Why John Keats’s Hyperion is Called a Fragment?

Why John Keats’s Hyperion is Called a Fragment?

Hyperion; one of the greatest poems in the history of English literature, appreciated by poets, critics and writers; it is still being studied by students of literature but ironically, it is called a fragment instead of an epic. After reading the complete (incomplete) poem, the inference can be drawn that the poem is a masterpiece. Its imagery, scenes, splendid characters, style, story, language and theme make it one of the best epic poems in English literature. Questions here arise that if everything was perfect then why did Keats left it incomplete. Why did not he complete it and surpass Milton in writing an epic poem? What was the reason behind leaving the poem a fragment? These questions arise in every such mind, who studies English literature.

Well, there are many reasons behind leaving the poem incomplete. In order to know the causes behind it, knowledge about root cause of writing the poem is necessary as it is the only option, through which one can understand the situation and get answers of the above said questions. Thus, background of the poem is necessary to be read.

Keats was influenced by many writers; he has not only studied English literature but also the translation of other languages. He has studied Milton, Dante and Spenser in detail. Some other influences which can be found in Hyperion are Lemprier’s classical dictionary, Hesiod’s Theogony, Tooke’s pantheon, Ovid’s metamorphoses, Chapman, Ronsard’s A Michel de l’ hospital, Davies’s Leltic Reseraches, Beckford’s Vathek, Annals of the Fine Arts.

As far as the design of poem is concerned, strong influence of Milton can be exhibited in the poem. It seems that the poet instead of imitating life and mythology has imitated the “Paradise Lost”. The poet has chosen the theme, which has already been discussed by Milton. John Keats has written about the fall of Titans; Milton has written about the fall of Satan; John Keats, like Milton, has selected super human being for the purpose of writing an epic. Saturn, in Hyperion, is the commander of Titans, whereas Satan is the ruler of fallen angels in “Paradise Lost”. In start of “Paradise Lost”, we see fallen angels and in Hyperion we see fallen Titans. Hyperion is the only hope in Paradise Lost as Satan in “Paradise Lost”. Theme of the poem has also been copied from “Paradise Lost”. Subject matter of the poem is dethronement and their effort to gain their position again. Apart from theme, characters and design, style of the poem is also Miltonic. It is not only influence rather undue influence of Milton on John Keats, therefore, language, metaphors, grand style and poetry of Milton has been copied excessively.

John Keats has blended the work of Milton and Spenser. Mixture of these two poets does not make his work original but de-shapes it. John Keats has seen Milton through the eyes of Spenser. He has done justice to Spenser’s work while adding language and description from his work. Imagery, stillness and picture drawing techniques have been duplicated in Hyperion and the original source is Spenser’s work. Unfortunately, he remained fail to do poetic justice while writing Hyperion because of the Spenserian and Miltonic influence. William Ward, in this context said:-

“The idiom which Keats elaborated–or fabricated—for Hyperion was neither genuine Milton nor true Keats; it had neither the beautiful curiosity of Milton’s language nor the palpable embodying power of Keats. It was, says Dr. Leavis, a very qualified Miltonic as transformed by a taste for Spenserian vowels that elope with ease. ”

Although, every writer has influence of some other writers, yet they do not copy their work. John Keats knew the definition of an epic poem but he could not make it original.

Then comes the case of poetic maturity. John Keats was a talented poet. He has God-gifted quality of writing poetry. In his early age, he has written perplexing poetry. Many poets of his era have appreciated him. He has also been awarded with the title of last but best romantic poet. He was a pure poet, who kept himself away from social issues but when he tried to write an epic, he felt that he lacked the poetic maturity, which was necessary ingredient to write an epic poem, therefore, lack of poetic maturity was also a reason due to which he gave up the idea of writing an epic poem.

Now consider Keats’s aim to write poetry. All poetry, says Keats, is to be the natural voice of the poet. If we put aim of the poet and “Hyperion” as a copy in juxtaposition, we see that John Keats was not doing poetic justice. He was less imitating but more copying the work of previous poets. He was speaking with Miltonic borrowed voice. Classical inspiration was from Lemprier’s Classical Dictionary; description of painful relation of the Greece Titans is copied from Davies’s Leltic Reseraches; imagery and its description are borrowed from Beckford’s Vathek. Similarly, Milton’s grand style has also been copied by John Keats.

The influence of other writers was so much that the poet, himself has realized that he is not doing poetic justice, therefore, he gave up the idea of writing an epic poem. In a letter he wrote:-

“I have given up Hyperion, there were too many Miltonic inversions in it—Miltonic verse cannot be written because it is an artist’s humour and I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up.”

John Keats has given four reasons to leave the poem unfinished. Firstly, he thinks that he has not enough poetic maturity. Secondly, he is not doing poetic justice. Thirdly, too much Spenser-Miltonic influence mutilates originality of the poem. Fourthly, like Milton, he does not want to corrupt the English language.

These causes are enough for a poet to leave the idea of writing an epic poem. John Keats did not have enough poetic maturity to write an epic poem. Secondly, influence of many other writers, especially Milton, makes his poem a copy instead of an original epic. Moreover, John Keats feels that Milton’s language is artificial. He considers him the corruptor of English language; he does not want to increase the corruption, therefore, left his work unfinished. 

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