KEATS himself wrote with regard to Paradise Lost, 'There is always a great charm in the openings of great poems.' Endymion opens with a line that is a household word and continues in a vein of rich, quiet beauty which sets the tone of the whole poem. In this first section there is the germ of all the beauty that is Endymion; 'sweet dreams,' and 'quiet breathing,' 'the sun, the moon, Trees old and young,' 'daffodils with the green world they live in,' 'clear rills,' 'the mid forest brake,' 'fair musk-rose blooms,' and 'the mighty dead, All lovely tales that we have heard and read.'
The story of Endymion has a dew upon it. It has not the actuality of the later work: the beings in it are not strongly-coloured, bold and definite but shadowed forth in 'dim dreams' and only occasionally emerge clear and bright from the shifting many-hued cloud of youthful imaginings. In 'The Eve of St. Agnes' though a stanza can be admired for its own beauty, it is a stanza of the complete poem and must be related to what went before and what follows, but here the accomplished passages can be picked out from the body of the work. And yet, fluid, unequal as Endymion is, it is an entity, a whole informed with an individual and rich poetic imagination; 'a little Region to wander in,' a world as complete and touched with new life as any Spenser made. Perhaps to realize the full enchantment of this dream-world we must read Endymion in youth when we can take in our stride the immature and 'mawkish' passages and travel with the shepherd-prince on earth, in air and water, with that ease of imagination we brought earlier to The Arabian Nights or to our own loved fairy-tales. The maturer mind will pick and choose, finding in its wanderings 'food for a Week's stroll in Summer'; a delight in mirrored nature and in passages of wrought poetry and pregnant thought.
Keats himself intended the poem to be an allegory. Endeavours have been made to work the fable out, but never with complete success. It is generally accepted, however, that the main thread is the quest of the poet after spiritual beauty.1 To each of us the poem will yield something different: to me it appears that there is in it too the eternal quest for the love of woman. This was a strong element in the romantics and many, like poor Shelley, did not get beyond 'the desire____________________