Poems by John Keats: Introduction, Page 5|
by Walter Raleigh (1897).
The truths that he utters, though he enunciates them with the confidence of triumph, savour rather of hardly-won consolation:
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"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever."
It is in the quiet garden-ground of the arts that he seeks to escape for a time from the woes that he cannot forget; and, for him, to think means to remember the pitiless enemies without, so that his bower of beautiful imaginings wears for him an indescribable air of pathos and of peace.
However this may be, to Keats, as to most other modern poets, thought came borne upon the wings of pain. The misery of this mortal state; the revenges and conquests of Time; the passing of youth and gladness and beauty; the bitterness concealed in pleasure;—his thoughts run through all the variations of this eternal theme. Different aspects of it are treated, by the light of differing moods, in all the five great Odes, and "Hyperion," behind the colossal outlines of the Titanic dynasty, reveals the same inspiration. As the assault of thought became more importunate he took an ever stronger hold upon the realities of art, and sought and followed beauty with a more ardent devotion. To what height of consummate achievement he might have attained, had his life been prolonged, who shall say? He had already, before his death, put behind him his boyish imitation of Spenser, and had turned, in dissatisfaction, from his masterly attempt in the Miltonic manner. He had ransacked the ages for themes, from the misty origins of Grecian mythology to the sunlit Florence of Boccaccio. He might perhaps, in the sequel, have produced work—not, certainly, of a more transcendent grace, but of a fuller and more robust humanity. He who was certain of nothing but of the holiness of the heart's affections and the truth of Imagination, might, perhaps, have reconciled these two certainties in a work worthy to be placed beside the work of Shakespeare. But his early death and the unflagging singleness of purpose that guided his life have won for him a pre-eminence that is all his own. The purity of his devotion was rewarded with the gift he most coveted, and the name of Keats, more infallibly than any other name in the long roll of English poets, calls up to the mind and to the lips, by the very absence of all rival associations, the greater name of Beauty.
The present edition, without pretending to be complete, yet aims at including all the pieces by which Keats is chiefly remembered. A few of the weaker poems of his first published volume have been omitted, and the mass of work that was unpublished at his death, ranging in merit from "La Belle Dame sans Merci," to the feeblest doggerel verse contained in his letters, has been subjected to a rigorous selection. As it stands, this volume probably contains nearly all of his verse for which Keats would have desired permanence, as well as some pieces that would not have escaped his own maturer censorship. There have been many selections made of the poetry of Keats, and none perhaps is likely to be definitive. The final cause and justification of this edition is to be sought, and will, I think, be found, in the illustrations contributed by Mr. Anning Bell.
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