« PreviousContinue »
ear but now his eye saw it.' Blinded by the beauty of the Spenserians, he had not possessed sufficient maturity to appreciate the consummate art and "severe magnificence of Paradise Lost" until his attention was called to it by his friends Severn and Bailey, both ardent Miltonians. If, as Mr. de Sélincourt thinks, the admiration for Paradise Lost began in the summer of 1817, when Keats was but half through Endymion, the epic may have been an important element in bringing him to a realization of the "mawkishness" of his early work. It seems quite as likely, however, that he had himself begun to feel the weakness of his verse and was half consciously looking for help before writing his second long piece, when at the suggestion of his friends he took up Paradise Lost and found there what he needed. He could hardly have done better. The poem possesses the color, the richness, the imaginative appeal, and the prosodic beauty that he craved, as well as the vigor, the classic restraint, and the sublimity that his own verse had lacked.
He plunged into Milton's work with characteristic enthusiasm and, to use his own word, ' feasted' upon it.2 "When I see you," he wrote to Bailey, "the first thing I shall do will be to read that about Milton and Ceres, and Proserpine"; 3 and later he exclaimed, "I am convinced more and more, every day, that fine writing is, next to fine doing, the top thing in the world; the Paradise Lost becomes a greater wonder." "It is unique," he declared, "... the most remarkable production of the world." 5 Milton became to him the standard in poetry; for, when weighing Wordsworth's genius, he thought it would be "a help, in the manner of gold being the meridian Line of worldly wealth," to consider "how he differs from Milton."6
1 Keats's Poems (2d ed., 1907), 489, 437. This very thorough and admirable edition of Keats contains the best discussion we have of the influence of Milton upon any English poet. Though I differ from Mr. de Sélincourt on many points, I am under great obligations to him. So far as I can discover, the only basis for the opinion mentioned above is that in September, 1817, Keats visited Bailey at Oxford and while there worked on the third book of Endymion, which, according to Mr. de Sélincourt, contains phrases that imply a recent study of Paradise Lost (see pp. 437, 439, 440, of his edition). It seems to me, however, that the expressions mentioned are either dubious or unimportant, and that passages which recall the epic quite as strongly as these may be found in Keats's earlier work. The reference to Adam's dream (in a letter to Bailey, Nov. 22, 1817, not mentioned by De Sélincourt) certainly suggests a recent reading of Milton's poem, with which, to be sure, we know that Keats was familiar before 1816. 2 Letter to Reynolds, April 27, 1818.
3 July 18, 1818. Later in the same letter he quoted from Comus.
To Reynolds, Aug. 25, 1819. Ten days before he had used almost the same words in a letter to Bailey. There is another reference to Milton in the letter to Reynolds, and a letter to James Rice of March 24, 1818, is filled with humorous remarks about Milton, Salmasius, and others.
$ Letter to George Keats, Sept. 17-27, 1819 (this part probably written on the 21st). Letter to Reynolds, May 3, 1818. Earlier in this letter he quoted a line and a half from Paradise Lost (see note 1, p. 203, below).
This "feast" upon Milton, which lasted for a year and a half or two years, profoundly affected the young and unusually sensitive poet. It gave him an admirable familiarity with the work of his predecessor,1 as well as a rare understanding of its spirit,2 and left him, so far as poetry was concerned, another man. The first fruits of the change were shown in the transformation of Hyperion, which was composed while the feast was at its height. For the romance which Keats planned developed into an austere epic, obviously modelled upon Paradise Lost. He himself acknowledged the indebtedness, as we shall see later; but in any case there could be no doubt about it, for the poem is fundamentally Miltonic. Nor is it a question merely of certain stylistic qualities, of some unusual words and a few borrowed phrases, but of the entire conception, tone, and handling of the work. Instead of copying Milton's peculiarities, Keats, one might almost say, tried to write a poem as Milton would have written it, and as a result Hyperion is more like Paradise Lost than is any other great poem we have. The debt of The Seasons, great as it is, is limited to expression,- Milton would never have written anything like it; nor is it conceivable that he should have produced The Task or The Prelude. He might have composed Hyperion.
To realize how Miltonic the poem is we have only to compare it with other epics. Keats is not at all Homeric; his gods, for example, have almost nothing in common with the very human deities of the Iliad and the Odyssey, nor has he the action, the swiftness and buoyancy, of the Grecian. He leaves an impression, as Milton does in the main, of characters, places, and scenes rather than of events; and he is concerned entirely, as Milton is largely, not with mortals, as are other epic poets, but with gods and demigods. This is of course one reason why both poems lack human interest. The entire action of Hyperion, furthermore, raised as it is above human passions, has the
1 This appears in the words and phrases he borrowed from Milton: see Appendix A, below. His familiarity with passages that do not usually attract attention is significant. In the letter to Reynolds just referred to (May 3, 1818) he quotes, quite casually, Notus and Afer, black with thundrous clouds From Serraliona
(P. L., x. 702-3); and in one to Dilke (Sept. 21, 1818) he writes, "Imagine 'the hateful siege of contraries' - if I think of fame... it seems a crime to me" (cf. P. L., ix. 119-22).
As shown by his penetrating comments on Paradise Lost and its author (see the "Notes" in Forman's edition of his works, iii. 17-30).
Any one who thinks that Keats would not consciously have patterned his work after another poem should remember that the versification of Lamia is, in Mr. de Sélincourt's words (p. 453), “closely modelled upon the Fables of Dryden."
largeness, the exalted dignity, the solemnity, the aloofness, which are particularly associated with Paradise Lost. Here are the pictures of Saturn and Thea:
Along the margin-sand large foot-marks went,
She was a Goddess of the infant world;
Had stood a pigmy's height: she would have ta'en
Or with a finger stay'd Ixion's wheel.
Her face was large as that of Memphian sphinx,
When sages look'd to Egypt for their lore.1
These are figures worthy to have sat at the great council in Pandemonium.
Keats's style, as may be seen from the passages just quoted, is marked by the absence of prettiness; it has the stately dignity and the condensation that distinguish Paradise Lost. Yet these lines are by no means so Miltonic as many others; in fact, except for the phrase "pedestal'd haply," the more technical marks of Milton's influence do not appear at all. Nor are they anywhere prominent in the poem. The contorted style which eighteenth-century writers regarded as Miltonic, Keats saw to be a cheap imitation and instinctively avoided. Yet two of the most obvious characteristics of Paradise Lost, those without which Miltonic blank verse can hardly be written, inversion of the word-order and the use of adjectives for adverbs, he employed. In fact, he said himself that "there were too many Miltonic inversions" in his epic. Here are six in the first twenty-five lines I open to: "influence benign on planets pale," "Deity supreme," "thine eyes eterne," "chariot fierce," "triumph calm," "gold clouds metropolitan." Of the use of adjectives where one would expect adverbs there are over twenty cases like "rumbles reluctant," " crept gradual," "I here idle listen"; and occasionally other parts of speech are shifted about." Hyperion also gets a Mil1 i. 15-19, 26-33. 2 Letter to Reynolds, Sept. 22, 1819.
3 i. 108-29.
♦ i. 61, 260; iii. 106. See also i. 11, 94, 222, 308, 357; ii. 51, 74, 144, 164, 250, 284, 324, 329, 377, 388; iii. 15, 49, 52, 53, 74.
As in "sphere them round" (i. 117), "space region'd" (i. 119), “made . . . His eyes to fever out" (i. 138, cf. ii. 102), "how engine our wrath" (ii. 161), “antheming a lonely grief" (iii. 6), “Apollo anguish’d” (iii. 130), “voices of soft proclaim" (i. 130), "with fierce convulse” (iii. 129), “stubborn'd with iron” (ii. 17). In "foam'd along
tonic ring from the presence of condensed or elliptical expressions like "thus brief," "uncertain where," "though feminine," "all prostrate else," "neighbour'd close," "what can I?", "all calm," "this too indulged tongue," and from constructions like these,
Save what solemn tubes,
Blown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweet
At whose joys...
I, Coelus, wonder, how they came and whence;
At times, also, one is reminded of Milton by an unbroken series of adjectives, as "nerveless, listless, dead, Unsceptred"; or by a list of proper names like
Cous, and Gyges, and Briareüs,
Typhon, and Dolor, and Porphyrion."
Words and phrases from the "Chief of organic numbers" will be found throughout Keats's work, but borrowings from Paradise Lost are naturally much more common in Hyperion than in the other poems. Except in such borrowings, the vocabulary of Keats's epic, though of course less conversational and more classic than that of his lyric and romantic pieces, is less affected by Milton's than might be expected. What would be the most important influence upon it, if we could be sure the practice was derived from Milton, is that in Hyperion Keats for the first time makes extensive use of adjectives formed by adding -ed to nouns." Whether or not such adjectives - "orbed," "lion-thoughted," "mountained," "mouthed," etc.— come from Milton, with whom they are common, they are at least a great improvement over those in -y, "orby," "gulfy," "foody," "flamy," and the like, which are unpleasantly frequent in Keats's early work."
By... winged creatures" (ii. 234-5) an intransitive verb is used transitively. Note also the adjectives formed from nouns by the addition of -ed (see text above).
1i. 153; ii. 9, 55, 65, 74, 160, 204, 298.
2 i. 206-8; cf. P. L., i. 182–3, ii. 20-21,
Save what the glimmering of these livid flames
Casts pale and dreadful.
With what besides, in counsel or in fight,
Hath been achieved of merit.
' i. 312–16; cf. P. L., ii. 990, “I know thee, stranger, who thou art."
♦ i. 18–19; ii. 19–20.
They have been carefully noted by his editors, and have for convenience been collected below in Appendix A.
• This obligation is pointed out in W. T. Arnold's edition of Keats's works (1884), pp. xxxiv-xxxvi, where a large number of Milton's adjectives in -ed are also quoted. 7 Mr. de Sélincourt is undoubtedly right in believing that Milton's influence "is
One other possible relation between the two poems, to which all writers on the subject have called attention, is the similarity of the assembly of the Titans to the council in Pandemonium. It seems to me, however, that the resemblances are so superficial that they would never have been noticed if the conception of the Titans and the general tone and style of the poem had not been decidedly Miltonic. To be sure, each is an assembly of fallen immortals, at which, as might be expected, there are several speeches and some differences of opinion; but the two gatherings are otherwise quite unlike. The meeting of the Titans is not pre-arranged, no one calls it or presides over it, no plans are discussed and no action is decided on; the account simply stops at the arrival of the sun-god. It is hard to see wherein Keats could have made his assembly any less like Milton's if he had tried.
Hyperion is unfinished. Although it is one of Keats's greatest works, and probably the noblest fragment in English poetry, it was abandoned.
"There were too many Miltonic inversions in it," he complained to Reynolds; "Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful, or, rather, artist's humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up. It may be interesting to you to pick out some lines from Hyperion, and put a mark + to the false beauty proceeding from art, and one || to the true voice of feeling. Upon my soul, 'twas imaginashown far more in allusion and . . . cadence, than by the borrowing of definitely Miltonic words" (p. 582). Indeed, while the words in his valuable "Glossary" do in general point to this influence and to that of the Elizabethans, only the few given on page 624 below are, in my opinion, likely to have had their origin in definite passages of the epic or the 1645 volume. It is probable, however, as he suggests, that "adorant," "aspirant," "penetrant," "cirque-couchant," and "ministrant" were formed in imitation of "congratulant," "volant," "couchant," "ministrant," and the like in Paradise Lost, and that Milton's practice may have led to the use of an adjective for a ncun in "the hollow vast” (Endymion, iii. 120, cf. ii. 240, iii. 593, etc., and P. L., vi. 203); to the use of verbs as nouns in "there was . . . fear in her regard" (Hyperion, i. 37, cf. P. L., iv. 877, x. 866, etc.), "he made retire From his companions" (Lamia, i. 230-31, cf. "bowers of soft retire," Song of Four Fairies, 6, and P. L., xi. 267), “at shut of eve" (Hyperion, ii. 36, and “The day is gone," 5, cf. P. L., ix. 278); and to the turning of nouns into verbs or participles in "who could paragon The . . . choir" (Sleep and Poetry, 172-3, cf. P. L., x. 426), "a . . . tree Pavilions him in bloom" (Endymion, ii. 55-6, cf. P. L., xi. 215), "her enemies havock'd at her feet" (King Stephen, I. ii. 23, cf. P. L., x. 617), “lackeying my counse!” (Otho, I. i. 97, cf. Comus, 455), “like legioned soldiers" (Endymion, ii. 43, cf. "legion'd fairies," Eve of St. Agnes, xix. 6), "orbing along" (Otho, IV. i. 79, cf. "orbed brow," etc., Endymion, i. 616, etc., and P. L., vi. 543), "pedestal'd . . . in a palace court" (Hyperion, i. 32, cf. “image pedestall'd so high," Fall of Hyperion, i. 299). In the case of "argent," "disparted," "drear," "dulcet," "empty of," "freshet," "lucent," "parle," "ramping," "slumberous," "spume," and some other words, for most of which Mr. de Sélincourt gives several possible sources, it seems to me impossible to be certain of any single origin.