An Appeal to Endymion

How do you start something? How do you make a beginning? There really is something ominous and scary about it. It’s a first step, a lurch into the distance. Or really you could think of it as a chase after something. Like you start out with this ideal image and vision of what you want this something to be, but then the vision leaves, and every attempt becomes an attempt to reclaim and recapture it. To re-envision what was lost. But, a vision being a vision is temporary and fragile. Once gone, it’s gone.

So that’s why it seems to be fitting to appeal to Endymion, or more specifically, the Endymion of John Keats. A poem about a man that’s haunted by an unredeemable vision. Just listen to his famous words:

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

I think the greatest thing about these lines, and what often goes the most over-looked, is that Keats really isn’t that joyful at all. These are actually very painful and sad lines – perhaps that’s why Keats breaks up his lines so dramatically. Just look at all of those pauses. Those semi-colons and commas. He makes us pause. And his lines literally can’t hold together. His pursuit and search, already in these first lines, seems doomed. Yes, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” BUT while it never passes “into nothingness,” we do. We vanish, while it stays, toying and taunting us. We look out for that quiet, nice little bower… but never find it.

So, how does this translate into such a simple thing like a blog?

I would say that it’s the perfect cop-out, the backdoor if, when it’s over, it never made it in the first place. Endymion himself in fact proves that this failure is actually inevitable, that we can’t control it, and that we must therefore just give in. Like I said, visions are never meant to be gained. That’s what makes them visions. So, like Endymion, the search is undoubtedly painful. We see the “thing of beauty,” but know, deep down, that it’s beautiful precisely because it’s already gone before we even started.

In his “Preface” to his poem, Keats himself speaks towards this inherent failure in our endless search for visions. He basically talks about how flawed his poem is. And how to not really expect all that much. He begins his poem in this way, saying, “Knowing within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public.” He then continues, “What manner I mean, will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished.” But this is the point! His youthful zest and seeming inexperience never leave. They can’t, and shouldn’t. Our flawed, doomed attempt to find our “thing of beauty” locates the beauty itself. The failure is the accomplishment.

A nice way to begin, then, right? An Appeal to Endymion.

Quotes from this post come from, The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. 7th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. Pages 1799-1800.