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tory to himself. He was an extremist in everything and his inability to accomplish what his ambition prompted was a source of constant irritation. But it was an irritation with himself that never reacted upon his friends, and no one ever had friends whose devotion was more absolute and unselfish. “Sensitiveness and self-analysis were striking characteristics, and though he often resolved to free himself from his morbid musings, he could not throw off their thrall.”
A long pedestrian trip through the English lake region and Scotland, taken with the hope of improving his health, was too arduous an undertaking and brought on the first symptoms of his fatal malady. On his return he nursed a brother through his last illness and suffered acutely in his sympathetic soul.
About this time he met the young woman with whom he fell desperately in love, whose image haunted him always and to whom he addressed passionate letters in his absence from her. Tormenting himself with his high aspirations, which he felt he could scarcely realize, hounded by heartless critics who sneered at his pretensions and ridiculed his poetry, passionately in love but too proud to accept assistance and too sincere to marry with no assured income, and facing the certainty of ill health, is it any wonder that life was a burden to him and that when the first hemorrhage came from his lungs he recognized his death warrant?
Though kind friends surrounded him and tended him with a devotion that has no parallel, he steadily declined. A journey to Italy did little to relieve him and, suffering all the pangs of disappointed ambition and a hopeless love, he looked forward to death as a release, wondered when this “posthumous life” of his would come to end and "felt the flowers growing over him.” His friend Severn, who tended him with assiduous care during his last illness, says of the end: “I lifted him up in my arms—when he gradually sank into death, so quiet that I still thought he slept.”
Keats's love of the beautiful was the inspiration of his life and of his poetry. The two years that preceded his first violent attack of illness were the period of his most finished work and what was written during that interval is thoroughly in keeping with his ideal. It is beautiful in form and in rhythm, and shows such a felicitous choice of word and figure that it charms the reader's every sense. Where can be found anything to equal the beauty of his Ode on a Grecian Urn, To a Nightingale, On Indolence and To Psyche? And then the matchless Ode to Autumn:
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him now to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
For summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow, sound asleep
Spares the next swath and all its twinèd flowers;
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours. Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music tooWhile barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hues ; Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
Hedge crickets sing; and now with treble soft
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies. Whence came so delicate an appreciation of nature to the son of the city hostler? Where did he learn to see and to feel the bountifulness of the harvest, the rich season of fruitage? That first stanza is instinct with the life of generous autumn. But the second is different, though still preserving the most perfect unity of thought. It is the literary stanza, the stanza which gives rein to the imagination and clothes the spirit of autumn with a personality as vital and as graceful as classic models can furnish.
“Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind.” But autumn is not bounteous only, nor is the classic spirit of rest its only sentiment. There is a hint of the maturity that precedes decay, a pensive feeling that all must change, a premonition of the approaching winter. The birds no longer sing, the small gnats see death approaching, the lambs are full-grown, the swallows are gathering for their long flight. If one cannot catch the poetic spirit of these stanzas he knows not Autumn or is not sensitive to the power of words.
Of his longer poems Endymion was the first and the one that called forth the biting criticism of his opponents. He realized its imperfections fully and criticized it as he did his other poems with an unfailing judgment. But he offered no apology, for he felt and said that he had done his best. Hyperion, The Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia are more mature poems, and mark the height of his powers and the beginning of their decline. Keats desired to win fame as a dramatist but his efforts in that direction were not a success. It is upon his lyrics that his fame rests, a fame that will be as lasting as the language itself.
The pathetic story of his life is essential to a thorough appreciation of his art, but he has not given us in his writings much trace of the incidents of his sorrowful career. Poetry was his very existence—he loved it and he lived it. His verses were as dear to him as his own heart's blood, and a fame that rested on imperfect performance would have been more difficult to bear than the contemptuous jibes of his arrogant critics.
Speaking of one of the poet's most characteristic powers Lowell says: “Keats had an instinct for fine words, which are in themselves pictures and ideas, and had more the power of poetic expression than any modern English poet. And by poetic expression I do not mean merely a vividness in particulars, but the right feeling which heightens or subdues a passage or a whole poem to the proper tone and gives entireness to the effect. There is a great deal more than is commonly supposed in this choice of words. Men's thoughts and opinions are in a great degree vassals of him who invents a new phrase or reapplies an old epithet.
We reward the discoverer of an anesthetic for the body and make him member of all the societies, but him who finds a nepenthe for the soul we elect into the academy of the immortals."
ODE ON A GRECIAN URN
By John KEATS Note.—The Greeks were a people in whom the love of the beautiful was highly developed. It manifested itself, among other ways, in the construction of temples, simple in design but elegant and impressive; in the creation of statuary that today stands unrivaled; in the modeling of household utensils and ornaments of unique shape and charming decoration. Their vases and urns were varied and graceful and frequently covered with lifelike figures in outline or silhouette. It is one of these urns that we must see before Keats as he writes his exquisite ode. HOU still unravished bride of quietness!
Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time, Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe' or the dales of Arcady?? 1. The vale of Tempe was a valley through which the river Peneus flowed. It lay between Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods, and Mt. Ossa. At times narrowing into a deep gorge with precipitous sides, it widens elsewhere into beautiful spots which the poets have described as having cool shades and verdant walks made delightful by flowers and the sweet songs of birds.