1862 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Keats

Thomas Arnold, in A Manual of English Literature (1862; 1885) 425.



Keats in his short life contributed many noble compositions to English poetry. His soul thirsted for beauty; his creed — the substance of his religion — was "That first in beauty should be first in might." But he was poor, of mean origin, weak in health, scantily befriended: he could not always shut out the external world with its hard, unlovely realities; like Mulciber, who—

Dropt from the zenith like a falling star
On Lemnos, th' Aegean isle,

he was sometimes driven out of the heaven of imagination, and then he fell at once into the depths of dejection. He died in his twenty-seventh year, and wished his epitaph to be, "Here lies one whose name was writ in water." His first work, Endymion, and his last, Hyperion, may be regarded, the former as an expansion, the latter as an interpretation, of portions of the mythology of Greece. Hyperion is a fragment; in it the sublimity of the colossal shapes of the Titans, contrasted with the glorious beauty of the younger gods, bespeaks an imagination worthy of Dante. The Eve of St. Agnes belongs, to a different vein of ideas; the legends and superstitions of the middle age furnish its subject and its colouring.