Poems by John Keats: Introduction, Page 3|
by Walter Raleigh (1897).
His thinking is always that of a poet, who holds fast by the authenticity of the Imagination, and never loses himself in the entanglements of verbal sophistry. He speaks, in a letter to his brother and sister, of "the amusement of life to a speculative mind; I go among the fields, and catch a glimpse of a stoat or a fieldmouse, peeping out of the withered grass; the creature hath a purpose, and its eyes are bright with it; I go amongst the buildings of a city, and I see a man hurrying along—to what?—the creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it." These vivid, speculative similitudes claim a larger control of his meditations, as time goes on, to the strengthening of his poetry. Even in his latest work the "sense of the luxurious" is still fully evidenced—in such a line as this, for instance,
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"Now more than ever seems it rich to die."
or this, where the same word is used, and the enjoyment of a rage warm and soft as velvet, seems to annul all dramatic sense of the human situation:
"If thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave."
But a craving for the luxury of sensation no longer asserts sovereign rights over his poetry, to the exclusion of thought. With what an exquisite touch of surprise, in the "Ode on a Grecian Urn," is the main thought found intruding on the long-drawn description:
"And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return."
Some critics have found in these lines only an intellectual quibble, an irrelevant confusion made between art and reality. But the last lines of the same poem answer these objectors:
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,'—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
"What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth, whether it existed before or not;"—so Keats had written, years earlier, to a friend; and now the idea finds its enduring place in his art. He has pondered so deeply on the Grecian Urn, on the unfading immortality and freedom from decay of its pictured life, that the representation has become for him the reality; this is the true life of the little town, and surely that other life of long ago passed into it, with solemn ritual, on an appointed day. A more beautiful and deliberate confusion of ideas was never made.
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