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Leaping headlong into the Sea Janusian of light-and-shade.

Living in a thousand worlds

Well known as a professor, editor, literary critic and historian, Walter Jackson Bate (23 May 1918; Mankato, Minnesota--26 July 1999; Boston, Massachusetts) is recognized as one of the most brilliant of Keats's biographers. The present research focuses, in the context of a larger view of Keats criticism, on the complex image of Keats as rendered by this important humanist of the 20th century in his memorable biography (1963), which to date remains a landmark of the genre, by which a significant contribution was brought to the general reception of Keats in the modern age as an iconic genius struggling on the verge of death to make his dream come true, namely to bring to light the vast idea under whose irresistible sign his very life, he felt, unfolded--as he himself confessed in the emblematic poem Sleep and poetry (composed in 1816, published in 1817).

To understand how and why Walter Jackson Bate developed a lifetime passion for Keats, and what kind of personality produced what is probably the best Keats biography ever written, we shall proceed by concisely introducing Bate to the reader, focusing on the essential aspects of his life and critical work, and then proceeding to a synthetic presentation of the biography John Keats (1963), regarded in a larger critical and historical context.

Before embarking on a brief presentation of Bate's life and creative critical activity, a few preliminaries are needed. Thus, we need to point out from the very beginning that in his biography Bate managed to create a kind of "second existence" for Keats, one that now persists increasingly more sharply in the collective mind. As pointed out by Mircea Lazarescu (1994), biographies are bound to forge such "second existences," the flesh-and-blood man thereby becoming an "intermediate being" populating the minds of people and thus influencing and moulding their destinies. That Keats himself believed in the existence of such "intermediate beings" inhabiting man's mind is demonstrated by his very words from a (most important) letter addressed to Richard Woodhouse (dated 27 October 1818):

But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself; but from some character in whose soul I now live. I am sure however that this next sentence is from myself. I feel your anxiety, good opinion and friendliness in the highest degree, and am Your's most sincerely John Keats. (Keats 1975: 158)

In this crucial belief, Keats may have been influenced by both Egyptian and Greco-Roman thought. Before anything else, let us briefly review what the nature of these influences is.

I) According to the ancient Egyptians, reality's structure was nested in nature, worlds within worlds within worlds: the ba soul resided inside the ka double, which was inside the khat (the body), all three existing in or under the beqet (the sky) (see details in Stroe 2014).

II) According to the ancient Romans (deeply influenced by the ancient Greeks), the god Janus was the creator of the Universe, the initiator of all phenomena, being a personification of any beginning and end, entry and exit, watching over any door or gate (Lat. ianua, pl. ianuae) and any road--in this sense, in a version of the myth he preceeded the cult of Jupiter/Zeus.

Janus and Janusian experience, process and dimensions of reality

Janus was considered to have the following functions, which, as we shall see, are relevant for Keats's view mentioned above:

a) in one version of his myth: he was the patron of the celestial path of the Sun and the yearly time flow;

b) in another version: he was the son of Apollo who established his home in Italy in very ancient times, hosting Saturn when the latter was dethroned from Olympus by Jupiter. Owing to his hospitality, in this version, Saturn gave Janus the gift of double knowledge: simultaneously seeing the past and the future. Both versions must have fascinated Keats, if he came across them it surely gave him the idea that two realities could occur simultaneously: two visions, being in two places at the same time, having more than one conscience and being able to access them simultaneously, etc. In short, this opened up the path towards empathy and Negative Capability, the mysterious power that enabled one to be everything and nothing at the same time, to identify oneself with and lose oneself into another being, and yet remain oneself, all at the same time.

Janus was nicknamed Janus Pater ("the father god"; cf. Macrobius, Saturnalia, I, 9, 1-16); Janus Bifrons: "with two foreheads" (Ovid: Janus Biformis --"with two forms"); Janus Quadrifrons: "with four foreheads" (at the time of Domitian); Janus Agonius ("the fighting one"; hence the Agonalia) --all of these as a way to reflect his total watchfulness: looking at the past and the future simultaneously, looking towards all of the four cardinal points simultaneously (as a symbol thereof, he held a key and a staff of power in his hands). Some critics suggested that the name janus derives from the Greek chaos, an interpretation reinforced by the fact that his double face may have reflected the confusion of the pre-cosmic primordial chaos. According to Ovid, however, he was the only Roman god who did not have a Greek model (Kernbach 1989: 238).

In order to have an ampler view of Janus's reception in the context of Keats studies, we shall briefly review a few relevant instances in which this important Roman god was found to be useful for the description of reality.

1) Francis Bacon's notion of the "Janus of imagination" (imagination seen as a tool for both reason-truth and will-goodness, simultaneously) may have kindled, if he ever encountered it, in Keats's mind the association of Janus with art/ imagination and his own model of the binary of truth-and-beauty (the latter being different sides of the same archetypal phenomenon). In The Advancement of Learning (1605), Bacon stated the following:

The knowledge which respecteth the Faculties of the Mind of man is of two kinds; the one respecting his Understanding and Reason, and the other his Will, Appetite, and Affection; whereof the former produceth Position or Decree, the latter Action or Execution. It is true that the Imagination is an agent or nuncius in both provinces, both the judicial and the ministerial. For sense sendeth over to Imagination before Reason have judged: and Reason sendeth over to Imagination before the Decree can be acted; for Imagination ever precedeth Voluntary Motion: saving that this Janus of Imagination hath differing faces; for the face towards Reason hath the print of truth, but the face towards Action hath the print of Good; which nevertheless are faces, "Quales decet esse sororum." [Such as sisters' faces should be]. (Cf. Ovid, Met. ii, 14) (Book II, On imagination; Bacon 2008: 217, 633, n. 217)

2) While discussing the vital principle animating intelligence, in The friend, S. T. Coleridge (1812) mentioned Janus as a "power with double aspect," a kind of "temporal binding" (to use Korzybski's notion), whereby the past and the future are connected in the permanent present through a simultaneous process of retrospection and anticipation--such a "Janusian effect" was reached only in the great art, at the "summit of art":

The Intelligence, which produces or controls human actions and occurrences, is often represented by the Mystics under the name and notion of the supreme Harmonist. I do not myself approve of these metaphors: they seem to imply a restlessness to understand that which is not among the appointed objects of out comprehension or discursive faculty. But certainly there is one excellence in good music, to which, without mysticism, we may find or make an analogy in the records of History. I allude to that sense of recognition, which accompanies our sense of novelty in the most original passages of a great composer. If we listen to a Symphony of Cimarosa, the present strain still seems not only to recall, but almost to renew, some past movement, another and yet the same! Each present movement bringing back, as it were, and embodying the Spirit of some melody that had gone before, anticipates and seems trying to overtake something that is to come: and the Musician has reached the summit of his art, when having thus modified the Present by the Past, he at the same time weds the Past in the Present to some prepared and corresponsive Future. The Auditor's thoughts and feelings move under the same influence: retrospection blends with anticipation, and Hope and Memory (a female Janus) become one Power with a double Aspect. A similar effect the Reader may produce for himself in the pages of History, if he will be content to substitute an intellectual complacency for pleasurable sensation. The Events and Characters of one Age, like the Strains in Music, recall those of another, and the variety by which each is individualized, not only gives a charm and poignancy to the resemblance, but likewise renders the whole more intelligible. Meantime ample room is afforded for the exercise both of the Judgment and the Fancy, in distinguishing cases of real resemblance from those of intentional imitation, the analogies of Nature, revolving upon herself, from the masquerade Figures of Cunning and Vanity. (The friend, Essay V; Coleridge 1812:114-115)

3) William Wordsworth referred to Janus in The excursion (1814) (in Book II, The solitary), emphasizing his double-faced aspect:
   How shall I trace the change, how bear to tell
   That he broke faith with them whom he had laid
   In earth's dark chambers, with a Christian's hope!
   An infidel contempt of holy writ
   Stole by degrees upon his mind; and hence
   Life, like that Roman Janus, double-faced;
   Vilest hypocrisy--the laughing, gay
   Hypocrisy, not leagued with fear, but pride.
   Smooth words he had to wheedle simple souls;
   But, for disciples of the inner school,
   Old freedom was old servitude, and they
   The wisest whose opinions stooped the least
   To known restraints; and who most boldly drew
   Hopeful prognostications from a creed,
   That, in the light of false philosophy,
   Spread like a halo round a misty moon,
   Widening its circle as the storms advance.

   (Wordsworth 1994: 775)


4) Lord Byron had referred to Janus, in the sense of the confusion/chaos mentioned above, in a poem titled Lines on hearing that Lady Byron was ill (dated September 1816):
   [...] [T]he mind recoils
   Upon itself, and the wreck'd heart lies cold,
   While heaviness collects the shatter'd spoils.
   It is not in the storm nor in the strife
   We feel benumb'd, and wish to be no more,
   But in the after-silence on the shore,
   When all is lost, except a little life.
   I am too well avenged!--but 'twas my right;
   Whate'er my sins might be, thou wert not sent
   To be the Nemesis who should requite--
   Nor did Heaven choose so near an instrument. [...]
   Thy nights are banish'd from the realms of sleep!--
   Yes! they may flatter thee, but thou shalt feel
   A hollow agony which will not heal,
   For thou art pillow'd on a curse too deep;
   Thou hast sown in my sorrow, and must reap
   The bitter harvest in a woe as real!
   I have had many foes, but none like thee;
   For 'gainst the rest myself I could defend,
   And be avenged, or turn them into friend; [...]
   The earthly truth, which was thy proper praise,
   Did not still walk beside thee--but at times,
   And with a breast unknowing its own crimes,
   Deceit, averments incompatible,
   Equivocations, and the thoughts which dwell
   In Janus-spirits--the significant eye
   Which learns to lie with silence--the pretext
   Of prudence, with advantages annex'd--
   The acquiescence in all things which tend,
   No matter how, to the desired end--
   All found a place in thy philosophy. [...]
   (Byron 1994: 92-93)


5) P. B. Shelley mentioned Janus in The defence of poetry (1821), pointing out that the double-face of the Roman god can be interpreted as a metaphor of the simultaneous true-false binary (similarly, as we shall see, Keats came to see art as being directed simultaneously towards reality and illusion):

But Poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance and architecture and statuary and painting; they are the institutors of laws and the founders of civil society and the inventors of the arts of life and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion. Hence all original religions are allegorical or susceptible of allegory, and like Janus have a double face of false and true. (Shelley 2003: 677)

Shelley then speaks of the nature of the poet, emphasizing the intermediary position he has between two incommensurate orders, time and eternity, unity and infinity, participating in all these dimensions simultaneously, therefore being of the Janusian "kind":

Poets, according to the circumstances of the age and nation in which they appeared, were called in the earlier epochs of the world legislators or prophets: a poet essentially comprises and unites both these characters. For he not only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers those laws according to which present things ought to be ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of latest time. Not that I assert poets to be prophets in the gross sense of the word, or that they can fortell the form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events: such is the pretence of superstition which would make poetry an attribute of prophecy, rather than prophecy an attribute of poetry. A Poet participates in the eternal, the infinite and the one; as far as relates to his conceptions, time and place and number are not. (Shelley 2003: 677)

P. B. Shelley invoked Janus Quadrifrons in The triumph of life (1822), pointing out that his function was to look deep into all of time (with his eyes to "pierce the sphere of all that is, has been, or will be done"), his main prerogative being therefore omniscience/omni-vision:
   So came a chariot on the silent storm
   Of its own rushing splendour, and a Shape
   So sate within as one whom years deform
   Beneath a dusky hood & double cape
   Crouching within the shadow of a tomb,
   And o'er what seemed the head a cloud like crape
   Was bent, a dun & faint etherial gloom
   Tempering the light; upon the chariot's beam
   A Janus-visaged Shadow did assume
   The guidance of that wonder-winged team.
   The Shapes which drew it in thick lightnings
   Were lost: I heard alone on the air's soft stream
   The music of their ever moving wings.
   All the four faces of that charioteer
   Had their eyes banded ... little profit brings
   Speed in the van & blindness in the rear,
   Nor then avail the beams that quench the Sun
   Or that his banded eyes could pierce the sphere
   Of all that is, has been, or will be done. So
   ill was the car guided, but it passed
   With solemn speed majestically on ...
   The crowd gave way, & I arose aghast
   Or seemed to rise, so mighty was the trance,
   And saw like clouds upon the thunder-blast
   The million with fierce song and maniac dance
   Raging around; such seemed the jubilee
   As when to greet some conqueror's advance
   Imperial Rome poured forth her living sea
   From senate-house & prison & theatre,
   When Freedom left those who upon the free
   Had bound a yoke which soon they stooped to bear.

   (The triumph of life, 86-116; Shelley 2003: 606-607)


6) In creativity studies, Janus has opened an entire field of research, which will prove extremely relevant for Keats studies: the so-called Janusian process was defined by Rothenberg (1999: 103) as follows:

[A]ctively conceiving multiple opposites or antitheses simultaneously. The term used for this process derives from the qualities of the Roman god, Janus, who had faces that looked in multiple (2, 4, or 6) diametrically opposite directions simultaneously. During the course of the creative process, opposite or antithetical ideas, concepts, or propositions are consciously conceptualized as simultaneously coexisting. Although seemingly illogical and self-contradictory, these formulations are constructed in clearly logical and rational states of mind to produce creative effects. They occur as early conceptions in the development of scientific theories and artworks and at critical junctures at middle and later stages as well. Because they serve generative functions during both formative and critical stages of the creative process, these simultaneous antitheses or simultaneous opposites usually undergo transformation and modification and are seldom directly discernible in final created products. They are formulated by the creative thinker as solutions in working out practical and scientific tasks and as central ideas for an artwork. (Rothenberg 1999: 103-104)

This discrete creative process is crucial for our understanding of the notion of "intermediate beings" such as might have essentially determined Keats's thoughts presented above.

The intermediate beings: Hermes,

Paracelsus and Burton

The interpretation we suggested above--that Keats indeed himself strongly believed in the existence of "intermediate beings" (or "interdimensional" beings, in the sense of beings populating different dimensions of reality) having residence in man's mind--is strengthened the more, if we read the following fragment from a letter Keats addressed to George and Georgiana Keats, dated 14, 16, 21, 24, 31 October 1818:

The roaring of the wind is my wife and the Stars through the window pane are my Children. The mighty abstract Idea I have of Beauty in all things stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness--an amiable wife and sweet Children I contemplate as a part of that Bea(u)ty, but I must have a thousand of those beautiful particles to fill up my heart. I feel more and more every day, as my imagination strengthens, that I do not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds--No sooner am I alone than shapes of epic greatness are stationed around me, and serve my Spirit the office which is equivalent to a king's body guard--then "Tragedy, with scepter'd pall, comes sweeping by." According to my state of mind I am with Achilles shouting in the Trenches or with Theocritus in the Vales of Sicily. Or I throw my whole being into Troilus and repeating those lines, "I wander, like a lost soul upon the stygian Banks staying for waftage," I melt into the air with a voluptuousness so delicate that I am content to be alone. (Keats 1975: 170)

The fact that Keats stated, as early as the end of 1818, that he felt, every day increasingly more, he did "not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds"--voluptuously "melt[ing] into the air" in his mental/spiritual journeys as if being an ethreal elfin presence capable of mentally morphing into anything and so having access to dialogues with potentially numberless beings from simultaneously a thousand different worlds -, qualifies him as a figure most strongly under the determining influence and impact of the "Janusian process" and of "intermediate beings," because more than most of the other poets of his generation, he was able, through an extraordinary empathic power, to host these imaginary presences in himself as if in a holy temple. Edward Young had spoken in his proto-romantic manifesto about the "shadowy beings" that genius was, like a genuine demiurge, able to call forth from the infinite shafts of possibility, thus often turning them into virtually immortal imaginary beings:

[S]o boundless are the bold excursions of the human mind, that, in the vast void beyond real existence, it can call forth shadowy beings, and unknown worlds, as numerous, as bright, and, perhaps, as lasting, as the stars; such quiteoriginal beauties we may call paradisaical [...]. (Young 1759: 70-71)

This state of affairs is in keeping with Keats's view of "human life" as "a large Mansion of Many Apartments" (cf infra the Letter to J. H. Reynolds, dated 3 May 1818), which was shown by Jennifer N. Wunder to be very similar, if not quite identical, with the view embraced by Paracelsus:

[T]here are many mansions in God's house and each one will find his mansion according to his learning. We are all learned but not equally, all wise but not equally, all skillful but not equally; he who searches most deeply is most. (Prologue to Liber de nymphis, sylphis, pygmaeis et salamandris et de caeteris spiritibus Theophrasti Hohenheimensis; Paracelsus 1996: 224ff; apud Wunder 2008: 178)

Indeed, in another of his treatises, Paracelsus extended this doctrine to the whole of nature:

All things are vehicles of virtues, everything in Nature is a house wherein dwell certain powers and virtues such as God has infused throughout Nature and which inhabit all things in the same sense as the soul is in man; but the soul is a creature originating of God and returns again to God, Natural (terrestrial) man is a son of Nature, and ought to know Nature, his mother; but the soul, being a son of God, ought to know the Father, the Creator of all. (Paracelsus, Vera influentia rerum; apud Hartmann 1896?: 276)

In this sense, we have to remember that Paracelsus' science was often associated with hermeticism. Because of the major relevance of this doctrine for Keats's system of thought, we need to briefly present some of its essential elements.

Thus, Hermes's secret knowledge was often said to have roots in Egyptian lore; the Greek Hermes Trismegistus (lit. "the thrice great") and the Roman Mercurius Termaximus were identified (for instance in Herodotus, II, 52; cf. Eliade 1999: 404) with Thoth (Egypt. Tehuti or Tchehuti or Ta or Tehi), who was nicknamed "the great," "the twice great," "the great one of spells," "lord of the divine Word," "just scribe of the Company of the gods" (Budge 1978ii: 886). The reason for the nicknames are certainly related to his functions. The following are the most relevant:

1) Thoth's works (ka-t Tehuti) referred to "writing, sculpture and painting" (cf. Budge 1978ii: 784). Sefkhit-abut was his consort, a goddess of letters, writing, numbers and painting (Budge 1978ii: 665).

2) He was a recognized "master of words of power." The terms for "magical power" in Egyptian were the following: heka; pl. hekau; hekat = "incantations," "enchantments," "charms," "magical formulae," "words of power," "magic," "amulets" (cf. Budge 1991: 110, 280); ur-heka = "great words of power"; ur-hekau = "magician" (god or man); hekai = "enchanter," "sorcerer," "magician"; hekait = "sorceress"; heka = "to recite words of power," "to utter incantations," "to utter spells," "to bewitch," "magic," "spell," "word of power," "the power of working magic" (cf. Budge 1978i: 171, 514, 515) (cf. Stroe 2014).

3) He was the scribe of the gods, the judge of the gods, and a magician (by this latter function he was later believed by Neo-platonists to be an expert of theurgy, i.e. the secret science of divine ascension, teaching how to attain an ecstatic condition of reunion with the divine, by agency of good spirits).

4) He was the bringer of the eye of Ra (Tehuti an arit) and travelled in the boat of Ra (Tehuti sehetep nesrit) (Budge 1978ii: 886-887).

5) He had Seven Divine Masters of Wisdom (Tchaasu VII) with whose help he planned the Universe; the Seven were: Neferhat, Neferpehui, Nebtesheru, Ka, Bak, Khekh, and San (Budge 1978ii: 896). He was thus called Sek Aha, i.e. "Time divider," and Tekhi (in his function as regulator of times and seasons) (Budge 1978ii: 704, 842). Interestingly, this is a function Blake associated with Urizen, who was the English poet's version of the "Ancient of Days" that the Old Testament speaks about; Thoth in this sense had a similar nickname: Kehkeh--meaning the "aged one." (Budge 1978ii: 797)

6) He was a member of the council of the judgment of the dead (collectively: Tchatcha-t up mitu). Besides himself, these were Osiris, Anubis and Astenu (Budge 1978ii: 901).

7) In the form of Fenti, he was one of the 42 Judges in the Hall of Osiris (Budge 1991: 157).

8) He had eight gods as his Company (Khemenu), residing at Hermopolis (Budge 1991: 304).

9) He had his Book of holy words (Shat = "Book of traversing Eternity"; "Book of Breathings") (Budge 1991: 394).

10) His sacred bird was the ibis (heb) (Budge 1991: 248).

11) In Latin sources (Cicero, Augustin, Lactantius, Ficino), he is said to have given the "laws and letters" (the hieroglyphs) to the Egyptians, founding Hermopolis. He was thus the wisest of all priests, the greatest of all philosphers (due to his immense knowledge of secrets), and the worthiest administrator of the laws--hence "thrice greatest" (cf. Yates 1964: 14): termaximus/ trismegistus in his three functions:

a) wise (kind) priest: religion, the Platonic goodness.

b) wise (informed) philosopher: total science of secrets, the Platonic truth.

c) wise (just) ruler: total power. The Egyptian maat implied justice, order, but also "beautiful truth," hence in this function as ruler Hermes was just, meaning that he governed over the simultaneous manifestation of truth-and-beauty (maat). We can see this function as related to the Platonic sophia/godly wisdom, which was attainable only if the three Ideas, the good, the beautiful, and the true, converged. In other words maat as "beautiful truth" had to be united also with maat as kindness in order to converge into total power (indeed, Hermes came to be associated with the logos, probably because he was a "master of words of power," the hekat or urheka). This is very relevant for Keats's thought: see his Janusian notions of truth-and-beauty and beauty-and-power, hence the triple equation of truth-and-beauty-and-power that seems to emulate the three functions of Hermes Trismegistus/ Termaximus (priest-philosopher-ruler).

12) In the European Middle Ages, he was associated with alchemy, magic (Neo-platonic theurgy and talismans) and astrology--hence his appellation as Hermes Mercurius Triplex. In this sense, Roger Bacon hailed him as the "Father of Philosophers," while an alchemical treatise of the 12th century attributed him a very old ancestry, identifying him with three historical persons (the "three Hermeses"): Enoch, Noah and the postdiluvian pharaoh of Egypt known as Hermes Triplex (as ruler, philosopher and prophet) (Yates 1964: 48-49).

More recently, hermeticism has been found to have roots also in Babylonian and Sumerian culture: Hermes Trismegistus identified as Ningishzidda(k), whose name signifies "Lord of the Tree of Truth/Life" (Sum. nin = "lord"; gish/ gesh = "tree," "wood"; zid = "true"; zi/ti = "life"; -ak/-a = genitive marker) (cf Sitchin 2007vi: 101).

Bearing all this in mind, then, indeed the affinity between Keats and Egyptian thought (including hermeticism) alluded to above has a strong foundation in one of the mentors of the romantic movement: Paracelsus.

In this sense, William Blake is famous for having acknowledged his indebtedness to Paracelsus and Jakob Bohme, whom he called his spiritual masters because both had appeared to him in vision (cf. Letter to John Flaxman, dated 12 September 1800; Blake 1979: 799):

Any man of mechanical talents may, from the writings of Paracelsus or Jacob Behmen, produce ten thousand volumes of equal value with Swedenborg's, and from those of Dante or Shakespear [sic] an infinite number./But when he has done this, let him not say that he knows better than his master, for he only holds a candle in sunshine. (The marriage of Heaven and Hell, 21; Blake 1979: 158)

Relevantly, Keats's vast idea was most probably correctly decoded by Wunder as being no less than Keats's Genius, which to the English poet was the "Genius of Poetry," i.e. the Paracelsian "Genius," a concept he may have borrowed and adapted from Burton's monumental book The anatomy of melancholy, of which he did have one copy (Bate 1963: 445):

[A] singular, powerful form of the spirits or "Genii" that serve to "direct, teach, inspire, and instruct men." (Robert Burton, Digression of spirits, The anatomy of melancholy, quoting Paracelsus' definition of "Genius"; Wunder 2008: 178, n. 8)

The larger fundamental context in which Burton in the quotation above refers to Paracelsus is the following (he starts, in his enumeration and elucidation of the functions and natures of spirits, from Plato's Critias--since it is important to have a view as little as possible truncated of Keats's sources for his most important concept of the vast idea moulding his destiny, we quote here more fully the essentials on this matter in Burton's famous text):

How far their power doth extend it is hard to determine; what the ancients held of their effects, force and operations, I will briefly show you: Plato in Critias, and after him his followers, gave out that these spirits or devils, "were men's governors and keepers, our lords and masters, as we are of our cattle." "They govern provinces and kingdoms by oracles, auguries," dreams, rewards and punishments, prophecies, inspirations, sacrifices, and religious superstitions, varied in as many forms as there be diversity of spirits; they send wars, plagues, peace, sickness, health, dearth, plenty, [...] [being] full of their wonderful stratagems, [being adored] by those Roman and Greek commonwealths [...] and worshipped for gods with prayers and sacrifices, & c. [...] Juno was a bitter enemy to Troy, Apollo a good friend, Jupiter indifferent [...]. [S]ome are for us still, some against us [...]. Religion, policy, public and private quarrels, wars are procured by them, and they are delighted perhaps to see men fight, as men are with cocks, bulls and dogs, bears, &c., plagues, dearths depend on them, our bene and male esse, and almost all our other peculiar actions, (for [...] every man hath a good and a bad angel attending on him in particular, all his life long, which Jamblichus calls daemonem) preferments, losses, weddings, deaths, rewards and punishments, and as Proclus will, all offices whatsoever, [...], and several names they give them according to their offices, as Lares, Indegites, Praestites, &c. [...] [I]n smaller matters, they will have things fall out, as these boni and mali genii favour or dislike us [...]. That base fellows are often advanced, undeserving Gnathoes, and vicious parasites, whereas discreet, wise, virtuous and worthy men are neglected and unrewarded; they refer to those domineering spirits, or subordinate Genii; as they are inclined, or favour men, so they thrive, are ruled and overcome; [...], one genius yields and is overcome by another. All particular events almost they refer to these private spirits; and (as Paracelsus adds) they direct, teach, inspire, and instruct men. Never was any man extraordinary famous in any art, action, or great commander, that had not familiarem daemonem to inform him, as Numa, Socrates, and many such, as Cardan illustrates, cap. 128, Arcanis prudentiae civilis, Speciali siquidem gratia, se a Deo donari asserunt magi, a Geniis caelestibus instrui, ab iis doceri. But these are most erroneous paradoxes, ineptae et fabulosae nugae, rejected by our divines and Christian churches. 'Tis true they have, by God's permission, power over us, and we find by experience, that they can hurt not our fields only, cattle, goods, but our bodies and minds. [...] This is that which Tertullian avers, [...] and which Lemnius goes about to prove, Immiscent se mali Genii pravis humoribus, atque atrae bili, & c. And Jason Pratensis, "that the devil, being a slender incomprehensible spirit, can easily insinuate and wind himself into human bodies, and cunningly couched in our bowels vitiate our healths, terrify our souls with fearful dreams, and shake our minds with furies." And in another place, "These unclean spirits settled in our bodies, and now mixed with our melancholy humours, do triumph as it were, and sport themselves as in another heaven." Thus he argues, and that they go in and out of our bodies, as bees do in a hive, and so provoke and tempt us as they perceive our temperature inclined of itself, and most apt to be deluded. Agrippa and Lavater are persuaded, that this humour invites the devil to it, wheresoever it is in extremity, and of all other, melancholy persons are most subject to diabolical temptations and illusions, and most apt to entertain them, and the Devil best able to work upon them. But whether by obsession, or possession, or otherwise,

I will not determine; [...]. (Burton 1850: 125-127)

In another passage in which Burton cites Paracelsus, we get another glimpse into the function and nature of these powers, providing us with a clue as to the source Keats may have had for his idea that, as his imagination becomes stronger, he feels "[he] do[es] not live in this world alone but in a thousand worlds":

The air is not so full of flies in summer, as it is at all times of invisible devils [i.e. spirits, celestial or otherwise]: this Paracelsus stiffly maintains, and that they have every one their several Chaos, others will have infinite worlds, and each world his peculiar Spirits, Gods, Angels, and Devils to govern and punish it. (Burton 1850: 119)

In the following fragment from Burton's work Hermes Trismegistus is mentioned, alongside Zoroaster, as a proto-source for what during the Enlightenment became known as the doctrine of the Great Chain of Being:

"Some persons believe each star to be a world, and this earth an opaque star, over which the least of the gods presides." Gregorius Tholsanus makes seven kinds of aethereal Spirits or Angels, according to the number of the seven Planets, Saturnine, Jovial, Martial, of which Cardan discourseth lib. XX. de subtil, he calls them substantias primas, Olympicos daemones Tritemius, qui praesunt Zodiaco, &c., and will have them to be good Angels above, Devils beneath the Moon, their several names and offices he there sets down, and which Dionysius of Angels, will have several spirits for several countries, men, offices, &c., which live about them, and as so many assisting powers cause their operations, will have in a word, innumerable, as many of them as there be Stars in the Skies. Marcilius Ficinus seems to second this opinion, out of Plato, or from himself, I know not, (still ruling their inferiors, as they do those under them again, all subordinate, and the nearest to the earth rule us, whom we subdivide into good and bad angels, call Gods or Devils, as they help or hurt us, and so adore, love or hate) but it is most likely from Plato, for he relying wholly on Socrates, quem mori potius quam mentiri voluisse scribit, whom he says would rather die than tell a falsehood, out of Socrates' authority alone, made nine kinds of them: which opinion belike Socrates took from Pythagoras, and he from Trismegistus, he from Zoroastes, first God, second idea, 3. Intelligences, 4. Arch-Angels, 5. Angels, 6. Devils, 7. Heroes, 8. Principalities, 9. Princes: of which some were absolutely good, as Gods, some bad, some indifferent inter deos et homines, as heroes and daemons, which ruled men, and were called genii, or as Proclus and Jamblichus will, the middle betwixt God and men. (Burton 1850: 119-120)

Otherwise, maybe among the most important references to Hermes Trismegistus in Burton is the following, which points to wise humanity as being a supreme miracle:

A man is a miracle of himself, but Trismegistus adds, Maximum miraculum homo sapiens, a wise man is a wonder: [...]. (Burton 1850: 50)

Here is a fragment from Paracelsus' writings where the notion of genius is even more clearly outlined:

Each child receives at the time of its birth a familiar spirit or genius, and such spirits sometimes instruct their pupils even while the latter are in their earliest youth. They often teach them to do very extraordinary things. There is an incalculable number of such genii in the universe, and we may learn through them all the mysteries of the Chaos in consequence of their connection with the Mysterium magnum. Such familiar spirits are called Flagae.

There are several kinds of Flagae, and there are two ways by which we may obtain knowledge through them. One way is by their becoming visible and able to talk with us; the other way is by their exercising an invisible influence upon our intuition. The art of Nectromancy enables man to perceive interior things, and there is no mystery concerning any human being that may not be found out by that art, and the Flagae can be made to reveal it either by persuasion or by the strength of one's will, for the Flagae obey the will of man for the same reason that a soldier obeys the will of the commander, or an inferior obeys that of his superior, although the latter may be physically stronger than the former. [...] By the assistance of these Flagae hidden treasures may be found and closed letters be read, and everything secret be seen, no matter how much it is hidden from outward sight, for the opening of the interior sight removes the veil of matter. Things that have been buried will thus be found, stolen goods recovered, &c. The Flagae reveal their secrets to us in our dreams, the good as well as the evil. He who obtains knowledge from the spirit obtains it from his father; he who knows the Elementals knows himself; he who understands the nature of the elements understands how the Microcosm is constructed. The Flagae are the spirits that instructed mankind in arts and sciences in ancient times, and without them there would be no science or philosophy in the world. (Paracelsus; apud Hartmann 1896?: 116-117)

That Keats's notion of the poetic Genius is Paracelsian can be inferred also from the following small fragments, in which Paracelsus explains his view of the powers (including the "Elementals") residing in every little niche populating the cosmos, thus filling it with the dynamic substance of reality:

The body of a man is his house; the architect who builds it is the astral world. The carpenters are at one time Jupiter, at another Venus; at one time Taurus, at another Orion. Man is a sun and a moon and a heaven filled with stars; the world is a man, and the light of the sun and the stars is his body; the ethereal body cannot be grasped, and yet it is substantial, because substance (from sub, under, and sto, standing) means existence, and without substance nothing exists. If the life of the sun did not act in the world, nothing would grow. The human body is vapour materialised by sunshine mixed with the life of the stars. Four elements are in the world, and man consists out of four, and that which exists visibly in man exists invisibly in the ether pervading the world. Where is the workman that cuts out the forms of lilies and roses that grow in the field? and where is his workshop and tools ? The characters of the lilies and roses exist in the astral light, and in the workshop of Nature they are made into forms. A blooming flower cannot be made out of mud, nor a man out of material clay; and he who denies the formative power of Nature, and believes that ready-made forms grow out of the earth, believes that something can be taken out of a body in which it does not exist. (Paracelsus, De caducis; apud Hartmann 1896?: 219-220).

[The Elementals] live in the four elements: the Nymphae in the element of water, the Sylphs in that of the air, the Pigmies in the earth, and the Salamanders in the fire. They are also called Undinae, Sylvestres, Gnomi, Vulcani, &c. Each species moves only in the element to which it belongs, and neither of them can go out of its appropriate element, which is to them as the air is to us, or the water to fishes; and none of them can live in the element belonging to another class. To each elemental being the element in which it lives is transparent, invisible, and respirable, as the atmosphere is to ourselves. (Paracelsus; apud Hartmann 1896?: 121)

From this perspective opened by a swift exploration of Paracelsian thought, Burton's doctrine of spirits, and Egyptian-hermetic lore, Keats's vast idea indeed becomes a concept that will prove to be relevant for understanding Keats's entire works (and that of many other romantics), clarifying some enigmatic parts of Keats's philosophy of poetic creativity. Burton's The anatomy of melancholy has otherwise been recognized as being a source for Keats's Lamia (Drabble 1995: 27; Bate 1963: 543-545) and La belle dame sans merci (Bate 1963: 478, n. 15).

These premises set, before proceeding to our presentation of Bate's personality and major work on Keats, we should only add that the following paper will focus on the consequences of the state of affairs just delineated above on our understanding of John Keats as a "multidimensional" high creator who basically changed the face of English literature with his revolution of poetic language (as evident especially in Hyperion), just as Thomas Chatterton had done a few decades earlier when setting in motion his "synesthetic revolution."

The archetypal biographer

W.J. Bate was born in 1918, as the second of five children of William G. and Isabel KV[R] Melick Bate. His father was the principal of the local middle school. In 1920, his family moved to Richmond, Indiana, where Bate's father became school administrator. Afterwards, he studied at Harvard University, Cambridge-where among his professors was Douglas Bush he graduated with a summa cum laude distinction in 1939 and in 1942 he defended his doctoral paper entitled The development of Keats's prosody. He taught history and literature in this same institution between 1946 and 1986: he obtained a position as associate professor in 1949, and one as full professor in 1956, becoming subsequently A. Kingsley Porter University Professor Emeritus. He was the head of the English Department between 1956 and 1962. He lived at Cambridge, but he also had a house at Amherst, New Hampshire, where he tried to run a farm, but without success; he confessed that after being repeatedly in a deficit, he decided to "cultivate rocks." In the year in which he graduated from Harvard, Bate published his first book of criticism entitled Negative capability, a study on Keats's concept of the "poetic character," containing his diploma paper, which was profoundly influenced by Douglas Bush and was written under his encouragements. About Bush, Bate was to confess in his Preface for the volume entitled John Keats that he remains an authority in the study of literature from the Greeks and up to the present, whose deep knowledge and vision remain reference points even for experts who specialize in a single period. In 1945 the Modern Language Association (MLA) published Bate's paper called The stylistic development of Keats. In 1946 Bate published the volume From Classic to Romantic, a series of Lowell lectures on the paradigm shift having occurred in the course of the 18th century from the neo-classical mode to the modern notions about art. For his work entitled The achievement of Samuel Johnson, Bate obtained in 1955 the Gauss Prize offered by Phi Beta Kappa for history and literary criticism. Also at this point he published the anthology titled Criticism: the major texts (Harcourt, Brace & Company), which ranked high among anthologies of critical texts. For his biography John Keats (1963), Bate received the Pulitzer Prize in 1964, thus marking off an absolute novelty: up to that time, the Pulitzer Prize had been awarded only to biographers who explored American themes.

Critic Herbert A. Kenney wrote the following in a review from Boston Globe:

This is the best book on John Keats that has ever been done, and it is difficult to see how it could be improved in the scope of a single volume.

Thereby Bate launched a counterattack against New Criticism, which became important in the 1930s and had dominated the scene of literary criticism in the 1940s and 1950s: Bate was opposing the ideas of the New Critics that literary biography had to be rejected, which does not mean that Bate could not study the works of I. A. Richards. On the contrary, Bate had in the course of many years general conversations with Richards, to whom in the Preface of the volume John Keats he confessed his indebtedness.

Bate managed to bring back literary biography in the fore-ground of literary criticism, as a daring and synthetic genre, as it had been inaugurated by Samuel Johnson in The lives of the poets (17791-781). According to various opinions, however, Bate's critical work was held to have been "invalidated" by the "theoretical revolution" from the last years of the 1960s and all of the 1970s (the rise of deconstructivist thinking). Bate continued, however, to write biographies, despite the fact that the "author" had been declared "dead" by the representatives of the "new theoretical revolution"--these seeming to be a belated echo of a British romantic poet like Thomas Chatterton, who aged 16 or 17 had declared that genius was dead. In 1968, Bate published the volume entitled Coleridge, and in 1970--The burden of the past and the English poet, in which he answered the critic Harold Bloom as regards the nature of the influence of the past on the present in literature, anticipating aspects in Bloom's theories on the nature of literary influence (the "anxiety of influence").

According to some opinions (cf. The Village Voice, 4 August, 2004), Bate used to play the role of the buffoon against New Criticism as follows. He was saying: "Close reading," simultaneously grabbing a book as if to read from it; then he "groaned": "closer reading," pushing his face towards the inside of the open book; finally, he would "mumble": "very close reading," pushing his nose directly into the open book and evidently being no longer able to read anything anymore due to the closeness of the text.

Harold Bloom would mention the same thing in his Yale University classes, with a mimicry similar to the one used by Bate: if you read in too detailed a manner, you risk bumping your nose into the open book and so you will no longer see anything of what you were reading (Bloom, like Bate, would thus push his nose into the open book; cf. Bloom 2007). A similar fact was observed also by Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at Virginia University, in Why read? (2004): the academia came to read "so closely," that "the connection between word and world [has gone completely]."

Moreover, in the blossoming years of postmodernism, Bate was publishing the volume entitled Samuel Johnson (1977), for which he received in 1978 his second Pulitzer Prize for biography, but also the U. S. National Book Award in Biography and the U.S. National Book Critics Circle Award, thus attaining a "scholarly hat trick" unique until today. We are dealing here with the first modern biography of the Enlightenment thinker and critic that was published after James Boswell's The life of Samuel Johnson (1791), the latter being probably the most famous biography in English, whereby however, as Adam Sisman (2001) observed, Boswell offered a "hybrid": an "author's memoir concealed within a biography of his friend." Bate's extraordinary reputation in criticism is due largely to his two works--John Keats (1963) and Samuel Johnson (1977), both having gained a special standing, both as extremely well documented scientific biographies, but also as literary works per se, which exerted in turn their influence in writers' circles. Hence, in the biography as literary work Bate can indeed be said to have created a matchless living portrait of Keats that has the dimension of an "intermediate being."

What is more, the volume entitled John Keats came to be regarded not only as a critical biography, but rather more as a multidimensional book, making up "a fully integrated whole." By his three biographies, John Keats (1963), Coleridge (1968) and Samuel Johnson (1977), a biographical "hat trick" unique in the field--and due to their multidimensional character--, Bate managed to surpass the usual limiting and biased classifications of the criticism of the 20th century such as biography, psychology, stylistics, the history of ideas, the cultural studies, the reader response--all of these formed in Bate's biographical method a gestalt, an integrated totality. By these dimensions held in equilibrium of his criticism, Bate succeeded in focusing on the intermediate space between the inner drama of the artist's/poet's life and the literary work proper, the latter, in the final analysis, being the main reason for which we research the life of a writer.

Critics observe that Bate's gift consisted in a "clairvoyant empathy," whereby he was successful in entering the darkest realms of the human mind and personality, capturing the "most fugitive motives," a quality that reminds us, obviously, precisely of John Keats imaginative-visionary power, he being the poet in whom Bate was most deeply interested, the poet who opposed most vehemently the Wordsworthian model of the "egotistical sublime," embracing instead the idea of the "poetic Character" as the "camelion Poet" --a notion he surely found in Thomas Chatterton's poem Happiness (where the boy-poet defined conscience as "the soul-Camelion s varying hue")--namely the one totally lacking a personal identity, being simultaneously "everything and nothing," living in perpetual gusto or enthusiasm or exuberance, therefore being the ideal and perfect model of creative humanity.

Bate thus came to be considered as an authentic humanist, in the tradition of Alfred North Whitehead and Douglas Bush, a "devoted seeker of the truth about people and ideas," remarcable for his extremely clear language by which he reminds us of John Stuart Mill. In the obituary published in The Independent (London, 31 July 1999), Bate was described as one of the important biographers and humanists of the 20th century. His courses of lectures titled The age of Johnson and The function and criticism of literature have been extremely popular for over thirty years drawing together sometimes even over four hundred students at a time. Bate twice obtained a Guggenheim scholarship, and was a member of the American Academy of Art and Science, as well as of the American Philosophical Society. He died in 1999, at the age of 81, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, having suffered a heart attack (he had cancer of the esophagus).

To understand the riddle of poetic high creativity

In John Keats (1963), a volume dedicated to Douglas Bush, in the preface Bate justifies his project by showing that Keats's life is a unique occasion to study "literary greatness" and what allows or encourages its emergence and development. The confessed reason is a "deeply human and moral" one, in the most capacious sense of these notions. We are dealing with a type of "poetic genius" that, with all difficulties inherent to any beginning, managed to conquer the attention of an extremely mixed public by the sheer force of his poetry and his personal relevance. The relevance of Keats's case rests in the fact that the evolution of his poetic force is simultaneous with--and organically connected to--his evolution as a man, especially from the age of twenty one and up to the end of his short life (31 October 1795-23 February 1821). In this state of affairs Bate identifies the reason for which Keats continues, for about a century, to be regarded as being "the most Shakespearean of poets, in general endowment, since Shakespeare himself" (Bate 1964: 3). There is, however, another relevant element: Keats's evolution took place in a relatively modern space, which is why studying him clarifies two aspects:

1) the educational factor: at the beginning, just as in Shakespeare's case, Keats did not promise that much, which is why we come to naturally ask ourselves: how exactly did he manage to accomplish so much and in so many ways ? What exactly helped him and what hindered him ?

2) the evolutionary factor: poetry and the arts in general have become increasingly more specialized/limited in the past two hundred and fifty years, especially in the 20th century, that is why the question remains--which had been asked already fifty years before the birth of John Keats and all along the course of his life--where are the "Homers and Shakespeares"?; where are the "greater genres," the epic and the dramatic, or their equivalents? To what degree can they be explained by the modern accent set on originality?; or by becoming aware of the accomplishments great art obtained in the past?; or by the embarassment felt by the poet/artist in front of their greatness?

Bate is of the opinion that the "pressure of this anxiety" and the variety of reactions against it constitute one of the "great unexplored factors" in the history of arts from 1750 onwards. We are dealing here with a point of convergence between Bate's system of thought and that of Harold Bloom, which was fully articulated ten years later in The anxiety of influence: a theory of poetry (1973). Bate admits in his preface that he remains indebted, among others, also to Harold Bloom for certain aspects in his works and for personal encouragements.

Influence moulding destinies

In The anxiety of influence Bloom launched a systematized theory of the modes in which the "pressure of anxiety," about which Bate spoke in John Keats, operates in the course of a poet's life.

Because of its relevance for our theme, we shall here remind the reader very concisely of the six great "phases" identified by Bloom as essential in the evolution of a poet in the context of his successively accepting and rejecting influences from predecessors (who become accepted or rejected presences in his life/mind having in many ways the dimension of "intermediate beings"):

1) Clinamen: deviation from the meaning of the text of the precursor, which Bloom calls "poetic misprision," i.e. "poetic misreading": the new poet tries to correct his precursor.

2) Tessera: completion and antithesis--the text of the predecessor is felt to be incomplete and so it is completed by the new poet by the addition of a "password": with this, the former text becomes "operative," "functional," "whole," in the sense that by means of the "password" one regains access to a deeper meaning.

3) Kenosis: emptying of one's own creative impulse, which is under the sign of the precursor, as an operation which is opposite to tesseric completion--this is a psychic defence against the repetition without difference of the precursor poem, by which what is introduced is a liberating discontinuity in the relation with the text of the predecessor; self-humbling.

4) Daimonization: "mythification" of the predecessor, an operation by which the new poet goes towards a "Counter-Sublime," as a revisionary reaction against the Sublime of the predecessor; an opening towards that power in the "parent-poem" about which the new poet thinks it does not really belong to the parent, it instead belonging to a zone of being beyond the predecessor: this leads to the acquirement of knowledge (of a daimonic type)--at this stage, the new poet encounters the "core" of the predecessor as an "intermediate being."

5) Askesis: self-purification/sublimation/self-restraint with a view to separating from the others (including the predecessor); a defence mechanism against the anxiety of influence; formation of an imaginative equivalent of the superego ("Urizen in every strong poet"): the new poet becomes Prometheus-Narcissus, the truly strong poet, who creates his own system and in full ecstasy contemplates himself in the very center of the system. The new poet creates for himself his "intermediary world."

6) Apophrades: the return of the predecessor, in the sense of the supreme reduction of the (poetic) forefathers, or in the sense of celebrating the return of the initial self-exaltation by which was made possible the very existence of poetry the new strong poet looks in the mirror of the predecessor and sees a "gnostic double," the "dark Other," i.e. the purpose towards which both the predecessor and the new poet have aspired, being, however, both afraid to become themselves that purpose; the work of the predecessor seems to have been written by the new poet: the new poet becomes himself an "intermediary being" with power to make the past and the present seem to exchange places (seeming retro-causality), and so exchange places with the predecessor as the initial "intermediary being" that molded the new poet onto the purpose of creativity.

Bloom thus states that the anxiety of style in apophrades fuses with the anxiety of influence, the secret subject of poetry in the past three hundred years being precisely the anxiety of influence which started to fuse with the anxiety of style since the 1740s: the fear of the poets that all poetic works have already been written, to them being left nothing really new to create anymore which is precisely Keats's crucial dilemma, as we shall see.

To be a master of influence by sounding the Janusian Sea of possibles

Bate (1963: viii) was fascinated exactly by the way in which Keats managed, after he turned twenty two, to face the dilemma of the "pressure of anxiety." The American critic (1963: 2) starts his study on Keats reminding us of the first purpose of a biography as observed by Samuel Johnson, namely to find what can be "put to use." This purpose is valid now for the professional writer, as it was in Keats's time for all poets, in the context of the fight with the fear/anxiety (which existed then as it exists now) regarding the fact that for the poet nothing much has been left to do anymore. Despite the most radical changes with regard to taste in the last hundred years, no English or American poet--however much they might "swing away," i.e. get away from any of their predecessors since Shakespeare's death --can still cling to the irritation regarding the issue of poetic idiom when they consider Keats's case.

As far as Keats's life is concerned, Bate (1963: 2) explains that the public is drawn to it because it very much resembles the popular stories about the orphan who is forced to search his fortune all by himself: already at the age of fourteen (in 1810) Keats was an orphan of both parents (his father had lost his life when he fell off a horse in 1804; his mother died in 1810), being the oldest of four children (his brothers, George and Tom, were born in 1797 and 1799, respectively; his sister, Fanny, was the youngest, born in 1803; cf. Wolfson 2004: xxvi). A similar case in point was Lincoln's life, who likewise did not promise much in the first years of his life, and yet he accomplished much more than most other politicians. This means that Keats's high creativity emerged in a family medium that lacked "advantages" such as "parental warmth, formal education, financial security, and, later on, health," in a context in which "[h]e did not even try to write poetry [...] before the age of eighteen or nineteen; and what he first wrote--what he continued [...] to write before he was twenty-one --is far from giving us any suggestion that he might become more than a middling poet." (Bate 1964: 2)

Among Keats's essential qualities underlined by Bate (1963: 18) is the altruism which generated courage, present in him indeed from a very early age, and which allowed later his swift evolution as a writer, unique in the history of world literature.

At twenty two Keats, after having read Shakespeare, encountered a number of men of letters who amazed him by their stubborn attempt at always "say[ing] things which make one start"; despite their efforts, these men ended up saying only "fashionables," being artificial and showing much affectation (Bate 1963: 18). Going back home after this meeting and meditating, Keats had a revelation, which he described in a letter addressed to his brothers, George and Tom (dated 21, 27 December 1817):

These men say things which make one start, without making one feel, they are all alike; their manners are alike; they all know fashionables; they have a mannerism in their very eating & drinking, in their mere handling a Decanter--They talked of Kean and his low company--Would I were with that company instead of yours said I to myself! I know such like acquaintance will never do for me & yet I am going to Reynolds, on wednesday--Brown & Dilke walked with me & back from the Christmas pantomime. I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously--I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason--Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration. (Keats 1975: 42-43; cf. also Bate 1963: 18)

We are dealing with the capacity to deny one's own identity, to lose it in something greater and more significant than our own person--the creativity deriving from such a personality had to strive not for "half knowledge" or half measures, but for totalities, this being clear for the poet as soon as the end of 1817. Thereby Keats almost discovered himself as a being that was endowed with the power of the "camelion Poet," who enjoys both light and darkness, who lives with "gusto" (Hazlitt's concept) "be it foul or fair," "high or low," "rich or poor," "mean or elevated," who enjoys equally much to create a Iago or an Imogen: in short, what shocks the virtuous Philosopher delights the "camelion Poet," he being incapable of harming anyone even when he relishes "the dark side of things," or when he shows his "taste for the bright one," being everything and nothing at the same time (a Janusian being-nonbeing), lacking identity altogether, being through and through impersonal (see T. S. Eliot's subsequent theory). These crucial ideas Keats expressed in a letter addressed to Richard Woodhouse, dated 27 October 1818:

As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself--it has no self--it is every thing and nothing--It has no character--it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated--It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosop[h]er, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity--he is continually in for--and filling some other Body--The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute--the poet has none; no identity--he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's Creatures. If then he has no self, and if I am a Poet, where is the Wonder that I should say I would write no more? Might I not at that very instant [have] been cogitating on the Characters of saturn and Ops? (Keats 1975: 157)

Having no particular self, the poet then is the perfect being that can host like a matrix the intermediate beings from fictional worlds and the discrete and highly complex Janusian processes of creativity--the poet's mind becomes their privileged meeting place, their point of convergence: the readers then perceive the poet as the privileged portal for them to gain access to numberless "intermediate worlds" that will help nourish their minds with ideas and images of the Janusian possible, in whose structure contraries simultaneously exist in a state of tension.

There is in this context an unsolved puzzle in the Keats corpus as to the paternity of the poem entitled The Poet. Because of its relevance for Keats's definition of the poetical character, here is the sonnet in full:
   At morn, at noon, at Eve, and Middle Night
   He passes forth into the charmed air,
   With Talisman to call up spirits rare
   From plant, cave, rock, and fountain.--To his sight
   The husk of natural objects opens quite
   To the core: and every secret essence there
   Reveals the elements of good and fair;
   Making him see, where Learning hath no light.
   Sometimes, above the gross and palpable things
   Of this diurnal sphere, his spirit flies
   On awful wing; and with its destined skies
   Holds premature and mystic communings:
   Till such unearthly intercourses shed
   A visible halo round his living [mortal] head.

   (The Poet, a poem written in Richard Woodhouse's
   hand, cf. Keats 1985: 305; apud Wunder 2008: 69-70)


John Keats's paternity of this poem is unsure, which is why it is specifically missing from the most recent editions of Keats's works. The authors might have been either John Taylor or Richard Woodhouse or both of them conjointly (this, however, has not in any judicious way been established definitively). The special expression "to the core" encountered in the sonnet above appears in the Keats canon no less than four times, in unmistakeable key works.

Here are the extended contexts in which this formula appears, which show that Keats indeed was under the "spell" of occult/Hermetic/ Rosicrucian/Masonic knowledge of the type present in the sonnet quoted above in which the formula "to the core" is itself a key, a sort of password or tessera for access to the deeper initiational meanings of the entire poem:

1) Endymion, II, 904-912:
   Now I have tasted her sweet soul to the core
   All other depths are shallow: essences,
   Once spiritual, are like muddy lees,
   Meant but to fertilize my earthly root,
   And make my branches lift a golden fruit
   Into the bloom of heaven: other light,
   Though it be quick and sharp enough to blight
   The Olympian eagle's vision, is dark,
   Dark as the parentage of chaos.
   (Keats 2001: 108)


2) Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil: A story from Boccaccio, 48, 377-384:
   That old nurse stood beside her wondering,
   Until her heart felt pity to the core
   At sight of such a dismal labouring,
   And so she kneeled, with her locks all hoar,
   And put her lean hands to the horrid thing:
   Three hours they labour'd at this travail sore;
   At last they felt the kernel of the grave,
   And Isabella did not stamp and rave.
   (Keats 2001: 197)


3) Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil: A story from Boccaccio, 52-53, 409-424:
   Then in a silken scarf,--sweet with the dews
   Of precious flowers pluck'd in Araby,
   And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
   Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully,--
   She wrapp'd it up; and for its tomb did choose
   A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
   And cover'd it with mould, and o'er it set
   Sweet Basil, which her tears kept ever wet.
   And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
   And she forgot the blue above the trees,
   And she forgot the dells where waters run,
   And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
   She had no knowledge when the day was done,
   And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
   Hung over her sweet Basil evermore,
   And moisten'd it with tears unto the core.
   (Keats 2001: 198)


4) To Autumn, I, 1-6:
   Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
   Conspiring with him how 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; [...].
   (Keats 2001: 324)


It is then not at all surprising to observe that many scholars in the past believed The Poet to be part of the Keats corpus. Below are a few details about the intriguing situation of this poem, with which Keats's works do show definite affinities (a reason for which many critics saw in it the hand of the British poet), thereby in effect he rightly being associated with Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, as brilliantly reported by Jennifer N. Wunder in her groundbreaking book Keats, hermeticism, and the secret societies:

In her 1925 biography John Keats, Amy Lowell introduced scholars to the sonnet The Poet from the Pierpont Morgan Woodhouse Collection of Keatsiana. For years, scholars thought that Keats had written The Poet, in part because Lowell found the unattributed sonnet in a section Richard Woodhouse had labeled as "Poem, &c. by, or relating to, John Keats," and had noted "All that are not by Keats, have the names of the authors added." (Woodhouse, apud Amy Lowell 1925: 60-61--John Keats, vol 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.) Then, E. L. Brooks discovered that London Magazine had published a variation of The Poet signed "S." in October 1821, and Mabel Steele found evidence indicating that James Hessey believed John Taylor wrote the sonnet published in London Magazine. (E. L. Brooks 1952: 450-454--The Poet an Error in the Keats Cannon?, Modern Language Notes 67.7, Nov.; Mabel A. E. Steele 1956: 69-80--The authorship of The Poet and other sonnets: selections from a 19th century manuscript anthology, Keats-Shelley Journal 5, Winter). Steele suggested that Taylor gave the sonnet to Woodhouse to place with his other Keatsiana, and Woodhouse modified the poem to his own taste while copying it into his book but forgot to provide an author's name. (Wunder 2008: 69)

In the last analysis, therefore, it is unclear who the actual author of this poem is, but Wunder's book evidences precisely the occult vein in Keats's thought that would qualify the British poet as being a mystic and a possible creator of such verse that is imbued with knowledge Hermetic/esoteric in nature--the poet of the sonnet entitled The poet is actually, it would seem, a Rosicrucian (Wunder 2008: 69). Keats, however, is recognized as the author of the poem entitled The poet: a fragment, where indeed, as Wunder (2008: 71) suggests, he displays a similar Hermetic/ Rosicrucian/Masonic/esoteric perspective, even indicating that the poet gets to understand the language of animals and of all nature by finding some secret paths, some portals of secret access towards the deep life within every living being (this poetic fragment is generally seen as an elaboration of the notion of the "Camelion poet"):
   Where's the Poet? show him! show him,
   Muses nine! that I may know him!
   'Tis the man who with a man
   Is an equal, be he King,
   Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
   Or any other wondrous thing
   A man may be 'twixt ape and Plato;
   'Tis the man who with a bird,
   Wren or Eagle, finds his way to
   All its instincts; he hath heard
   The Lion's roaring, and can tell
   What his horny throat expresseth,
   And to him the Tiger's yell
   Comes articulate and presseth
   On his ear like mother-tongue.
   (The poet: a fragment; Keats 1994: 297)


The idea that the poet is the equal of kings and beggars points in the direction of Freemasonry and Rosicrucian thought: equality and brotherhood were main tenets of this school of thought, as pointed out by Wunder (2008: 73).

Also steeped in esoteric philosophy is the poem/ode entitled Bards of passion and of mirth:
   Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
   Ye have left your souls on earth!
   Have ye souls in heaven too,
   Double liv'd in regions new?
   Yes, and those of heaven commune
   With the spheres of sun and moon;
   With the noise of fountains wond'rous,
   And the parle of voices thund'rous;
   With the whisper of heaven's trees
   And one another, in soft ease
   Seated on Elysian lawns
   Brows'd by none but Dian's fawns;
   Underneath large blue-bells tented,
   Where the daisies are rose-scented,
   And the rose herself has got
   Perfume which on earth is not;
   Where the nightingale doth sing
   Not a senseless, tranced thing,
   But divine melodious truth;
   Philosophic numbers smooth;
   Tales and golden histories
   Of heaven and its mysteries.
   Thus ye live on high, and then
   On the earth ye live again;
   And the souls ye left behind you
   Teach us, here, the way to find you,
   Where your other souls are joying,
   Never slumber'd, never cloying.
   Here, your earth-born souls still speak
   To mortals, of their little week;
   Of their sorrows and delights;
   Of their passions and their spites;
   Of their glory and their shame;
   What doth strengthen and what maim.
   Thus ye teach us, every day,
   Wisdom, though fled far away.
   Bards of Passion and of Mirth,
   Ye have left your souls on earth!
   Ye have souls in heaven too,
   Double-lived in regions new!
   (Keats 1994: 240-241)


In a variant we read instead: "But melodious truth divine/Philosophic numbers fine." Keats consequently speaks here of poets/bards as having a function close to that of the civilizing heroes, or what the Akkadians called the apkallu /apkallum, and the Sumerians referred to as the AB.GAL (meaning "parent great"). The fact that poets "leave" their souls on earth can be understood in the sense that the knowledge left by them is bound to mould the destinies of future generations, the poets themselves thus becoming "intermediate beings," populating the minds of the living. Hence the double existence, as immortal souls (the well-known Platonic doctrine of Egyptian extraction) in contact with the planetary and natural elementals, and as "intermediate beings" still lingering on earth in the minds of living people. Also, Keats speaks of spiritual-ethereal birds singing the "divine melodious truth," which Wunder (2008: 74) equates probably correctly with the Platonic and Pythagorean "music of the spheres" (the ethereal vibrations of the planets whereby the harmony in the Solar System is created and maintained). The idea of the "melodious truth divine," however, must have been associated in Keats's mind with his concept of the truth-beauty Janusian binary--in this sense, truth being a form of harmony (cf. the Egyptians' idea of "beautiful truth"--maat--see supra and infra). In connection therewith, Keats clearly asserts here the doctrine of metempsychosis ("then on the earth ye live again"): the knowledge (the "souls") left on earth by the apkallu serves precisely to discover the apkallu whensoever these decide to become reincarnated again in order to help humanity on their spiritual adventure.

If Keats, however, means by "souls" not knowledge (and so not "intermediate beings"), but various aspects of a living being, then his thought must be decoded as strongly influenced by Egyptian lore. Thus, when he speaks of "your other souls," he may be referring strictly to the ancient Egyptians who in this respect believed in the reality of a nested structure of any living human being (Ba < inside < Ka < inside < Khat < inside < Beqet; see infra). The Egyptians also spoke in this connection about a (perfect/divine) "spirit-body" or "spiritual body" that man could attain, as the "form of a man that exists in heaven" (this form was incorruptible). They called this condition the sah or sahu (the spirit-body of Orion, and the god of all spirit-bodies were also called the Sah; cf. Budge 1978ii: 646; sah was later also used to designate a mummy; cf. Budge 1991: 332). The sah(u) was the essence of man which could reach eternal happiness: it was a semimaterial and semi-spiritual entity (see infra Keats's "degrees" of reality: real, semireal, nonreal), which attained the condition of incorruptibility (of gold):

[The sah] was the ancient Egyptian concept of the spiritual body of an individual being released from the material bonds of the flesh. Also called sahu, this spiritual essence was released from the body during mummification processes and the funerary rituals. Glorified in its new state, the sah was empowered by prayers and litanies to experience spiritual bliss. (Bunson 2002:350)

[T]he words of Thoth [i.e. Hermes of the Greeks, Ningishzidda of the Sumerians] and the prayers of the priests caused the body to become changed into a "sahu," or incorruptible, spiritual body, which passed straightway out of the tomb and made its way to heaven where it dwelt with the gods. When in the Book of the Dead the deceased says, "I exist, I exist; I live, I live; I germinate, I germinate," [chap. 154] and again, "I germinate like the plants," [chap. 88, 3] the deceased does not mean that his physical body is putting forth the beginnings of another body like the old one, but a spiritual body which "hath neither defect nor, like Ra, shall suffer diminution for ever." Into the sahu passed the [Ba] soul which had lived in the body of a man upon earth, and it seems as if the new, incorruptible body formed the dwelling-place of the [Ba] soul in heaven just as the physical body had been its earthly abode. The reasons why the Egyptians continued to mummify their dead is thus apparent; they did not do so believing that their physical bodies would rise again, but because they wished the spiritual body to "sprout" or "germinate" from them, and if possible--at least it seems so--to be in the form of the physical body. In this way did the dead rise according to the Egyptians, and in this body did they come. (Budge 1987: 170)

The divine condition of the sah(u)--reminding us of that of the body of glory in Christianity (to be reached at resurrection like Christ) or the condition of the body of diamond in various gnostic/Hermetic traditions of alchemical derivation--could be attained, in the belief of the ancient Egyptians, by the union of the Ba (soul) and the Ka (double) apart from the mummy, in which case man became an akh (spirit; cf. Budge 1978i: LXVIII) or one of the akhu or the "beings of light" or "divine spirits" (Budge 1978i: 9), i.e. a spirit that was liberated from the bonds of flesh. The Ba soul in this case was called ba-ankh, i.e. a "living soul" (see for more details Stroe 2014). An akh could be reborn on earth whenever he/she decided to do so, like the apkallu in Keats's poem above who were identified by him with the poet. The elements of Hermetic lore presented above show Keats to have been indeed steeped in ancient esoteric knowledge, Egyptian and otherwise.

The attraction to Egypt and its esoteric tradition may be best observed in the following magnificent fragment from Hyperion, in which Keats discusses the following:

1) the notion of inexorable change in the Universe;

2) the fact that even a god like Hyperion, the Sun god, could not stop evolution (Oceanus will answer to this issue later in the poem, see infra); and

3) the fact that all the motions of the celestial orbs on the sky describe invisible maps on which immemorial star-gazers could, with time, patience and wisdom, discern "hieroglyphics" i.e. secret cosmic patterns defining the divine order as set by the universal spirit/mind (the nous of the Greeks); these "hieroglyphics" were left inscribed on stone by the old megalithic civilizations everywhere on earth, but their significance is lost to the modern world:
   The planet orb of fire, whereon he [Hyperion] rode
   Each day from east to west the heavens through,
   Spun round in sable curtaining of clouds;
   Not therefore veiled quite, blindfold, and hid,
   But ever and anon the glancing spheres,
   Circles, and arcs, and broad-belting colure,
   Glow'd through, and wrought upon the muffling dark
   Sweet-shaped lightnings from the nadir deep
   Up to the zenith,--hieroglyphics old
   Which sages and keen-eyed astrologers
   Then living on the earth, with labouring thought
   Won from the gaze of many centuries:
   Now lost, save what we find on remnants huge
   Of stone, or marble swart; their import gone,
   Their wisdom long since fled.--Two wings this orb
   Possess'd for glory, two fair argent wings,
   Ever exalted at the God's approach:
   And now, from forth the gloom their plumes immense
   Rose, one by one, till all outspreaded were;
   While still the dazzling globe maintain'd eclipse,
   Awaiting for Hyperion's command.
   Fain would he have commanded, fain took throne
   And bid the day begin, if but for change.
   He might not:--No, though a primeval God:
   The sacred seasons might not be disturb'd.
   (Hyperion, Book I, 269-293; Keats 1994: 258-259)


In this context, Wunder may be quite right when she suggests the following significant conclusion regarding Keats's major masterpieces, Endymion and Hyperion:

Endymion reads like a Rosicrucian or Masonic work allegorizing a quest for wisdom and greater perfection in man realized through a process that develops the sympathies via the imagination. Similarly, Keats's Hyperions contain the elements of initiation into a Temple of Knowledge, where Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, the three "pillars" supporting the Masonic Temple, play key roles, and the impending deification is of Apollo who long served as representative of the mystical "Light" for which Rosicrucian and Masonic candidates strove. (Wunder 2008: 76)

Otherwise, all reports on Keats converge towards this portrait of the "carrier" of Negative Capability: a young man courageous like a "terrier," energetic, generous, open, sensitive, with superior thinking, devoid of meanness, ever ready to jump in defence of the oppressed (even if these were strangers--thus Keats running genuine risks) like a real selfless fighter endowed with fervent altruism and a passion sometimes almost impossible to control, a youth who was absorbed by something beyond his own person, who had the gift of engagement in whatever he felt deserved his attention, and the capacity of imaginative identification: in short, he was the "favourite of all" (Bate 1963: 18, 27). If we add to this the anecdotal piece of information according to which, among his brothers, Keats was "unusually short and fairly stocky" (Bate 1963: 9), then indeed the ferocious "terrier" image Keats has been associated with does indeed take also physically sharp outlines.

This strong and courageous availability to plunge into the maelstrom of events characterizes Keats's early poetry, which later was to mature into unflinching resolution and firmness of understanding. Bate thus speaks of Keats as being endowed with the greatest poetic gift known in England since Milton's death. By an irony of history, among the most beautiful letters ever left from poets a large part is constituted by those written by Keats--who was not even a man of letters properly speaking--to his brothers. According to Charles Brown's account (who was a friend of his), Keats's poetic genius was triggered when he was almost sixteen years old, the moment he read the first volume of Spenser's masterpiece, The Faerie Queene, the book having been lent to Keats by John Clarke, the principal of Enfield school: Keats was simply charmed by Spenser's new fairyland, he absorbed it and he became a different being, in love with the Spenserian stanza which he tried and succeeded in imitating. A similar fairyland of medieval times was the triggering point that led to great poetry also in the case of another English poet, Thomas Chatterton.

The revelation of Spenser's work, considered by Bate as representing Keats's poetic birth, is associated with the immediate reaction of the future poet (this event is recounted by Charles Cowden Clarke, and it took place at Enfield, while the two were reading together): Keats entered the image of sea-shouldering whales, feeling the weight of "parting billows" breaking over his own shoulders, and thus rising "burly and dominant" as a poet out of the waves (cf. Bate 1963: 33; 1964: 60). This crucial formative event is connected with other three, just as important:

1) Keats giving a report about a bear, which he instinctively imitated;

2) Keats being aware, as we observe in a verse letter to C. C. Clarke (dated September 1616), that heroes such as Atlas (who was the son of Iapetus and the brother of Prometheus and Epimetheus, and the father of the Pleiades) grow in fact stronger when unimaginably terrible burdens (that are potential death-bringers) are set on their sinewy shoulders. Difficulty in this sense is, therefore, powerfully formative, generating a strong creative response by a reaction of indomitable resistance. This paradoxical creative mechanism Keats associates with how poetry is born--an ode growing like an Atlas (the whole letter is a tribute to Clarke's supporting Keats to become a real poet):
   [...] Spenserian vowels, that elope with ease,
   And float along like Birds o'er summer Seas;
   Miltonian Storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness;
   Michael in Arms, and more, meek Eve's fair slenderness.
   Who read for me the Sonnet, swelling loudly
   Up to its Climax, and then dying proudly?
   Who found for me the Grandeur of the Ode,
   Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load?
   Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,
   The sharp, the rapier pointed Epigram?
   Show'd me that Epic was of all the King,
   Round, vast, and spanning all, like Saturn's Ring?
   You too, upheld the Veil from Clio's beauty,
   And pointed out the Patriots stern duty [...].
   (Letter to C. C. Clarke, dated September 1616;
   Keats 2002: 5; cf. also Bate 1963: 34)


3) Keats telling--a few years later--his friend Richard Woodhouse that he could enter into a billiard ball as it rolled about, thus feeling "a sense of delight from its own roundness, smoothness, volubility, & the rapidity of its motion" (Bate 1963: 34).

In other words, Keats was born a "camelion Poet," endowed with the most authentic and intense empathetic force. At the age of eighteen, he was writing his first poem, Imitation of Spenser (dated usually 1812 or 1814), an exercise in the conventional metric forms of the late 18th century. Thinking about the poets of the past came to dominate him, but he did not feel intimidated or paralyzed by them, on the contrary, he felt encouraged, although at first he did have his doubts (see infra the burden of the past: too much of the good was already written) --the stress accompanying the anxiety of influence in his case therefore in the end generated high creativity, proving to not be a major inhibiting obstacle or a writer's block (for details on this general issue see Pirvu, Stroe, Cosman 2015; Leoveanu, Stroe, Pirvu, Borzan 2015). How was this possible? A clue is offered by Bate (1964: 4):

At almost every step we see that his overriding concern is a greater honesty to human experience, in its full concreteness, and in a search for greater fullness and richness of expression.

If this is indeed so, then Keats was fundamentally searching for what the "rebel" founding fathers of the English novel were also looking for, namely describing human reality such as it was (hence the notion of "formal realism" associated with the rise of the novel in England). A major difference between Keats's project and that of the first novelists (Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Sterne) was that Keats believed in the reality of universals, as is evident early in his poetry, e.g. in Endymion (I, 779), where he speaks of a "fellowship with essence" (Keats 1994: 77). Keats was thus in both camps of realism: the literary (truth of concrete life) and the philosophical (truth of transcendental life). (The promoters of philosophical realism fought against the position of the philosophical nominalists, according to which universals were only names; the literary realists, on the other hand, did not believe in the existence of universals, being therefore in the camp of the philosophical nominalists; see this important issue brilliantly discussed by Watt 1987: 9-34). For Keats (as for most of the other romantics), spirit and matter were two sides of the same reality (reality was itself Januslike: a face was matter, another face was spirit), converging in the Janusian phenomenon that later Emily Dickinson (1961: 691) dubbed "finite infinity" (in poem 1695, There is a solitude of space, dated 1914) (what we called "interfinitude"). This clue is important, and it will become incorporated in Keats's view of imagination as a Janusian force of simultaneously exploring the inner realms and the outer realms of reality, the world of the noumenon and that of the phenomenon, like the other romantics Keats surpassing the insuperable barrier set by Kant between these two worlds (numenaltranscendental and phenomenal-immanent).

Keats thus began to develop his poetic themes by the very process of writing, not knowing what he was going to commit to the white paper (what today we call "automatic writing," a genre that was anticipated also by the romantic poet John Clare): Keats started to write poetry in which he described the attempts to write poetry (especially in the period spent at Margate, in the summer of 1816; cf. Bate 1963: 69-70). He would start from the topic concerning how one felt when one did not have any topics about which to write. Bate observes that this situation was crucial for Keats, as has been also for all the efforts of poets in the past two hundred years: becoming aware just how little the poet had to offer anymore. According to Bate (1963: 73), this state of awareness is the "fearful legacy" that the great writers of the 18th century felt coming upon them and upon their posterity. Pliny had asserted in this sense that the burdens of a government become the heavier/ the more oppressive, the greater the predecessors. This state of affairs constitutes the great embarassing, often paralyzing, factor which accompanied the rise of romanticism; it intimidated the Victorian poets and was to threaten the very vitality of poetry even more so in the 20th century. The embarassment derives from the fact that the rich accumulation of poetry from the past--as observable in the 18th century --could be both a blessing, but also a curse. Thus, in 1818 Keats was to say to Richard Woodhouse, his friend, that "there was now nothing original to be written in poetry," "its riches were already exhausted"; these words were mentioned by Woodhouse in a letter addressed to Keats, dated 21 October 1818, in which Keats was asked to change his view and start trusting his own brilliant creative powers of invention (maybe this crucial impulse helped Keats through his initial writer's block):

The appearance of this "critical morsel," however, determines me to address you on the subject of your late conversation at Hessey's, on which I have often since reflected, and never without a degree of pain--I may have misconceived you; but I understood you to say, you thought there was now nothing original to be written in poetry; that its riches were already exhausted, & all its beauties forestalled--& That you should, consequently, write no more. I cannot assent to your premises, and I most earnestly deprecate your conclusion.--For my part I believe most sincerely, that the wealth of poetry is unexhausted and inexhaustible --The ideas derivable to us from our senses singly & in their various combinations with each other store the mind with endless images of natural beauty... It is then for the Poeta factus, the imitator of others, who sings only as has been sung, to say that our measure of poetry is full, & that there is nothing new to be written, thus charging upon "most innocent nature" a dearth existing only in his own dull brain--But the poeta natus, the true born son of Genius, who creates for himself the world in which his own fancy ranges, who culls from it fair forms of truth beauty & purity & apparels them in hues chosen by himself should hold a different language--he need never fear that the treasury he draws from can be exhausted, nor despair of always being able to make an original selection./It is true that in this age; the mass are not of soul to conceive of themselves or even to apprehend when presented to them, the truly & simply beautiful of poetry.--A taste vitiated by the sweetmeats & kickshaws of the past century may be the reason for this. Still fewer of this generation are capable of properly embodying the high conceptions they may have--and of the last number few are the individuals who do not allow their fire and originality to be damped by the apprehensions of shallow censures from the grouching & the "cold-hearted." "In these evil days however, and these Evil tongues" (in the spirit of truth & sincerity & not of flattery I say it) I believe there has appeared one bard who "preserves his vessel" in purity independence & honor--who judges of the beautiful for himself, careless who thinks with him--who pursues his own selfappointed & approved course right onward--who stoops not from his flight to win sullied breath from the multitude. . . and shall such a one [...] fall into the worse error of supposing that there is left no corner of the universal heaven of poetry unvisited by Wing? Shall he [...] let "so fair a house fall to decay"--and shall he give the land which let Chatterton & K. White die of unkindness and neglect--but which yet retained the grace to weep over their ashes, no opportunity of redeeming its Character & paying the vast debt it owes to Genius?--Your conduct, my Dear Keats, must give these Questions an answer.--"Know thine own work & reverence the lyre!" The world, I hope & trust, is not quite so dead dull and ungrateful as you may have apprehended--or as a few malevolent spirits may have given you reason to imagine. (Richard Woodhouse, Letter to John Keats, dated 21 October 1818; apud Lowell 1925: 97-99)

This letter by Woodhouse is important for at least four reasons:

1) It advances the idea of the "fair forms of truth beauty & purity," in which truth and beauy are connected as if forming a Janusian unity, precisely as in Keats's later concept of truth being beauty and vice versa. In 1819 he indeed composed the famous Ode on a Grecian Urn, which contains this notion of the truth-beauty Janusian binary (it was published in Annals of the Fine Arts, 15, in January 1820; cf. Keats 2001: 604, n. 288). Since Keats held Woodhouse in great esteem, it is likely that he adopted this idea directly from his conversations with Woodhouse.

2) It stimulated an answer--given also in letter form--in which Keats gave voice to some of his most important notions (see supra and infra Keats's Letter addressed to Richard Woodhouse, dated 27 October 1818).

3) It may have defused some of the anxiety Keats felt when debating whether anything new in literature was possible anymore: Woodhouse may have just so injected the poet with some crucial trust in his own genius, by whose power originality had to be possible: see above Woodhouse's obstinate insistence on the fact that poetry is an inexhaustible fountainhead of heavenly things, truth and beauty being foundations thereof.

4) Not least of all, it invoked Chatterton as almost a martyr to the "unkindness and neglect" of his own nation, which after the tragedy "retained the grace to weep over [Chatterton's] ashes." Thereby Woodhouse was speaking to Keats's heart, and somehow asked for "poetic revenge" for such a tragic death of genius--this call may have kindled a secret spark inside Keats's inner being, who indeed felt so deeply Chatterton was his poetic brother.

Bate (1963: 73) argues that the massive heritage of the literature of the past belongs to us, it expanding with every new generation of creators, that is why "we must work from it, and often by means of it." But then the following question immediately pops up: does commonly feeding your imagination with the great literature of the past lead to the creation of yet more poetry of equal value? Bate asks what Harold Bloom tried to understand precisely by the creation of his system of dynamic operative vectors of the "anxiety of influence" (the six evolutionary stages mentioned above). Bate believes that the magnetic attraction exerted by Keats on all subsequent poets is due precisely to the fact that he somehow constructively valorized the dilemma. On the other hand, the influence of Leigh Hunt on Keats's early poetry (that before the summer of 1816, but especially the one written during this summer spent at Margate and the one that followed up to Endymion and the poetry from 1817) is large enough and, although Keats did adopt many mannerisms from Hunt even bringing them much further in the directions the latter had intended--, still the poetic model provided by Hunt was a positive one, generating poetic energies in the young Keats that helped him develop, and so did not cause inhibiting effects of the creator's block kind. Hunt's model constituted an impetus towards (linguistic) excess, and in this sense Bate invokes Johnson: excess is preferable to deficiency, because it is easier to eliminate superfluities than to mend defects; "timidity is a desease of the mind more obstinate and fatal." It is precisely the same thing that Keats was to think when he stated the following essential ideas that define his archetypal poetic mode:

J.S. is perfectly right in regard to the slipshod Endymion. That it is so is no fault of mine.--No!--though it may sound a little paradoxical. It is as good as I had power to make it--by myself--Had I been nervous about its being a perfect piece, & with that view asked advice, & trembled over every page, it would not have been written; for it is not in my nature to fumble--I will write independently.--I have written independently without Judgment--I may write independently & with judgment hereafter.--The Genius of Poetry must work out its own salvation in a man: It cannot be matured by law & precept, but by sensation & watchfulness in itself--That which is creative must create itself--In Endymion, I leaped headlong into the Sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the Soundings, the quicksands, & the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea & comfortable advice.--I was never afraid of failure; for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest--But I am nigh getting into a rant. (Letter to J. A. Hessey, dated 8 October 1818; Keats 1975: 155-156)

By stating that "that which is creative must create itself" Keats places himself interestingly in the previous logic of Pico della Mirandola (1953) and in the later logic of Otto Rank (1932); according to the latter the passage from asking "Who am I?" (which usually leads to psychosis and neurotic issues) to asking "Who do I want to be?" helps the artist to surpass the so-called "creative block" (cf Wadlington 2011: 282). Rank placed a motto--attributed to Pico della Mirandola--to his famous book entitled Art and artist (1932) that contains this very notion of the creative creating itself:

"In the midst of the world," the creator said to Adam, "I have placed thee, so thou couldst look around so much easier, and see all that is in it. I created thee as a being neither celestial nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal alone, so that thou shouldst be thy own free moulder and overcomer; thou canst degenerate to animal, and through thyself be reborn to godlike existence. [...] the higher spirits [...] are from the beginning, or at least soon after, what they remain in all eternity. Thou alone hast power to develop and grow according to free will: in one word, thou hast the seeds of all-embracing life in thyself!" (Pico della Mirandola, Oratio de hominis dignitate; apud Rank 1968: xi)

This doctrine of the Florentine philosopher reminds one of Blake's Orc eternal cycle of generation-decay-regeneration, and it has affinities with Keats's romantic view of the imagination as Adam's dream. Here is Rank's larger thesis in which he underlines the importance of the biography as a medium whereby society creates fame and thus immortalizes values regarded as being at a particular historical moment commensurate to its own worldviews, ideals, and communal interests--this process can be decoded as a general will to preserve certain powerful "intermediate beings" (a Hamlet, a Lear, a Satan and Christ, a Don Quixote, a Rowley, a Gulliver, a Crusoe...; a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Cervantes, a Chatterton, a Swift, a Defoe...):

The building up of fame is a collective creation of the community, and thus the artist, with his work, becomes the material for a new creative achievement of the community. In the course of this process the individual work is incorporated socially in a particular community-group, which may in some cases extend to the whole humanity, and in any case is oriented towards a common assertion of the immortality of the individual artist. When contemporaries or posterity grant an artist immortality, they participate in that immortality, just as burial in a royal tomb or a similar-intentioned burial in the church (as the grave of Christ) gives the ordinary mortal a share in divine immortality./The artist, therefore, not merely creates collective values from his individual need, but is himself finally collectivized, since out of the totality of his existence the community makes a new collective work, which survives as posthumous fame. [...] The continued existence of art through successive generations shows that the individual creative process, even its actual product in work, is no more than the precondition of collective creation, which selects and transforms whatever in individual work can maintain itself as an expression of the contemporary general ideology. The artist in himself provides in his work the raw material which the community uses in the creation of biographies and fame as an expression of its own eternalization. (Rank 1968: 405)

From this perspective, the fascination for Keats is rooted in his selflessness, in his modesty, with which any new generation can easily identify: the selfless fighter for all in need, the capacious mind that can host numberless generations of minds searching for beauty and for the truth--he indeed is thus the fittest image of the "poet's poet," the matrix of primal generation, the selfless leader of artists. There is, however, another side, pointed out by Rank (1968: 406): creativity of the great artists emerged as a way to resist and escape the "collectivizing influence":

On the other hand there is always a distinct reaction of the artist not only against every kind of collectivization, but against the changing of his own person, his work, and his ideology into an eternalization-symbol for a particular epoch. This resistance of the artist to his absorption into the community will show itself in more than his objection to success and fame; it will also influence his further activity so far as the assertion of his own individuality is concerned, and become a strong stimulus to further creativity in general. Certainly this will be the case with the great artist, who always tries to escape this collectivizing influence by deliberate new creations, whereas the weaker talent succumbs to a conscious concession to the masses or becomes mere raw material for the collective perpetuation instinct. [...] A strong-willed creator lends himself far less to collective influence than a merely talented artist, whose work may easily be made the material for a mass creation that genius opposes. (Rank 1968: 406)

In the last analysis, this collectivizing force comes as a result of the anxiety of accumulating influences that Keats too needed to address in order to emerge out of the waves of the ocean (the tradition) as a powerful "whale" of poetic energy (poetic novelty) and this happened precisely when he dared "leap headlong into the Sea" in Endymion: that is when he decided he will not listen to advice, but firmly engage in his own creative adventure, using his own poetic strength.

Keats's first poetic model was The Story of Rimini (1816) by Hunt, in which by couplet form one attempted to do all that Pope avoided. For instance, Hunt had criticised Pope because he had set the caesura so frequently after the fourth or fifth syllable.

Another important model for Keats was provided by Milton's poetry and by Chapman's translation of Homer's work: Pseudo-Longinus had intuited the immense value that the great models possess precisely by their liberating effect exerted on man's aspirations and creative energy. Bate (1963: 61) stated that this idea of Pseudo-Longinus is relevant in Keats's case to a degree larger than that met in any other case. After Milton's influence, what followed was Dryden's influence, and from 1818 to the end Keats was gradually, but firmly, influenced by Shakespeare --King Lear becoming almost an obsession for Keats's imagination. (He started to study Shakespeare seriously in the period when he began writing Endymion, developing a "Shakespearolatry," which ceased only when he finfished working on this poem). These poetic influences, however, did not operate in the sense of imitation proper, but rather in the sense of "noble contagion."

Bate (1963: 125) mentions here the preromantic Edward Young, who in Conjectures on original composition (1759)--a true romantic manifesto that appeared a long time before that proposed by Wordsworth in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads--stated the following:

He that imitates the divine lliad, does not imitate Homer; but he who takes the same method, which Homer took, for arriving at a capacity of accomplishing a work so great. Tread in his steps to the sole fountain of immortality; drink where he drank, at the true Helicon, that is, at the breast of nature: Imitate; but imitate not the Composition, but the Man. For may not this Paradox pass into a maxim? viz. "The less we copy the renowned antients, we shall resemble them the more." (Young 1759: 21)

In other words, by exploring our great predecessors and by using them as if through a "noble contagion," thereby not transforming ourselves into their intellectual slaves, but maintaining ourselves as their coequals, the artist would kindle inside himself the fire of original creation:

It is by a sort of noble contagion, from a general familiarity with their writings, and not by any particular sordid theft, that we can be the better for those who went before us. Hope we, from plagiarism, any dominion in literature; as that of Rome arose from a nest of thieves? Rome was a powerful ally to many States; antient authors are our powerful allies; but we must take heed, that they do not succour, till they enslave, after the manner of Rome. Too formidable an idea of their superiority, like a spectre, would fright us out of a proper use of our wits; and dwarf our understanding, by making a giant of theirs. Too great awe for them lays genius under restraint, and denies it that free scope, that full elbow-room, which is requisite for striking its most masterly strokes. Genius is a master-workman, learning is but an instrument; and an instrument, tho' most valuable, yet not always indispensable. (Young 1759: 24-26)

A vast idea before me ever rolls ...

Already from the period in which he composed Sleep and poetry, Keats embraced/tended towards the hypothesis that the human imagination has a "Januslike character" (this became a major element in the final year of his writing): it is pointed simultaneously both towards inner life, as well as towards the concrete objective world (Bate 1963: 125). Later he was to believe that art itself had a "Janusian" fundament, being directed simultaneously towards illusion and towards reality. In the period in which he published his first volume of poetry (1816), Keats had reached a "sculpturesque" ideal of poetry: conceptual power and greatness firmly controlled, which Bate (1963: 128; 1964: 55) decodes as "power kept in reserve." This itself is a "Janusian" process, since this kind of controlled power presupposes the simultaneous presence of freedoms (the active energies of the power to act) and the restrictions set to those freedoms (the passive energies of the firm will to curb free action).

In Sleep and Poetry (composed in 1816, published in 1817), Keats defined poetry as a paradoxical energy having roots both in light and darkness, truth and secrecy, mildness and violence, the here and now, and the beyond, infinity and finitude, infinite power at rest, dynamis (power) and stasis (motionlessness), the visible and the invisible, birth and death, ecstasy and pain, all married together in a paradoxical and vivid tensed union that defines the Janusian process: "a drainless shower of light," "the supreme of power," the "might half slumb'ring on its own right arm," governing with "the mildest sway"; a "strength" that is "like a fallen angel," because it also delights in "trees uptorn, darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres," feeding "upon the burrs, and thorns of life," and finally having as a mission to "be a friend," "to sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man." (Keats 1994: 49) [The latter idea reminds us of Edward Young's (1759: 98) suggestion that "good books are the medicine of the mind."]

This was indeed a paradoxical view of poetry, because it evidently comprised simultaneously both a luminous and a dark side, being thus a "Janusian" phenomenon. In this sense, Keats indeed continued Thomas Chatterton's gothic revival by exploring the unconventional, hidden dimensions of life, as seen in its duality with death, which was its other side, dark, secret, invisible, impalpable--yet so present in human drama everywhere and at any time whatsoever. Keats himself lived his life under the Janusian sign of life-and-death, if we are to consider the personal circumstances in which he lived: orphan of both parents; involved in a love relationship that drained the sap of his will to live (because, as we shall see, he often stated in his last letters to Fanny Brawne that he could not live without her); ill with a terminal disease; and, in this context, being surrounded by incapable doctors who, seeing him bleed when coughing, bled him the more (allegedly as a treatment, for reestablishing balance in the proportions of his humours), thus weakening him even more, and starving him besides (fasting was part of the alleged cure), and filling him with the idea, in the final period of his life, that his problem was "of the nerves," and so he had--besides all the above--to also renounce his supreme love, poetry, because that agitated him (see infra the full reports). In this sense, such measures could do nothing else but drive the poet into more abysmal depression, which we can now no doubt decode as a "life in death" of sorts, depleting the man of his vital energies.

This luminous/gothic Janusian side of Keats responded very actively to Milton's influence in the period immediately following 1816, a fact expressed "with a firmness unique in modern poetry" in the fragment Hyperion and in the great odes of 1819.

Keats developed thus under the deep prophetic impression that his life was guided by a spiritual-archetypal power which was setting him free:
   [...] there ever rolls
   A vast idea before me, and I glean
   Therefrom my liberty.
   (Sleep and poetry, 290-292; Keats 2001: 41)


According to Bate (1963: 129), here we are dealing with Keats's instinctual belief--extant from the very beginning--in the freedom to return to fundaments, to the primordial things, to innocence and to exuberant simplicity, as well as in the freedom resulting from the return to the great things, partially because these subsume the fundaments and primordial things.

Keats felt like Icarus, with waxen wings, flying near the Sun: he was aware that he had a huge mission, namely to explore the "widenesses" of the ideal he was haunted by (Bate 1963: 129). He came to regard poetry as a "temple" (Bate 1963: 137) or "fane" (cf. Lat. fanum), like the German romantic poet Fr. Holderlin. He was "intoxicated" with the ideal of greatness, being constantly preoccupied with the notion of the "genius-loving heart" (cf. the early letter to G. F. Mathew). This ideal of greatness, inherited by Keats from the old Greeks, was "self-corrective" in its effects, that is why it has a transformative nature. Bate (1963: 147) reminds us that in this sense Goethe stated that "everything that is great is formative" ("alles Grosses bildet"), while Whitehead underlined in the 20th century that "[m]oral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness." (Hence the constant interest shown by Harold Bloom for the canon, for greatness in literary creation, for the "strong" poets).

From these states of affairs derives Keats's vision of the missionary poet incapable of expressing his feelings as "sick Eagle looking at the sky" (in the sonnet On seeing the Elgin Marbles, 5; Keats 1994: 293; cf. also Bate 1963: 99, 148, 154), but also Keats's particular situation, in which he remarked, just before writing Endymion, the following:

I find that I cannot exist without poetry-without eternal poetry-half the day will not do-the whole of it-I began with a little, but habit has made me a Leviathan-I had become all in a Tremble from not having written any thing of late-the Sonnet over leaf did me some good. I slept the better last night for it-this Morning, however, I am nearly as bad again--Just now I opened Spencer [sic], and the first Lines I saw were these.-"The noble Heart that harbors vertuous thought,/And is with Child of glorious great intent, /Can never rest, until it forth have brought/ Th' eternal Brood of Glory excellent-" [...] I shall forthwith begin my Endymion, [...]. (Letter to J. H. Reynolds, dated 17, 18 April 1817; Keats 1975: 7-8)

In other words, Keats was so deeply immersed in the poetic mode, that it became to him an ontological attribute, a second nature. Poetry became for Keats a permanent, ontological fight for opening the numberless gates leading to the "Chamber of Maiden-thought." Writing for him becomes a therapy (as for Young), a way by which he harmonizes the energies inside his psyche; the excess of creative energies with him find an outlet in the creation of poetry, this whole affair becoming a sort of mission with hues of synchronicity--see above the "coincidence": when Keats is tortured with anxiety, feeling the arduous need to ever create more and more without cease, he just happens to open a volume of Spenser's poetry precisely at the verses promoting the creation of extraordinary beauties without which there can be no rest. Keats's metaphor above of the biblical Leviathan may have had behind it the thought of the Hobbesian world of the bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all), which so haunts Chatterton's magic universe with its extreme violence perhaps unique in English literature (Blake may be a match in this sense, and the Shakespeare of Titus Andronicus). In Keats's case, however, the total personal war he escalated was for the benefit of art in its pristine form: to eternally create poetry at all cost. In the modern terms of creativity studies, Keats was fighting to turn pro.

If for Hobbes Leviathan was the state as a monstrous presence hovering menacingly over the people, "that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defence," (Hobbes 1998: 114) and without which man tends to be haunted by "continual fear, and danger of violent death," thus leading a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" life (Hobbes 1998: 84), for Keats Leviathan is transformed into a prodigy of creativity: The Man of great Negative Capability imagined as a sea-shouldering whale. That the idea of a creative Leviathan of the Sea rested with him is also shown by another letter, addressed to Leigh Hunt, dated 10 May 1817; success with his poetic project seems here to be a matter of life and death with him:

I have asked myself so often why I should be a Poet more than other Men,-seeing how great a thing it is,-how great things are to be gained by it-What a thing to be in the Mouth of Fame-that at last the Idea has grown so monstrously beyond my seeming Power of attainment that the other day I nearly consented with myself to drop into a Phaeton-yet 'tis a disgrace to fail even in a huge attempt, and at this moment I drive the thought from me. I began my Poem [Endymion] about a Fortnight since [...]. Perhaps I may have done a good deal for the time but it appears such a Pin's Point to me that I will not copy any out--When I consider that so many of these Pin points go to form a Bodkin point (God send I end not my Life with a bare Bodkin, in its modern sense) and that it requ[i]res a thousand bodkins to make a Spear bright enough to throw any light to posterity--I see that nothing but continual uphill Journeying? Now is there anything more unpleasant (it may come among the thousand and one) than to be so journeying and miss the Goal at last-But I intend to whistle all these cogitations into the Sea where I hope they will breed Storms violent enough to block up all exit from Russia. Does Shelley go on telling strange Stories of the Death of kings? Tell him there are stran(ge) Stories of the death of Poets-some have died before they were conceived "how do you make that out Master Vellum" ? Does Mrs. S[helley]-cut Bread and Butter as neatly as ever? Tell her to procure some fatal Scissars and cut the th[r]ead of Life of all to be disappointed Poets. Does Mrs. Hunt tear linen in half as straight as ever ? Tell her to tear from the book of Life all blank Leaves. [...] (Letter to Leigh Hunt, dated 10 May 1817; Keats 1975:10-11)

The image above of the creative Leviathan of the Sea breeding violent Storms (i.e., most likely, stimulating extraordinary creativity) is surely connected with Keats's notion of poetic birth as a whale hoisting itself through majestic waves (see supra)--Melville may have found fascination in this aquatic metaphor. The invocation of the "thousand bodkins to make a Spear bright enough to throw any light to posterity" is a not so covert allusion to the Hobbesian total war, this time redirected onto a creative, and not a distructive, path. As we shall see, Keats overturned also another traditional view, namely that according to which the world is a valley of tears--in his view this was not so, since the world was a "Vale of Soul-Making" (see infra).

As a poet in the making, Keats thus wished to find a way to abandon the "infant or thoughtless Chamber" (i.e. innocence, in Blakean terms) and enter the "Chamber of Maiden-thought" (i.e. experience) (cf. Bate 1963: 106). He wanted an "awakening of the thinking principle," as well as to find a bridge between poetry and life. In the Hymn to Pan from Endymion, he thus observed that as the "Chamber of Maiden-thought" got darker and darker, simultaneously from all sides around many gates would open, all leading to dark paths--which for Keats intensified his feeling the "burden of the Mystery" that was to be of greatest importance: Pan (the son of Hermes) becoming the "dread opener of the mysterious doors/leading to universal knowledge."

Bate underlines here Douglas Bush's statement according to which Keats, by introducing Pan at the beginning of the poem Endymion in a micro-poem that reiterates and announces "in micro" form the long poem that follows, transforms Pan into "the symbol of the romantic imagination, of supra-mortal knowledge." Because Pan is the son of Hermes, it follows that the romantic imagination in Keats's version is implicitly a Hermetic power.

For Keats, the supreme "test of Invention," of the immersion into the poetic mode, was the writing of "a long Poem" (referring to Endymion), about which he thought that it is the "Polar Star of Poetry," just as Fancy represented the Sails, and the Imagination--the Rudder (cf. Letter to Benjamin Bailey, dated 8 October 1817, in which Keats quotes a letter--now lost--he himself had sent to George in the spring; Keats 1975: 27). Bate (1963: 171) draws attention to the fact that in this mission Keats reached an economy and power of expression surpassed only by Shakespeare in English literature, a fact that has been largely recognized by the literary criticism of the past hundred years. In this sense, Endymion is atypical for Keats, because it is extremely diluted. Matthew Arnold stated that Endymion did not even deserve the name of a poem due to its total lack of coherence and although here one does indeed feel the "breath of genius." Still, the critic Sidney Colvin explained the poem as being a "parable of the poetic soul in man seeking communion with the spirit of essential Beauty in the world," an idea that predominated in the criticism after Arnold, taking increasingly clearer Neo-Platonic hues. Bate (1963: 172) offers a very general description of the message of Endymion, decoded as allegory (a procedure used by Keats for the first time here, and repeated in the fragment of Hyperion): Cynthia, the goddess of the Moon, represents an allegory--of ideal Beauty, sought by Endymion, i.e. the human soul, the poet or the poetic imagination; the first time he becomes aware of this ideal is when Endymion has a "dream-vision"; however, he understands that before an authentic union can take place, a spiritual coming of age must occur. Endymion must thus understand that human love and sympathy are approaches embraced by this ideal. Once Endymion's pilgrimage through all the elements comes to an end, Cynthia accepts him and he unites with "essential Beauty."
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Title Annotation:p. 132-158
Author:Stroe, Mihai A.
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2015
Words:20197
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