JOHN KEATS SYMBOLISM IN HYPERION

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, in addition, particular associations with music and poetry. Keats sees in the myth a means to express faith in the idea of progress. Even the old gods must admit that their successors are more beautiful and therefore better fitted to rule. Hyperion was begun by Keats beside his brother’s sickbed in September or October1818It is to Hyperion that he refers 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 he indicated his intention to attempt it. At first he thought of the poem to be written as a romance, but his plan changed to that of a blank verse epic in ten books. The second version was a revision of the first, with the addition 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 the publishers, the hostile reception given to Endymion discouraged Keats from continuing with the poem. Keats himself said that he gave it up because of the first excessive Miltonic’s style. There were too many Miltonic inversions, he wrote to Reynolds. ”Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather in an artist’s humour.” The Miltonic influence is certainly obvious in the verse and diction of the first Hyperion as it is in the design. 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, for example, “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 only one who remains even potentially active. The second Book shows them in council and its vital part is the speech of 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 force Of thunder, or of Jove. Saturn was not the first power in the universe, and should not expect to be the last. Chaos and darkness produced light: light brought heaven and earth and life itself. Just as heaven and earth are more beautiful than chaos and darkness, Soon our heels a fresh perfection treads, A power more strong in beauty, born of us And 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 alone among 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 a different kind. But in the process new difficulties have arisen for the poet. The conventional epic conflict would have afforded a wealth of scenes and incidents. The new scheme, of an evolution in beauty, presents far greater problems. It could hardly be put forth material for the ten books originally proposed. Perhaps there were other difficulties 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 very description 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 and Olympians. He illustrates, with great beauty and force, the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts held a large place beside ideas of Nature and her brute powers. Using high level of symbolism Keats attains great success in conceiving and animating the colossal shapes of the early gods. He shows a masterly instinct in the choice of comparisons, drawn from nature by which he tries to make 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 plan was to relate the fall of the Titans not, as before, in direct narrative, but in the form of a vision revealed and interrupted to him by a goddess of the fallen race. He had broken off his work on the first Hyperion at the point where Mnemosyne is enkindling the brain of Apollo with the inspiration of her ancient wisdom. In the second version, Keats identifies this Greek Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, with the roman Moneta and makes her 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 sleep Guesses at Heaven! Pity these have not Traced upon Vellum or wild Indian leaf The shadows of melodious utterances.

This is an attempt to define the position of poetry. The poet has his dreams in common with other men, but alone is able to secure them from oblivion. And the poet’s dream differs from the fanatic’s, because it is for the world, the fanatic’s only for a sect. The dream that Keats sees begins in a wood where the poet eats of the fruit and falls into a deep sleep to find him, when he wakes up, in a vast shrine. There are steps leading up to an altar. As the poet approaches the steps, the veiled priestess addresses him:

If thou canst not ascend These steps die on the marble where thou art. When he asks the priestess to explain the mysteries around him, “None can usurp this height”, returned that shade, “But those to whom the miseries of the world Are misery, and will not let them rest”. The narrative in The fall of Hyperion seems to carry out the general intention of Hyperion, but, by the late summer of 1819, Keats’s failing health, the prolonged fever of his love for Fanny Brawne, pecuniary troubles, perhaps most of all the conviction that the topmost heights of poetry were not to be won by a divided soul, such causes as these had deepened and embittered his despair over himself, his past and his future. In the symbolism of the garden, the temple, and the shrine, we perhaps have another variation on the three stages of development offered by Wordsworth, from sensuous pleasure to humanitarian concern for the world. But the sketch of poetic evolution is not now, as in Sleep and Poetry, partly wishful prophecy. Keats is here looking back on what seem to him to be the facts of his brief career, and he condemns himself, with harsh sincerity, for having dwelt in an ivory tower, for having given to men the illusive balm of dreams, whereas true poets, by intense effort, seize upon the reality which is not illusive. To them, as to active benefactors of humanity, the miseries of the world are misery, and will not let them rest.

WRITTEN AND COMPOSED BY:

PROF. A.R. SOMROO M.A. ENGLISH, M.A. EDUCATION CELL: +923339971417

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful