The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 903

Hyperion is a fragment of an epic poem in blank verse, divided into two complete books and a third incomplete book: Book I contains 357 lines, book II has 391 lines, and book III leaves off in mid-sentence at line 136. John Keats turned from this poem to compose his great odes in the summer of 1819 before returning to the subject of Hyperion. Instead of completing this epic, however, he began an entirely different poem (also incomplete) called The Fall of Hyperion (1856).

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The title of Hyperion indicates the name of its hero, the ancient Greek god of the sun. Hyperion was one of the Titans, the offspring of Coelus (the sky) and Tellus (the earth). Saturn was ruler of the Titans, overthrown by his three Olympian sons, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto. Keats’s epic is based upon this episode of mythology, when the Olympians overthrew the Titans and Olympian Apollo took the place of Titanic Hyperion. The story of the poem begins at the point when all the Titans except Hyperion have been defeated.

Book I opens in a dark valley of great stillness, where Thea (wife of Hyperion) is searching for Saturn. She finds him alone, massive but deeply dejected and utterly stunned. Thea urges him to look up; then she ceases, realizing that theirs is a hopeless cause. The two of them do not move for four months. Then Saturn opens his eyes and asks Thea to help him understand what has happened; he is supposed to be king of the gods, but he is so impotent he must have lost his identity. He makes himself believe that he can still command a force to recover his throne. Thea feels hope and urges Saturn to follow her to where other fallen Titans have gathered.

The poem then shifts to observe the behavior of the only Titan not yet fallen. Hyperion is in his sky-palace, stalking its hallways nervously, feeling great dread. He asks if he is also about to fall, like all of his brethren. He cries out in defiance that he will attack the rebel Olympians. Hyperion threatens to drive the sun through the sky to start the day at an unnatural time, but not even a god can disturb “the sacred seasons.” His father, Coelus, sympathizes, urging Hyperion to use his remaining powers to help the Titans, to act and not wait to be acted against: “Be therefore in the van of Circumstance.” The first book ends with Hyperion plunging into the darkness below, “like to a diver in the pearly seas.”

Book II describes the arrival of Saturn and Thea at the dark den where the Titans have congregated. It is a woeful scene, where giant forms lie listlessly about in angry astonishment. They are roused when Saturn appears. He cannot explain their defeat, but he asks them how to respond to the Olympians.

The first to give advice is Oceanus, who counsels resignation. The triumph of the Olympians is a phase in the process of natural law, which governs history and creates progress, as the old must give way to the new in all things. The Titans should be wise and recognize the truth of natural process. Oceanus says that the Olympian gods are young and beautiful, a new generation of advancing truth; “first in beauty should be first in might.” The only consolation available to the Titans, he says, is to “receive the truth, and let it be your balm.”

While the other Titans remain quiet, little-regarded Clymene timidly ventures to express her feelings. She describes how she had tried to console herself by blowing into a seashell to make music. She threw away the shell when she heard a strange, enchanting “golden melody” that seemed to drift across the ocean. She tried to stop her ears, but she heard the cry of a sweet voice, calling “Apollo! young Apollo!” Clymene tells her tale without interpreting it, simply illustrating the fact of a new regime.

Her brother Titan, huge Enceladus, is indignant at both the timidity of Clymene and...

(The entire section contains 1873 words.)

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