Page images

biographer, states that the young poet profited by the attacks of the critics, their effect being 'to purify his style, correct his tendency to exaggeration, enlarge his poetical studies, and produce, among other improved efforts, that very Hyperion' which called forth from By: ron a eulogy as violent and unqualified as the former onslaught. Byron had termed the juvenile poetry of Keats, 'the drivelling idiotism of the manikin.' Keats's poetry falling into the hands of Jeffrey, he criticised it in the ‘Edinburgh Review, in a spirit of kindliness and just appreciation which formed a strong contrast to the criticism in the ‘Quarterly.' But this genial critique did not appear till 1820, too late to cheer the then dying poet. "Mr. Keats,' says the eloquent critic, "is, we understand, still a very young man; and his whole works, indeed, bear evidence enough of the fact. They manifestly require, therefore, all the indulgence that can be claimed for a first attempt; but we think it no less plain that they deserve it; for they are flushed all over with the rich lights of fancy, and so coloured and bestrown with the flowers of poetry, that, even while perplexed and bewildered in their labyrinths, it is impossible to resist the intoxication of their sweetness, or to shut our hearts to the enchantments they so lavishly present.

"The models upon which he has formed himself in the “Endymion,” the earliest and by much the most considerable of his poems, are obviously the “Faithful Shepherdess” of Fletcher, and the “Sad Shepherd ” of Ben Jonson, the exquisite metres and inspired diction of which he has copied with great boldness and fidelity; and, like his great originals, has also contrived to impart to the whole piece that true rural and poetical air which breathes only in them and in Theocritus—which is at once homely and majestic, luxurious and rude, and sets before us the genuine sights, and sounds, and smells of the country, with all the magic and grace of Elysium.' The genius of the poet was still further displayed in his latest volume, Lamia, Isabella, the Eve of St. Agnes,' &c. This volume was well received. The state of the poet's health now became so alarming that, as a last effort for life, he was advised to try the milder climate of Italy. A young friend, Mr. Severn, an artist (now British consul at Rome), generously abandoned his professional prospects at home, in order to accompany Keats; and they sailed in September 1820. The invalid suffered severely during the voyage, and he had to endure a ten days' quarantine at Naples. The thoughts of a young lady to whom he was betrothed, and the too great probability that he would see her no more, added a deeper gloom to his mind, and he seems never to have rallied from this depression. At Rome, Mr. Severn watched over him with affectionate care; Dr. Clark also was unremitting in his attendance; but he daily got worse, and died on the 23d of February 1821. Keats was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, one of the most beautiful spots on which the eye and heart of man can rest. It is,' says Lord Houghton, “a grassy slope


amid verdurous ruins of the Honorian walls of the diminished city, and surmounted by the pyramidal tomb which Petrarch attributed to Remus, but which antiquarian truth has ascribed to the humbler name of Caius Cestius, a tribune of the people only remembered by his sepulchre. In one of those mental voyages into the past which often precede death, Keats had told Severn that “he thought the intensest pleasure he had received in life was in watching the growth of flowers;” and another time, after lying a while still and peaceful, he said: “I feel the flowers growing over me.” And there they do grow even all the winter long-violets and daisies mingling with the fresh herbage, and, in the words of Shelley, “making one in love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” Keats had a few days before his death expressed a wish Mr. Severn that on his gravestone should be the inscription: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” Shelley honoured the memory of Keats with his exquisite elegy 'Adonais.' Even Byron felt that the young poet's death was a loss to literature.

The fragment of Hyperion,' he said, seems actually inspired by the Titans: it is as sublime as Æschylus.”**

It was the misfortune of Keats, as a poet, to be either extravagantly praised or unmercifully condemned. The former was owing to the generous partialities of friendship, somewhat obtrusively displayed; the latter, in some degree, to resentment of that friendship, connected as it was with party politics and peculiar views of society as well as of poetry. In the one case his faults, and in the other his merits, were entirely overlooked. A few years dispelled these illusions and prejudices. Keats was a true poet. If we consider his extreme youth and delicate health, his solitary and interesting selfinstruction, the severity of the attacks made upon him by his hostile and powerful critics, and, above all, the original richness and picturesqueness of his conceptions and imagery, even when they run to waste, he appears to be one of the greatest of the young poets-resembling the Milton of 'Lycidas,' or the Spencer of the Tears of the Muses.' What easy, finished, statuesque beauty and classic expression, for example, are displayed in this picture of Saturn and Thea!

Byron could not, however, resist the seeming smartness of saying in Don Juan that Keats was killed off by one critique:

'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle,

Should let itself be snuffed out by an article! M1. Croker.writing to a friend about this article,' in a letter which we have seen, said: • Gifford added some pepper to my grill.' A miserable piece of cookery they made of it High as is now the fame of Keats, it is said he died admired only by his personal friends and by Shelley; and even ten years after his death.when the first Memoir was proposed, the woman he had loved had so little belief in his poetical reputation, that she wrote to Mr. Dilke: "The kindest act would be to let him rest for ever in the 'obscurity to which circumstances have condemned him.''-Pupers of a Critic, vol. i. p. II.

Saturn and Thea.-From · Hyperion.'
Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
Far from the fiery noon, and eve's one star,
Sat gray-haired Saturn, quiet as a stone,
Still as the silence round about his lair;
Forest on Forest hung about his head
Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
Not so much life as on a summer's day
Robs not one light seed from the feathered grass,
But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
A stream weat voiceless by, still deadened more
By reason of his fallen divinity
Spreading a shade: the Naiad 'mid her reeds
Pressed her cold finger closer to her lips.

Along the margin sand large footmarks went
No further than to where his feet had strayed,
And slept there since. Upon the sodden ground
His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptred; and his realmless eyes were closed;
While his bowed head seemed listening to the earth,
His ancient mother for some comfort yet.

It seemed no force could wake him from his place; But there came one, who with a kindred hand Touched his wide shoulders, after bending low With reverence, though to one who knew it not. She was a goddess of the infant world; By her in stature the tall Amazon Had stood a pigmy's height: she would have ta’en Achilles by the hair, and bent his neck; Or with a finger stayed Ixion's wheel. Her face was large as that of Memphian sphinx, Pedestaled haply in a palace court, When sages looked to Egypt for their lore. But oh ! how unlike marble was that face! How beautiful, if sorrow had not made Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty's self i There was a listening fear in her regard, As if calamity had but begun; As if the vanward clouds of evil days Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear Was, with its stored thunder, labouring up. One hand she pressed upon that aching spot Where beats the human heart, as if just there, Though an immortal, she felt cruel pain; The other upon Saturn's bended neck She laid, and to the level of his ear Leaning with parted lips, some words she spake In solemn tenor and deep organ tone; Some mouring words, which in our feeble tongue Would come in these like accents-oh ! how frail. To that large utterance of the early gods !

Saturn, look up ! though wherefore, poor old king? I cannot say, " wherefore sleepest thou ?” For heaven is parted from thee, and the earth Kuows thee not, thus afflicted, for a god; And ocean, too, with all its solemn noise, Has from thy sceptre passed, and all the air Is emptied of thine hoary majesty, 'Thy thunder, conscious of the new command,

Rumbles reluctant o'er our fallen house,
And thy sharp lightning in unpractised hands
Scorches and burns our once serene domain.
O aching time! O moments big as years !
All, as ye pass, swell out the monstrous truti,
And press it so upon our weary griefs
That unbelief has not a space to breathe.
Saturn, sleep on! Oh, thoughtless, why did I
Thus violate thy slumbrous solitude ?
Why should I ope my melancholy eyes ?
Satúrn, sleep on! while at thy feet I weep.'
As when, upon a tranced summer night,
Those green-robed senators of mighty woods,
fall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
Save from one gradual solitary gust
Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
As if the ebbing air had but one wave;

So came these words and went. The antique grace and solemnity of passages like this must be felt by every lover of poetry. The chief defects of Keats are his want of distinctness and precision, and the carelessness of his style. There would seem to have been even affectation in his disregard of order and regularity; and he heaps up images and conceits in such profu. sion, that they often form grotesque and absurd combinations, which fatigue the reader. Deep feeling and passion are rarely given to young poets redolent of fancy, and warm from the perusal of the ancient authors. The difficulty with which Keats had mastered the classic mythology gave it an undue importance in his mind; a more perfect knowledge would have harmonised its materials, and shewn him the beauty of chasteness and simplicity of style; but Mr. Leigh Hunt is right in his opinion that the poems of Keats, with all their defects, will be the 'sure companions in field and grove' of those who love to escape 'out of the strife of commonplaces into the haven of solitude and imagination.'

One line in 'Endymion' has become familiar as a “household word' wherever the English language is spoken

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

The Lady Madeline at her Devotions.From the 'Eve of St. Agnes.'

Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke in pallid moonshine died :
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air and visions wide:
No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!
But to her heart her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side;

As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die heart-stifled in her dell.

A casement high and triple-arched there was
Al garlanded with carven imageries

Of fruit, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
And diamonded with panes of quaint device
Innumerable, of stains and splendid dyes,
As are the tiger-moth's deep damasked wings;
And in the midst, 'mong thousand heraldies,

And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
A shielded scutcheon blushed with blood of queens and kings.

Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast,
As down she knelt for Heaven's grace and boon;
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
And on her hair a glory like a saint:
She seemed a splendid angel newly drest,
Save wings, for heaven; Porphyro grew faint:
She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

Hymn to Pan.- From · Endymion.'
O thou, whose mighty palace-roof doth hang
From jagged trunks, and overshadoweth
Eternal whispers, glooms, the birth, life, death
Of unseen flowers in heavy peacefulness;
Who lovest to see the hamadryads dress
Their ruffled locks where meeting hazels darken;
And through whose solemn hours dost sit, and hearken
The dreary melody of bedded reeds-
In desolate places, where dank moisture breeds
The pipy hemlock to strange overgrowth,
Bethinking thee, how melancholy loath
Thou wast to lose fair Syrinx-do thou now,
By thy love's milky brow,
By all the trembling mazes that she ran,
Hear us, great Pan!

O thou for whose soul-soothing quiet turtles
Passion their voices cooingly 'mong myrtles,
What time thou wanderest at eventide
Through sunny meadows that outskirt the side
Of thine embossed realms: 0 thou to whom
Broad-leaved fig-trees even now foredoom
Their ripened fruitage; yellow-girted bees
Their golden honeycombs ; our village leas
Their fairest blossomed beans and poppied corn;
The chuckling linnet its five young unborn,
To sing for thee; low creeping strawberries
Their summer coolness; pent-up butterflies
Their freckled wings; yea, the fresh budding year
All its completion—be quickly near,
By every wind that nods the mountain pine,
O forester divine !

Thou to whom every faun and satyr flies
For willing service; whether to surprise
The squatted hare while in half-sleeping fit;.
Or upward ragged precipices flit
To save poor lambkins from the eagle's maw;
Or by mysterious enticement draw
Bewildered shepherds to their path again ;
Or to tread breathless round the frothy main,

« PreviousContinue »