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Keats's ways: the dark passages of mediation and why he gives up Hyperion.

We could posit a desire for communication which is so strong, so idealistic and hence so frustrated, that it becomes inevitably a dream-state.

--Geoffrey Hartman,

"I. A. Richards and the Dream of Communication" (1)

IN A JOURNAL LETTER OF DECEMBER 1818-JANUARY 1819 TO GEORGE AND Georgiana in Kentucky, writing on the cusp of what will come to be hailed as his annus mirabilis, Keats offers his initial thoughts on the recent death of Tom and then meanders into a truly arresting thought experiment:
   [S]ometimes I fancy an immense separation, and sometimes, as at
   present, a direct communication of spirit with you.... Now the
   reason why I do not feel at the present moment so far from you is
   that I rememb{er} your Ways and Manners and actions; I known you
   manner of thinking, you manner of feeling [sic]: I know what shape
   your joy or your sorrow w{ou}ld take, I know the manner of you
   walking, standing, sauntering, sitting down, laugh{ing,} punning,
   and evey [sic] action so truly that you seem near to me. You will
   rem{em}ber me in the same manner-and the more when I tell you that
   I shall read a passage of Shakspeare every Sunday at ten o
   Clock-you read one {a}t the same time and we shall be as near each
   other as blind bodies can be in the same room. (2)

Keats's dispatch had begun by assuring his brother and sister-in-law that, in the wake of Tom's death, he has "scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature of [or] other" (LJK 2:4). Nor has he any doubt that souls in the afterlife engage in unmediated communication with each other, and enjoy, like Milton's angels, intuitive rather than discursive knowledge: "That will be one of the grandeurs of immortality--there will be no space and consequently the only commerce between spirits will be by their intelligence of each other--when they will completely understand each other" (LJK 2:5). But in the intriguing thought experiment that follows, Keats transposes the ease of immortal interaction to the real world; he imagines a situation whereby he and his correspondents might achieve a similar kind of instantaneous, reciprocal "intelligence of each other." Because each party possesses an abundant capacity for sympathetic imagination ("I known ... you manner of feeling" [sic]), if they were to engage in a coordinated reading of Shakespeare, they would establish an intimate transatlantic connection and overcome the "immense separation" between London and Kentucky. Remembering the name of the ship George and Georgiana took to America six months earlier, the Telegraph--which alludes to the late eighteenth-century semaphoric communications technology--while looking ahead to Mark Twain's 1891 satirical treatment of its electric successor, one might name this scene "mental telegraphy." One might even be tempted to call Keats's scenario Shakespearean Skype. After all, his proposal of synchronized reading raises the same question about time difference that the railway made newly urgent in the early nineteenth century, and which lives on in the scheduling of today's planned mediated interactions: "ten o Clock" in whose time zone? (3)

But even as Keats indulges in this fantasy of instantaneous communication, he intimates its counterfactual nature and the obstacles to true contact. Note his final simile: he declines to liken his scenario to sighted individuals each sequestered in far-flung places and hence invisible to one another. That would be the more appropriate simile for the situation he narrates. That would also be a fitting, reflexive image for the very act of postal correspondence in which he is participating; as Charles Lamb confesses in "Distant Correspondents" to his addressee in Australia, "I cannot image to myself whereabout you are." (4) Instead, Keats scribbles off the converse simile of "blind bodies ... in the same room," as though to register, within his own fantasy, a sense that an ineluctable condition of isolation predominates even when individuals are as closely joined as two bodies in the same room. Space might be surmountable with sympathy or technology, but subjectivity is not. Keats's simile seems to anticipate "the double logic" of the frequently cited concept of remediation, serving as a reminder that the intimacy afforded by a mediated encounter is nevertheless counterbalanced by the interposing distance and the mediation(s) it makes necessary. (5)

The discussion to follow takes this thought experiment-a fantasy of rapid communication at a distance, offset by a heightened sense of the difficulties of mutual understanding-to be a paradigmatic rather than a momentary preoccupation for Keats. I offer an overarching claim about Keats and media in order to frame a hypothesis about Hyperion. Extending the work of several recent studies that have recognized, with varying emphases, the importance of the idea of media in Romantic poetry, my broadest contention is that communicative mediation constitutes a significant, although still largely unremarked, concern of Keats's poetry and letters. (6) The pertinacity with which Keats strives to align himself with the longstanding media of poetry and the book may be responsible for the lack of sustained commentary on his relation to the larger ecology of contemporaneous means of communication. Yet his letter to his brother and sister-in-law captures him relying on myriad ways-residual, dominant, and emergent--to imagine communication at a distance: he mentions spiritual communication, sympathy, and literature (Shakespeare), while ships, the practice of letter writing itself, optical telegraphy, and perhaps even electric telegraphy (in prototype since 1753) lurk just outside the letter's margins. (7) Reminiscent of the diverse sources that make up the thickly allusive texture of his verse, Keats's letter offers a mixture of media and modes of communication, not only high piled books or Poesy. But in this manner, and for this very reason, Keats evokes a necessarily blurry, heterogeneous record of media change as it is underway, in the process of unfolding. Newer media do not "displace older systems with decisive suddenness," David Thorbum and Henry Jenkins observe, in defining "media transition" as an "accretive, gradual process." (8) Keats's poetry can be read from the perspective of media transition, and I will be drawing into relation, uneasy relation, Keats's figurations of both the established textual medium and the incipient logic of telecommunication. Or, put in visual terms, this discussion hopes to take Joseph Severn's familiar 1821 portrait of Keats, indoors, hunched over and immersed in deep reading, and superimpose upon it an image of Romantic-era Britain enmeshed in increasingly far-reaching domestic and global communication and transportation networks. (9) Wordsworth, it is frequently noted, did not fail to identify these trends in communications media, writing with equal parts worry and prescience in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) of the "rapid communication of intelligence" characteristic of his historical moment. Neither did De Quincey, who, echoing Wordsworth, depicts the "rapid transmission of intelligence" of postal tidings in "The English Mail-Coach." Keats, too, beyond his epistolary fantasy of the "commerce" of "intelligence," harbors a conflicted concern with the media of his time, and the "society of flows" then taking shape. (10)

In fact, whereas his letter to George and Georgiana contemplates communication in immortality, his Hyperion fragments, for example and most prominently, inquire how immortals communicate. (11) And by dwelling on the ways that Titans commune among themselves, as well as the degree to which mortals can or cannot understand immortal events, experiences, and sensations, Keats explores the horizons of human communication: how thoughts and feelings are mediated and how they circulate, or fail, in these operations. Positing Keats's attention to different kinds of communicative mediation, this essay ventures a specific hypothesis about why he gives up "Hyperion. A Fragment" and "The Fall of Hyperion." "Gives up" alludes to Keats's own comments on abandoning the epic ("I have given up Hyperion--there were too many Miltonic inversions in it.... I wish to give myself up to other sensations" [LJK 2:167]). But rather than emphasizing Keats's renunciation of Miltonic style, I wish to focus on the meaningfulness of the fragments precisely because of the unfinished form in which Keats offers or "gives them up." Readers familiar with the poems will recall that Keats, with fine suddenness, aborts his first essay at epic during Apollo's deification scene (the beginning of which is below, left), and abandons his second attempt not too long after the speaker of "The Fall of Hyperion" gains access to Moneta's brain (below, right):
"... Yet I can read
A wondrous lesson in thy silent face:
Knowledge enormous makes a God
  of me.
Names, deeds, gray legends, dire
  events, rebellions,
Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,
Creations and destroyings, all at once
Pour into the wide hollows of my

("Hyperion. A Fragment," 3:111-17)

I ached to see what things the hollow
Behind enwombed: what high tragedy
In the dark secret chambers of her
Was acting ...
"Let me behold, according as thou
What in thy brain so ferments to and
No sooner had this conjuration pass'd
My devout lips, than side by side we
  stood ...

("The Fall of Hyperion," 1:276-92)

With remarkable fidelity, these scenes enact the instantaneous access to another's "thinking" and "feeling" about which Keats had speculated in his letter (written as he worked on Hyperion): Mnemosyne transmits or "at once / Pour[s]" her knowledge from her brain into Apollo's; "The Fall of Hyperion" employs virtually the same operation, though with the quest romance speaker pouring himself into Moneta's "hollow brain" rather than receiving its information. These pendant scenes never diminish in their capacity to surprise or confound. But it is revealing that several analyses of Hyperion, predating mine, describe the fragments with recourse to medial vocabulary: Geoffrey Hartman and, more recently, Rei Terada, characterize Hyperion in cinematic terms, while Charles Rzepka's reading of Keats's career links "The Fall of Hyperion"--and Keats's overall maturation--with his self-figuration as an impresario overseeing, with theatrical capability, a production of epic. (12) The recursive structure of "The Fall of Hyperion" thus courts interpretations reliant on ideas associated with mediation (i.e., the later fragment screens, remakes, or stages the earlier one), yet I would like to dwell specifically on the above scenes of thought transfer-like transmission and their relation to Keats's habitual way of depicting mediation throughout his oeuvre.

This essay hypothesizes that such dramatizations of unmediated, "direct communication" in Hyperion grate against Keats's career-long devotion to figures of slow, perplexed communication, to the difficult process of mediation itself. There are two competing logics of communication at work in Keats's poetry and his letters, and I identify them as pouring vs. dark passages. The first, "pouring," is exemplified by the above scenes in Hyperion, when Keats depicts the comparatively fast and unmediated transmission of knowledge between characters. Stopping short of performing a reading that claims a direct link between a specific communications medium and Keats, I instead understand Hyperion, like his letter to George and Georgiana, as placing and dating him within nineteenth-century British "tele-culture"--Nicholas Royle's term for the cultural fascination with the possibilities of relatively quick communication at a distance--and the often muddled or syncretic mixture of beliefs concerning communication and media that it entailed. (13) In contrast, "dark passages" indicates Keats's commitment to halting, meandering, and darkling reading and the forms of communication that encourage or require them. Indeed, more often than not, when Keats thinks about a "medium," he understands it on the analogy of the "opaque element" of textuality ("Hyperion. A Fragment," 2:23). I organize my explanation of this logic of communication around the classical-rhetorical concept of ductus, which envisions the frequently laborious passage or "way" through the textual medium. While almost certainly unfamiliar to Keats, the concept, as heuristic, reveals how he typically understands the difficulties of literary communication, a process that for the reader involves "repressing haste" ("The Fall of Hyperion," 1:94).

On a methodological register, then, it may be increasingly apparent that while this argument is informed by "media archaeology," it refrains from an exclusively media-archaeological analysis of Keats. Media archaeologies knowingly expose themselves to the risk of anachronism in order to yield the payoff of historical insight: they ask how contemporary media studies might illuminate the past while inquiring how the history of communication that consequently emerges can provide a genealogy of our present, media-saturated moment. (14) Sometimes, however, theories of media are retrospectively applied to a literary artifact of a remote historical moment, and its synchronic situation is assiduously reconstructed, yet residual and tacit notions (like ductus) that tenaciously persevere into the moment in question are comparatively overlooked; a focus on how the past relates to the present can leave the crucial legacy of the remoter past overlooked. It is my sense that while some dimensions of Keats's thinking on communication are clarified by contemporaneous or later theories of media, others, particularly how he understands the reading process, are shaped by notions that are traditional by the time of his writing.

A reading along these lines, of Keats's negotiation of slow reading and quick transmission, can open up new avenues of inquiry into his poetry. It complements the ongoing program of situating Keats in history (and especially politics) that has occupied Keatsian scholarship from early New Historicist polemics of the late 1970s and the 1980s to a recent special issue of this journal commemorating an earlier issue devoted to the same topic. (15) Heeding Lisa Gitelman's reminder that history is always mediated as well as stored in media, while recalling Keats's own interest in how and if "melodious utterance" can be "save[d]" ("The Fall of Hyperion," 1:6, 9), we might ask: What can we learn from how Keats's interceding imagination makes sense of the communicative flows crisscrossing and shaping his world? (16) Hence, although T. S: Eliot concluded from Keats's letters that, in comparison to Shelley, "Keats has no theory," I hope to show that "ways" of reading and communicating are for Keats something like a theory insofar as they are the means by which he makes his world intelligible to himself, and finally to us. (17) But as my hypothesis has it, if the Hyperion poems each act out scenes of nearly instantaneous communicative transfer, these scenes are finally dissonant with his commitment to the laborious ways of reading, and render further composition impossible. These two scenes are the closest to the opposite of himself that Keats ever gets.

I. "Dark Passages": The Ductus of Keats's Imagination

My Imagination is a monastery and I am its Monk. --Keats to Percy Bysshe Shelley, August 16, 1820

Keats's readers have long noticed and theorized the ornate quality of his verse, its overt displays of figuration and refusals of referential language, in short, its poeticity. (18) His professed ethos of "Negative Capability" (LJK 1:193) and the corollary poetic effect of ambiguity made Keats a perfect case for William Empson's culminating, seventh type of ambiguity, and innumerable formalist readings thereafter. (19) Critics continue to address these qualities of his poetry, variously referring to its "complexity," "indeterminacy," or "Keatsian solecism." (20) Meanwhile, other readers, from Marjorie Levinson to James Chandler have explicated the social and political inflections of Keats's early reception, and its determinative influence on his maturer style. Chandler, for example, discusses the Cockney concept of "smokeability"--a susceptibility to being easily understood and/or mocked--and reminds us that "we must not fail to recognize the extent to which Keats's sensitivity to being 'smoked' by the reviewing establishment contributed to the hermeneutic density for which he is now revered." (21)

At the same time, Keats's poetry, as Andrew Bennett argues, anticipates and extensively prefigures those densities, complexities, and indeterminacies met by his readers. (22) I also examine what Bennett calls the "figures of reading" in Keats's poetry, but with particular attention to his recurrent figurations of the space of the textual medium: a text imagined in spatial terms, or a space imagined in textual terms, within which one makes his or her way, slowly and with difficulty, often amidst darkness. In demonstrating Keats's reliance on these figures, I heuristically call on the term ductus, which refers to "the conduct of a thinking mind on its way through a composition." (23) It is no doubt true that figurations of a peripatetic subject who wanders and struggles through a text can be accounted for in several different ways. The idea of a textual pathway can be traced to certain genres and modes (epic, romance, allegory), themes (progress, pilgrimage, exile), and perhaps even to the trajectory of narrative itself, while the prizing of obscurity and difficulty is surely colored by the discourse of sublimity. (24) And by Levinson's reading, for example, such thematizations of textual travel, and the irony of lines like "Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold" ("On first looking into Chapman's Homer"), confirm the socioeconomic fact of Keats's actual inexperience in travel, his textually mediated, second-hand experience. (25) Complementing rather than discounting these other literary and social valences, I advance the notion of ductus for a couple of reasons. First, it directs us to the deep origins, in scriptural reading, of tropes associated with a course through a textual space made difficult or "dark" by figuration. These tropes circulate implicitly in Keats's writing, but come to the surface when he alludes directly to the hermeneutic tradition in his "life of Allegory" letter, to which I will shortly return. Secondly, ductus adumbrates how Keats figures the process of communicative mediation: he often imagines an encumbered tour through some kind of textual channel, as though traveling through the medium itself.

According to Mary Carmthers, the concept of ductus was first defined in a textbook by the fourth-century Latin rhetorician Fortunatianus, where it is conceived as the "flow" or movement of a composition, especially "the way that a composition guides a person to its various goals" (78). Ductus thus originated as a technical term with specific reference to the rhetorical "disposition" or structural organization of an argument. But ductus also pertained more broadly to the acts of reading and imagination that took place in the context of medieval monastic meditation. Fortunatianus' contemporary, Augustine, in De doctrina Christiana, depicts meditative prayer as a route taken by the meditator through the scriptures. (26) Moreover, when meditators visualized making their way through the Bible, they would stop and puzzle over highly allegorical or figurative, i.e., "dark," places. These difficult ornaments and passages were mentally taxing, but they were for this same reason beneficial: highly allegorical spots served a mnemonic function (because they were memorable), counteracted the very real problem of boredom, and acted as sites for mental expatiation and meditative-interpretive creativity. "All figurative language can function for a reader in this way," Carruthers explains, but "the 'difficult tropes' and schemes of the Bible were particularly important, what Augustine called obscuritas utilis et salubris, 'productive and health-giving difficulty'" (116). Ductus evokes a journey through a text, within which one encounters obscure, but also intellectually valuable, places.

The diffusion into secular literature of tropes deriving from scriptural reading and its difficult ornaments is a vast and complex story in its own right. (27) It is sufficient for the scope of this discussion to acknowledge that although Keats probably never looked into or sat down to read Fortunatianus or Augustine, he had ready access to figures associated with difficult textual paths via the English literary tradition; Paul de Man's observation that "we are reading the work of a man whose experience is mainly literary" is germane in this instance too. (28) A likely source is Spenser's own "darke conceit," The Faerie Queene. (29) In the Proem to Book 6, for instance, Spenser describes the "waies" through the "delightful] land of Faery," where "waies" refers in part to the narrative of the allegory itself. Spenser describes this "waie" as "tedious travell," and "travell" can be read simultaneously as travel and travail; that is to say, the phrase likens the course through the poem to tiresome travel and tiresome work in a manner consonant with the notion of ductus and the way one makes through a taxing text. (30) Following Spenser closely, Keats evokes the "waies" trope in Endymion during a similarly self-reflexive moment, even activating the same travel-travail pun. Endymion says:
   ... And when 'tis his,
   After long toil and travelling, to miss
   The kernel of his hopes, how more than vile:
   Yet, for him there's refreshment even in toil ...

Such mentions of travelling-toil in the poem, which point self-consciously to the unfolding narrative, are pervasive in Endymion. Bennett explains that there is in the poem a "significant homology between physical wandering or disordered space on the one hand, and imaginative or mental wondering) or confusion on the other. " In other words, Endymion's circuitous journey parallels the "wondering, amazement, and bewilderment [caused] by the confusing and dilated organization of the poem"; Endymion's readers, no less than Endymion himself, can be described using the dead metaphor of being "lost." (31) Diverging now from Bennett's reading, I would reframe these figures of textual travel as not only proleptic figures through which Keats anticipates how his readers will experience his poetry, but as clues to how he imagines things and people moving through space more fundamentally--how he envisions "ways" in general. In his letter on "The vale of Soul-making, " he formulates nothing less than the world he inhabits as "the medium of a world like this" or "an Elemental space" featuring "Pains and troubles," through which one struggles and wends, just as a child haltingly proceeds through a text in learning to read (LJK 2:102); in fact, these thoughts flow seamlessly into the sonnet ("On Fame") copied out in the same letter and its opening figure of "Life's book" (LJK 2:104). When Keats gropingly attempts to visualize his own life or the world he lives in, his mind turns to mediums, and when he thinks about mediums, he visualizes texts, often difficult ones.

Indeed, Keats's well-known passage about "a life of Allegory" alludes outright to traditional conceptions of obscure, allegorical language, and likens once again the difficulties encountered in the course of one's life to the difficulties of figurative language met by a reader progressing through a text:

[T]hey are very shallow people who take every thing literalf.] A Man's life of any worth is a continual allegory--and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life--a life like the scriptures, figurative--which such people can no more make out than they can the hebrew Bible. Lord Byron cuts a figure--but he is not figurative--Shakspeare led a life of Allegory; his works are the comments on it. (LJK 2:67).

Because the letter, through familiarity, may have taken on the ring of triteness, it is useful to parse the series of categorical, binary distinctions that Keats makes:
   a "life of any worth"
   "Mystery," obscurity
   Scripture, "hebrew Bible"
   non-shallow people
   Shakespeare and Keats
   a worthless life
   clarity, prominence
   non-scriptural writing
   "shallow" people
   "cuts a figure"

The governing conceit of Keats's letter likens "a life of any worth" to the idea of figurativeness, of which the "Mystery" of scripture is the original instance. In unflattering light, it is an inauspiciously conceived metaphor since it is hardly clear why Keats links his idea of a good life to abstract notions such as metaphoricity and allegory. Yet the point of Keats's conceit swims into our ken upon grasping that it hinges on two senses of obscurity: socioeconomic or social "obscurity" (as in the "destiny obscure" of Gray's "Elegy ..."), and the linguistic obscurity associated with allegorical passages of scripture and, eventually, poetic and literary language. The letter attempts to confer the scriptural authority of linguistic obscurity to social obscurity, thereby attempting to recuperate the latter. In so doing, Keats appeals also to the principles of Burkean sublimity, namely its association of obscurity with aesthetic power. (32) But the broader context that renders Keats's conceit intelligible involves the "way" of scripture--littered with dark, allegorical places--that he wants to liken to the course of a middling life featuring its own distresses. By this analogy, semantic clarity and literalness equate to prominence, "to cut a figure" (i.e., the opposite of being "obscure"). On a personal level for Keats, then, Byron's aristocratic ease and social prominence are like the ease of clear language, an ease, Keats would say, not without considerable bitterness, indicative of shallowness and productive of "proud bad verse" ("The Fall of Hyperion," 1:208). On a broader intellectual level, Keats justifies the figurative denseness of literary language, tacitly repudiating the dominant stylistic ideal of clarity, the ideal, installed by the New Rhetoric of the mid and later eighteenth century, that impacted all writing, literary and otherwise, through Romanticism and beyond. (33)

From this vantage, it becomes easier to recognize Keats's May 1818 letter to Reynolds, where he famously constructs an elaborate analogy of a tour through a "Mansion of Many Apartments" (LJK 1:280), as a variation on his habitual visions of obscure, figurative trails. The tour signifies two processes, each unfolding on a different scale of time. The first process is the advancement of English poetry (the "gregarious advance of intellect" or "a grand march of intellect" [LJK 1:281, 282]), which has forged on between Milton and Wordsworth. The second recapitulates the national tradition of poetry but at the scale of an individual poet's maturation--more specifically, the growth of a poet's mind as plotted by Wordsworth in "Tintern Abbey." (34) These valences are quite clear, but the significance of Keats's peculiar implication that both forms of progress eventuate in "dark Passages" (LJK 1:281) is less apparent. Read in relation to his thoughts on "a life of Allegory," however, the "dark passages" here begin to sound less like a hallway and more like the textual "way" that he so often visualizes. There are precedents in Endymion, where he hints at the polysemy of "passage" in order to evoke a mind wandering through a text: Endymion descends into the underworld "Through winding passages / where sameness breeds / Vexing conceptions of some sudden change" (2:234-36); and later in Book 2, Keats writes again that Endymion "wound / through a dim passage" (708-9). Glossed in this fashion, Keats's letter implies that poetic development in an individual, as well as at the level of a national tradition, ideally trends toward "dark passages." For Keats--whatever we may think of it--the poet's progress and the progress of poetry alike involve the gradual darkening of the poetic-linguistic medium, an increasing metaphoricity. Of his stylistic advice to Shelley, "'load every rift' of your subject with ore" (LJK 2:323), one can reasonably infer that "ore," in Keats's metaphor, equals metaphor itself.

The "figures of reading" suffused throughout the poetry are thus conditioned by Keats's premises concerning the dimming of textual "ways" through figuration, which have their own intellectual genealogy traceable to the dark ornaments of scripture. Scenes specifically of puzzled and confused readers in Keats's verse take on new significance, and evince the same dark, encumbered routes that structure the imagery of his letters. "The Eve of Saint Mark" is exemplary. Here is Bertha's halted progress through an illuminated book:
   The bells had ceased, the prayers begun,
   And Bertha had not yet half done
   A curious volume, patch'd and torn,
   That all day long, from earliest morn,
   Had taken captive her two eyes
   Among its golden broideries;
   Perplex'd her with a thousand things ...

As with a reader paused by, and pausing over, the obscure tropes of scripture, Bertha is "perplex'd"--confused, but also entangled or snagged, as in the original sense of "perplex"--as she reads through her "curious volume." (35) And once again playing with the idea of textual darkness, Keats writes that, "the dusk eve left her dark / Upon the legend of St. Mark" (50-52), where "dark" suggests Bertha's puzzlement as much as the dim reading conditions of dusk. Upon foregrounding this tableau from "The Eve of Saint Mark, " other scenes from Keats's works begin to crowd one's mind. (36) Like puzzled Bertha, Porphyro in "The Eve of St. Agnes" first runs into "the old beldame" (90) Angela in the castle, and ends up stumped by her expression: associating Angela with a book, and describing Porphyro's confusion as a failed attempt at reading, Keats narrates, "Porphyro upon her face doth look, / Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone / Who keepeth clos'd a wond'rous riddle-book" (127-30). If capaciously conceived, the category of such moments involving flummoxed readers as well as things that are "hard ... to understand" ("Lamia," 2:6) in Keats's poetry would even include the inquisitive speaker attempting to parse the Grecian Urn's images and its enigmatic concluding formulation; mythical Argus, appearing in the opening conceit of the Paolo and Francesca sonnet, who is not only "lulled" but also "baffled" (2) by Hermes's story into lapsing from surveillance duty; and, in "The Caps and Bells," Crafticant meticulously records bizarre omens and occurrences though their meanings elude him ("Could not conceive what Coralline was at" [672-74]). Keats's poetry and letters obsess over the feel of not to get it.

2. "Pouring": Hyperion and the Dead End of Transmission

Inspired by the "dark hints" of myth, and set in "darkness, death, and darkness" ("Hyperion. A Fragment," 1:242) and "opaque element," the Hyperion project extends Keats's exploration of dark passages and its now familiar network of figures. (37) Recalling the "long toil and travelling" of Endymion, and the corridors of his "Mansion of Many Apartments" letter, "The Fall of Hyperion" is no less of a strenuous progress through a space for either the poem's speaker or for readers: put by Moneta through physical and logical trials marked by "patient travail" (1:91) and "toil" (1:92, 121), the speaker says, "slow, heavy, deadly was my pace" (1:129); meanwhile, readers are warned, in much the same terms, "Ye may read who can unwearied pass / Onward from the antechamber of this dream" (1:464-65). Likewise, Saturn's text-based description of his disbelief and incomprehension at Olympian succession in "Hyperion. A Fragment"--"No, no-where can unriddle, though I search, / And pore on Nature's universal scroll" (2:150-51)--joins him with Keats's other characters who are perplexed during their wanderings through a text. Hyperion appears to offer Keats a myth and scope large enough to portray fully the vexing textual "ways" that image so many kinds of experience for him.

But at that same time that Keats's figural tendencies persevere into Hyperion, the fragments also mark an important difference. As we have seen in the earlier instances of his poetry and letters, Keats's sense of mediation relies on a residual system of figuration emanating from scriptural obscurity, and remains mostly tied to textual media, encompassing language, poetry, writing, and books: from the linguistic "darkness" of Bertha's book to the volume itself, from "charactery" to the "high piled books" that contain them ("When I have fears that I may cease to be" [3]). By contrast, the Hyperion poems set out from the assumption that texts are but one subset of the larger, diverse category of media, and arduous reading only one form of engagement with a remote (authorial) entity within the broader phenomenon of communication at a distance. Such recognitions clear the way for the Hyperion project's comparative reflections on different kinds of communication and mediation, and the most apparent manifestations of these concerns appear at the start of each fragment. "Hyperion. A Fragment" begins memorably with a series of ephemeral communications, oral ("As if the ebbing air had but one wave; / So came these words and went" [1:78-79]) as well as those "voiceless" or gestural ones ("the Naiad 'mid her reeds / press'd her cold finger close to her lips" [1:11-14]) that Keats in "Lamia" memorably names "other speech." (38) "The Fall of Hyperion" starts off as if reflecting on or theorizing the earlier version of the poem, by weighing the varying durabilities of different types of communication: a "melodious utterance" without inscription will only "live, dream, and die," but written or printed "Poesy" "can save / Imagination" (1:6-10).

From this perspective, Keats attempts the epic genre and the story of theogony not merely or primarily for the sake of proving that he can write in this vein, but rather because the topos of accommodation, which is built into a project involving the incompatible communication systems of gods and humans, makes Hyperion the ideal vehicle for thinking through different means, modes, and media of communication. No reader of the fragments can miss their frequent treatment of the problem of accommodation or commoda verba: adhering closely to Paradise Lost, the Hyperion poems insistently comment on the inadequacy of human language to convey godly sensations, affects, and speech. The narrator of "Hyperion. A Fragment" says "She [Thea] spake / ... some mourning words, which in our feeble tongue / would come in these like accents" (1:49-50) and alludes elsewhere to "woe / Too huge for immortal tongue or pen of scribe" (1:159-60). Similarly, in the "The Fall of Hyperion," the ongoing dialogue between the speaker and Moneta is colored by the fundamental difference between mortal and godly understanding. As Moneta elaborates on the nature of this difference, and the consequent need for immortal-to-mortal translation, she says:
   Mortal, that thou may'st understand aright,
   I humanize my saying to thine ear,
   Making companions of earthly things;
   Or thou might'st better listen to the wind,
   Whose language is to thee a barren noise,
   Though it blows legend-laden through the trees.
   ("The Fall of Hyperion," 2:1-6)

As Moneta's condescension makes clear, immortal information flows freely through the air, in an immaterial and unrestrained manner; immortals engage in a kind of communication that requires no medium other than the air or the ether. Moreover, gods are fitted with a "giant nerve" ("Hyperion. A Fragment," 1:175) that, like a receiver, can pick up information. Hyperion, for example, senses that usurpation has taken place, and intuits his own impending overthrow despite his remoteness from the already fallen Titans: "Why do I know ye? ... Saturn is fallen, am I too to fall?" (1:231-34). Significantly, only the Titans who have already undergone "disanointing" (2:98) suffer the bewilderment characteristic of mortal characters in Keats's poetry, "amazed ... utterly" (3:2) at having been hurled headlong into the realm of "dark passages." Moreover, where immortals can downwardly access (or "smoke" in the Cockney lexicon) mortal thoughts and feelings--Apollo, for example, tells us as much when he says to Mnemosyne, "Why should I tell thee what thou so well seest? (3:84)--immortal communications are nothing more than what Moneta calls "barren noise" to humans, who cannot upwardly grasp immortal information without the benefit of " humanize [d]" translations that make godly experience intelligible.

Immortal communication functions, then, as at once an idealized version of human communication and as a cruel parody of the slowness and unreliability of human contact. In this connection, Hyperion dramatizes the insight of Dante--whose (Englished) style inspires Keats as he writes "The Fall of Hyperion"--that humans cannot "enter into each other's minds by means of spiritual reflection, as the angels do, because the human spirit is so weighed down by the heaviness and density of the mortal body." (39) One might add to Dante's comment, in the context of Hyperion, that humans also cannot enter into each other's minds because of the density and darkness of the media through which human communications must wind their way. Keats's fascination in Hyperion with how readily gods can get in touch is simultaneously, and at root, a fantasy of human communications covering such distances with such speed, like "legend-laden" wind.

Let us now return to the scenes of instantaneous, immaterial thought transfer--between Apollo and Mnemosyne in "Hyperion. A Fragment," and between the speaker and Moneta in "The Fall of Hyperion"--that push each attempt to their breaking point. Their strangeness can be appreciated in full. The latter transaction, a mortal given immediate access to the brain of a god, is a dream of communicative contact highly discordant with the dominant logic of mortal communication in Hyperion as well as across Keats's oeuvre. That the scene effectively turns Keats down a dead end, leading him to a recursive retelling of "Hyperion. A Fragment" from within Moneta's mind suggests, at the very least, some kind of logical impasse precipitated by the contact gained by the mortal speaker. The earlier fragment's portrayal of Apollo's deification by "pouring" also puzzles. Though "prophecies" (3:78) have told of Apollo's eventual deification, Apollo is still, by Keats's description, very much a mortal when the transmission operation begins: much like the speaker of "Ode to a Nightingale," whose "dull brain perplexes and retards" (34), Apollo admits in thoroughly mortal terms that "dark, dark, / And painful oblivion seals my eyes" (3:86-87). In other words, by Keats's portrayal, Apollo is more consummate mortal than candidate for immortality. It is thus doubly startling that Apollo can "read a wondrous lesson ... [and] Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions" instantaneously and without difficulty, just as when the speaker of "The Fall of Hyperion" can read the "high tragedy" in Moneta's mind and navigate its "dark secret chambers" with an ease Keats typically reserves for the unfettered communicative mode and understanding of gods. One cannot help sensing some confusion in Hyperion about whether the deification process ought to resemble immortal communication habits. Given Keats's gravitation toward difficult mediations rather than immediate transmission, and the priority of "dark passages" over "pouring" in his writing, these scenes of contact without the travails of reading are, Keats senses, too easy--a solution too sweet.

University of Connecticut, Storrs


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(1.) Hartman, in The Fate of Reading and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), 35.

(2.) To George and Georgiana Keats, December 16, 1818, in The Letters of John Keats, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958), 2:5. Keats's letters are hereafter cited in the text as LJK followed by volume and page number.

(3.) Keats presumably means 10 o'clock in his own time zone, and 10 P.M. (which would be the afternoon in Kentucky) rather than 10 A.M. But his wording ("at the same time") is more ambiguous from George's perspective: should George read a passage of Shakespeare at 10 o'clock in his own time zone, or do they need to figure out the time difference so as to be perfectly synchronized? These may appear to be trivial scheduling details, but the significance of Keats's scenario is that such questions about time difference emerge with the possibilities of relatively rapid communication and transportation that his moment witnesses. See Wolfgang Schivelbusch's classic, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 42-44, on the gradual standardization, by different railway lines, of disparate local times in Great Britain and the United States.

(4.) Lamb, in The Complete Works and Letters of Charles Lamb (New York: The Modern Library, 1935), 96.

(5.) Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 3-15.

(6.) Though what follows is by no means an exhaustive list, I would include the following works, in order of publication, as foundational for what Lauren Neefe and I described as "Romantic media studies" for a 2013 MLA roundtable session of the same name: Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer with Chris Cullens (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990); Clifford Siskin, The Work of Writing: Literature and Social Change in Britain, 1700-1830 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); Celeste Langan, "Understanding Media in 1805: Audiovisual Hallucination in the Lay of the Last Minstrel," S?R 40, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 49-70, and "Pathologies of Communication from Coleridge to Schreber," South Atlantic Quarterly 102, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 117-52; Orrin N. C. Wang, "Coming Attractions: 'Lamia' and Cinematic Sensation," SiR 42, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 461-500; Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004); Celeste Langan and Maureen N. McLane, "The Medium of Romantic Poetry," in The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry, eds. James Chandler and Maureen N. McLane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 239-62; Maureen N. McLane, Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and Clifford Siskin and William Warner, "This is Enlightenment: An Invitation in the Form of an Argument," in This is Enlightenment, eds. Clifford Siskin and William Warner (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 1-36. A prescient and still useful work from an earlier critical era is Walter J. Ong, "Romantic Difference and the Poetics of Technology," in Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), 254-83.

(7.) More than sixty prototypes of electric telegraphs were attempted between 1753 and 1837, and poetry commenting on electric telegraphy appeared in periodicals throughout. See Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-Line Pioneers (New York: Walker, 2007), 18-19.

(8.) Thorburn and Jenkins, "Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of Transition," in Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, eds. Thorburn and Jenkins (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), 2-3.

(9.) Several excellent studies situate the period's literature within a larger, reticulated world, portraying a Romanticism that more and more resembles the flight routes found in the back of in-flight magazines, only less densely but nevertheless widely interconnected. See Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); Miranda Burgess, "Transport: Mobility, Anxiety, and the Romantic Poetics of Feeling," SiR 49, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 229-60; Mary Favret, War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010); Kevis Goodman, "'Uncertain Disease': Nostalgia, Pathologies of Motion, Practices of Reading," SiR 49, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 197-227.

(10.) William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, eds. R. L. Brett and Alun R. Jones (New York: Routledge, 2005), 294; Thomas De Quincey, "The English Mail-Coach, " in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings, ed. Grevel Lindop (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 202. I borrow the term "society of flows" from Armand Mattelart, The Invention of Communication, trans. Susan Emanuel (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

(11.) Throughout this essay, I use "Hyperion" to refer to both poems at once, acknowledging the two fragments as part of a single project; I refer to "Hyperion. A Fragment" alone as just that, and "The Fall of Hyperion--A Dream" as "The Fall of Hyperion." References to these fragments will be cited parenthetically, by Book or Canto number and then line number(s). All references to Keats's poetry are to Keats's Poetry and Prose, ed. Jeffrey N. Cox (New York: Norton, 2009).

(12.) Hartman, "Spectral Symbolism and Authorial Self in Keats's Hyperion," in The Fate of Reading and Other Essays, 64-66; Terada, "Looking at the Stars Forever," SiR 50, no. 2 (Summer 2011), 286; Rzepka, Self as Mind: Vision and Identity in Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 165-242.

(13.) Royle, Telepathy and Literature: Essays on the Reading Mind (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 4-5. Noel Jackson has also recovered how sentiments, particularly revolutionary feeling, were understood to transfer between individuals on the model of electricity in Science and Sensation in Romantic Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 47-31; Miranda Burgess too discusses the circulation of feelings between individuals in "Transport: Mobility, Anxiety, and the Romantic Poetics of Feeling." Both accounts benefit from the sustained analyses and case studies of communicable feeling in Adela Pinch's Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996). On telegraphy in particular, see Richard Menke, Telegraphic Realism: Victorian Fiction and Other Information Systems (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), and its account of how literature began "imagining itself as a medium and information system in an age of new media" (3). Where Menke focuses on novels, noting that "in contrast to the era's poetry, fiction minimizes the formal markers that might separate it from a larger world of everyday printed information" (4), I am interested here in relating exactly the intensified formal qualities of Romantic poeticity to the logic of modern telecommunication.

(14.) For a discussion of "media archaeology," its coherence as well as its diversity as a methodology, see Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka, "Introduction: An Archaeology of Media Archaeology," in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, eds. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 1-21. Alan Liu offers a concise definition of the method as the "haunting of old media by new media perspectives," in "Imagining the New Media Encounter," A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, eds. Ray Siemens and Susan Schreibman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007), 12. Early insights on the role of media in Romantic poetry, specifically Wordsworth's, can be found in Geoffrey Hartman's, "I. A. Richards and the Dream of Communication," 20-21.

(15.) Some early New Historicist readings of Keats include Jerome J. McGann's "Keats and the Historical Method in Literary Criticism, " in The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), 15-65, and Marjorie Levinson's Keats's Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988). Two special issues of this journal are devoted to the question of the relation between Keats and politics. The more recent, "Reading Keats, Thinking Politics," eds. Emily Rohrbach and Emily Sun, from Summer 2011, commemorates "Keats and Politics," ed. Susan Wolfson, from Summer 1986, and contains some nuanced approaches employed today to understand "the political 'thinking' made possible by Keats's poetry" (231), while revealing the generative influence on such approaches of works like Goodman's Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism.

(16.) Gitelman, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 20-21, discusses the special relation between history and media.

(17.) Eliot, "Shelley and Keats," in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 93.

(18.) With the terms "referential" and "poeticity," I invoke the work of Roman Jakobson. See Language in Literature, eds. Krystyna Pomorska and Stephen Rudy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), 62-71 and 378.

(19.) Empson's reading of "Ode to Melancholy" sits at the heart of his chapter on the final and severest form of ambiguity in Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York: New Directions, 1966), 205 and 214-17.

(20.) I Byron allude, respectively, to the following studies: Jack Stillinger, Reading The Eve of St. Agnes: The Multiples of Complex Literary Transaction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). 126-28 inter alia on "complexity"; David Simpson, Romanticism, Nationalism, and the Revolt Against Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 168-71, posits that Keats's rejection of Enlightenment system and method results in a traumatic loss of bearings, as well as in poetic inwardness and "indeterminacy"; Andrew Bennett reads Keats through the notion of solecism in Keats, Narrative, and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 2 ff.

(21.) Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 399-400.

(22.) Bennett, Keats, Narrative, and Audience, 1-14.

(23.) Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 77. Hereafter cited parenthetically in the text.

(24.) See Angus Fletcher's annotation of "[p]rogress, real and ideal," in Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1970), 151-57.

(25.) Levinson, Keats's Life of Allegory, 11-15.

(26.) Augustine describes reading, actually misreading, as a journey: "Anyone with an interpretation of the scriptures that differs from that of the writer is misled, but not because the scriptures are lying. If, as I began by saying, he is misled by an idea of the kind that builds up love, which is the end of the commandment, he is misled in the same way as a walker who leaves his path by mistake but reaches the destination to which the path leads by going through a field. But he must be put right and shown it's more useful not to leave the path, in case the habit of deviating should force him to go astray or even adrift" (On Christian Teaching, trans. R. P. H. Green [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997], 27). See also Kathy Eden, Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition: Chapters in the Ancient Legacy and its Humanist Reception (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 53-63, and its discussion of Augustine's figurations of reading as a homecoming.

(27.) The process by which the difficulty or authority of scripture is invoked by certain "secular" literary texts seeking to wield an analogous kind of authority is complex and has already received ample explication. Angus Fletcher offers a lucid genealogy, from the "[djifficult ornament" of scripture to eighteenth-century sublimity in Allegory, 233-45. See also John Guillory, Poetic Authority: Spenser, Milton, and Literary History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), viii-x, 21-22, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, "Theories of Obscurity in the Latin Tradition," Mediaevalia 19 (1996): 101-70.

(28.) de Man, "Introduction: The Negative Road," in John Keats: Selected Poetry (New York: New American Library, 1966), xi.

(29.) For a sustained discussion of Spenser's influence on Keats, see Greg Kucich, Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991), 137-239.

(30.) For Book 6, Proem, Stanza i, I have used The Faerie Queene: Book Six and the Mutabilitie Cantos, eds. Andrew Hadfield and Abraham Stoll (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007), 3.

(31.) Bennett, Keats, Narrative and Audience, 78-79. For an interesting recent study that situates the idea of travails in Keats within the context of secret societies, see Jennifer N. Wunder's Keats, Hermeticism, and the Secret Societies (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008). Wunder observes that "Rosicrucian and Masonic texts consistently stressed the struggles man must face to gain wisdom and reach a higher state of spirituality, and both societies maintained that the search itself, the process, was the key.... Masonic initiation rites offered to their brethren a process by which they moved in stages called 'grades' to what initiates were told was a purer 'approximation of spiritual essence"' (17).

(32.) See Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful and Other Pre-revolutionary Writings, ed. David Womersley (New York: Penguin, 1998), 102-3, 171-77

(33.) On the Scottish Enlightenment/New Rhetorical compositional ideals of clarity and brevity, see John Guillory, "The Memo and Modernity," Critical Inquiry 31, no. 1 (Autumn 2004): 108-32; Goodman, Georgic Modernity, 17-37; Andrew Elfenbein, Romanticism and the Rise of English (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 144-84.

(34.) James Chandler has suggested that Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality ..." ode anticipates Ernst Haeckel's theory of biological recapitulation (i.e., ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), and we see the same operation adopted by Keats's Wordsworthian letter ("Wordsworth's Great Ode: Romanticism and the Progress of Poetry," in The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry, 137).

(35.) Such images of entanglement and intricacy are appropriately legion in "Lamia," where Keats most fully explores the etymological and figurative web formed by the idea of perplexity: e.g., "cirque-couchant" (1:46); "gordian" (1:47); "interwreathed" (1:52); "golden brede" (1:158); "twisted braid" (1:186); "tangle[s] ... in her mesh" (1:295); "to entangle, trammel up and snare ..." (2:52-53).

(36.) On these grounds, one might say that Wordsworth's greatest imprint on Keats's poetry is the epitaphic "Halted Traveller" mode, although Keats's specific variation takes the form that I have been reconstructing above as "dark passages." See Geoffrey Hartman's discussion of the "Halted Traveller" in Wordsworth's Poetry, 1787-1814 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), 12-13.

(37.) Woodhouse refers to the "dark hints in the Mythological poets of Greece & Rome" on the basis of which Keats would compose Hyperion (Cox, Keats's Poetry and Prose, 476).

(38.) In this wonderful simile, Keats compares the "trembling tone" (1:301) of Lamia's whisper to when "those who, safe together met alone / For the first time through many anguish'd days, / Use other speech than looks" (1:302-4): i.e., when two people can finally exchange words rather than mere glances. "Other speech" thus paradoxically denotes speech, and suggests that Keats understood many different kinds of communication--non-verbal ("looks") and verbal alike--in terms of language ("speech").

(39.) Dante Alighieri, De Vulgati Eloquentia, trans. Steven Botterill (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 7.
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Title Annotation:John Keats
Author:Igarashi, Yohei
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Critical essay
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Date:Jun 22, 2014
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