Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: Poets and Poetry)

As the first book makes clear, one of the main themes of Endymion is the nature of happiness. On January 30, 1818, Keats wrote to his publisher, John Taylor, that Endymion’s speech to Peona describes “the gradations of Happiness even like a kind of Pleasure Thermometer.” According to Endymion, there are several kinds of happiness: The lowest is fellowship with nature and man, the next two involve humanitarian friendship and heterosexual love, and the highest level of happiness on the pleasure thermometer results from loving an immortal. Thus, for Endymion, his love for the goddess of his dream represents the greatest happiness possible and, in comparison, makes his role as shepherd king or a normal life of action seem insignificant and worthless. So although Peona continues to question Endymion’s wisdom in searching for his goddess, Endymion pursues her throughout the poem, even though (as he suspects in Book IV) he may be loving “a nothing.” That loving a goddess can be potentially disastrous is suggested by Glaucus’ experience with the witch Circe—notwithstanding the conviction with which Endymion delivers his speech on happiness, his ideals often seem questionable. It is significant that Keats calls Endymion a “Brain-sick shepherd prince.”

Although the allegory in Endymion is never completely clear, the ideal represented by Cynthia seems to be spiritual in nature, and therefore Endymion cannot easily rise to the...

(The entire section is 521 words.)