by".' 'What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth'—the expression in prose of his ever memorable lines,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all
Ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.
Keats's first published work, a small volume of poems issued in 1817, contained the verses written while he was a student and before he had abandoned the profession. With the exception of one or two small pieces it contained nothing of note. The sonnet on Chapman's Homer, written while he was a pupil at Guy's, was the most remarkable poem of the collection. In 1818 appeared Endymion, a poetic romance, an ambitious work, which, in the autumn of the year, was mercilessly 'cut up' in the Quarterly and in Blackwood. Popularly these reviews are believed to have caused Keats's early death—a belief fostered by the jaunty rime of Byron:
PAGE 4 OF 10.
'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.