Endymion by John Keats.

Illustration by Robert Anning Bell for the 1897 edition of Poems by John Keats.
Endymion is a poem, about 4050 lines and divided into four books, written by John Keats and first published in April 1818. It's based on the Greek myth of Endymion (Ἐνδυμίων), a shepherd who is loved by the moon goddess Cynthia, known more commonly as Selene or Artemis (Ἄρτεμις).

The poem begins with the much-quoted lines,
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
In this, the first book, Keats writes of the permanency of beauty - "Nor do we merely feel these essences / For one short hour; no..." and from there goes on to write about his hero Endymion, starting first by setting the scene - a pastoral vision like that in Daphnis and Chloe (by Longus, 2nd - 3rd Century A.D.) with a forest and river, and fields full of sheep "unworried / By angry wolf". The shepherds are praying to Pan, the god of shepherds and flocks: it is morning: 
Full in the middle of this pleasantness
There stood a marble altar, with a tress
Of flowers budded newly; and the dew
Had taken fairy phantasies to strew
Daisies upon the sacred sward last eve,
And so the dawned light in pomp receive.
For 'twas the morn: Apollo's upward fire
Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
A melancholy spirit well might win
Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
Into the winds: rain-scented eglantine
Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run
To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass;
Man's voice was on the mountains; and the mass
Of nature's lives and wonders puls'd tenfold,
To feel this sun-rise and its glories old.
Endymion, however, though present is not participating: he stands "wan, and pale, and with an awed face, / Among his brothers of the mountain chase." His sister Peona leads him away to rest and "Soon was he quieted to slumbrous rest". Keats writes,
O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
That broodest o'er the troubled sea of the mind
Till it is hush'd and smooth! O unconfin'd
Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
Echoing grottos, full of tumbling waves
And moonlight; aye, to all the mazy world
Of silvery enchantment!–who, upfurl'd
Beneath thy drowsy wing a triple hour,
But renovates and lives?–Thus, in the bower,
Endymion was calm'd to life again.
"And as she spake, into her face there came 
Light, as reflected from a silver flame: ... 
in her eyes a brighter day 
Dawn'd blue and full of love."
by W. J. Neatby.
On waking, Endymion tells Peona (in one of my favourite passages) that he is lovesick for Cynthia:
And lo! from opening clouds, I saw emerge
The loveliest moon, that ever silver'd o'er
A shell for Neptune's goblet: she did soar
So passionately bright, my dazzled soul
Commingling with her argent spheres did roll
Through clear and cloudy, even when she went
At last into a dark and vapoury tent–
Whereat, methought, the lidless-eyed train
Of planets all were in the blue again.
To commune with those orbs, once more I rais'd
My sight right upward: but it was quite dazed
By a bright something, sailing down apace,
Making me quickly veil my eyes and face:
Again I look'd, and, O ye deities,
Who from Olympus watch our destinies!
Whence that completed form of all completeness?
Whence came that high perfection of all sweetness?
Speak, stubborn earth, and tell me where, O where
Hast thou a symbol of her golden hair?
Not oat-sheaves drooping in the western sun;
Not–thy soft hand, fair sister! let me shun
Such follying before thee–yet she had,
Indeed, locks bright enough to make me mad;
And they were simply gordian'd up and braided,
Leaving, in naked comeliness, unshaded,
Her pearl round ears, white neck, and orbed brow;
The which were blended in, I know not how,
With such a paradise of lips and eyes,
Blush-tinted cheeks, half smiles, and faintest sighs,
That, when I think thereon, my spirit clings
And plays about its fancy, till the stings
Of human neighbourhood envenom all.
Unto what awful power shall I call?
To what high fane?–Ah! see her hovering feet,
More bluely vein'd, more soft, more whitely sweet
Than those of sea-born Venus, when she rose
From out her cradle shell. The wind out-blows
Her scarf into a fluttering pavilion;
'Tis blue, and over-spangled with a million
Of little eyes, as though thou wert to shed,
Over the darkest, lushest blue-bell bed,
Handfuls of daisies."–"Endymion, how strange!
Dream within dream!"–"She took an airy range,
And then, towards me, like a very maid,
Came blushing, waning, willing, and afraid,
And press'd me by the hand: Ah! 'twas too much;
Methought I fainted at the charmed touch,
Yet held my recollection, even as one
Who dives three fathoms where the waters run
Gurgling in beds of coral: for anon,
I felt upmounted in that region
Where falling stars dart their artillery forth,
And eagles struggle with the buffeting north
That balances the heavy meteor-stone;–
Felt too, I was not fearful, nor alone,
But lapp'd and lull'd along the dangerous sky.
Soon, as it seem'd, we left our journeying high,
And straightway into frightful eddies swoop'd;
Such as ay muster where grey time has scoop'd
Huge dens and caverns in a mountain's side:
There hollow sounds arous'd me, and I sigh'd
To faint once more by looking on my bliss–
I was distracted; madly did I kiss
The wooing arms which held me, and did give
My eyes at once to death: but 'twas to live,
To take in draughts of life from the gold fount
Of kind and passionate looks; to count, and count
The moments, by some greedy help that seem'd
A second self, that each might be redeem'd
And plunder'd of its load of blessedness.
Ah, desperate mortal! I ev'n dar'd to press
Her very cheek against my crowned lip,
And, at that moment, felt my body dip
Into a warmer air: a moment more,
Our feet were soft in flowers. There was store
Of newest joys upon that alp. Sometimes
A scent of violets, and blossoming limes,
Loiter'd around us; then of honey cells,
Made delicate from all white-flower bells;
And once, above the edges of our nest,
An arch face peep'd,–an Oread as I guess'd.
And so the poem goes on with Endymion trying to seek Cynthia. His journeys take him to the underworld where he meets Venus and Adonis (whose story is found in Ovid's Metamorphoses, as well as Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis (1593), and other characters from Greek mythology. It is a strange and beautiful poem, but not well-received on publication. One reviewer wrote,
It is not that Mr. Keats, (if that be his real name, for we almost doubt that any man in his senses would put his real name to such a rhapsody,) it is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius—he has all these; but he is unhappily a disciple of the new school of what has been somewhere called Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language. [source]
And another,
This author is a copyist of Mr. Hunt [Leigh Hunt]; but he is more unintelligible, almost as rugged, twice as diffuse, and ten times more tiresome and absurd than his prototype... [source]
It is a difficult poem, particularly to one such as myself who is so unfamiliar with the Romantics. It's hard to 'process' it, if that makes sense, but it was very easy to be carried away by it and love certain passages and quotes which were so beautifully written it gave me chills. Keats wrote in the preface, "it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public", suggesting he found the foundations of the poem "too sandy", but regardless I enjoyed this retelling / reinterpretation of Greek myths and legends. I think perhaps the story wasn't quite as strong as I was expecting, but all the same it was a great read. I've not read much of Keats, just this and his 1817 poems, but though this was a bit of a struggle (a beautiful struggle, of course), I'm still looking forward to his later works, especially Isabella, or, the Pot of Basil inspired by a story in Boccaccio's Decameron.

For now, though, some illustrations. These are by Robert Anning Bell for the 1897 edition of Poems by John Keats published by George Bell & Sons.

********* 
Further Reading
Next week for the Deal Me In Challenge: The Patron and the Crocus by Virginia Woolf.

Comments

  1. So much brilliant poetry in such a tragically short life. Keats -- other than Blake -- may be my favorite poet of all time.

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    1. I think he's going to be my favourite as well :)

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  2. Oh, thanks for being a Keats reviewer before me; I have his Ode to a Nightingale to review, as I'm a little behind on my Deal Me In Challenge. I'm not looking forward to it because his poems are not easy, or at least, I haven't found them to be. Loved the poem though.

    Aargh! Another reference to Metamorphoses! You see what I mean?! I should just stop reading everything and pick it up. :-)

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    1. Lol, well writing about it was not something I relished after getting To a Skylark so wrong! :)

      When you do get to Metamorphoses I'll be tempted to join you if that's ok - I really loved it and I'd like to go back to it and delve a little deeper. I'm focusing on Decameron now (I was going to post about it today but I've not had the time so it'll wait til next week - only writing about the first part, btw, I've not finished it!) but if you were starting Ovid later in the year I may join you :)

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  3. You're absolutely right, this is a difficult poem. It lacks a certain level cohesiveness and meanders a bit too much. As much as I love Keats, I can never manage to get to the end. The first two stanzas are some of the most beautiful poetry I have ever read though.

    Have you seen the movie 'Bright Star' by any chance?

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    1. I have - I loved it, but I could never watch it again. So sad - I was depressed for weeks after believe it or not!

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  4. I have a book of Keats' poetry. It doesn't include Endymion. My favorite is Isabella and the Pot of Basil for the reason that it goes with the Pre Raphaelite paintings by William Holman Hunt and John Everitt Milais. My other favorite is La Belle Dame Sans Merci because of Waterhouse's painting. I guess the Pre Raphaelites are why I read Keats.

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    1. Same here, actually - I was introduced to all the paintings before the poetry. I love the Pre-Raphs! :)

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  5. Wow, this is a great post. Thank you ever so much.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, thank you :)

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