The Realm of Eternity


I think that the image below, depicting the birth of Athena, illustrates quite well Keats’ view of the role of the poet in relation to history. In “The Fall of Hyperion”, the speaker of the poem enjoys a garden of sensory delights before drinking a “transparent juice” (“The Fall of Hyperion” 1.42). This transports him into a temple that allegorically represents eternity. It is described as an “eternal domed monument” (1.71) and is associated with “that place the moth could not corrupt” (1.75). The use of the word “eternal” directly links the temple to eternity while its description as being uncorrupted by moths suggests that it is beyond the destructive force of time. It is only in this temple of eternity that the speaker can receive the vision of Saturn from Moneta and understand his relation to history.

This is depicted aptly by this sculpture of the birth of Athena from the Parthenon. If we think of Zeus as representing the poet, Athena can be seen as the poet’s vision and the greater themes and ideas that the speaker arrives at in the poem by “see[ing] as a god sees” (1.304). Athena is born out of Zeus’ head, precisely as a poetic vision is born from the mind of the poet. Athena is an immortal goddess, just as the ideas and emotions expressed in the vision are eternal concepts of the human experience that are immune to the corrupting powers of time. By experiencing poetic visions and recording them in poetry, the poet gives birth to themes that are integral to human life and history and are immortal in the sense that they will always live on, no matter the historical period. This association with poetry is further supported by the fact that Athena is being crowned with a laurel wreath, which represents both poetry and victory. The laurel leaves celebrate the poet’s victory over mortality by reaching this eternal realm of ideas that exists beyond the inevitable destructive power of time.



~ by rollingrock33 on October 23, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Realm of Eternity”

  1. I would like to address your connection of the Parthenon’s reinterpretation of the birth of Venus to the role of the poet in relation to history. This claim is not supported, as you veer away from this thought in favor of addressing the reappearance of eternity, but it is provoking nonetheless. How does the poet’s role in history relate to the masculine birth of Venus? This is an interesting concept. Perhaps the uniqueness of Venus’ birth out of the forehead of Zeus in full-armor, as our tour guide intimated, can be paralleled to the poet in the sense that both Venus and the poet possess the capability for great change and action, Venus in her deified state and the poet in his access to the sublime and universal feeling. Another possibility for the relation of Venus to the poet is their shared status as prophet; much like Venus’ status as a goddess, the poet’s insightful voice holds significance not only to his readers, but to the history of his time, as you have stated.
    Regardless of my interpretations, I am curious what you meant by your opening statement.

    However, I like that you relate the Parthenon itself to an “eternal domed monument” that “moth could not corrupt” (1.71, 1.75) to the statue included in your post. The notion of the everlasting nature of art is something that is widely explored in literature, particularly in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 55:
    Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
    Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
    But you shall shine more bright in these contents
    Than unswept stone besmear’d with sluttish time. (lines 1-4)
    Not only does this portion of the poem address the impregnability of art – in this case poetry – against outside evils, such as time’s erosion, but it also addresses the concept we have been discussing throughout the semester: the eternity of books. Here, Shakespeare is confident that literature, even above sculpture and other visual media, will persist after the apocalypse. Similarly, in “The Fall of Hyperion,” the speaker questions whether his art will outlive him in the following quote: “whether the dream no purposed to rehearse / be poet’s or fanatic’s will be known / when this warm scribe my hand is in the grave” (lines 16-18). Throughout what we have read this semester – even including Wordsworth’s The Prelude with the dream of the Arab – our authors have challenged the lifetime of books and literature, and while it remains largely unanswered, it nonetheless reaffirms our authors’ faith in the written word. This recurring theme fits nicely with our trip to the Parthenon in that it surfaces these same questions: can art outlive its creators? Will it survive the havoc of the apocalypse?

    • Thanks for the comment! I may have not gone into enough depth specifically about the poet and history in my initial post, but I will try to clarify what I meant now. I wrote on this subject for the paper, so I’m going to include some of the analysis that I did in that. Sorry, this will probably get pretty long.

      By employing the special poetic powers of negative capability and empathy, the poet is able to engage with history in a deeper way than most humans, a way that grasps the eternal essence of history. In the poem, Moneta says “’This temple sad and lone/ Is all spared from the thunder of a war/ Foughten long since by giant hierarchy/ Against rebellion” (1.221-224). The language here is generalized and the choice of the words “giant hierarchy” and “rebellion” are telling. Rather than say ‘the war between the Titans and the Olympians’, Moneta uses these quite general words, which seem to “take the depth/ Of things.” These broad terms seem to suggest that this war between the Titans and the Olympians as well as the inevitable fall of the old authority represent the eternal essence of history, or the “depth/ of things”, rather than a single event. History is a continual repetition of cycles as “rebellion” defeats “giant hierarchy”, but, inevitably, the “rebellion” that has gained ascendancy becomes the “giant hierarchy” and is eventually dethroned by a new “rebellion”. This can be seen in the French Revolution as the people overthrew the old tyrannical government of their King only to find that their rebellion had become what it destroyed with the rise of Napoleon. This interpretation is further supported when Moneta says “In melancholy realms big tears are shed,/ More sorrow like to this, and suchlike woe” (2.7-8). “Realms” is plural here and Moneta claims that there is more suffering like Saturn’s, which suggests that falls like this have occurred many times and continue to occur forever.

      This is the nature of history as described in the poem. Humanity’s place in this is illustrated by the suffering of Saturn, who laments that, though he is defeated, “the stars their ancient courses keep” (1.419) and “still buds the tree” (1.422). These events seem to be eternal processes, the stars will always keep their ancient courses and trees will always bud, and the sharp contrast between these processes and his sad mortality (at least as ruler of the universe) pains him. His fall marks the end of his world, but not the end of the world. Saturn then says the seemingly contradictory lines “There is no death in the universe,/ No smell of death- there shall be death” (1.423-424). These lines follow his description of seemingly eternal processes, such as the stars keeping their courses and the trees budding. This seems to suggest that he means that there is no death in the universe in the sense that these eternal processes will continue forever, but he then says that there shall be death. In saying that there shall be death, I think that he means to suggest that death is another one of these eternal processes. The stars will always keep their courses, empires will always fall, and men will always die. This is the sad state of humanity in history.

      The poet’s role in this is to “pou[r] out a balm upon the world” (1.201), or ease the suffering of humanity. The poet accomplishes this by both clarifying man’s position in the world and relation to time through poetry and easing the weight of human suffering by assuming some that has belonged to others in different times in history. The speaker of the poem doesn’t pour out this balm in the poem until he accepts (through negative capability and empathy) this vision of Saturn that shows the suffering of humanity that is, in a way, the essence of history. Man is always doomed to die and empires are always doomed to fall.

      In discussing eternity and the poet’s ability to reach ideas and emotions that transcend time, I meant to show that the poet breaks free of these cycles of history in a unique way by reaching eternal themes of humanity and it is by doing this that the poet can pour out his balm upon the world. Humanity can share in a catharsis of their collective suffering, which eases the pain and allows them to exist outside of time by communing with all of humanity throughout all history. In the statues, Athena represents, to my mind, these eternal concepts that characterize the human experience and can be glimpsed in poetry. Like Athena, such ideas and emotions are undying and born from the head of the poet. They also represent a sort of victory for humanity by providing such an escape (even if only temporarily) into the eternal essence of what it means to be human (which, seemingly paradoxically, is to die). I hope that that at least somewhat clarifies my meaning here.

  2. I appreciate your reply in which you elucidate the points made in your original post in greater detail. I found your likening of the language from Keats’ “The Fall of Hyperion” to the French Revolution inventive, particularly with the phrases “rebellion” and “giant hierarchy.” You argue that this language and occasion can be seen that the bourgeois’ overthrow was in a sense overshadowed by Napoleon’s rise to power. The notion that there was a regression in the condition of the Revolution due to Napoleon is a new concept that I had never considered. Perhaps in the case of the poem, there too exists a regression of some sort in the speaker’s vision and Moneta’s challenging to discuss the nature of poetry and mortality. Do you think that the scene in which the speaker must overcome the steps could possibly symbolize that degeneration?

    Also, you intimate that a poet’s role is to “pou[r] out a balm upon the world” and thereby alleviate human suffering. This ties in nicely with Percy Shelley’s definition of the poet as prophet that we explored during our first class and continue to reference. However, the idea that the poet doesn’t necessarily accomplish this in “The Fall of Hyperion” is something we have not seen in previous works that you make a point to recognize. This somewhat dejected realization of the limitations of the power of the poet is revealed in the poet’s concession here that misery is inseparable from the human condition, for “man is always doomed to die and empires are always doomed to fall.” You resolve this exception nicely in the final paragraph of your response; by acknowledging not only the temporal nature of humans but also the restraints of poetic empathy, you are able to provide a well-rounded argument for the existence of the nuances and shortcomings of history in Keats’ work.

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