Hyperion: A Fragment 1818 (1820)

Notes on Hyperion by John Keats

The Titans, usurped by the new Olympian Gods, mourn their lost empire. The still unfallen Hyperion continues his struggle, but must eventually accept defeat. He is replaces by Apollo, whose emergence into godhead is presided by Mnemosyne.

This unfinished poem in three books is based on the Greek myth of the defeat of the Titans. Under Saturn, the Titans, including Hyperion, a sun God, ruled the Universe. They were overthrown by the Olympians, led by three sons of Saturn: Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto. Hyperion was replaces by Apollo, who was also a sun God but had, in addition, particular associations with music and poetry. Keats sees in the myth a means to express faith in the idea of progress. Even the old gods must admit that their successors are more beautiful and therefore better fitted to rule.

Book 1 opens in media res with the deposed god Saturn mourning the loss of his empire to Jupiter. Thea, another of the Titans and sister/wife to Hyperion, attempts to comfort him, but, also despairing, she can only weep at his feet. Saturn rouses himself to renewed resistance and is led by Thea to where the other fallen Titans are assembled. The second part of Book 1 focuses on Hyperion, still unvanquished and defiant but apprehensive and suffering from premonitions of death and disaster, preparing to go to the aid of Saturn.

Book 2 describes the council of the deposed Titans, as they attempt to come to terms with their new powerlessness, Saturn arrives, guided by Thea, and opens the debate. The speech given by Oceanus is the most positive; he urges his fellow Titans to come to terms with change as an inevitable part of the natual process, and ends by praising the beauty of his own supplanter, the new god of the seas, Neptune, Clymene, a sea nymph, supports Oceanus. Her lament declares the uselessness of philosophical arguments in dispelling grief, but also comforts Oceanus's wisdom when she describes the beautiful music with which the earth greeted the arival of Apollo, the new god of song. Enceladus does not agree and urges them all to challenge the enemy, reminding them that Hyperion is still unfallen. Hyperion himself arrives, but he has now accepted defeat.

The brief, fragmentary Book 3 describes the valley where Apollo, who will be the new sun god, is coming into his powers. Mnemosyne, herself a Titan, the goddess of memory and mother of the nine Muses, presides over the initiation ceremony. Apollo, whose poetic associations are emphasised by his possession of a lyre, reads a 'wondrous lesson' (book 3, line 112) in her face, and 'Knowledge enormous' (Book 3, line 113) transforms him into a god. Book 3 breaks off with his assumption of godhead. Hyperion invites comparisons with Paradise Lost by presenting another epic version of the Fall in Miltonic blank verse. Similarities can be seen in both the epic theme and the structure - including the opening in media res, with the Titans already fallen - and in specific scenes: the council of the defeated Titans in Book 1, for example, echoes Milton's description of the fallan angels in Hell. But while Milton is concerned with the fall and redemption of humankind, Keats is more interested in a cyclic process in improvement prompted by aesthetic vision, the replacement of a somewhat rigid divine dispensation by a more natural and humane order.

Compare the style of Hyperion with the earlier Endymion, and consider how the new, leaner, harder language is more appropriate for Keats's engagement with the world of power struggles. The luxuriant diction and pleasurable sense of wandering in Endymion is replaced by terse and disciplined language in Hyperion, by grand and forceful diction, an emphatic sense of action, of movement towards a particular climactic moment. Numerous action verbs drive the narrative onwards, suggesting the relentless movement from old to new order, from Hyperion to Apollo.

Compare the way in which these old and new orders are represented. Analyse the effect of the numerous negatives and the emphasis on deathly silence and stillness with which Hyperion begins. How often, throughout the poem, are negatives and stillness associated with the Titans? Although the poem is generally written in lofty and grave verse, there is an abrupt change in the tone at the beginning of Book 3 with the introduction of Apollo. Epic stateliness is replaced with the return to the lusher style and imagery of Endymion. The contrast between the old gods and the new is emphasised by the differences in landscape and style between the austere scene where the Titans gather in Book 2, and the valley in which Apollo becomes immortal in Book 3. The dark, craggy, barren landscape and the sonorous, weighty cadences of the former are replaces by a luxuriant, sensuous, glowing world and much lighter, lilting rhythms before the more measured, grander style returns with Apollo's assumption of godhead.

The poem is full of images of measure, unease and diminishment, rising and falling. Keats uses, for example, varying intensities of light to suggest dynastic revolution. What happens to the radiance and brilliance of the 'bright Titan' (Book 1, line 299) Hyperion? What are the main changes in the world now the Olympians are in ascendance? It has been said that Hyperion is both a gigantic elegy and a hymn to the future, that although Keats is primarily concerned with evolutionary progress, his sympathies are still engaged by the spectacle of fallen greatness. Is there any specific evidence that the poem is both elegiac and forward looking?

Hyperion has also been described as a poem which seeks to assert the authority of a poet and explores the role of the poet in relation to history. How is Apollo associated with poetic power and in what way does he become a type of the negatively capable poet? What is the lesson he reads in Mnemosyne's face? It is through 'knowledge enormous' that Apollo becomes a god, and this knowledge seems to be primarily of suffering. How might the aquisition of such knowledge be related to both a widened and deepened human consciousness and to poetic power? If Apollo represents some kind of new creative force, why is Saturn now rendered impotent? 'But cannot I create? / Cannot I form?' (Book 1, lines 141-2)

The Fall of Hyperion 1819 (1857)

The poet-speaker dreams of meeting Moneta. She allows him to witness through her revealed memories the fall of the Titans.

Canto 1 begins with the poet-speaker's declaration that everyone has the capacity to dream. The dreams of the poet, however, are superior to the dreams of fanatics and savages. He then describes how he found himself, in a dream, within a luxuriant forest full of exotic trees, fragrant blossoms and the gentle showers of fountains. Here, before an empty arbour, he discovers the remnants of a feast of summer fruits. He eats there and pledges' all the mortals of the world with a glass of transparent juice. (Canto 1, lines 40-44) This contains the drug that launches him into another world. He falls into a swoon, awakening to find himself in a far sterner landscape where there is an abandoned temple. Approaching the altar, he sees a staircase. A voice warns 'If thou canst not ascend / These steps, die on that marble where art thou' (Canto 1, lines 108-9). In spite of the icy cold which threatens to destroy him, he manages to gain the steps and is restored by their life-giving powers. At the top, he encounters a veiled shadow, the keeper of an ancient flame. He is told he has been saved because those who climb are aware of the world's miseries and concerned to change them. The shadow nevertheless considers him a dreaming thing aspiring to a visionary experience. He responds that not all poets are ineffectual, that a poet is a sage, a humanist, and physician to all men, although he doubts that he himself actually fills this role. The shadow tells him that the true poet and the dreamer are are distinct and that he is only of the dreamer-tribe. The he rejects, however, attacking such false poets.

The Shadow then reveals herself as Moneta, a counterpart of Mnemosyne from Hyperion, and unveils herself, revealing a face of unearthly pallor and immortal suffering. The poet longs to see what high tragedy is being acted out within the 'dark secret Chambers of her skull' (Canto, line 278). Moneta agrees to reveal to him her memories of the fall of the Titans and at this point Keats picks up the story of the defeated Saturn from the first Hyperion.

Canto 2, which is unfinished, opens with Moneta's description of the palace of Hyperion. Moneta and the poet witness the arrival of the sun-god and the narrative breaks off.

The central concern of 'The Fall of Hyperion' is the nature of the true poet. The ability to dream. Keats now considers universal, the visionary capacity shared by 'every man whose soul is not a sod' (Canto 1, line 13). The poet achieves greatness not because of any special insight but because of his gift of language and his ability to share the world's sorrows, to participate imaginatively in all human existance and comfort man in his anguish. The poet-speaker's progress within the poem is towards this necessary full awareness of human suffering. In this context, consider why are we given two different dreams: one in a lush forest and one in a bleak and austere landscape. By participating in Moneta's grief, the narrator becomes both a fellow sufferer and a poet to whom the sorrows of the Titans foreshadow the miseries of the world. Compare the notion of progression found here, as well as the movement from garden of delight to imposing temple, with Keats's parable of life as a 'Mansion of Many Apartments' as outlined in the letter to John Hamilton Reynolds of 3 May 1818

One factor that complicates any reading of the poem is the uncertain and sometimes contradictory attitude towards dreams. Keats's new version of the story of Hyperion is cast in the form of a dream vision, a literary device that dates back to such medieval writers as Chaucer and Dante. Paradoxically, however, within this dream vision there is an attack on dreams. As Moneta says in some of Keat's most famous lines:

The poet and the dreamer are distinct
Diverse, sheer opposites, antipodes.
The one pours out a balm upon the world,
The other vexes it

-(Canto 1, lines 199-202)

Look specifically at the initial dialogue between Keats and Moneta and consider the various attempts to define the poet and distingush him from the dreamer. Are these attempts ultimately successful or repeatedly frustrated? Does the paradox that an attack on dreamers takes places within a dream help to clarify exactly what Keats is claiming to be the Function of the true poet? Does the poem ever fully clarify the difference between the dreams of the poet and the dreams of the fanatic or savage described in the Induction?

Moneta, the Latin counterpart of the Greek Mnemosyne in Hyperion, is goddess of Memory. She is one of the fallen Titans, now sole priestess of Saturn's desolation. For the poet, she functions as a Dantean guide: as Virgil and Beatrice guide Dante through hell, purgatory, and heaven, so she guides this poet through a kind of classical purgatory where the deposed Titans mourn the loss of empire. Moneta has been called the most powerful female fugure in Keats's poetry, and also the mast articulate. It has also been suggested that the poet-speaker here is Keats's weakest male; what evidence is there for this? Moneta can also be seen as maternal, and the mother figure is often considered the most powerful feminine figure in Romantic poetry generally. In complete contrast to the sexually desirable female immortals of many earlier poems, Moneta is the mother with 'minist'ring' power (Canto 1, line 96) who is the agent of rebirth and self-knowledge, rather than the sexually threatening lever who must be controlled. What other characteristics can be ascribed to Moneta?: Is she the admonitory and judgemental, consoling and inspiring or perhaps all of these? Moneta is in some ways also the ideal poet: she is able to contain and endure suffering and still teach others its lessons. This is most notably suggested in the impressive lines which describe her face (Canto 1, lines 256-71), lines which encapsulate one of the essential beliefs of the later Keats: the necessity and beauty of suffering.

Hyperion, influenced by Milton, is structured as an epic with a detached narrator of a herioc story. In 'The Fall of Hyperion', epic objectivity is replaces by intense lyricism, epic fable by personal myth. There are far fewer epithets, epic similies, and catalogues in this reworking of the myth. The later poem is generally less crowded with imagery, less concerned with the patterning of lines, and the language is more colloquial, more relaxed. Elements specificall inspired by Paradise Lost, including the debate of the fallen Titans which echoes the fallen angels in hell, are abandoned. This moves the focus to suffering, eliminating hope that remained in the earlier version. Even Saturn's defiance is downplayed, and his speech foil of words like 'feebleness' and (repeated twelve times) 'moan'. What is the effect of the descriptions of the fallen Titans being presented by the sorrowing Moneta rather than the detached epic narrator of Hyperion? 'The Fall of Hyperion' is more influences by Dante than Milton, in such matters as the use of the dream vision and the guide and the replacement of Miltonic books with Dantean cantos. While in Hyperion, Keats is interested in change, here he is interested in the effects of change, with the way in which beauty and sorrow coexist, with the nature of the poet; the fall of the Titans is consequently no longer the focus of the poem.

As a means of identifying some specific examples of the differences suggested above, compare the ways in which Hyperion himself is represented in the two poems. Alternatively, examine the corresponding sections which describe the arrival of Thea, her exchanges with Saturn and their departure to meet their fellow Titans. (Hyperion, 1, lines 22-157; The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream, 1, lines 327- 468). Many of the lines are the same, but the meaning and tone of the two passages are quite different. Such a comparison also demonstrates more generally how Keats's style has developed and could suggest the direction his work might have taken if he had lived longer.

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