Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

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The three main themes of Hyperion are: process, power, and poetry. The epic narrative examines how change in status and perception is a characteristic of all process. The conflict between generations of gods is a dramatization of the resistance of the past to claims of the present; while the poem focuses on the utterances of the Titans as signs of recovering energy, its thrust is toward the futility of efforts by the Titans to prevent their defeat. History is a succession of discrete generations, governed by a universal law of change. Whether Oceanus’s interpretation of this process as progressive is correct the poem does not confirm, because it does not conclude.

Certainly, however, the poem confirms the pain of dislocation and disorientation which occurs in the process of transferring power, as the Titans are impressively miserable in their monumental, static condition. They barely relieve their misery by talking about it, yet that is the only means available to them for mitigation of their humiliation. There is irony at work in the poem’s use of changing point of view, because the huge Titans ineffectively bluster about revenge while the young, troubled Apollo wanders aimlessly toward his divine destiny. In all instances, furthermore, the heroic gods are guided by heroic goddesses, to suggest that the physical power of males is administered by the greater power of females (manifested in their pity, their sensitivity, and their respect for the past).

The feelings of Thea, Clymene, and Mnemosyne are focused by their responses to the new powers of beauty manifested in the Olympian gods; that beauty is especially promised by the young Apollo, who will inspire a new era of civilized loveliness. Since Apollo is particularly the god of poetry, his birth into divinity is a fitting climax to a poem which ends without concluding. A new kind of poetry is born with the birth of a new god.

The meaning of Hyperion is caught by the crossing of these three themes. History and nature command change as a universal law of process, affecting the gods themselves. Natural process passes through discontinuous stages of self-awareness (the generations of gods and creatures), but it is also continuous, because it is a passage of power. The assumption of power by a new generation, a new body, and a new consciousness is the responsibility of all successive life, including the poets who, like Keats, suffer for their talent as they follow their inspiration by Apollo and reject the past of Hyperion.

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