Major Themes in “Hyperion” by John Keats

Major Themes in "Hyperion" by John Keats

In order to write an epic poem, great themes are required. John Keats has written “Hyperion” while keeping in mind various subjects. He has chosen such themes which are necessary for an epic poem. Perhaps, his intention was to combine various ideas in a single poem, therefore, a bundle of themes is available in “Hyperion”. When John Keats was writing “Hyperion”, French revolution was being discussed by every poet. Apart from poets, common people were also talking about revolutionary ideas and the replacement of new order with the previous one. John Keats usually keeps himself away from social and political issues but somehow directly or indirectly he has portrayed themes related to French revolution. It is also evident from his poetry that he talks about human sufferings; thus, themes with respect to agonies and strife are also available in the poem. But the major theme of this poem is related to power. John Keats have studied “Paradise Lost” and tried to take it up to the level of “Paradise Lost”; whether he became successful or not it is not matter of discussion but there is no denial the fact that themes of “Hyperion” are impressive. It is also not wrong to say that some of the themes of “Hyperion” are copied from “Paradise Lost”.

John Keats has not only relied upon duplicating the themes of “Paradise Lost” but also added some new themes in it in order to make his poem extraordinary. Some major themes of “Hyperion” are as following:-

“Power and revenge” is the main theme of “Hyperion”. From starting lines of the poem, this theme is witnessed; there is a war between Titans and Olympians. Titans have been defeated by Olympians and now they want revenge. Currently, power is in the hands of Olympians. They have trampled the Titans. Titans, like fallen angels in “Paradise Lost”, want to regain their position. They need power and motivation in order to expand their territories and powers. Story of the poem deals with the incidents and life of superhuman beings; every god has power as per his respective trait. Saturn, being commander of Titans, is full of woe and despair. When he has felt that his children are threat to his power and throne, he tries to remove them but unfortunately war does not go in his favour. His youngest son Jupiter escapes and later causes the fall of his father. Now, Saturn wants vengeance. Similarly, Hyperion is also in power, who is on Titans’ side; though he is undefeated yet he knows the condition of his fellow-gods, who are powerless now. Thus, the whole poem revolves around power, dethronement and vengeance. Hence “Power and Revenge” is the main theme of this poem.

John Keats is famous for portraying human sufferings, agony and strife. “Human Suffering” is also major theme of this poem. Fall of Titan is painful. Description of their condition arouses the feelings of pity. Indeed, Keats has so accurately painted the situation that Titan’s fall seems pitiful. Hyperion, who is undefeated, knows his sore future. He is well aware with the upcoming catastrophe. Thoughts regarding upcoming destruction increase his pain. His fellow-gods have met with a tragic end. He sees his future with them. Hyperion’s disturbed state of mind can also be witnessed in the poem. Similarly, the autobiographical character of Apollo and his painful struggle to eternalize himself are related to sufferings. Hence, there is no ambiguity in the fact that suffering is also a major theme of this poem.

John Keats is fascinated by beauty. His fundamental concept of beauty which he considers above all other things also exists in the poem. He has shown superiority of beauty to other things. He has glorified it while saying that the first in beauty should be first in light also. Imagery of the poem, description of natural objects, blowing wind etc. show that Keats considers beauty as most important factor of life. He does not only express his attitude towards it but through strong references proves that beauty should be considered superior to material things of life. Famous scene of Apollo’s walk confirms that no one can define beauty better than Keats. Thus, beauty is third in the list of major themes of “Hyperion”.

As mentioned earlier, French revolution was being discussed in every street. Everyone was talking about it. Either intentionally or intentionally, John Keats has also portrayed a theme related to French revolution. Titans are symbolized as old order, whereas Olympians are symbols of new order; John Keats thinks that new order is superior to the old order as they are superior in beauty. Titans must accept their defeat as they have fallen now; the old order has been replaced by the new one and the Titans should not resist. Symbolically, perhaps the poet is talking about French revolution. The old system was replaced by new; people were free; after a long struggle, feudalism came to an end. Thus, for people, the new order was better than the old one. Also in “Hyperion”, we see the old gods are not better than the new gods; they are sluggish; they just think about their rise; their thinking is stuck on vengeance. On the other hand, the new gods are fresh; they want change; they want refinement; they are prepared for new creations. It is, therefore, John Keats thinks that they are better than the old gods. Anyhow, replacement of old order with new is a major theme of this poem.

Old and new views of human experience can also be acknowledged in “Hyperion”. It is affirmed by John Keats that Idealism and realism are entirely different things. He has tried to show difference in both these two things all his life but he became successful when he wrote Hyperion.

“Hyperion” may not be the best epic poem yet it is crystal clear that it is rich in themes. John Keats has been criticized because he remained fail to complete an epic poem. Allegations regarding copying the style of other poets have also been leveled against John Keats. It is true that he has copied Milton’s themes but as mentioned supra, he has not relied only on the themes of “Paradise Lost”, instead he has blown new soul in common themes while writing “Hyperion”. It is a fragment instead of a complete epic poem even then it is being read today. Indeed, the reason behind its freshness lies in its themes.