Editor's Choice

Is Keats's poem Hyperion a political allegory or about nature and the poet's function?

Quick answer:

The poem is not overtly or obviously a political allegory, but rather an exploration of how to respond to political change and how to find an individual's place in the midst of large-scale historical forces. Watkins' answer is typical of Romantic scholarship in this respect, identifying political commentary in poems that seem at first glance to be apolitical. However, it also reflects the "New Historicism" approach to literature which sees texts embedded in the social and cultural conditions of their time. The critical consensus about Keats' poetry has shifted from seeing him as writing poetry solely for escape from the world into a more political reading that explores the relationship between poetry and politics—both personal and societal.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Allegory is a narrative that is designed to draw some parallel or other with a message or phenomenon outside the work itself. The fragmentary epic Hyperion by Keats has allegorical elements in it, but because it is an unfinished work, readers have been left to guess its meaning from the nature of the story and the characters; no one reading has gained consensus among critics. The poem has been explained as drawing a parallel between Apollo ousting Hyperion and Wordsworth's new poetic of the Romantic school dispossessing Pope and the Augustan poetic of the eighteenth century; others have seen the story to be parallel with Beauty dispossessing Order; and others still have seen in the story Imagination ousting Reason. These are a few of the many potential allegorical interpretations that can be taken from Hyperion. It may be said, however, that all of these allegorical readings proceed from the epic of the revolutionary impulse.

That said, a political allegory is equally possible, insofar as a parallel can be drawn between Jove deposing Saturn and the French Revolution dethroning the ancient regime and old social order along with it.

It could indeed alternatively be argued that the poem is about the nature and function of the poet. The character Hyperion would reflect the view, one that Keats seemed to have, that a poet is elected or chosen. Hyperion is the sun god of the Titans, the earlier race of gods who were taken over by the new Olympian gods. The poem begins with the Titans having already been deposed. Their sole hope for reclaiming their former ascendancy lies with Hyperion; this is because he alone of the Titans has retained his powers. Thus, fate has given him the mission of reclamation for the sake of his race of gods and the powers to see it through. Similarly, one may argue that fate bestows to the poet the responsibility to write for the rest of humanity and so gifts them uncommon powers to do so.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

To begin, one must understand the meaning of "political allegory".

Allegory is a form of extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy.
Thus an allegory is a story [any text so as to include poetry] with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning.

The word political simply means anything concerned with politics (activities associated with the governing of an area).

Therefore, a political allegory is a text whose meaning revolves around the governing of an area and contains an extended metaphor to describe the political attributes.

Keats' "Hyperion", given it speaks of a changing of power among the Roman gods, would make the poem one bearing a political nature. Unfortunately, it was not until Keats wrote "The Fall of Hyperion" that the poem became a political allegory.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Keat's "Hyperion" a political allegory or a poem about the nature and function of the poet?

While Keats has been traditionally seen as apolitical, writing poetry as a way to escape politics, since the 1980s scholars have located political implications in poems such as "To Autumn" and "Hyperion." It would be going too far to call "Hyperion" allegory, as that would suggest a one-to-one correspondence between the poem and the political events and political figures of Keats' time. Rather than allegory, scholars such as Daniel Watkins in 1989's Keat's Poetry and the Politics of Imagination, find political consciousness and commentary in "Hyperion."

 Watkins argues that the poem reflects Keats' anxiety that, with the final defeat of France in the Napoleonic Wars and the ascendancy of Britain on the world stage, the ideals of liberty and democracy that France once stood for were on the verge of being obliterated. The poem therefore asks how can an individual find his place when caught up in a political situation not of his making, and with which he is not in agreement? How do we respond when unwelcome social change comes? For example, in Hyperion, Saturn asks:

Who had the power to make me desolate?

 Shortly before end of poem, which is a fragment, Apollo asks a similar question: "where is power?" Watkins says that these questions, which the poem does not answer, reflect the sense of political uncertainty in a changing world in which individuals seemed to have less and less control. As Watkins points out, the Romantic poets used Greek culture and mythology in highly politicized ways to critique the political order, so that when we engage with a Romantic poem using Greek mythology, we have to expect the existence of a political subtext. In this case, it is the critique of an ascendant conservative or reactionary order buoyed by the utter defeat of the French—and the failure of the French Revolution to succeed, falling victim to Napoleon's imperial ambitions. If we want to extend the political parallel to today, it might be located in the anxiety some feel about the way the defeat of the socialist experiment in the USSR and eastern Europe has led to the growth of neo-liberalism and a reactionary political environment.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Is Keat's "Hyperion" a political allegory or a poem about the nature and function of the poet?

John Keats was a renowned English Romantic poet. This being said, the natural characteristics of his poetry were formed in the characteristics typical to the Romantic poet.

Romantics were inspired by three things: nature, imagination, and intuition. This being said, one does not need to look long at a Keats' poem to realize the impact nature had on him as a poet.

In reference to the poem "Hyperion", the poem is filled with natural imagery. The first three lines alone includes natural imagery which proves the impact it had on him:

Deep in the shady saddness of a vale/ Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,/ Far from the firey noon, and Eve's one star.

These lines speak to the impact that nature, specifically the lack of light from the sun (Eve's star), one can see the impact that nature has on the poet.

Many of Keats' poems combined natural imagery with that of the function of a poet.

This being said, I provided another way to answer this question to another one of your posted questions. The answer to the other link can be found below.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on