The Fall of Hyperion | Study Guide

John Keats

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The Fall of Hyperion | Summary

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Summary

The Dreamer and Poet

The first canto of The Fall of Hyperion opens with a general contemplation about the nature of dreams: all are capable of dreaming. "Fanatics have their dreams" of paradise and "the savage too ... Guesses at Heaven." These dreams pale in comparison, however, when compared to the dreams of the poet according to the speaker. Whether the dream of paradise belonging to the poet or the fanatic will come to pass, the speaker states, will only "be known / When this warm scribe my hand is in the grave."

The Feast of Summer Fruits

The poem then becomes more narrative in nature with the speaker describing trees of different kinds creating a screen before them. Nearby are fountains that produce the noise of soft showering and the smell of roses lingers in the air. The speaker then sees "an arbour with a drooping roof / Of trellis vines, and bells, and larger blooms." Before it sits a "feast of summer fruits" on "a mound / Of moss." The speaker feels a yearning for the food and eats it before becoming thirsty and finding "a cool vessel of transparent juice" of which they drink. The poem states that the draught "rapt unwilling life away." The speaker falls into a deep sleep despite struggling "hard against / The domineering potion."

Upon Waking

The speaker wakes to find that the trees, mossy mound, and arbor are gone and instead sees an old sanctuary with an extremely tall and majestic roof. The place seems so old that the speaker claims they have seen "none / The like upon the earth." They state that cathedrals, towers, and even nature are nothing in comparison to this "eternal domed monument." The speaker finds marble and draperies of white linen at their feet and this creates a somber feeling. They also find a tangled heap of "Robes, golden tongs, censer and chafing dish, / Girdles, and chains, and holy jewelries."

The Altar

The speaker then looks around to find columns to the north and south, "ending in mist / Of nothing." They also see black gates to the east and "An image, huge of feature as a cloud" to the west. The speaker then describes an altar with "steps, / And marble balustrade" approaching either side of it. They begin to mount the steps toward the altar and beside it find a flame of burning incense that "spread around / Forgetfulness of everything but bliss, / And clouded all the altar with soft smoke."

From the curtains comes a voice warning the speaker that they will die on the marble where they stand if they cannot ascend the steps. "Thy flesh," the voice says, "near cousin to the common dust, / Will parch ... thy bones / Will wither." The voice goes on to state that "no hand in the universe can turn / Thy hourglass ... Ere thou canst mount up these immortal steps." The speaker describes climbing the steps as toilsome and is suddenly struck with a "palsied chill" that causes them to shriek. "Slow, heavy, deadly was my pace," says the speaker. The speaker finally reaches the altar and life seems "To pour in at the toes."

The Veiled Shadow

The speaker asks why they should be spared from death and the voice of a veiled shadow claims it is because they have "felt / What 'tis to die and live again before / Thy fated hour." The shadow states that all who find refuge in the world, "Where they may thoughtless sleep away their days," die on the steps where the speaker almost died. The speaker then asks the voice whether there are those "Who love their fellows even to the death; / Who feel the giant agony of the world; / And more, like slaves to poor humanity, / Labour for the mortal good?" The voice insists that those of whom the speaker speaks "are no vision'ries ... They seek no wonder but the human face, / No music but a happy noted voice." The voice, however, states that the speaker is "less than they." "What benefit," says the voice, "canst thou do, or all thy tribe, / To the great world? Thou art a dreaming thing."

The veiled shadow asserts that a dreamer poisons his days by bearing more sadness than is deserved by their sins. The speaker implores the voice and states that surely not all "Those melodies sung into the world's ear / Are useless: sure a poet is a sage; / A humanist, physician to all men." "What am I then?" the speaker asks. The veiled shadow asks, "Art thou not of the dreamer tribe?" The veiled shadow insists that poets and dreamers are sheer opposites with the former pouring "out a balm upon the world" and the latter vexing it. The speaker then cries out, "Apollo! faded! O far flown Apollo!" and bemoans the "mock lyrists, large self worshipers" and those of "proud bad verse."

Moneta's Mourning

The speaker demands to know who the altar and incense are for and who they are speaking to. The veiled shadow's voice grows louder and the speaker can tell she is crying. She explains that the temple they are in experienced "the thunder of a war" fought long ago and that it belonged to Saturn. She then reveals herself to be Moneta, the "Sole priestess of this desolation." In a moment of silence the speaker looks around and sees offerings of cinnamon and spice wood about the altar that is adorned with horns whitened with ashes.

Moneta explains that she wishes for the speaker to behold the scenes still swirling in her brain. She then parts the veils to reveal a wan face, "blanch'd / By an immortal sickness which kills not ... which happy death / Can put no end to." The speaker is drawn in by Moneta's eyes that "in blank splendour beam'd like the mild moon," and they wish to know of the "high tragedy / In the dark secret chambers of her skull." "Let me behold," the speaker exclaims, "What in thy brain so ferments to and fro!"

The Vision

Moneta stands next to the speaker and recounts the events she has witnessed. The speaker is able "To see as a god sees" and is shown where "Saturn sat / When he had lost his realms." They describe footprints leading to where Saturn's feet rested. His right hand lay "Degraded, cold, upon the sodden ground ... nerveless, listless, dead." Saturn's "bow'd head seem'd listening to the Earth, / His ancient mother, for some comfort yet."

A figure that is revealed to be Thea comes to Saturn and "Touch'd his wide shoulders." Thea is the Titan goddess of light and the sister of Hyperion and Saturn. Thea grieves and the speaker describes "a listening fear in her regard, / As if calamity had but begun." Thea places a hand on Saturn's chest and another on his back and she speaks into his ear of his defeat. "All the air" she states, "Is emptied of thine hoary majesty." She implores Saturn to sleep on and questions why she should wake him.

A long time passes with Saturn, Thea, and Moneta in this pose: "The frozen God still bending to the earth, / And the sad Goddess weeping at his feet, / Moneta silent." The speaker describes watching "this eternal quietude, / The unchanging gloom." Saturn finally raises his eyes and sees his lost kingdom as well as Thea at his feet. He speaks and bemoans what has come to pass for all that continues on in the universe despite what has happened. Saturn and Thea move into the woods and the vision ends.

Hyperion

Canto 2 begins with Moneta explaining that she will humanize her speech so that the speaker may better understand her for such sorrow is "Too huge for moral tongue, or pen of scribe." Moneta describes the Titans as "fierce, self hid or prison bound" and groaning for the "old allegiance once more, / Listening in their doom for Saturn's voice." She states one still maintains "His sov'reignty, and rule, and majesty; / Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fire."

Moneta describes how Hyperion experiences the insecurity of humanity by shuddering when "the earth dire prodigies / Fright and perplex." "After the full completion of fair day," she explains, "For rest divine upon exalted couch ... He paces through the pleasant hours of ease." The speaker now stands in clear light and witnesses Hyperion as "His flaming robes stream'd out beyond his heels." They roar "as if of earthly fire, / That scared away the meek ethereal hours." "On he flared," concludes the poem.

Analysis

Key Figures of Mythology

It is important to understand the key figures who appear or are referred to in the poem when interpreting The Fall of Hyperion. Note that Keats does not distinguish between Greek and Roman mythology and refers to the names of the gods used in both cultures. Saturn was also known as Cronus and was the king of the Titans. His brother Hyperion was the Titan sun god. Saturn's son Zeus rebelled against the Titans, and a battle ensued between the Titans and the Olympian gods, then Apollo replaced Hyperion as the sun god. Apollo was also the god of music and poetry. Thea in Roman mythology was known as Theia in Greek mythology. She was the Titan goddess of light and the sister of Hyperion and Saturn. Moneta in Roman mythology is the Greek equivalent of Mnemosyne who is the Titan goddess of memory and also a sibling of the Titan gods.

Allegory of the Poet as Creator

The Fall of Hyperion is an allegory. An allegory is a work that uses symbolic figures to express generalizations about the human condition or human existence. The poem tells the tale of the fall of the Titans and their replacement by the Olympian gods. In doing so it communicates Keats's ideas about the nature of a true poet.

The poem opens by stating that all can dream. "Fanatics" and "the savage" alike can imagine heaven in their musings but these "have not ... The shadows of melodious utterance." "The fine spell of words," says the speaker, "alone can save / Imagination from the sable charm / And dumb enchantment." The speaker thus attempts to distinguish a mere dreamer from a poet.

Moneta is the goddess of memory and challenges the speaker later in the poem by asking, "What benefit canst thou do, or all thy tribe, / To the great world? Thou art a dreaming thing." Moneta makes the distinction between the dreamer and the poet and states that the former can indulge only in his dark imaginings: "the dreamer venoms all his days, / Bearing more woe than all his sins deserve." The dreamer vexes the world with despair whereas the true poet "pours out a balm upon the world."

The speaker, through the agony they experience, "suffer'd in these temples: for that cause / Thou standest safe beneath this statue's knees." The very reason the speaker is allowed to approach Moneta in the poem is because for poets "the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest." This implies that the speaker has been admitted to the holy place of the Titans due to their suffering. The poem's allegorical nature suggests that the true poet draws from tragic pain in their imagination and they use this to meet sorrow with acceptance and pour out a balm on the world. It is the poet's duty to distinguish themselves from the dreamer and take part in the suffering of humankind to heal the world through spiritual revelation.

The poem is therefore an attempt to comprehend imaginative ambition. The speaker is able to come to a painful awareness of the reality of suffering through the agony of the Titans that the speaker witnesses. This ability to witness and identify with the sorrows of the world allows the true poet to imaginatively participate in human existence and provide solace to humankind.

Hyperion's Fall

In Greek and Roman mythology, the Titan sun god Hyperion is displaced by the Olympian sun god Apollo and this action provides context for the poem's title. The Olympian gods are portrayed as having humanlike characteristics including a range of emotions. Apollo is also the god of music and poetry. Apollo is a god who experiences human emotion and has superior insight into the suffering of humanity. He is the central figure of poetry in Greek and Roman mythology. Apollo's strengths are the reason Hyperion has been displaced by Apollo as the sun god.

Allusions to Milton and Dante

Keats's work models that of Milton's Paradise Lost in several ways. The first way is the subject matter. It is considered to be grand in nature. It tells the story of the fall of the Titans of Greek mythology rather than the fall of man and angels and so is also considered to be epic subject matter of the cosmic order. The poems' figures are also similar with Titans and gods replacing angels and demons. Both poems also use latinate, or Latin-based language, and ornate wording as well as blank verse. Blank verse consists of unrhymed iambic pentameter made up of lines of 10 syllables accented on each second beat. Blank verse has been considered the dominant narrative and dramatic verse form of English as well as the standard dramatic verse form in Italian and German. Milton's influence is thus evident in The Fall of Hyperion through its subject matter and language.

Influences from Dante's The Divine Comedy are also found in the poem. Both poems are divided into cantos and each uses a dreamlike vision to communicate the experience of the speaker. Both poems also incorporate the use of a spiritual guide with The Divine Comedy featuring Virgil and Beatrice and The Fall of Hyperion featuring Moneta as the speaker's guide. In these ways Keats's work embodies influences from Dante's work.

The Fall of Hyperion Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675

Introduction

1 The speaker contemplates the poet and the dreamer.

Rising Action

2 The speaker consumes a drink, making them fall asleep.

3 The speaker is guided on a journey to an altar by a voice.

4 The guide explains the nature of the true poet.

Climax

5 Moneta shows the speaker a vision of the fallen Titans.

Falling Action

6 The speaker mourns for the fate of the fallen Titans.

Resolution

7 Hyperion blazes on as the Titans' last hope.

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