English Bards and Grecian Marbles: The Relationship between Sculpture and Poetry Especially in the Romantic Period

By Stephen A. Larrabee | Go to book overview

IX. KEATS KEATS, THE "GREEK"

Shelley is reputed to have said that John Keats was a Greek," though he was the son of a livery-stable keeper.1 And, indeed, with very little training in the classical languages he surpassed most of his contemporaries in, writing on mythological themes and classical antiquities. Byron recognized the fact, writing in Don Juan (Canto XI, stanza lx) that

[ Keats] without Greek
Contrived to talk about the Gads of late
Much as they might have been supposed to speak.

Landor termed him "the most Grecian of all." Moreover, he found a classical (and Shakespearean) felicity of expression in Keats's poetry; he belonged with the Greek authors: "A few hours in the Poecile with the Tragedians would have made him all he wanted --majestically sedate."2

Yet the "Greekness" of Keats has always led to difference of opinion. With Wordsworth's description of the "Hymn to Pan" in Endymion as "a very pretty piece of Paganism"--despite the tone of disapproval, an admission that Keats had achieved a definitely Grecian or pagan quality one balances Lockhart and Wilson's attack on the poet as no Grecian but "a young Cockney rhymester, dreaming a fantastic dream at the full of the moon," and their statement that Endymion "has just as much to do with Greece as with 'old Tartary the fierce.'"3 In answer to the Quarterly critics John Hamilton Reyn

____________________
1
Richard Henry Horne, A New Spirit of the Age ( 1844), II, 8.
2
Quoted by Horne, I, 75.
3
See the discussions of the reviews of Endymion, as in Amy Lowell, John Keats ( Boston and New York, 1925), I, 346 ff. For the Wordsworthian and "romantic" character of the "Hymn to Pan," see Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry, pp. 101-2, and H. W. Garrod, Keats ( 1926), p. 81. Still, in referring to Wordsworth's influence on the "Hymn," one must not neglect

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