“Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been,
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne,
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold;
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes,
He stared at the Pacific and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise
Silent upon a peak in Darien.”
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” was the poetical creed of Keats, and in his last illness he said, “I have loved the principle of beauty in all things.”Who can doubt that with such a faith he would have risen, had his life been spared, to a region of spiritual thought in which the poet’s voice has not only a lovely sound, but an utterance that is prophetic. He died with aims still uncertain, with hopes unaccomplished, at the age of twenty-six the greatest English poet, whose genius has been confined within so narrow a limit.
“Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep!
He hath awakened from the dream of life,
‘Tis we who, lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife.”
These lines of farewell to Keats were written by his brother-poet, Shelley. Both were alike in their intense worship of the spirit of beauty, both lived a life of imagination. There was, however, a striking contrast between them. Keats was self-centred. His art was his world, his religion, his being’s end and aim. His highest aspiration was to have a place with Chaucer and Spenser, with Milton and Shakespeare. He longed to “overwhelm” himself in poetry, and whatever there may have been of strength and backbone in his character is due to this absorbing passion for a single object.