Intimacy: Conventional, Otherwise...

The quirkiness of Keats’ Odal Cycle as involves intimacy, “I-thou”; when Keats addresses the “you” in the Odes, it is almost always either an archetype or an imaginative creation. Keats does not directly address any other human beings. It is left to his readers to decide for ourselves whether we can accept this approach; whether there is or can be any real intimacy between Keats and Psyche, or a Grecian Urn, or a nightingale, etc. Because the Odes are legitimately visionary, i.e. they create, consolidate, and perpetuate an imaginative vision of human reality both complex enough and self-contained enough to be seen to constitute a complex, self-contained vision, the choice, as ever with visionary major high art consonant art, is whether to accept this vision or not. The magnificence of Keats’ prosody is one reason to accept Keats’ vision; that the prosody stands for or signifies that the vision, of intimacy with things and imaginative vistas rather than with people, is real, wholesome, and genuine. On the other hand, some audiences may decide that Keats getting overheated about urns and nightingales falls under the narrative-thematic aegis of the adolescent, and that the prosodic richness of the Odes only partly compensates for the gravitas that is lost in ecstasy, euphoria, and the passionate élan of unbridled imaginative sensuousness.

The Cheltenham Elegies replace euphoria with resignation. In this humanistic context, all the “I-thou” textual energy is aimed conventionally, at other people, be they living or dead (this, we do not always know). What is meant to be mind-bending in the Elegies is dramatic intensity and shifting perspectives, even as the Elegies’ prosody is not as rich as the Odes’. With Shelley and Adonais, we have a vision of almost complete alienation, of Shelley investigating the dry-ice “I-he” or “I-it” perspective in nightmarish vignette after vignette. Shelley’s vision is the most materialistic of the three, and (potentially) the most difficult to stomach— that death has absolutely cut off any intimacy he might have achieved with John Keats, that Keats is absolutely gone to him, and that Keats’ corpse is a fetish for Shelley of raw, insensate meat and nothing else. Euphoria and resignation are answered here with searing agony and horror; and, also (as with Keats), a sense of a kind of textual Mannerism, which exaggerates quirks, extends textual limbs into contorted positions, bends reality out of shape (all the necrophilia, the personification of Death), and makes materialism morph, in a manner which may be seen as either seductive or nauseating, into a kind of hyper-materialistic inferno-world. Neither Adonais nor the Odes tackle humanity head-on the way the Elegies do. Whether this counts for the Elegies or against depends on any reader’s given taste for humanism and human intimacy in its most pure, least torqued manifestations.