“Hyperion by John Keats” as an Epic

"Hyperion by John Keats" as an Epic

Numbers of poets have tried to write an epic poem in English language. In fact, many epic poems were written by great writers; some of them were successful, whereas some of them could not gain fame. Epic poems, which are still remembered in English language are “Paradise Lost” and “Rape of the Lock”; both these poems are remarkable and unmatchable. “Paradise Lost” has created history. It has not been surpassed by any writers. Unlike other poets, John Keats has also thought to write an epic poem. He wanted to surpass Milton, therefore, he also choose the grand and lofty style, splendor theme and great characters for his poem. Indeed, he tried his best to write an epic poem while following Milton and Spenser; his writing style is much impressive; in description of his characters, he imitated Milton. Whether he remained successful in writing an epic poem or not? It is matter of discussion.

An epic poem, as defined by William Macneile Dixon, is a narrative poem, organic in structure dealing with great actions and great characters, in a style commensurate with the lordliness of its theme, which tends to idealize its subject by means of episode and amplification. In simple words, an epic is a poem, which has grand writing style, lofty characters, and a remarkable theme. Another important element which is necessary to write an epic is great action. If Keats’s “Hyperion” is an epic poem, then it must fulfill above said requirements.

First requirement of an epic is grand writing style. John Keats is famous for his lyrical style of writing. Indeed, he is bestowed with God gifted quality of poetry writing, therefore, there is no denial the fact that his writing style is influencive. He knows how to deal with metaphors and similes. He has experience in writing poetry. Many poems of John Keats are outstanding and amazing. “Ode to Autumn”, “Ode to Grecian Urn” and “Ode to Nightingale” are remarkable examples of it. These poems are evident that John Keats’s writing style is impressive. Also in “Hyperion”, his style is grandeur. He has used similes and metaphors, which have rarely been used by any romantic writer. It is also true that the poet is greatly impressed by John Milton. He has read “Paradise Lost” line by line, therefore, Milton’s influence can be found in “Hyperion”. He has copied the grand style of Milton but still there is originality in it. When we read “Hyperion” we can differentiate it from “Paradise Lost”. Unlike Milton, John Keats is not corruptor of English language because he uses pure English words but sometimes he digresses. But, there is no ambiguity in the fact that John Keats’s style in “Hyperion” is grand. His structure is organic and it exactly fulfils the requirement of an epic poem. With regard to grand style, “Hyperion” can be considered an epic poem.

Although “Hyperion” has been written with versified language yet it has some drawbacks. Second requirement of the epic poem, as mentioned in the definition, is great action, which is missing in “Hyperion”. If we compare “Hyperion” with “Paradise Lost”, we can find a lot of differences with respect to action of the poem. Aristotle in poetics has said that there can be a tragedy without character but no without action; John Keats, perhaps, has ignored this important factor or maybe he does not have the capability to present them. First case may be true because dramatic quality can be witnessed in many other poems of John Keats; he might ignore the basic need of an epic deliberately. So far as the question of capability is concerned, John Keats has the ability to write dramatic poems. “Ode to Nightingale” can be referenced in this regard. Whatever may be the case, it is true that “Hyperion” lacks the basic need of an epic poem viz. action. “Paradise Lost” on the other hand is full of actions. We see fallen angels in start of the poem but they are still motivated; there is action in their acts; their dialogues are also full of actions. Famous dialogue: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” from “Paradise Lost” proves that John Milton is far superior than John Keats to present action. Theme of dethronement has been presented in the “Hyperion” as it was presented in “Paradise Lost” but there is a difference of chalk and cheese in both the poems with regard to action. Angels in “Paradise Lost” have been fallen yet they have not lost their hopes, whereas Titans, on the other hand, have lost their hopes. In context of action, “Hyperion” is as dry as dust. Unfortunately, “Hyperion” does not fulfill the requirement of grand action, therefore, it is a negative point for “Hyperion”.

Illustration of great characters is also a condition for an epic poem. “Hyperion” is full of characters but none of them is great. Even “Hyperion” has not been glorified by the poet. Satan, on the other hand, in “Paradise Lost” has been illustrated vividly by Milton. He has been created as a gigantic figure; such a character has rarely been created by any poet in the history of English literature. Even for his shield, simile of moon has been used by the poet. It is well known fact that great action can only be possible because of great characters but if characters are not suitable then action is not possible. John Keats failed to paint great character in his poem. Perhaps, it is also a reason he felt that he is not doing poetic justice, therefore, he gave up the idea of completing the poem.

Thirdly, a minor weakness of the poem is that it is incomplete. In order to include “Hyperion” in the list of epic poems, the poet should have finished it. May be, if the poet would have completed it, it could be regarded as the best epic poem after “Paradise Lost”. He might add some action in it but unfortunately, he could not complete it and left it unfinished.

By and large, John Keats’s “Hyperion” does not fulfill the requirements of an epic poem. It has very less action and does not have great characters, which are required for an epic poem. Just versification and grand style, which too copied from another poet, does not make this poem epic. Every single requirement of tragedy must be fulfilled if one wants to write an epic poem just like “Paradise Lost”. Thus, due to lack of great characters and great action, “Hyperion” cannot be considered an epic poem.