Romanticism is defined as: An artistic and intellectual movement originating in Europe in the late 18th century and characterized by a heightened interest in nature, emphasis on the individual’s expression of emotion and imagination, departure from the attitudes and forms of classicism, and rebellion against established social rules and conventions. The concept of romanticism was embraced by a number of poets in the late 18th and early 19th century, including Jonathan Keats, who went on to write many poems of the romantic theme, Endymion being one of those.
Keats wrote the epic ‘Endymion’ between 1817 and 1818.The poem focuses predominantly on the adventures of a young shepherd named Endymion, the story having been derived from Greek Mythology. One of the principal themes in the poem is that of Nature, and the way it can be associated with human moods and feelings. The theme of natural religion is also used to a considerable extent, as is the importance of natural genius and imagination.
Keats also tends to exalt certain individuals in ‘Endymion’. The poem is divided into four books, each of which concentrates on these themes to a different extent. Book 1 is the largest of the four books, so it encompasses more of the themes than the others.The effect of this is that the reader is given the full experience of what can be expected in the entire poem, to prepare the reader and manipulate their thoughts and impressions throughout the poem.
Book 1 opens with a description of nature, somewhat irrelevant from the story of the poem, but having the effect of putting the reader, as well as the author in a positive and pleasant frame of mind. The story of Endymion begins with a pastoral scene; ‘upon the sides of Latmos was outspread a might forest; for the moist earth fed so plenteously all weed-hidden roots into o’er-hanging boughs and precious fruits’.This is a trademark of a romantic poem, with copious detail of the natural setting coupled with positive and aesthetically pleasing imagery. The scene progresses into a celebration and sacrifice at a temple to the Greek God Pan, and at the same time associating nature into the scene, thus creating the theme of natural religion.
Romanticism also includes simplicity and uncivilised ways of living, and the way in which Keats describes the scene displays this to the reader very well.He focuses on shepherds, who are usually associated with times and places where people are relatively uncivilised, reminding the reader that the story is set in much simpler times. Among the shepherd is a man named Endymion, is exalted by Keats as being superior to his peers in every way, even being compared to Ganymede, the boy so beautiful that he was abducted by Zeus to be made cup bearer to the Gods. This tendency to exalt an individual is another mark of a Romantic poet, and is used to a great extent throughout ‘Endymion’.
Book 1 continues with the young shepherd Endymion being visited in his dream by Cynthia, Goddess of the moon, also known as Diane or Selene. Keats uses moods of nature to put across the mood that the characters are feeling at this time, for example ‘O magic sleep! O comfortable bird, that broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind’ this quote refers to the troubled sea of the mind, meaning that Endymion had been suffering from turbulent thoughts, which were clarified by sleep and helped him to understand what was going on in his mind.Endymion dreams about Cynthia twice more before he realises that he is in love with her, and goes on to describe what that love is like, relating it to positive natural imagery; ‘What could it be but love? How a ring dove let fall a sprig of yew tree in his path’ this type of imagery is aesthetically pleasing for the reader, and enhances the understanding of what Endymion is experiencing. In addition, the emotion Love plays a very large role in romanticism, as it represents the human spontaneity of thought and action.
This is displayed by Endymion in book 2 where he drops everything and decides to go on a journey to find his beloved Cynthia.This is reminiscent of the way in which romantic poets broke free from the restraints of classicalism in order to find a new style of writing, in the form of romanticism. This spontaneity is a trademark of romantic poets, and the characters in their poetry. Book two focuses on the journey of Endymion to find his loved one, upon which he meets the God Adonis and Goddess Venus, who both encourage him to continue searching and that he will find what he is looking for.
Keats uses nature again to exalt the Gods and once again manages to tie in nature with religion, displaying his abilities to the reader.Endymion then encounters the river God Alphaeus, and the Nymph Arethusa. Upon seeing that they are unhappy, he prays to Dian to ‘make them happy in some happy plains’ and for this he is transported to the sea by Arethusa so he can continue his journey. Once again the reader is given an example of natural religion, as Alphaeus is the God of the river, which is symbolic of the forces of nature.
Book three shows Endymion continuing his pilgrimage to meet Selene. Keats uses moods of nature again emphasise the moods that Endymion is experiencing, making it easier for the reader to empathise with him.Endymion then encounters a sea God called Glaucus, who told a story of a time when he was a mere fisherman. He told of how he was once surrounded by nothing but nature, yet was not contented.
This relates to one of Keats’ letters where he describes a ‘Pleasure Thermometer’ which shows that a person can have three levels of happiness. The first of these is the love of nature. The second is the love shared between two friends, and the highest level is the unbridled passion shared between two people who are in love with each other.Because Glaucus only had the love of nature, he was not as happy as he could be, and this drove his to spontaneously search for someone to fall in love with.
Unfortunately, the story of Glaucus took a turn for the worse, and Glaucus was unable to fulfil his desire to be happy, and he warns Endymion to be careful, or the same may happen to him. In book four, Endymion continues his journey to find Cynthia. This book features a song called the Indian Maid’s Roundelay, which is sung by an Indian Maid whom Endymion encounters. The song features Nature which helps to convey the various emotions displayed by the Indian Maid.
After hearing her song, Endymion despairs at the fact that he may never find his beloved Selene and wishes to die, using nature to show his feelings. For example, he says ‘Night will strew on the damp grass with lingering leaves, and with them shall I die’. Keats is comparing death in nature to Endymion’s wish to die, in order to give the reader a better understanding of his despair. Endymion is met with his sister, and he tells her of his despair, and at that moment his beloved Cynthia appeared before him and told him that his journey was over.
The story ends with Endymion disappearing with Cynthia, having reached the highest level of happiness. This idyllic ending to the epic is another feature of a romantic poem, leaving the reader in a pleasant mood, content with the outcome of the story To conclude, all the themes and ideas used in ‘Endymion’ are those which are usually associated with the Romantic form. Keats uses Romanticism in order to give the reader a richer and more touching experience when reading the poem, making ‘Endymion’ a celebrated example of the success of Romanticism.