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This was the last ever seen of them. A sudden sea-storm came shortly after they started, with a dense fog. The little boat was probably run down by some larger vessel. After several days of waiting — terrible days for Mrs. Shelley and Mrs. Williams - the bodies were found washed up, e-beaten and almost fleshless, on the shore.
What was left of the two bodies was burned on a funeral-pile built on the sandy shore, and their ashes were buried in the cemetery in Florence. Byron was foremost in this strange burial rite, aided by Leigh Hunt and by Captain Trelawney, who was a friend of both the dead.
Thus, in the real opening of life, at the point where what was best in him seemed ready or fruition, Shelley died. Men of much less genius have gained a larger fame and held a higher place in the annals of literature. But as he is one of the most poetic of poets, he will always be loved by those of his own guild ; his thought will take deep root in the hearts of other poets, and serve for their inspiration. For himself he died too young; the promise of his life was thwarted by his early death. Up to the time of his death he had been restless and unsettled in spirit. The seething waves of thought in his brain should have had time to cool and settle into tranquillity. Dying at thirty, he had not reached the serene heights where the poet ought to dwell. If he had lived longer, I feel sure time would have ripened him into a grand maturity, would have taught him trust and patience, and brought him to a calm which in his brief life he had not reached.
ON JOHN KEATS.
NE of Shelley's most touching and beautiful poems is
his Adonais, the lament for Keats. I wish it not too long for me to quote it all; I can give you here only a few verses :
“Oh, weep for Adonais ! — The quick dreams,
Round the cold heart, where, after their sweet pain,
“One from a lucid urn of starry dew
Washed his light limbs, as if embalming them;
A greater loss with one which was more weak,
“Another Splendor on his mouth alit,
Of moonlight vapor, which the cold night clips,
“ All he had loved, and moulded into thought,
Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,
The tenderness Shelley shows for Keats in this beautiful elegiac poem, which reminds me of Spenser's lament for Sidney, is made more touching by the fact that when Shelley's poor disfigured body was found washed up on the shore near which he had been drowned, one pocket of his jacket had a volume of Keats in it, doubled back, as if when death clutched the frail boat, the reader had hastily thrust away his book, in the middle of some favorite line.
JOHN KEATs's life is sad from first to last. He was born with the sensibility of a poet, which feels a hurt
1795-1820 at every pore. He lost his mother, whom he loved most dearly, when a schoolboy; he was apprenticed to a surgeon at fifteen, and the boy, who felt all sorts of fancies flowering in his mind and asking for expression, was kept for three years pounding drugs in a mortar and putting up his master's prescriptions. During this time he read The Fairy Queen, that treasure-house for younger poets,- and spent his spare time in imitating the Spenserian stanza or in writing verses from his own heart. When he was twenty-two he published his poem of Endymion, which the reviews pounced upon with their usual savageness. The leading reviews — the Quarterly and the Edinburgh
— remind one in those days of the giant in Mother Goose's Melodies. They seem to cry,
“ Fee! faw! fum!
I must have some here in my can!” On which they went to work and cut him up, heart, blood, bones and all, in their pages. In Keats's case the process of cutting up was fatal. He could not bear such treatment, or, like Wordsworth, despise it, in serene faith in his own power. It is generally believed that this severe criticism was one cause of his death.
Nevertheless, in spite of the critics, Endymion was a great poem, - a poem that in a short time the critics (who are frequently very poor oracles till popular judgment comes to set them right) were obliged to pronounce great.
Keats's disappointment at the way his poem was treated was bitter, but it did not destroy his power to work. Already a blood-vessel had broken in his lungs, and signs of consumption began to show themselves; but only two years later he published another volume, containing Hyperion, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and other poems.
Among the shorter lyrics was that most exquisite Ode to a
No hungry generations tread thee down;
In ancient days by emperor and clown;
The same that oft-times hath
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” These were Keats's last words. His disease gained on him rapidly, and when only a little over twenty-five years he died. But his life as a poet was more rounded and complete than that of many older poets. I have not that feeling about his early death that I have for Shelley. Keats sang his songs and died; and they are so perfect in their
way that we do not complain there are so few, nor feel that life could have added much to the richness of his genius. There are no signs of any conflicts in his spirit which needed to be outlived before he could write at his best, as in Shelley. His poetry is not a field on which ideas are at battle, or theories are displayed. They are beautiful fancies, or old tales woven into melodious, pictorial verses.
His poetry is the most perfect of word-painting. One can almost see colors in the printed lines of his Endymion or The Eve of St. Agnes. No poet could better use words whose sound fits the meaning, such words as lush,”
murmurous,” and others, in which the poet speaks to the sense as well as the thought. No poet since Shakespeare was more an artist in the use of the adjective words which give vividness and color. For example, - an “azure-lidded
, sleep," the “poppied warmth of sleep," "embalmed darkness," “the silver-snarling trumpet": his poetry is full of such instances. He is, however, much more than a mere word-poet, and has seasons of strength in which one feels as if a breeze from the sixteenth century had passed over
his pages. As you read some of his lines you are borne over the artificial fields that lie between to the poetry of Marlowe and Chapman; you hear a strain in Endymion that resembles Marlowe's Hero and Leander.
But melancholy is most of all the mark he set upon his poetry, a mark which has been copied by so many later versifiers that it has seemed as if grief and pining were the poet's themes. In these later poets this is often affectation; in Keats it was genuine, - the note struck by the sensitive spirit over whom hung the shadow of early death.
Before he died — and death was welcome as a release from pain and weariness of living he said : feel the daisies growing over me." And on his tomb he ordered inscribed : “Here lies one whose name was writ in water." False prophecy! Every year since his death has set him higher among the crowned poets of the world.
It is difficult to quote from Keats. He has written few short poems, and his longer poems will not bear taking by fragments. His Eve of St. Agnes is one of the most beautiful love-stories told in verse in our language. I can give you only a few bits here and there, as it is too long to quote entire.
The story opens with a scene of revelry on St. Agnes' Eve, in which Madeline is the chief figure. Madeline's heart has brooded all day on the stories of St. Agnes' Eve, how maidens who did certain charms might have a vision, at night, of their true lovers, who would appear in their sleep, offering all dainties to eat, –
“ If ceremonies due they did aright,
Nor look behind, nor sideways; but require Of Heaven, with upward eyes, for all that they desire." Meantime Madeline, gliding through the dance, while her thoughts are elsewhere, is watched by her young lover, Porphyro, with whose house her father and kinsfolk are at war, and who, at peril of his life, has stolen here, hoping only to get sight of Madeline.