Notes on Keats 2

The ultimate edge Keats holds over Wordsworth- of strangeness, odd proportions, the uncanny, intriguing semantic juxtapositions, "heavenly prosody"- 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 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 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 in proximity 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 formal-thematic angularity and balance of finely crafted and misshapen textual elements render them interesting for reasons past their vaunted Romantic passion, sincerity, and object-animating prosody. 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, inevitability, and formal gorgeousness.

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 avant-gardism- 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/gorgeousness of the misshapen.