ABSTRACT

Early in the first canto of Keats’s long poem Hyperion, the divine Thea, a goddess whose strength and stature is such that she might ‘have ta’en|Achilles by the hair and bent his neck’ (1. 28–9), sinks to her knees. The prostration of the goddess is, by Keats’s depiction, both a movement of tremendous physical magnitude and a ministration of unexpected gentleness. Thea bends to tend to Saturn, the deposed god, whose wasted figure cowers with the grief of the fallen Titans, now divested of their dominion by newly ascendant Olympian gods. Although the sadness of this collective dispossession bears heavily upon the poem, the monumental scale of its slow-moving gods also serves to lend it an oppressive weight, rendering Hyperion and the revised The Fall of Hyperion the site of particular difficulty in Keats’s canon. 1 The Titans’ story presses upon Keats but he is twice unable to tell it, finally abandoning the project in September 1819. Twice unfinished, the poems, then, present a doubly thwarted movement of aborted (re)play. This movement of unresolved repetition itself resembles the mode of trauma, which is sometimes described as ‘the repeated suffering of the event’. 2 For Keats, though, the repeated collapse of the poems attests, more simply, to the difficulty of imagining a way forward from a scene of post-apocalyptic destitution, and to the formal problems posed by their ambitious scale and grave affective register. The poems’ large sculptural gods, fashioned in the image of Miltonic epic, are difficult to move. Difficult too, for Keats, is the question of how to make stone speak; how do statues sufficiently express affective states when stoniness itself might present a form of denial? In the shocked aftermath of their downfall, Hyperion’s monumental gods are petrified in statuary form, but their stony insensibility mirrors back to Keats both the formal challenge of how to bring stone to life, and the idea of stoniness itself as an expressive form of resistance. The Hyperion poems struggle with the load of colossal stone gods and the heavy weight of mourning that Keats accords them. The statuesque gods struggle to synthesise form and feeling and, more broadly, pose to Keats the question of how matter expresses 119meaning. When Hyperion begins ‘Deep in the shady sadness of a vale’ (1.1), with Saturn ‘quiet as a stone’, Keats ascribes to the ‘grey-haired’ god a metaphoric stoniness that imparts the condition of his impenetrable stillness and silence, but also conveys the grave weight, or gravity, of the funereal sorrow he bears.