The Consecrated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form

The Consecrated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form

The Consecrated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form

The Consecrated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form

Excerpt

Sir Thomas Browne apologizes, in the Epistle Dedicatory of The Garden of Cyrus, for the oddity of his book. The baroque little treatise which brought Coleridge to the point of seeing 'quincunxes in heaven above, quincunxes in earth below, and quincunxes in the water beneath the earth; quincunxes in deity, quincunxes in the mind of man, quincunxes in bones, in the optic nerves, in roots of trees, in leaves, in petals, in every thing', is indeed no common invention. It spans times, sciences, speculations; ranging 'into extraneous Things, and many Parts of Art and Nature'. Browne defends these excursions, and with them the general plan of his book, on the plea of necessity. It is mid-seventeenth century: for over two hundred years now books have been pouring from the presses of Europe. There are few topics left to discuss: and originality is out of the question. 'The Field of Knowledge hath been so traced, it is hard to spring any thing new.' And so one is driven into eccentricity, into extravagances. 'In this multiplicity of writing, bye and barren Themes are best fitted for invention.' Such themes 'allow excursions, and venially admit of collaterall truths, though at some distance from their principals. Wherein if we sometimes take wide liberty, we are not single, but erre by great example.

I have taken comfort from Sir Thomas's own great example in writing the following pages. At three centuries' distance from Browne, we may feel even more ruefully than he that the field of knowledge has been traced and re-traced; it is hard indeed, and most of all perhaps in the stony corner that we call literary criticism, to spring anything new. My theme is Keats: not a bye and barren theme in itself, but neither was Browne's theme of gardens: the oddity lay in treating 'so spruce a subject' within the quincuncial framework. The oddity of my own treatment lies in the . . .

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