Clear Ether : John Keats in the Twenty-First Century


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Clear Ether collects notes by American poet Adam Fieled related to English Romanticism, and specifically John Keats, spanning the years 2014-2015.

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Clear Ether : John Keats in the Twenty-First Century Adam Fieled


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Keats, and what the phantasmagoric has to offer in coherence/complexity- the phantasmagoric being a mode of the visionary- and what in it differs from Flaubert's hyper-sensuality- Keats' phantasmagoric approach in "Nightingale" argues for the manifest complexity/density of mere subjectivity, and this argument is a critical commonplace in relation to Romanticism, but lifted into a kind of textual ether by a dazzling array of polarities, swimming in and out of textual focus. They all vie for predominance, generating friction which gives off an intense visceral heat, heightened by melopoeiac mastery, into a sense of the text as a juggernaut or conflagration, an intense, sustained, and burning moment. This is the unique province of major high art consonant poetry over prose. The momentary nature of the lyric poem- maximum coherence/maximum complexity as an inspiration, in and out, and over- has, as its principle, and as Keats noticed himself, intensity as its signature virtue against prose and other forms of literature. Why the Odes establish Keats as an almost peerless lyric poet is that when a phantasmagoric edge is added to cognitive-affective intensity, the lyric poem creates a map of creative cognitive consciousness which prose, for all its expansive objectivity and perspective adumbration, cannot. This is how the odal task Keats sets himself reveals Flaubert, in the aggregate, too- by representing cognitive processes and responses to processes, we perceive what animates the subjectivity-in-motion behind all textuality. This perception- sensibility ascending into understanding and straining upwards towards the solidity of principles- encompasses, in its verticality, both Romanticism and its antitheses. The lyric principle is set in opposition to Tolstoy's- the self-represented complexity of individuals, rather than the complexity of individuals objectively rendered. The warmth in lyric poetry against Tolstoy's ice, and sober maturity- is it solely an adolescent warmth? Keats' phantasmagoric sensibility does suggest a hyper-developed interior- the sounds and senses Keats identifies with, which he cleaves to himself and his own consciousness, are many and various. This promiscuity defies the frugality of age, literary and otherwise. Yet, by demonstrating an apogee of human consciousness in text, Keats manifests an ideal which Flaubert and Tolstoy were forced to miss- that complex human consciousness can


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create magnificent crescendos, the sense of total cognitive and sensual ravishment that Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina, both readers of midlevel texts and lower, can only pine after. Phantasmagoric vistas, the romanticism of extreme momentary intensity- in short, genuine poetry- the principle to achieve these effects is inclusion, movements towards things (material and cognitive) and embraces of them. Wordsworth enacts the same textual process, even in his semi-objective Prelude. Flaubert and Tolstoy are compelled by other imperatives- yet, genuine cognitive ascension towards profound understanding and solid principles is more fulfilled by the objectivity of the non-romantic plain glance. Ultimately, the two approaches don't need to negate each other- the 60-40 advantage I give to objectivity and prose owes to the inaccessible nature of real intensity in the human world, and the Odes especially are such rare birds that they cannot age completely gracefully over the larger, more imposing realities of human life as they manifest, and permanently so, and as consciousness ages towards understanding of sense past sensibility and the allure of the momentary and its phantasmagoria. ……………………………………………………………………………… The ultimate edge Keats holds over Wordsworth- of strangeness, odd proportions, the uncanny, intriguing semantic juxtapositions- is especially apparent once the limitations of Wordsworth's system have defined themselves against textual systems which exceed it. The chiasmus of nature (natural forces) and the mind of man- how nature, once perceived in the most purified light (as, perhaps, a set of principles), imposes heightened cognition, understanding into distilled reason- must fall, once the acknowledgment is made that Wordsworth's system is just another mode of Romantic (at least semi-adolescent, in its projected narcissism) escapism. The escapist valve is towards a subjectively held and maintained psycho-affective transcendence, which the rigorous demands of human society, its labyrinthine, ineluctable complexities (as is seen in Flaubert and Tolstoy) could easily disperse into the nothingness of raw sensibility again. The antithesis: an impulse towards understanding and distilled reason not merely as an escape, but as transcendence-via-direct engagement, not seeking understanding in the otherness of natural forces, or pronouncing facile, half-understood blessings on a human continuum falsely linked to natural forms employed as intoxicants. These forms subsist at a distance from human


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systematic reasoning, or attempts at such. The manner in which Keats intoxicates himself (and the extent to which his intoxication is a simultaneous movement towards ecstasy and agony, fulfillment and denial, consummation and abandonment) is more grounded in human reality- especially, the confrontation between the human mind and physical mortality. The nature-cocaine Wordsworth imbibes is too much about living forever/eternal life- despite evident technical mastery and a prosaic style fluid, limpid, and complex enough to place the Prelude next to Keats' Odes, Wordsworth's simplified thematic dynamics, and what about human reality is forced by his own systematic fronts to escape notice, relegates him to a position beneath Keats, whose textual bravery and boldness exceed his. Moreover, there are few angles from which the Odes do not appear strange- their formalthematic angularity and balance of finely crafted and misshapen textual elements render them interesting for reasons past their vaunted Romantic passion, sincerity, and object-animating vivacity. In other words, to understand Keats' Odes by the Kantian cognitive model (sensibility-understanding-reason) is to get caught on each level by a kind of camouflage which hides how the circuitry is connected, how it coheres to impose an impression of depth, solidity, and inevitability. Thus, the Odes for me are strangely fascinating and enduring- no less systematic than the Prelude, but the inscrutability of whose system makes the Odes seem to torque or twist each time they are encountered. That sense- that the Odes themselves have a manner of being sentient, evincing sentience- is unique in the canon of English-language poetry. It also has a way of making the Odes a kind of last word in poetic avantgardism- because the Odes have inhering in them this strange, vibrant, oscillating light of change/dynamism, they cannot leave the cutting edge, no matter who then or later was or is cast up as standing in an aesthetic position of extremity and innovation. The contradiction- the Odes are largely about disappearances (on physical and metaphysical levels), yet they refuse to disappear- is their principle, and then the compelling power of strangeness, the glory of the misshapen. …………………………………………………………………………… Keats' "Negative Capability" has become a lit-crit commonplace, so that scholars and readers forget the richness of its significations. To balance psycho-affective polarities without "irritably grasping after


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reason" (or principles, in the Kantian sense, which specifically suggests deductive reasoning and its sobriety, against the aesthetic) is one cognitive level Negative Capability accounts for; but the other question (which the Odes answer) is how polarities might be expressed in text in a negatively capable fashion. To achieve this end in the most spectacular possible fashion, Keats has recourse to dialects of sense/sensibility, initiated from a subjective stance of acknowledgement of the darkness of physical extinction, while maintaining affective vivacity in relation to his own psycho-affective processes- all the data being processed finds worthwhile and illustrative objective correlatives in what Keats opens textually. Keats' objective correlatives in the Odes- his nightingale, Grecian Urn, autumn, melancholy, and the rest- have a way of jolting his textual gambits up from sensibility to understanding and then (importantly, by induction rather than deduction) distilled/principled reason, not initially grasped for but floated up to gracefully and artfully. The time/space coordinates projected by Keats onto his Odal objects create dynamic tensions which torque and transform depending on any given reader's subjectivity- the succession of vignettes in "Nightingale," in particular, create a warped sense of temporal textual succession, in which a succession of disappearances is enacted (the poet, the nightingale, the song, the state of consciousness and entire sensibility which illuminated the succession as a landscape, a forest scene), so that conventional space/time coordinates are replaced as the eruption of time zones is followed by dissolution of the same; and the conceptions which arise from this enactment, animated by the Odal objective correlatives, have to do with an essential mutability inhering in the congealed formal matter of Keats' subjectivity, which it is the unique province of major high art consonant poetry to reveal. This breach in time/space coordinates is explosive, spectacular, compulsively demonstrative; in short, Romantic; and that, the demonstration of psycho-affective mutability potentialities, is what Romanticism at its best brings to the philosophical table, against the conceptually grounded stability of the higher echelons of novelistic prose, their vistas onto human collectives. The lyric poet, Adorno writes, is self-posited against society; and defines himself in relation to the entire human continuum of types which he is not; isolated by his (or her) capacity for mutability (on psycho-affective levels) and cognitive boundary-dissolution (into, presumably, transcendental realms once conventional frameworks are eliminated),


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but also ossified into a kind of stunted adolescence by his (or her) inability to view things plainly, and discern profound truth from illusion. That's why, though Keats' textual bravery exceeds Wordsworth's, and his confrontations with mortality are affecting, his appeal still lies in this inducement of states of intoxication. If textual truth accords with textual beauty (to follow Grecian Urn through), Keats must fare relatively poorly next to Flaubert and Tolstoy, whose concerns and efforts wear more comfortably over long periods of time. Through this textual strainer, Keats' apogee of intoxication is assimilated and the central Romantic fallacy pierced through- that the dissolution of boundaries, psychic and otherwise, is commensurate with a kind of enlightenment, aesthetic or otherwise.


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Keats and Lyricism Adam Fieled


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As to the lyrical impulse which infuses the Odal Cycle with life: the balance between what is picked up/grasped momentarily by Keats‟ consciousness, hewn into the text, and (conversely) a fixed set of concerns which Keats (or any major lyrical poet) projects into the textual realm, consciously or unconsciously, every time he/she writes creatively, especially at crescendo moments of passionate intellection/intellectual passion, is a point of speculative interest for the critic, poet, or scholar, who wishes to grasp how and why inductive sensibility, understanding, and then reason should produce a text of vital interest over a long period of time. It is the balance between the fixed, projected outwards, and the mutable, promiscuously encountering momentary data to reify or unhinge what can remain fixed at the moment of textual initiation and consummation. In Grecian Urn, as I have previously written, images of virginity („unravish‟d brides”) are sought out from the fixed part of Keats‟ consciousness as he looks at (enters into, both with a phallic sense of textual mastery and a negatively capable sense of identification) the urn. Yet, the avant-gardism of the Odes, their own unending mutability in productive directions/perspectives if viewed continuously, dictates the lesson that levels of irony built into this encounter complicate its straightforward verticality around passionate virginity, and the enchantment virginal states have of verticality in and of themselves, as virginal consciousness graduates towards consummation, once this sense of graduation is frozen into place, made immortal; the negatively capable subject who stands behind the Ode creates a sense of mutability around an audience trying to see into a fixed set of concerns given ambiguous expression, and become negatively capable ourselves. Does he relish virginity-images specifically from a virgin sensibility of his own, or is his fixed concern attempting to balance an injured sense of experience, of consummations (“ravishings”) gone awry, as we create a fruitful (“never can those trees be bare”) chain by entering his consciousness while the Urn enters his own consciousness? Lyricism‟s dance with raw subjectivity means that here, the New Critical commonplace against the desirability of gauging authorial intentionality must move to the back, remain in abeyance. Too much about lyricism depends on a sense of identification between reader, poet, and the text which dares to “play middle.” In the case of my own textual practice, the fixed set of concerns I project onto my texts has more to do with ontology, less to do with the rigors of melopoeia— my crescendos, thus,


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can never reach the heights of Keats‟ Odal Cycle. Yet, the riveting nature of prosody, when balanced correctly with intellection (and Keats‟ fixed set of concerns, projected onto his text, certainly involves the interstitial complications around prosody and intellection), is that it is a specific kind of hinge towards a sense of abandon (into verticality) and mutability (into verticality), and one that, with the twenty-first century and its conventions beginning to consummate themselves in 2014, may or may not be in danger of becoming lost in the ontological, and in hybrid forms. The horizontal, “planed” reach of prose, past the momentary or lyrical, and even forms of poetry for which prosody is not an overriding concern (Apparition Poems and Cheltenham are still involved in this concern, but not as an imperious imperative, the way Keats would have cogitated it) may mean that this form/manner of building textual impetus/direction will exist only as a kind of memory for us, but one fond enough, edgy enough, and wistful enough in its essential Otherness that its presence for us must remain stalwart. ……………………………………………………………………………… Lyricism‟s hinge to adolescence, and the Dionysian— I have the Dionysian ranked as a Secondary Mode on the Purification Chain, for the same reason that the “fixed” must take its place as a Primary Mode over the mutable— an ethos around the aesthetic, whether inhering in the text directly or indirectly, must supersede, in its formal structure (scaffolding, image arrangements as on the Grecian Urn), what is included in momentary instances/impulses to destabilize, abrade, propel the text further towards more inductive leaps, melopoeiac crescendos; and fixed textual ethos manifests the rigors of Apollonian order/gestalt form reification. Yet, to evacuate chance/the momentary from textual creation (or maintenance, even) is to deny a Secondary Mode, which has the capacity to purify Apollonian impulses of the cumbrous formal hegemony which engenders textual dullness/reification of signifiers into stasis: Keats returns. As to the rigors of ontological inquiry versus the rigors of melopoeia on the Purification Chain— if ontology is a Primary Mode to lyricism‟s Secondary, it is because serious ontological inquiry in creative or discursive texts has a manner/mode of destabilizing itself, towards its own expectation horizon of the Dionysian— where the essential Otherness of the Other manifests, jarring maintained perspectives of singularity and subjectivity. Keats‟ Achilles‟ heel, in the Odal Cycle— reliance on melopoeia, melopoeiac forms (technical/tactile form, in


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other words, against intellectual gestalt form) renders experiences of Otherness (nightingales, autumns, Grecian Urns) clipped, unduly bounded (again, interstitially complicated by prosody‟s war with intellection), and the resultant crescendos are redolent (often) of mere sensibility and not, for the most part, of understanding and reason. Keats‟ “high requiem” is for this blindness, for his own lyrical impulse to cast off intellectual discipline. Keats, lyricism, and what I call Space Between— what manifests as the momentary in the Odes, lurks as a subterranean passageway along an ontological vista of consciousness not only prioritizing a certain form/manner of Otherness, and Otherness attaining importance, but of identification of/with the Other, and Otherness, with the self, so that the self is (textually and otherwise) Other (“I is another” said Rimbaud), and thus loses its essence so as to extend its notions of being past the strictures of the Apollonian. Different minds, ideologies may judge this transformation as an adolescent anomaly or not— as the abstractions added by melopoeiac considerations invite the same judgment. Employing the constraints of my definition of Space Between, the balancing edge or link of Keats‟ lyricism, wherein he discovers the gestalt form of a certain textual self, stands at/with the virgin/virginal freshness of allowing the momentary a substantial modicum of unrestricted access, and the sense of the intellectual access of chance/the momentary is representative of lyricism as a generic construct in general, against the epic, the meta-poem, the elegy, and poetry (such as blank verse) meant to serve larger forms (perhaps hybrids with prose, perhaps not), larger ends. As a perceived avant-garde apotheosis of the lyric, the Odes embody a strange command of their own dynamics, and the off-centered quality of their ontological quirks kick back at the notion of their own obsolescence. Yet, the singularity of Keats‟ Odes in the canon of English language poetry is problematic— because ontology, and Space Between, can dismiss so much of Romanticism‟s naïve self-schemas and conceptions (up to and including the greater part of Wordsworth, Keats‟ most serious rival), the Odes‟ resilience and form/manner of shape-shifting confound even a minor dismissal. The challenge of chance, and the momentary, to a consciousness invested in ontological incisiveness, against states of half-being towards Space Between more defined, more fulsome, more grounded in intellectual command of boundaries (boundary dissolution, sometimes), is substantial and worthwhile, but mysterious and uncanny,


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like the raw lyricism of the Odes themselves. The Odes eternally invite us to participate in the arbitrary. ……………………………………………………………………………… Lyricism and what I call “deep noir” in Apparition Poems— the lyrical impulse here is divested of attachment to conventional (parochial, in retrospect) prosody (the term for my melopoeiac modus operandi is “clustering,” in which rhymes, near rhymes, assonances, alliterations, anaphora, and other devices occur at regularly irregular intervals). Also, the momentary or arbitrary is subsumed beneath fixed ontological concerns— “the enchantment of multiple meanings,” creating an epic effect (within the context of an “epic of fragments”) more than a lyrical one. Yet, what the Apparition Poems (including the Cheltenham Elegies) have in common with Keats‟ Odal Cycle is what might be called (this works generally for major lyric poetry too) a compression or “compressionist” impulse, so that the maximum amount of textual data congeals into solidity in the most confined possible textual space. The talent to compress is the poet‟s luck over the novelist‟s or the philosopher‟s. The advantage of compressed texts, compressed discourse (or, as in Space Between, compressed matrixes): maximum density of signifiers creates an intense phantasmagoric effect, in and of itself— like watching a good film, or fireworks— a simulacrum, more than the prosaic, of the rigors of sexual intercourse (not just Barthesian pleasure following a “cruise” but ecstasy, and ecstasy in the pretwentieth century dual sense, jubilance and jumping out of one‟s skin). Keats‟ inclusion of the arbitrary, indicative of what he chooses to celebrate (make Odal), reaches into an ontological space where only by dint of native genius can poetic sound and sense reach a satisfying apogee— thus, the Romanticism of genius narratives and mythologies around literature are true for Keats, and a genius for the arbitrary, its serendipitous manifestation, is exceedingly rare. The sui generis quality of the Odes has remained unchallenged for two centuries. I also extend the purview of my investigation of the Odal Cycle to encompass Taoism and awareness of the Tao— a self-subsistent mode of being (here made textual), arbitrary, serendipitous. Through the investigation of lyricism, the collusion of any text (or “textuality”) with notions of serendipity, textual elements magically falling into place to form coherent gestalt wholes— any time a text or discourse is not completely planned (which is every time), elements of


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chance force themselves on the human mind, so that what manifests, when it is substantial, mirrors the lyrical (or lyricism), either as a subtext or as a reference point. Working with fixed concerns, and attempting the imposition of intellectual discipline, a certain safeguard against lyricism is set in place (against adolescence, Romance), but when the spirit of lyricism makes the text or discourse refulgent, the writer(s) become memorable, evince the Romanticism of human warmth, and the memorable. What makes any text memorable is not necessarily arbitrary, but its manifestation must remain arbitrary (serendipitous) until a precise science of writing is developed which can reify specific textual formulas. In this sense, Keats and lyricism signify everything we still do not know about textuality— as we divine for its essence at one point, discard it at another; and lyricism-ontology, as a final mystery, beckons from a realm as surely Other, regarding language and the mind, as any floating in our cosmos. ………………………………………………………………………………………. Having committed myself very willingly to a position that ranks Keats‟ lyrical gift (for melopoeia, prosody, etc) above all others in the history of the English language, I have now gotten around to configuring what I call a Prosody Meter to posit other rankings. It begins with the supposition that Keats‟ gift supersedes all other competitors, and the 100% of the scale is the 100% of Keats‟ prosodic achievements. On the level of 75-80%, I would place (at their respective prosodic pinnacles) Donne, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare, all of whom create and sustain exquisite poetic music, but lack Keats‟ edge of fulsome solidity, of loading lines from every angle with ore. When Keats, for example, offers “mortality/ Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,” the effect of assonant sounds repeated so that almost every word in the line is included has no echo in Donne, Wordsworth, and Shakespeare. At the level of 66.66% I place myself and Shelley. “Clustering,” as I call my prosodic method, has the advantage of clearing up narrative-thematic ground so that I am not chained to my own music at the expense of narrative or intellectual interests, but also loosens a chunk of what could be formally golden into a purgatorial realm where what sticks, sticks and what is lost cannot be retrieved. Shelley I deign (as Keats did) to be a competent but rather lazy craftsman, who falls (despite a substantial lyrical gift) into lazy phrases and inappropriate repetitions: no one who reads the Romantics seriously can quite forgive “I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!” and its like. The lowest, 50% rung of the Prosody Meter


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has on it a cluster of poets habitually formally lazy enough that “ore,” in the Keatsian sense for them, is always over or under-employed: Byron, Tennyson, Browning, Swinburne, Yeats, and Eliot. All of these poets can be “jingly,” facile the wrong way round, and prosodic bells ring perfunctorily. Back to Keats: if I do pick nits with some of Keats‟ sonnets, it is because, by the time he begins writing the major ones in 1816, his “chops” are so developed that, in his innocent delight with his own magnificent technical facility, he sometimes undercooks his voltas (the volta in a sonnet occurs around line 9, which is supposed to turn or torque the narrative of the opening octave.) Keats‟ early voltas can be “auto-pilot” contrivances: O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell, Let it not be among the jumbled heap Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep— Nature‟s observatory— whence the dell, Its flowery slopes, its river‟s crystal swell, May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep „Mongst boughs pavilioned, where the deer‟s swift leap Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell. But though I‟ll gladly trace these scenes with thee, Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind, Whose words are images of thoughts refined, Is my soul‟s pleasure; and it sure must be Almost the highest bliss of humankind, When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee. The volta here undercuts, weakens the octave, by making the protagonist seem irresolute, and also unimaginative; in other words, it would have been more challenging for Keats to find in his solitude some objective correlative in nature to express what he wanted to express, rather than giving us the affective data nose on the face. It is, in American MFA parlance again, “telling” rather than “showing.” The irony of American MFA-land is that American poetry before me displays so little prosodic heft that American poetry gamers should worship the ground Keats walks on; but, in American MFA programs, the Romantics are little touched on. American poetry until now has been written uniformly by cretins. The gifted poets in the American canon are none.


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But back to Keats and his voltas: his more successful sonnets have structural dynamics that make the major turn interesting: When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, Before high-piled books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full-ripened grain; When I behold, upon the night‟s starred face, Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the fairy power Of unreflecting love!- then on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness do sink. The double crescendo here— the revelation of Fanny Brawne, and Keats‟ deeply felt passion for her, and then the plummet into the visionary locale of “the shore of the wide world” where Keats is confronted by his own powerlessness in the face of mortality (Keats‟ Scorpionic courage in confronting extinction being one of his great poetic strengths), take us, with the requisite magisterial music (assonances like “of unreflecting love” backed/solidified by strong end-rhymes, and anaphora from “of” as well), to a place of complete, totalized textual fulfillment, where an extreme gift is made to serve genuine narrative-thematic gravitas. That is genius in major high art consonant poetry. ………………………………………………………………………………. Keats‟ Odes encompass cycles and cycles within cycles; they are a literary meta-monument par excellence. The most overt cyclical energy I‟ve spotted in the Odes subsists between “Grecian Urn,” “Psyche,” and “Nightingale.” That Psyche and Grecian Urn set setting something in place to be reified— a cohesive gestalt vision of visions, and a blazon of the visionary as an emanation from the chiasmus between sense, tactility, and imagination— which is parodied, deconstructed and supplanted by subjective necessity against negative capability in Nightingale, is the basic premise. What is “doubled” between Grecian Urn and Psyche is profound— the visionary synecdoche, of young lovers



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