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Symbolism in Hyperion

Symbolism in Hyperion

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Published by AbdulRehman
Keats' Hyperion-a superb epic in fragment
Keats' Hyperion-a superb epic in fragment

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Published by: AbdulRehman on May 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Hyperion, in three books, is based on the Greek myth of the defeat of the Titans. Under Saturn, the Titans,including Hyperion, a sun God, ruled the Universe. They were overthrown by the Olympians, led by three sons of Saturn: Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. Hyperion was replaces by Apollo, who was also a sun God but had, inaddition, particular associations with music and poetry. Keats sees in the myth a means to express faith in theidea of progress. Even the old gods must admit that their successors are more beautiful and therefore betterfitted to rule.Hyperion was begun by Keats beside his brother’s sickbed in September or October1818It is to Hyperion that herefers when he speaks in those days of “plunging into abstract images”, and finding a “feverous relief” in the“abstractions” of poetry. These phrases are applicable only to Hyperion. It was finished sometime in April, 1819.The subject of Hyperion had long been in Keats’s mind, and both in the text and the preface of Endymion heindicated his intention to attempt it. At first he thought of the poem to be written as a romance, but his planchanged to that of a blank verse epic in ten books. The second version was a revision of the first, with theaddition of a long introduction in a new style which makes it into a different poem.In spite of its fragmentary condition, Hyperion remains Keats’s most imposing piece of work. According to thepublishers, the hostile reception given to Endymion discouraged Keats from continuing with the poem. Keatshimself said that he gave it up because of the first excessive Miltonic’s style. There were too many Miltonicinversions, he wrote to Reynolds. ”Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather in an artist’shumour.” The Miltonic influence is certainly obvious in the verse and diction of the first Hyperion as it is in thedesign. There is for instance a constant use of inversions such as “Stride colossal”, “rest divine”, typical of Milton’s Latinized style. Especially noticeable is the trick of sandwiching a noun between two adjectives, forexample, “gold clouds metropolitan”. There are other fragments of classical sentence-structure too:The first Book of Hyperion shows the fallen Titans, with Saturn as the central figure, but Hyperion as the onlyone who remains even potentially active. The second Book shows them in council and its vital part is the speechof Oceanus.
My voice is not a bellows unto irc.Yet listen, ye who will, whilst I bring proof How ye, perforce, must be content to stoop: And in this proof much comfort will I give,If ye will take that comfort in its truth.We fall by course of Nature’s law, not forceOf thunder, or of Jove.
 Saturn was not the first power in the universe, and should not expect to be the last. Chaos and darknessproduced light: light brought heaven and earth and life itself. Just as heaven and earth are more beautiful thanchaos and darkness,Soon our heels a fresh perfection treads,A power more strong in beauty, born of usAnd fated to excel us……
The Titans should not grieve over the situation and should not envy their successors.
…..for ‘tis the eternal law,That first in beauty shall be first in might.
In the fragment of the third Book the interest shifts from the Titans to the young Apollo. Mnemosyne aloneamong the Titans has formed relations with the younger gods. She has watched over the childhood of Apollo,and now she finds him wavering and uncertain of his course. In his talk with her he finds the consciousness of his destiny and assumes his new-found god-head. At this the poem breaks off.It seems that what began as an epic poem about a mythological conflict has become a symbolical poem of adifferent kind. But in the process new difficulties have arisen for the poet. The conventional epic conflict wouldhave afforded a wealth of scenes and incidents. The new scheme, of an evolution in beauty, presents far greaterproblems. It could hardly be put forth material for the ten books originally proposed. Perhaps there were otherdifficulties as well. The poem remains unfinished because Keats did not know how it was to go on.Although Keats has been called a Greek, he does not write of Greek things in a Greek manner. The verydescription of Hyperion, with its vague far-dazzling pomp and phantom-terrors of coming doom, shows that.Keats is far beyond in purity and precision of outline, and firm definition of individual images than the Greeks.Some of his pictures of Nature, too, show not the simplicity of the Greek, but the complexity of the modern,sentiment of Nature. But Keats shows a thorough grasp of the essential meaning of the war between Titans andOlympians. He illustrates, with great beauty and force, the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by onemore advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts held a large place beside ideas of Nature andher brute powers.Using high level of symbolism Keats attains great success in conceiving and animating the colossal shapes of theearly gods. He shows a masterly instinct in the choice of comparisons, drawn from nature by which he tries tomake us realize the voices of those gods, with their personalities between elemental and the human.Subsequently Keats re-cast Hyperion in the shape of a vision, which remains equally unfinished. His new planwas to relate the fall of the Titans not, as before, in direct narrative, but in the form of a vision revealed andinterrupted to him by a goddess of the fallen race. He had broken off his work on the first Hyperion at the pointwhere Mnemosyne is enkindling the brain of Apollo with the inspiration of her ancient wisdom. In the secondversion, Keats identifies this Greek Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, with the roman Moneta and makesher the priestess and guardian of Saturn’s temple.The second version of Hyperion is cast in the form of a dream. It begins with a short prologue:
Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave A paradise for a sect; the savage too,From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleepGuesses at Heaven! Pity these have not Traced upon Vellum or wild Indian leaf The shadows of melodious utterances.

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AbdulRehman added this note
A critical essay on symbolism in Hyperion.Helpful for M.A. English students
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