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Reviews197 TAe Poetry ofKeats: Language and Experience, by David Pollard; xiv & 172 pp. Totowa, New Jersey: Barnes & Noble, 1984, $28.50. It is not advisable when puffing a new book to disparage work of recognized excellence. But that is what the publishers of The Poetry of Keats: Language and Experience do in the blurb on the dustjacket when they complain most unjustly of the treatment that Keats has for long received from his critics. Perhaps they take their cue from David Pollard, who in this book altogether ignores the important work of Walter Jackson Bate, Walter H. Evert, Stuart M. Sperry, and other modern scholars, and who, as if no one had studied Keats seriously since Middleton Murry, develops in his own undisciplined fashion an approach derived, according to him, from Heidegger's work on German poetry. Dr. Pollard says that the aim of his essays is to allow Keats's poetry to speak (p. x), but he does not do this so much as obscure the poems with his paradoxes (such as the statement that the poet in The Fall ofHyperion "is in the safety of insecurity" [p. HO]), with his dark sayings (such as this on the Odes: "The is of the saying legend is bequeathed to the poet in silence by holding itself in reserve" [p. 78]), and with his mistakes. Perhaps one can overlook his calling Pan "Bacchus" (p. 27), but his occasional misreadings invalidate some of his arguments. He supposes that the attack on Augustanism in "Sleep and Poetry" refers to Keats's contemporaries (p. 10), and thai: the criticism in the same poem of the themes of much contemporary poetry is an objection to themes in general. He states, "Poetry is never the communication of a theme" (p. 11). He twice quotes the third and fourth lines of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" as follows: "canst thus express/ . . . more sweetly than our rhyme" (pp. 44, 46). Omitting the object, "A flowery tale," he discusses the meaning of express as if it was an intransitive verb, so as to reach the conclusion that it is "the urn that speaks, that ex-presses from out of the silent hiatus in the sea of language" (p. 50). He confuses quotations from the same ode, saying that it is the "silent form" (and not "human passion") "That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd" (p. 71). He identifies the savage mentioned at the beginning of The Fall ofHyperion with the humanitarians, "Who feel the giant agony of the world" (pp. 109, 112). For the most part his book is a development of a theory of negative capability , which he understands in a broad sense that includes silence, indolence, and a poet's lack of identity. To these ideas of Keats's he adds a theory of language, according to which it is the very nature of language "not to express itself in words, but to withhold itself (p. 54). Such strange statements are combined with tireless repetition of his favorite quotations from Keats. Wellknown passages in the letters, such as "Adam's dream" and the "Chamber of Maiden-Thought," recur frequently, as do quotations from the "Ode on a Grecian Um," the "Ode on Indolence," and the "Epistle to Reynolds," as Pol- 198Philosophy and Literature lard endeavors to convey his notion of Keats's creativity, which is best summed up in these words: "The renunciation of Self in the moodlessness of indolence is at one and the same time the renunciation of language and in this renunciation the poet is granted the poem" (p. 91). He then argues that when, after completing the Spring Odes, Keats wrote for money in the summer of 1819, he departed from this principle of renunciation and approached the egotistic purposefulness of Milton rather than the self-annihilation of Shakespeare. This application of Hazlitt's distinction to Keats's practice is interesting and clearly expressed. What weakens it is the fact that, whereas Pollard mentions the work which Keats did during that summer, he takes no notice of the poet's most obviously Miltonic effort, the first version of Hyperion, which was composed towards the end of the previous year. University of Canterbury, New...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 197-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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