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blocked and destroyed by Cartesian reason. The narrator comments at the end: “Do not all charms fly/ At the mere touch of cold philosophy?” Here, Keats is not attacking philosophy per se, but a narrow, circumscribed form of reason—philosophy abstracted from nature and from the feminine. Keats’ last poem “The Fall of Hyperion,” is his second effort to write an epic poem about the heroic masculine god Hyperion, one of the older generation of Titans in Greek myth. Instead he ends up writing about his last muse Moneta, daughter of Saturn, a goddess of the underworld. Because of his worsening health through tuberculosis, Keats was unable to complete the poem. Yet what remains is a mournful hymn to dignity and beauty shining through loss and defeat. Moneta, whose name is associated, not only with “warning” and “instruction” in Latin, but with the goddess Greek goddess Mnemosyne or Memory, provides the dying poet with access to the realms of death and to the collective memory of the tribe. She is the embodiment of what Keats calls “Negative Capability,” a state where a person “is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason –” (letter to Benjamin Bailey, Dec. 1817). The poet climbs to the altar of the goddess of loss, by labouring through his own grief. Her eyes speak from a place within and beyond death, a place of mourning for the destruction caused by the warring gods. Moneta’s question to the dying poet addresses the value of the “tribe” of poets and poetry itself: “What benefit canst thou do, or all thy tribe,/ To the great world? Thou art a dreaming thing…” Then she distinguishes between the “dreamer” and the true poet, the latter of which “pours out a balm upon the world,” rather than “vexing” it. Keats studied to be a healer, a doctor; yet gave up that profession for the vocation of poetry. For me and generations of readers he is a healer through words. Keats’ “Fall of Hyperion” laments how war-like power, greed, and desire to control have displaced the beauty of the more ancient order. Yet even in defeat, the older gods and goddesses remain www.dialogue.ca

grounded in the wisdom of Gaia, the earth. This poem is Keats’ courageous way of coming to terms with his personal, imminent death and with the ruins of a civilization. This late work he called “a fragment” was written in the context of the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. I sometimes think that Keats himself embodied aspects of the maligned feminine in his culture where women were often seen as the smaller and weaker of the species. His most vicious critics attacked not only his writing, but his person, taunting him for his relatively short stature, calling him “little Johnny Keats.” Even his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley in his elegy to Keats, Adonais, depicts him as a sensitive flower blown away by a bad review, as does Lord Byron in his satiric poem Don Juan. Recent biographers have corrected this false impression of Keats by providing evidence of how he proved remarkably resilient, courageous, and dedicated to his craft. After digesting some negative reviews, he rebounded and continued writing. Keats wrestles with western culture’s fear of the feminine, a construct that continues to haunt our contemporary world. One only has to consider the recent American presidential election, where misogyny was clearly a factor in the defeat of the more qualified and experienced candidate. Keats’ nuanced and positive views of women clearly have continuing relevance. Keats’ insistence on the transforming power of beauty—natural, moral, and spiritual beauty— reminds me of Dostoevsky’s enigmatic remark, as quoted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel Prize Lecture (1970):

Beauty will save the world. So called “dead poets” live on in their words, and words have the potential to wake us up, to heal, and to inspire. Rereading Keats reminds us that poetry matters even more in a dark time. I woke this morning with these words in my head: “The other side of now, is now.” It was as if Keats were standing at the door. Susan McCaslin VOL. 30, NO. 2, WINTER 2016-17

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Profile for Janet Hicks

Dialogue v 30 n 2 winter2016 17  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...

Dialogue v 30 n 2 winter2016 17  

Canada's unique volunteer-produced magazine for ideas, insights, critical thinking & radical imagination - shared in letters, essays, storie...