As to what else is expressed or signified by Keats’ prosody: I would argue that Negative Capability, Keats’ vaunted description of the cognitive process by which dichotomies are harmoniously and without irritation held and expressed in poetic language, is given concrete form by Keats’ prosody; in other words, the exquisite beauty of Keats’ metrical language is itself a metaphor for cognitive boundary dissolution, whether into a tactile Other (the Odes’ enchanted forest) or into the mind’s own imaginative dreamscapes, as they coalesce into a gestalt form. The dynamic, phenomenological tension in Keats’ Odes— what is inside and what is outside Keats’ mind, both as he dreams and as he writes— finds its apotheosis in the masterfully constructed verbal harmonies, resonances, and resolutions, which constitute the basis for a chiasmus of philosophical and aesthetic interest in the Odes. In the hierarchy of targets for the exercise of Negative Capability, the “who”— humanity, as an agent of Keats’ cognitive dissolution into human contexts— is set at a rather lower frequency than the “what”— the ineffable, the Other, the work of art itself, ranged along a vertical axis rather than a horizontal one, sublime, foreboding, beyond the grasp of human cognition, even if (as is the case in Grecian Urn) it includes and encompasses the human to express its own prosodic magnificence.
The importance of the phrase “working brain,” as it appears in Psyche, cannot be overstated— it is Keats’ vow to paganism and classical antiquity, that he can replicate both its sublimity and its tactility, through the conjunction of metrics and narratives. Keats’ prosody becomes the represented ecstasy of cognitive conjunctions— the working brain’s imaginative capacities with the enchanted forests of Greece, and its heroines; the transcendental capacities of human cognition with physical, embodied ecstasy (Cupid and Psyche, the Nightingale); and the horizontal axis of terra firma, the ecstasy of its sights and sounds, with the vertical levels of cognition connecting thoughts and visions into a mirroring mind’s landscape. This process is characterized in Keats, less so in Wordsworth and the other major Romantics, by (as Keats semi-famously wrote in one of his letters) its intensity. It is worth noting that prosody not heightened by the crescendo and decrescendo effect of deep emotion (the “where” parallel structure sequence in Nightingale, for example) has a quality of sag about it, however meticulous its rendering is— Wordsworth often has this problem. The blank verse rhythms of The Prelude, however stentorian, do not shudder or ripple along a vertical axis— they move gamely forward on a steady horizontal, without (even in the Snowdon episode) culminating in any cohesive, negatively capable expressive climaxes. Were Wordsworth to approach Snowdon in a Keatsian fashion, his represented physical ascent along a vertical axis (Snowdon itself) would need to find a greater sense of dynamic melopoeiac tension, bound together and then self-resolved, to mirror a greater sense of affective and cognitive intensity simultaneously.
Among the Odes, Grecian Urn is rather famous for its interrogations of an inanimate object, a work of art, as though it was a sentient being, or a kind of sentience inhered in it. In Grecian Urn, we get, indeed, two sets of interrogations: into a generalized “what” (“what mad pursuit?/ “what struggle to escape?”), and into a generalized “who” (“Who are these coming to the sacrifice?”). An incision I’d like to make into narratives around the Odes, and specifically around Grecian Urn, has to do with the difference between the two interrogative pronouns in Keats (“what” and “who”), and why the difference is significant, both in our perception of Keats’ place among the Romantics and his Odes, and in metaphysics in poetry and major high art consonance generally. As to the significations, in Grecian Urn, of “who” (inverting the fact that it appears after “what” in the poem): I take the interrogations around “who” to suggest an appreciation (Keats’ appreciation) of humanity as knowable, decipherable in both their thoughts and in their activities, and as worthy of praise, when represented gracefully and rigorously, as anything or anyone else in the universe. Keats’ vision of humanity is horizontal: he looks directly at humans, and at the broadly “human,” along a horizontal axis which includes himself and his quotidian perceptions. The interrogations around “what” suggest something else, something transcendental and bordering the ineffable, and charted along a vertical axis: Keats’ relationship to art, to major high art consonance, and to what in it is sublime, and past being merely comforting and companionable, “post-human.”
As to what in Grecian Urn, and Keats Odes, binds him most firmly to the “what” of things, rather than the “who” of things: his visionary sense of the Urn itself is indicative, but it is the exquisite prosodic element of Keats’ language itself, its ornate scaffolding having been manifested from a power base of enormous intelligence, that replicates the exquisite “what” of the Grecian Urn itself, what is embedded on it, narratives and figures. In addition, the exquisite molding and scaffolding of Keats prosody can be taken as a representation of the enchanted forest itself, what in it is Other to human consciousness, what in it holds and maintains mysteries in the direction of humanity. This is a key idea in Keats, especially in relation to the other major Romantics— what exquisite prosody signifies, in/of itself— because Keats’ prosody is the major distinguishing characteristic of his best poetry over that of Wordsworth especially, Byron and Shelley certainly. If there is a direct causal link between the forest’s enchantment (as had been handed down to Keats from the Greeks, on the Grecian Urn and elsewhere) and the quality, ambience, and “what-ness” of Keats’ prosody, it reinforces the sense of the transcendentalism of the Odes and the odal cycle, and the fact that Keats’ critical reputation in century XX, which pegged him for a sensualist against transcendentalism, were investigating the Odes on a superficial level, against the kind of “deep hermeneutic” which finds pertinent significations in exquisite prosody itself.
#1300 On the trip I had one mind, everyone else had twelve or more, I maintained weight, sat around doing nothing as I wandered a baffling universe of locked-in zeros spinning all around the two talismans that gave the apartment its currents, Jimmy the Face, Martha the Mask, and they slayed all my enemies, countless piles of shit, while fame gave me bark to shave off and I complained of mirrored graves.
In 2010, Desmond Swords wrote a brief, incisive piece on Apparition Poems which was permanently preserved on a UK List-Serve. Excavation and Recuperation, which explores this piece, has now passed 200 downloads on IA and so I have placed it, also, on Open Library. Many thanks again to Mr. Swords.
#1484 She drowns days in bourbon, nests in bars plucking feathers from her rear end, shitting on ugly girls beneath her— I hover, also, listen to her hum, as it rises over the din, and like a coward keep it to myself as I pass into sunset, back to my own nest, seeds scattered on bed.
Your gut tells you when
something’s wrong— here
I am at war in darkness—
no moss over me, no
camouflage— I lean forward—
but oh the degenerate trenches,
so very boring, passion kept
to a minimum, fires aglow
never, and my guts fear
the soulless twerps, jealous
that I might be brought low
by some version of cripple’s
More from the wall format files: Dawn Gailey's pic of me in the Last Drop in 2008; Kelly McCabe's Ad-Shot in State College in '94; Amy King's of me reading in Brooklyn '07; and two anonymous portraits of Abs, in white and close-up.