Endymion Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

John Keats died at age twenty-five. He wrote at a feverish pace and left behind a body of work distinguished by its genius. His poetry ranks him among the greatest Romantic poets. Keats was deeply influenced by Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596) and the works of Leigh Hunt. This influence is especially evident in Endymion: A Poetic Romance.

Keats wanted to write a “long poem” that would be a “trial of invention.” The poem became Endymion, an effort of some four thousand lines that he wrote in less than a year, the result of Keats’s self-imposed poetic apprenticeship. In it, he appropriates (and often changes) Greek myth.

Keats was not satisfied with Endymion, aware of the extent and nature of the poem’s shortcomings. In a letter to John Taylor, his publisher, Keats wrote, “I am anxious to get Endymion printed so that I may forget it.” He thought of the poem as an exercise or tool in his growth as a poet. He put forth his negative thoughts on Endymion in the preface to the poem, where he spells out his regret that he made it public: “What manner I mean, will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished.” Keats places himself somewhere between the healthy “imagination of a boy” and “mature imagination of a man”—a place where “the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain. . . .” From such ferment derives what Keats called the “mawkishness” of Endymion.

The structure of Endymion follows what Jack Stillinger calls a “spatial conception of two realms in opposition and a mythlike set of actions involving characters shuttling back and forth between...

(The entire section is 757 words.)