Into the core

PART SEVEN OF THE CHARACTER OF LIGHT

At the end of his career, Keats, the poet of sensations and melodic rhymes, the mellifluous word-painter of altering moods, the worshipper of Beauty and believer in salvation through imagination, accepted that art of pure subjectivity was not going to harmonize humanity with its existence. “Only the dreamer venoms all his days.” [4]

Apollo in Hyperion realizes that his gift for “melodious” raptures about nature’s beauty – “the sun, the sun! / And the most patient brilliance of the moon!”–  is only good enough for a half-god, a demi-poet. “Where is power?” he demands.

To answer the poet-god’s question, Keats had to admit fact and reason into his “sensual life of verse”, just as he admitted them into daily life, even diagnosing the symptoms of his own death. “I know the colour of that blood”. [3] The alternative was to be nothing but “a dreaming thing” [4].

The poet and the dreamer are distinct,
‘Diverse, sheer opposite, antipodes.
‘The one pours out a balm upon the world,
‘The other vexes it. (The Fall of Hyperion)

His alchemical metaphors to illustrate his theory of “soul-making” in his letters to friends contain correct terminology, of “touchstones” and “essence”; the transformation of Apollo in Hyperion, and the quest to become the perfect poet in The Fall of Hyperion have elements of the legendary search for the secrets of the universe, trying to save the present through rediscovering the lost wisdom of ancient cultures.

alcymistbyjosephwright xsJoseph Wright, The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the ancient chymical astrologers
oil on canvas, exhibited 1771, reworked and dated 1795. Joseph Wright Gallery, Derby Museum.
Image source: © 2014 Derby Museums Trust.
“…a silver lamp, whose phosphor glow
Reflected in the slabbed steps below .” (Lamia)

The irony in a lot of Keats’ statements apparently dismissing all mechanical explanations of phenomena – and drinking “confusion to mathematics” – has been overlooked. Dead poets are assumed to be in perpetual earnest, never taking time off to make jokes. The mysticism of Rosicrucianism remained attractive to many intellectuals throughout the Enlightenment, more cogently than now, when it is more like a branch of entertainment.

When Keats drew analogies between the poet and “some watcher of the skies”,[5] Continue reading

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