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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Keats and the problem of evil : a study of the influence of the Timaeus on Keats’ mythological vision St. Pierre, Martha


Critics have declined to acknowledge the influence of Platonism on Keats' poetry except in its most rudimentary form. Close analysis of a contemporary translation of Plato's Timaeus, however, reveals many connections between Keats' thought and the mythology of the dialogue. This thesis contends that Thomas Taylor's translation of and commentaries on the Timaeus underlie much of the mythological structure of Keats' Hyperion and the system of salvation which Keats later develops in his vale of soul-making letter. It is true that the poet before 1818 decries the importance of "philosophy," but when the problem of evil comes to haunt him, he is forced to confess his need to understand the world within a philosophical framework. The mythology of the Timaeus provides him with such a framework. It cannot be proven absolutely perhaps that Keats was dependent upon the Timaeus in his own myth-making, but there appears to be a number of very direct influences of the dialogue on his letters and on Hyperion -- these are outlined in Chapters Two and Three. What is of most importance in the study of Keats' mythology is the way in which the poet eventually reshapes and moves beyond Platonism to answer the problem of evil and to establish a mythology of his own, a mythology which finds embodiment in the vale of soul-making and in the odes of 181°. Chapter One traces the growth of Keats from a poet who prefers to delight in sensations to one who seeks philosophic truth. It establishes his religious and philosophic beliefs before and after the problem of evil (recorded in March 1818) is brought home to him, and indicates how he modifies on ^'builds upon those beliefs. In the Mansion of Many Apartments and the March of Intellect letter, Keats introduces the allegories which later become the basis of the mythology of Hyperion. Chapter Two explores the process of Keats' myth-making in Hyperion and reveals to what extent the poet depends upon the Timaeus to answer the problem of evil. Keats is determined to show how the Principle of Beauty is inherent in the world, and he adopts the Platonic world-view to explain that mortality and mutability are really calculated towards a greater good, are not to be considered evils. The philosophic argument, sustained in the structure of the poem, falls apart on the emotional level, however: Keats' tragic vision as exemplified in the Titans is not compensated by the philosophic argument. The failure of Hyperion to build a mythology induces the poet to reassess the problem of evil, to rework its parameters, and the effort leads finally to the resolution of the problem and to Keats' own mythology. The final chapter establishes how, from the Pythagorean concept of soul found in the Timaeus, Keats develops his theology of soul-making. His- system of spirit-creation moves far beyond Platonism and becomes the basis of the poet's own, independent mythology. But although Platonism is abandoned, its contribution to the thought of Keats should not be underestimated: in measuring his own ideas against it, Keats is able finally to define his own philosophy, to answer the problem of evil. The odes of 1819 are a series of myths which develop and sustain Keats' vision. In each one Keats illustrates the weaknesses of traditional Greek theology, offering in its stead one more appropriate to modern England, one which explains the role of evil in man's personal salvation. If we are to know Keats' mythology, it is to the odes that we must turn.

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