Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keats' "Hyperion" (The Two Versions)

“Hyperion”, a Fragment
Hyperion was begun by Keats beside his brother’s sickbed in September or October, 1818. It is to Hyperion that he refers when he speaks in those days of “plunging into abstract images”, and finding a “feverous relief in the “abstractions” of poetry. These phrases are applicable only to Hyperion. It was finished some time in April, 1819.

Two Versions of “Hyperion”, But Both Incomplete
The subject of Hyperion had long been in Keats’s mind, and both in the text and the preface of Endymion he indicated his intention to attempt it. At first he thought of the poem to be written as a “romance”, but his plan changed to that of a blank verse epic in ten books. His purpose was to describe the warfare of the earlier Titanic dynasty with the later Olympian dynasty of the Greek gods; and in particular one episode of that warfare, the dethronement of the sun-god Hyperion and the assumption of his kingdom by Apollo. Hyperion exists in two versions, both incomplete. The second version was a revision of the first, with the addition of a long induction in a new style which makes it into a different poem. The two versions of the poem extend over Keats’s greatest creative period. The first version was written mostly before the great Odes, the second mostly after them. As a matter of fact, the period covered by Hyperion is the period of Keats’s most intense experience, both of joy and sorrow, in actual life; and of his most rapid development.
The Theme of the Poem
The theme of the war between the Titans or the earlier generation of gods, and the later Olympians who overthrew them often occurs in the literature which Keats was fond of reading. The specific theme, the dethronement of Hyperion, the old sun-god, by Apollo the new, is Keats’s own. Apollo is also the god of poetry, and as Endymion had symbolised the fate of the lover of beauty in the world, so the story of Apollo and Hyperion was perhaps going to symbolise the fate of the poet as creator. Since the poem is unfinished we cannot know.
Milton’s “Paradise Lost” as the Model for Keats’s Poem
The design of Hyperion owes much to Milton. The poem opens in the regular epic manner, in the middle of the story. The Titans, like Milton’s fallen angels, are already outcasts and have lost their power. Hyperion alone is not yet over-thrown, and, like Milton’s Satan, he is the one hope of further existence. The opening scene is followed by a council to discuss the regaining of the last dominion, in which Enceladus, like Moloch, pronounces his sentence for open war, and Oceanus, like Belial, stands for more moderate measures. Externally, at least, this is modelled on Paradise Lost, and marks a clear break with the loose and incoherent structure of Endymion.
Similarities With, and Differences from, “Paradise Lost”
In spite of its fragmentary condition, Hyperion remains Keats’s most imposing piece of work. According to the publishers, the hostile reception given to Endymion discouraged Keats from continuing with the poem. Keats himself said that he gave it up because of the first excessive Miltonism of the style. “There were too many Miltonic inversions in it”, he wrote 10 Reynolds. “Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an artful or rather in an artist’s humour.” The Miltonic influence is certainly obvious in the verse and diction of the first Hyperion as it is in the design. There is, for instance, a constant use of inversions (“stride colossal”, “rest divine”) typical of Milton’s Latinized style. Especially noticeable is the trick of sandwiching a noun between two adjectives (“gold clouds metropolitan”). There are other fragments of classical sentence-structure too:
save what solemn tubes,   
B lown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweet             
And wandering sounds, slow-breathed melodies.
But the poem is hardly Miltonic in any stricter sense. In the matter of rhythm, Keats’s blank verse has not the flight of Milton’s. “Its periods do not wheel through such stately evolutions to so solemn and far-foreseen close; though it indeed lacks neither power nor music.” It is still the verse of Keats, but immensely purged and strengthened by contact with a severer master. Some of the most beautiful images in their delicacy and precision are utterly unlike Milton’s generalised verbal grandeur, and indeed could be by nobody but Keats:
                                ………No stir of air was there,       
                                Not so much life as on a summer’s day         
                                Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,      
                                But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
The Subject-Matter of the First Two Books
The first book of Hyperion gives us a picture of the fallen Titans, with Saturn as the central figure, but Hyperion as the only one who remains even potentially active. The second book shows them in council and the vital part of it is undoubtedly the speech of Oceanus. The sum and substance of his speech is as follows:
My voice is not a bellows unto ire.
Yet listen, ye who will, whilst I bring proof
How ye, perforce, must be content to stoop:               
And in this proof much comfort will            
I give, If ye will take that comfort in its truth.            
We fall by course of Nature’s law, not force
Of thunder, or of Jove.
Saturn was not the first power in the universe, and should not expect to be the last. Chaos and darkness produced light: light brought heaven and earth and life itself into existence; and the Titans were the first-born of life. Just as heaven and earth are more beautiful than chaos and darkness,
So on our heels a fresh perfection treads,    
A power more strong in beauty, born of us  
And fated to excel us…..
The Titans should not grieve over the situation and should not envy their successors
                                ……..for ‘tis the eternal law,           
                                That first in beauty shall be first in might.
The simple Clymene follows and supports Oceanus by bearing testimony to the beauty of the young Apollo’s music, which she has heard. The lesson of all this is that Hyperion is to be a poem of evolution, of the supersession of lower forms by higher; and that the successors are to prevail because they are superior in beauty.
The Fragmentary Third Book
In the fragment of the third book the interest shifts from the Titans to the young Apollo. Mnemosyne (Memory) alone among the Titans has formed relations with the younger gods. She has watched over the childhood of Apollo, and now she finds him wavering and uncertain of his course. In his talk with her he finds the consciousness of his destiny and assumes his new­found godhead. At this point the poem breaks off.
Keats’s Inability To Go On With-the Poem
It seems that what began as an epic poem about a mythological conflict has become a symbolical poem of a different kind. But in the process new difficulties have arisen for the poet. The conventional epic conflict would have afforded a wealth of scenes and incidents. The new scheme, of an evolution in beauty, presents far greater problems. It could hardly be put forth in events and actions, and would not therefore afford material for the ten books originally proposed. Perhaps there were other difficulties as well. The poem remains unfinished because Keats did not know how it was to go on.
Keats’s Greek Subject But His Un-Greek Treatment
Although Keats has been called a Greek, he does not write of Greek things in a Greek manner. The very description of the palace of Hyperion, with its vague far-dazzling pomps and phantom-terrors of coming doom, shows that. Keats is here far in workmanship from the Greek purity and precision of outline, and firm definition of individual images. Some of his pictures of Nature, too, show not the simplicity of the Greek, but the complexity of the modern, sentiment of Nature. But Keats shows a thorough grasp of the essential meaning of the war between Titans and Olympians. He illustrates with great beauty and force (in the speech of Oceanus in the second book) that essential meaning: the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts held a larger place beside ideas of Nature and her brute powers.
Keats’s Animation of the Colossal Figures
Again, Keats attains great success in conceiving and animating the colossal shapes of the early gods. He shows a masterly instinct in the choice of comparisons, drawn from Nature by which he tries to make us realise the voices of those gods, with their personalities between the elemental and me human.
The Attempt at the Dramatic Presentation of Emotion
Indeed, Hyperion is Keats’s most serious and considerable attempt at the dramatic presentation of emotion—for the Titans are conceived in human terms, and their sorrows are human sorrows. There is far greater power, too, of discourse, of argument in verse, than ever before; there is no parallel in Keats’s earlier work to the speech of Oceanus.
The Merits of the Three Books Which Comprise the Poem
The second book of Hyperion, relating the council of the dethroned Titans, has neither the sublimity of the first, nor the intensity of the unfinished third. In the first book we have a solemn vision of the fallen Saturn, followed by a resplendent vision of Hyperion threatened in his empire. In the third book we see Apollo undergoing a convulsive change under the afflatus of Mnemosyne, and about to put on the full powers of his godhead. But the third book has a ripeness and controlled power of its own which place it quite on a level with the other two.
One of the Grandest Poems in the English Language
“With a few slips and inequalities, and one or two instances of verbal incorrectness, Hyperion is indeed one of the grandest poems in the English language, and in its grandeur seems one of the easiest and most spontaneous. Keats, however, had never been able to apply himself to it continuously, but only by fits and starts. Partly this was due to the distractions of bereavement, of material anxiety, and of dawning passion amid which it was begun and continued: partly (if we may trust the statement of the publishers) to disappointment at the reception of Endymion: and partly, it is clear, to something not wholly congenial to his powers in the task itself.”
The Fall of Hyperion, a Dream
Subsequently Keats re-cast Hyperion into the shape of a vision, which remains equally unfinished. His new plan was to relate the fall of the Titans not, as before, in direct narrative, but in the form of a vision revealed and interpreted to him by a goddess of the fallen race. He had broken off his work on the first Hyperion at the point where Mnemosyne is enkindling the brain of Apollo with the inspiration of her ancient wisdom. In the second version, Keats identifies this Greek Mnemosyne, the mother of the Muses, with the Roman Moneta, and makes his Mnemosyne-Moneta the priestess and guardian of Saturn’s temple. His vision takes him first into a garden of delicious fruits where he sinks into a slumber and, on waking up, finds himself on the floor of a huge temple. Presently a voice, the voice of Moneta, summons him to climb the steps leading to an image beside which she is offering sacrifice. Obeying her with difficulty, he questions her regarding the mysteries of the place, and learns ‘hat he is standing in the temple of Saturn. Then she unveils her face, and on seeing it he feels an irresistible desire to learn her thoughts. Thereupon he finds himself conveyed in a trance to the ancient scene of Saturn’s overthrow. From this point Keats begins to make use of the text of the original Hyperion, and the alterations which he makes are in almost all cases for the worse.
The Beauty of Single Lines and Passages
This second version of Hyperion certainly contains impressive passages, but it contains others where both rhythm and diction flag. It depends for its beauty far more on single lines and passages, and less on sustained effects, as compared with the first version. The feast of fruits at the opening of the second version is, indeed, very rich. The melancholy beauty and awe of the priestess when she unveils herself is unequalled in Keats’s poetry. But the special interest of the poem lies in the light which it throws on the condition of his mind, and on his conception of the poet’s character and lot. When Moneta bids him mount the steps to her side, she says:
“None can usurp this height”, returned that shade,
“But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest
All else who find a haven in the world,
Where they may thoughtless sleep away their days,
If by a chance into this fane they come,
Rot on the pavement where thou rotted’st half.
Thou art a dreaming thing;
A fever of thyself: think of the earth:
What bliss, even in hope, is there for thee?
What haven? every creature bath its home,
Every sole man hath days of joy and pain,
Whether his labours be sublime of low—
The pain alone, the joy alone, distinct:
Only the dreamer venoms are his days,
Bearing more we than all his sins deserve.”
Keats means to say that a poet is one who, in order to indulge in dreams, withdraws himself from the wholesome activities of ordinary men. At first he is lulled to sleep by the sweets of poetry (symbolised by the fruits of the garden): Awakening, he finds himself on the floor of a solemn .temple, with Mnemosyne as the priestess. If he is indifferent to the troubles of his fellow men, he is condemned to perish swiftly and be forgotten. In the view Keats-here expresses of the function and responsibility of poetry, there is nothing new. Almost from the beginning, he had looked beyond the mere sweets of poetry towards
a nobler life         
Where I may find the agonies, the strife      
Of human hearts.
What is new is the bitterness with which he speaks of the poet’s lot even at its best. He is allowed to approach the priestess, to commune with her and catch her inspiration, only on condition that he shares all the troubles of his fellow-men and makes them his own. And even then, his lot is far harder and less honourable than that of common men.
Other Merits of the Poem
The imagery and description in the second version of Hyperion are shorn of redundancies, and are far finer for being kept within bounds; and there is an enormous gain of dignity and force in the presentation of emotion. In that part of the second Hyperion which is merely a re-handling of the first, Keats removes Miltonisms and other dispensable ornaments. But in the process, he sacrifices some of his best lines, though there is nothing like the first three hundred lines of the new Hyperion in Keats’s earlier work. The new induction is, after the Odes, surely Keats’s greatest verse. Both in reflective and descriptive passages the verse seems to stride instead of to linger, as Keats’s verse has mostly done hitherto. And the new-found decision of style reflects a new decision in the handling of ideas.
Graham Hough’s observations
“The second Hyperion is cast in the form of a dream, and the added opening describes this dream and its setting. It begins with a short prologue which affords an excellent example of the new tense and muscular verse:
Fanatics have their dreams, wherewith they weave
A paradise for a sect; the savage, too,
From forth the loftiest fashion of his sleep
Guesses at Heaven! Pity these have not
Traced upon vellum or wild Indian leaf
The shadows of melodious utterance.
But bare of laurel they live, dream and die;
For Poesy alone can tell her dreams,—
With the fine spell of words alone can save
Imagination from the sable chain
And dumb enchantment.
This is an attempt to define the position of poetry. The poet has his dreams in common with other men, but he alone is able to secure them from oblivion. (Again, the thought of the Ode To a Grecian Urn—only art can endure.) And the poet’s dream differs from the fanatic’s, because it is for the world, the fanatic’s only for a sect.”
A Synopsis of the Poem
The dream that Keats sees begins in a wood where the poet eats of the fruits and falls into a deep sleep to find himself, when he wakes up, in a vast shrine. There are steps leading up to an altar. As the poet approaches the steps, the veiled priestess addresses him:
If thou canst not ascend
These steps, die on the marble where thou art.
When he asks the priestess to explain the mysteries around him,
“None can usurp this height”, returned that shade,
“But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest.”
This is the theme, already familiar in Sleep and Poetry and in the letters: that the poet must not rest in poetical dreams but must share the sorrows of humanity. In the lines that follow, the theme is carried further. The actively virtuous are not to be found in the shrine; they are working in the world. The poet is here because of his weakness, because he is a dreamer. The priestess goes on to distinguish the poet and the mere dreamer:
The one pours out a balm upon the world, 
                The other vexes it.
She then reveals that the temple is Saturn’s, the only remaining shrine of the old gods, and she is Moneta, the sole remaining priestess. (Moneta is the Latin name of Mnemosyne.) Then Moneta unveils herself, and is thus described:
Then I saw a wan face,     
Not pin’d by human sorrows, but bright-blanch’d    
By an immortal sickness which kills not;   
………..deathwards progressing     
To no death was that visage, it had pass’d   
The lily and the snow; and beyond these    
I must not think now, though I saw that face.            
But for her eyes I should have fled away.
The poet asks to be shown the hidden story that lies behind the mysterious temple. She agrees to reveal it to him, and the story of Hyperion and the Titans, much as it was narrated in the version of the poem, then begins.
The Place of the Poet in This World, According to Keats
This is Keats’s last attempt to define the place of the poet in the world. The poet is less than the man of active virtue, and Keats is still absorbed by/ the contrast between the realm of Flora and the other kingdom that he suspects to lie beyond. He has still not crossed the boundary, but he knows more of what to expect on the journey. It is notable how much of Keats’s poetry is about poetry, its function, its glories, and its limitations. It is as though he is perpetually trying to find a bridge between art and life, but is perpetually led back to art itself. In Hyperion, Keats draws two distinctions: one between the practical and the visionary mind; and the other between the creative visionary, the poet, and the mere dreamer who vexes the world with visions that he can do nothing to transmute into reality.
The View Expressed by Robert Bridges
Robert Bridges points out that the subject of Hyperion “lacks the solid basis of outward event by which an epic maintains its interest; there is little but imagination, and a one-sidedness or incompleteness of that; a languor which lingers in the main design”.
H.W. Garrod’s Opinion
H.W. Garrod agrees with this opinion and goes on to add that it was because of his shyness of the actual that Keats adopted an allegorical design in writing Hyperion (both versions). Hyperion is, in an allegorical form, the epic of the Revolutionary Idea, an idea which is figured as Jove deposing Saturn, and Apollo ousting Hyperion. Hyperion is the last of the Titans to fall before the new order. It is in the nature of things that periodic storms of time should shatter material institutions, the laboriously-built fabric of tradition and habit. Hyperion cannot stay; or he stays only to view
The misery his radiance has betrayed          
                To the most hateful seeing of itself.
Hyperion has outlived his world. The hope which the older gods repose in him is half-hearted; and in fact the order which they represent has fallen from their want of faith in him, or from a mutual breach of sympathy.
Apollo, the usurping god of light, the new poetry, attains godhead in a fashion sufficiently significant. Keats does not carry the poem further than the beginning of his godhead. This godhead is not without its birth-pangs:
Soon wild commotions shook him, and made flush 
                All the immortal fairness of his limbs,         
                Most like the struggle at the gates of death;
and Keats speaks of him plainly as “dying into life”.
To Live by Dying
Alike of the god of poetry and of the poet upon earth it is true, that their living must be by dying. It is not by accident that, on the one hand, Hyperion (first version) ends with the death-shriek of Apollo, with the anguish of the god dying into life, and that on the other hand, all the emphasis of the second version is thrown on the necessity for the poet of seeing the beauty of the world through its sorrows, through human suffering:
None can usurp this height, returned that Shade,     
But those to whom the miseries of the world             
Are misery, and will not let them rest.
In other words, the revolutionary Apollo is to the fallen god what a humanitarian is to a visionary. Again and again does Keats carry us to this opposition of two kinds of poetry, and again and again does he shrink back from his own conclusions. Pursuing his epic of the Revolutionary Idea, Keats was startled into misgiving; some disquiet of the creating imagination assailed him; he felt himself brought up sharply against the need of defining, the need of clarifying his own conception. What truly was this god, who thus dies into life? and into what order of life does this dying in fact conduct him? Hyperion, the first version (of the volume of 1820) leaves the question without answer; indeed, that it puts the question we should scarcely know except for Hyperion, the second version. It is even possible that, in the version printed in 1820, Keats was trying to save his work out of allegory. It could not be done, and he gave up, coming back to allegory unashamed. The recoil of intention leaves the first version a fragment of statuesque beauty.

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