The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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).

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...

(The entire section is 903 words.)