Endymion: A Poetic Romance, Keats’s first major work, represents the poet’s first sustained attempt to explore the relationship between the real world of human experience and the ethereal world of an idealized existence. Divided into four books, the poem traces Endymion’s progress from his initial desire to rise above his earthly existence by cultivating his love for Diana, the goddess of the moon, who represents ideal love, to his gradual reconciliation, in the end, to his mortal condition and the love that he feels for an Indian maiden whom he meets during his quest. Upon realizing the dangers of trying to deny his own human nature, Endymion suddenly discovers that the Indian maiden, his mortal counterpart, is really Diana, his immortal desire, in disguise. In the end, Endymion learns that he can only rise above his mortal nature and achieve some kind of idealized existence if he first accepts “his natural sphere.” Keats’s point, as in other poems, is that any attempt to achieve an abstract ideal must begin with an acceptance of concrete human experience.
Book 1, which opens with the often-quoted line, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” describes the source of Endymion’s discontent with his life as a local chieftain. His life as a man of action and worldly concerns is disrupted by a dream in which he imagines himself carried through the skies by a goddess. When she finally returns him to earth, he suddenly finds that his...
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