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Keats died at kome on the 27th of Dec. 1820 according to Shelley's Preface, on Feb. 23 1821 according to Lord Houghton's Memoirs, on Feb. 27 according to Mr W. M. Rossetti's Prefatory Notice, on Feb. 24 according to Hole's Brief Biog. Dict., on Feb. 21 according to Leigh Hunt's Autobiography. Shelley, then living at Pisa, was moved to lament him by profound sorrow and indignation. He had seen in Keats' earlier works much that was repugnant to his own taste ; but he considered “the fragment of 'Hyperion' as second to nothing that was ever produced by a writer of the same years." His indignation was stirred by the report that Keats' illness was caused by the attacks of certain ruffianly reviewers in England-a report that had little or no foundation; not that his reviewers had not been ruffianly, but Keats had too much strength of mind to be “snuffed out” by any article.
With this Elegy should be compared, or contrasted, the Epitaph on Bion commonly ascribed to Moschus, Milton's Lycidas, Tennyson's In Memoriam. A careful study will show Shelley's intimate acquaintance with the Greek piece just named, as also his familiarity with the first Idyll of Theocritus, and the last Eclogue of Virgil.
187. 3. So dear a head. A classicism ; comp. Horace's “tam cari capitis” (Od. I. xxiv.). So frequently the Gr. kúpa. In English cattle are commonly counted as so many “head”; hence the use of the word in the Dunciad:
“ A hundred head of Aristotle's friends."
5. thy obscure compeers = thy fellow hours not made memorable by any such great sad event as has marked you and is ever to be mourned by you.
10. Comp. Theocr. i. 66, Virg. Ecl. x. 9, 10, Milton's Lyc. 50–55.
12. Urania. In the Greek mythology Urania was the Muse of Astronomy, “and was represented with a celestial globe, to which she points with a small staff” (Smith's Cliss. Dict.}. But Milton, who uses the old mythology in a very independent manrer, sometimes re-shaping or at least re-adjusting it (see note to L’Allegro, 1. 2), makes Urania literally, “the Heavenly one") the spirit of the loftiest poetry; see Par. Lost, vii. 1—20, especially the earlier lines:
“Descend from heaven, Urania, by that name
If rightly thou art called,” &c. where the “if” shews he was consciously using the name in a new sease. Comp. “Heavenly Muse” in P. L. i. 6. Shelley follows Milton in this changed nomenclature, as indeed in other matters, for he was an intense admirer of that great master (see below 11. 30-46). Comp. also Tennyson's In Memoriam, xxxvii. Horace in his dirge for his friend Quintilius invokes Melpomene.
13. Comp. Virgil's picture of Cyrene amidst her nymphs.
“Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with Easeful Death,
To take into the air my quiet breath.
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
In such an ecstasy!
To thy high requiem become a sod.”
“Silence, too enamoured of that voice,
Locks its mute music in her rugged cell.” 188. 29. [What part of the sentence is pride ?]
32. See any history of Charles II.'s reign.
36. Who are the other two? Homer and Virgil, or Homer and Dante? Probably Shelley means the former pair. Comp. Dryden's lines, “Three poets in three distant ages born, &c." See note to Gray's Progress of Poesy, 1. 81. The Drama is not included in these surveys, or Sophocles and Shakspere could not be omitted.
37. This is a very obscure stanza. It seems to mean: not all poets have essayed such lofty flights as Milton, i.e. attempted Epic poetry, but some have wisely taken a lower level, i.e. attempted Lyric poetry, and are still remembered as Lyric poets, as for instance Gray or Burns; others, attempting a middle flight, have been cut off in the midst of their work, as Spenser, whom
“Ere he ended his melodious song
In Heaven's faire Quire."
48. A graceful reference to one of Keats' own poems; see Isabella, when the “sad iaiden has found her lover's body, and carried the head away with her, and tenderly dressed and shrouded it: she
“For its tomb did choose
but in peace Hung over her sweet Basil ever more,
And moisten'd it with tears unto the core." 49. true love tears. See Rich. 11. V. i. 10. True love is a corruption of troth love. 51. thy extreme hope = spes extrema.
52. blew. This blow, Lat. floreo, connected with bloom, blossom, Germ. blühen, is quite distinct from blow, Lat. flo.
(What is there noticeable in the word order?]
See Childe Harold, IV. lxxviii. et seq.
“He who hath bent him o'er the dead,” &c. 63. liquid = calm, serere; as in Georg. iv. 59, “ per æstatem liquidam,” Æn. X. 272 “liquida nocte." 189. 65. twilight chamber. See Hymn Nat. 188, Il Penser. 133.
67. trace = to mark out, to conduct him along, lead by a track.
30. Does after their sweet pain mean after their birth-after the pains they endured when first feeling the joy of being? Birth was all that heart was to give thein.
81, nor. The Pisa Edition reads or.
“The vapours weep their burden to the ground.” With the whole simile, comp.
“Whose thunder is its knell.” 91. starry dew. Comp. Tennyson's Talking Oak:
"All starry culmination drop
Balm dews to bathe thy feet.” The stars were supposed to distil dew. So from the moon "vaporous drops profound” were thought to “come to ground;" see Macbeth, III. v. 25.
93. profuse. Obs. the accent. So in the Ode to a Skylark, l. 5.
“ αλλ' ώ φίλη δέσποινα χρυσέας κόμης,
ανάδημα δέξαι χειρός ευσεβούς απο."
99. = and dull the fierce fire of her grief by contact with his death-cold cheek. As if the heart-flame would be allayed by a physical chill!
barbed = radically bearded. By a metaphor the jags on the heads of an arrow or “ fishing-hook”-“the points which stand backward to hinder them from being extracted" (Johnson)-were called “beards”; so barbed = fanged, and so generally = piercing, cruel.
190. 100. alit. Anc. Eng. alihton. The simple verb occurs in the Book of Common Prayer: “O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us."
102. i.e. which made it welcome to both the minds and the hearts of men, that won it approval from both their careful judgments and their warm, eager feelings.
105. quenched its caress = chilled the warm kiss it gave. The splendour kissod; but Death, rather than Adonais, received the kiss. 107. clips = embraces, contains, holds. So in Shakspere, as Ant. and Cleop. V. ii. 362 :
“No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
A pair so famous.” Anct. Eng. clyppan. 113. See the Song to Sorrow in Endymion:
Why dost borrow,” &c.
“While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
Keats, To Mutuinn.
119. See Keats' poems, passim.
«'Αχω δ' εν πέτρησιν οδύρεται όττι σιωπή
132. See the preceding quotation.
133. she. Some editions wrongly, indeed nonsensically, read he. See the story of Echo in Class. Dict. 191. 137. Kindling. Kindle is a favourite word with Shelley; see Il. 16, 78.
er flowers too, not only the Hyacinth and the Narcissus, fade for grief. 145. He is thinking of the Ode to the Nightingale ; see the quotation given in the note to l. 18.
149. This is the reading of the Pisa Edition. The common texts put the comma afier youth, not so well.
150. Comp. Æs. Agam. 49–54, of vultures hovering wildly over their desolated nest.
“ αίαι ται μαλάχαι μεν έπαν κατά κάπον όλωνται
εύδομες ευ μάλα μακρόν ατέρμονα νήγρετον ύπνον.”
“ και συ μεν ών σιγα πεπυκασμένος έσσεαι εν γα,
TWS 8' éyo oj poveoume; tò yap Médos oú kadov õder."
“Stars that in Earth’s firmament do shine." 177. knows=has the power of gathering knowledge.
179. sightless = invisible; so Macbeth, I. v. 50 vii. So viewless, Meas. for Meas. !II. i. 124. 188. urge = follow closely, press fast after. See Hor. Od.
“Urget diein nox et dies noctem." 191. Mother, i.e. Urania : see above.
192. And allay with tears and sighs the wound at thy heart—a wound yet more grievous than that which slew Adonais.
193. So the Pisa edition. The common text omits with, which alters the sense entirely -into nonsense.
195. their sister, i. e. the echo who is mentioned in l. 15 as singing over his songs to Urania and the others.
196. holy silence = sacro silentio, Hor. Od. II. xiii. 29. The Latin phrase meant such a silence as was observed at the time of sacrifice, when men “savoured with their tongues.” 199. Comp. Shelley's lines :
“Swiftly walk over the western wave,
Spirit of night," &c. 193. 208. See above, l. 14.
211. Comp. Virg. Ecl x. 48, 9:
"Ah! te ne frigora lædant! Ah! tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas !” 213. they never could repel = that would not be repelled, that for all the roughness she encountered was yet steadfast in her purpose to visit her perished darling (l. 46).
219. It is the opposite in Laodamia, 66--8.
“TOO OOÛTOV ME biancov, ooov suel tò didnma." 238. the unpastured dragon in his den= the ferocious, savage critic; comp. I. 243, Unpastured = unsed, Lat. impastus, as Æn. ix. 339
“Impastus ceu plena leo per ovilia turbans
Suadet enim vesana fames-manditque trahitque
Molle pecus mutumque metu, fremit ore cruento." 240. mirror'd, not = reflected, but rather reflecting ; strictly, mirror-furnished, bearing the shield in which folly saw its own face. 194. 245. obscene, Lat. obsceni, as in Æn. xii. 876.
250. He refers to Byron's English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.
259. Lighting up the earth so brightly that it is not possible to see the stars-scattering the clouds that cover the earth, &c.
262. Comp. Virg. Ecl. x. 19.
263 magic mantles. Comp Arion's request to the sailors bent on murdering him. “ replidéelv avtov év TÑ OKEVñ acon otaVTA ev toio. éSwiocou, d'eioal. (Herod. i. 24. Milton speaks of a “poet, soaring on the high reason of his fancies, with his garland and singing robes about him.” (Reason of Church Government.) See also the Tempest.
264. This name for Byron is suggested by the title of his "Romaunt"-Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Byron was commonly identified with his Pilgrim ; in the 4th anto he accepts the identification : see his letter to Hobhouse prefixed to that Canto.
The visits here paid are purely figurative. Only Severn was actualiy with Keats at his death.
265. His fame niakes a sort of vast splendid canopy over his head.
267. Shelley thought Byron of a more generous nature than he really was. Byron treated Keats' death as something of a jest ; see Don Juan, xi. 60:
“ John Keats-who was killed off by one critique
Just as he really promised something great,
Contrived to talk about the gods of late,
Poor fellow ! his was an untoward fate!
Should let itself be snuff'd out by an article." and his lines, Who killed John Keats?
269. Does he refer especially to the suppression of the insurrection of 1803, and Moore's lines on the fate of Robert Emmett, one of its leaders! See amongst the Irish Melodies, Oh, breathe not his name, and when he who adores thee, and she is far from the land. . (The lady referred to in the latter two songs was a daughter of Curran.! The "lyrist” is “sweetest" perhaps: but one cannot sympathize with "her saddest wrong." That rising of 1803 was utterly wild and foolish and "marked by an act of peculiar atrocity.” See Knight's Pop. Hist. of Eng. vii. 426-7, 2nd Ed.