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About John Keats by John Dennis (page 3)

            The sense of beauty pervades the poetry of Keats as with an atmosphere. His verse is full of the loveliness which we find in youth, full of the ardours and aspirations, the brightness and glory, that belong to the season of hope. The charm of his language cannot be described, but it is impossible to open the volume without being enchained by it. It carries the ear captive with its sweetness, and gladdens the mind’s eye with its brilliancy of colour. The reader feels there is a spell upon him, and one from which he has no desire to escape. The faults of “Endymion” will be as obvious to the student as its beauties. The imagery is extravagant, the diction luxurious, the rhymes too frequently feminine. He “looked upon fine phrases like a lover,” but he was too fond of fine phrases. “Oh for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts!” he once exclaimed when writing “Endymion,” and the poem is coloured by this desire. (2)

(2)  It is well to note that there was a manly as well as an effeminate side to Keats’s nature, an appreciation of what is noble as well as a love of what is luxurious. If he craved for strong sensations, he had also the highest admiration of the manly virtue which gives nobility to character. Poets “learn in suffering what they teach in song,” and Keats said that illness relieved his mind of a load of deceptive thoughts and images, and made him perceive things in a truer light. He did sympathize with what is pure and noble and of good report, and how heartily he despised the degradation of spirit which can use for purposes of buffoonery that which is in reality most terrible and solemn, is seen in his remarks upon a passage in Byron’s ” Don Juan.” For thirty hours he had himself been in great danger in the Bay of Biscay. “After the tempest had subsided Keats was reading the description of the storm in ‘ Don Juan,’ and cast the book on the floor in a transport of indignation. ‘How horrible an example of human nature,’ he cried, ‘is this man, who has no pleasure left him but to gloat over and jeer at the most awful incidents of life! Oh! this is a paltry originality which consists in making solemn things gay and gay things solemn, and yet it will fascinate thousands by the very diabolical outrage of their sympathies. Byron’s perverted education makes him assume to feel, and try to impart to others those depraved sensations which the want of any education excites in many.’ “

            To no one was the weakness of the poem more evident than to the poet himself, whose preface shows a sanity of judgment which is all the more remarkable since it is exercised on the first child of his genius. “Knowing within myself,” he wrifes, “the manner in which this poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public. What manner I mean will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished. . . . The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted; thence proceeds mawkishness and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.”

 

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