The Unfinished Masterpiece

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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The Unfinished Masterpiece

Postby Matt » Sat Jun 19, 2004 5:47 pm

I've just read Hyperion again. I just wanted to vent and make public (as public as you can get on a John Keats forum) my frustration that its unfinished!!!

Sure unlike Endymion, Hyperion is much more concentrated on telling the a mythical story rather than exploring profound themes or ideas but nevertheless its excellent. Contrary to what I just said, Oceanus' reasoning behind the Titans' defeat at the hand of the Olympians seems to bare some reflection on the downfall of the Augustan style of poetry at the hands of the Romantic era.

The only part of Hyperion that confuses me to some extent is the section lines 200-270. Line 205 tells of how Hyperions palace doors 'flew ope' and Hyperion goes on to enter through these doors. I am confused because from my reading of it Hyperion is in his palace (or at least some palace?!) already at this point. What is the threshold of the West? And then once he has entered these doors what is it exactly that Hyperion does? Or feels? etc

Apart from this confusion which has become more frustrating for me thinking about it I think its a really enjoyable narrative poem.

I'm wondering if any of you have any thoughts or ideas on this. Perhaps someone may be able to answer my questions too? Stephen? Despondence?

And also could someone give me a brief description of the Augustan poets, what they stood for, and why Keats was so prone to criticising their style?

This would be much appreciated.


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Hyperion questions

Postby Saturn » Sat Jun 19, 2004 11:25 pm

Hi Matt.

About the "threshold of the west", I had to think a while to figure that one out, then it just came to me - of course Hyperion (the pre-Olympian Sun God) would have his palace in the west - the sun, after rising at dawn from the east, sets in the west -simple!

Strictly speaking, Keats is altering the usual classical version where all the gods live on Olympus and set off on their journeys from there, but the ancients frequently changed the details of the most famous stories and Keats amendation is logical and interesting - does Hyperion have one palace in the east (morning) and the west (evening) ?

On the 'Augustan' poets - the Augustan poetry style was most influential from the mid-seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth century when the baroque classical mania was at it's height. This can also be clearly seen in the art and architecture of the period which is almost wholly classical in influence.

The original 'Augustan' poets (Augustan taken the name of the first emperor of Rome) were poets as diverse as Horace, Vergil, Tibullus, Ovid, and Catullus, some of whom enjoyed the patronage of the emperor through his friend Maecanas, the great literary patron.

The later 'Augustan' poets in Europe looked back to the Roman Empire, giving it a 'dignified' nobility which is reflected in their poetry, some of which is erotic and patriotic, at other times restrained, almost polished too much.

Some of the most influential were men like the French dramtist Racine and the great English poets Alexander Pope and John Dryden.
They translated the great Greek and Roman classics, and tried to infuse in them their own ideas of what the antique world was like, sometimes glossing over the (to them) 'baser' passions and enthusiasms of the ancients.

In fact the period of history from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century in Britain onwards is often referred to by historians as the 'Augustan' age, in recognition of the belief that that period of the British Empire's growth showed remarkable similarities to the period of the Principate of Augustus when the Roman Empire reached it's zenith.

That is not to say that they were not all great poets, but just that by Keats' time the classical revival was not as strong as it once was, and that, after the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, poetry (or English poetry at least) would never be the same again.

Keats recognised that, at times, the 'Augustan' poets neglected the heart and the soul, in favour of an aloofness of style which distanced the reader and the author.
In his own work, he engages with the reader head-on, which is one of the new ideas of the so-called 'romantic' movement.

Hope I have done justice to the writers of that period; I think I've been quite fair.
Last edited by Saturn on Tue Jun 29, 2004 9:15 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Despondence » Sun Jun 20, 2004 11:50 am

That was my interpretation of it too. Since I wrote this answer yesterday (offline), I'll post it anyway.

My reading of it is that the preceding part (164-200) merely states that Hyperion still holds his throne, followed by a description of his palace and some vague allusions to his daily routine. Being the sun god, he sees to the rising and setting of the sun (269-270), with the latter taking place in the "sleepy west" (190). The mechanics of it is unclear to me, but in 203-204 it seems Hyperion is just returning to his palace from bringing the sun below the horizon in the west, thus "leaving twilight in the rear, Came slope upon the threshold of the west."

Some poets have taken Hyperion for the sun itself; others as synonymous with Helios (Hyperion's son by Thea), who steered the solar chariot from east to west, wearing the solar rays on his head (sure beats beaver hats), and, some have it, sailed during the night around the earth on the waters of oceanus and arrived again in the east at dawn. Keats seemingly has his own take on this, but I'm not quite sure what it is.

After entering his palace in a Bad Mood, raving on about the fall of Saturn and the other Titans, something strange happens in 259-263 (maybe this is what you're confused about too?). The feeling Hyperion is experiencing could either be, as actually indicated, just a lapse resulting from all that venting of anger and "over-strained might." Or, just speculating idly now, it could have been the onset of what happened to Saturn as he lost his identity and sat down on a stone to mope (234: "Saturn is fallen, am I too to fall?"). The description also bears some resemblance to what happened to the poet/dreamer in the "Fall of Hyperion." (i.e. near-death).

But I guess the first interpretation is more likely - although I know not why, whatever it was, went away as quickly as it came. I think that passage is a bit strange, but maybe I'm over-interpreting it now. I'd be interested to hear others' interpretations of this passage.

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