The Evidence for Celticism in Keats

  • Christine Gallant

Abstract

Keats was born on Hallowe’en. This was Samhain of the old Celtic calendar, the time when the veil between the mortal world and the world of faerie grew porous and thin, a dangerous time. And indeed Romantic Celticism, its culture and politics, was central to his major works. Woven in and out of his poetry are faeries, demons, and spirits. These are “the Good People,” “the wee folk,” and “the Little People” long known in the folklore of the British Isles, so named to propitiate any that might be lurking nearby unseen.1 Terming them thus also quieted one’s own fears of the capricious, amoral powers of these beings that half belonged to the world of the dead and half to the world of the mortal.2 The presence of the faerie in Keats’s writings is accompanied by the centuries-old feeling of dread at their menace mixed with fascination by their timeless allure, rather than the more modern notion of them as small, tricksy aliens. Keats was not emulating Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton with their literary rendering of contemporary faerylore; nor was he revealing some supposedly pervasive anxiety to fit into their aristocratic literary culture by using faerylore as they did.3 He drew on an earlier and more primitive lore of the faerie.

Keywords

Steam Titan Smoke Hunt Excavation 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 3.
    For a key example of a critic “demonstrating” Keats’s supposed class anxiety in this regard, see Marjorie Levinson, Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 5, Oxford: Clarendon Press and New York: Oxford University, 1989, p. 662.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Katharine Briggs, An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures, New York: Pantheon Books, 1976, p. 167. And see her study of the beginnings of the literary-faery tradition in The Anatomy of Puck: An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare’s Contemporaries and Successors, London: Routledge & Paul, 1959.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Maureen Duffy, The Erotic World of Faery, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1972, p. 244.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    J. Burke Severs, “Keats’s Fairy Sonnet,” Keats-Shelley Journal VI (1957), p. 111.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    Jeffrey C. Robinson, Reception and Poetics in Keats: ‘My Ended Poet,’ London: Macmillan Press, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 15.
    There are several excellent summaries of the recent developments in Keats criticism that began with Jerome McGann’s opening salvo in 1979. See Donald C. Goellnicht, “The Politics of Reading and Writing: Political Reviews of Keats’s Poems (1817),” in New Romanticisms: Theory and Critical Practice, eds David L. Clark and Donald C. Goellnicht, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994, pp. 101–5;Google Scholar
  8. and Nicholas Roe, “Introduction,” in Keats and History, ed. Nicholas Roe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 1–8.Google Scholar
  9. 19.
    Andrew Motion, Keats, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997, p. 37.Google Scholar
  10. 20.
    Charles Cowden and Mary Clarke, Recollections of Writers (ptd. 1878), Sussex: Centaur Press, 1969, p. 147.Google Scholar
  11. 33.
    Bernard Blackstone, The Consecrated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form, London: Longman’s and Green, 1959, p. 387.Google Scholar
  12. 35.
    Fiona Stafford, “Fingal and the Fallen Angels: Macpherson, Milton and Romantic Titanism,” in From Gaelic to Romantic: Ossianic Translations, eds Fiona Stafford and Howard Gaskill, Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodolpi Press, 1998, pp. 176–8.Google Scholar
  13. 36.
    The first to do so was Edward Snyder, The Celtic Revival in English Literature, 1760–1800, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 37.
    Laura Doyle, “The Racial Sublime,” in Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture 1780–1834, eds Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996, pp. 22–5.Google Scholar
  15. 38.
    Michael Hechter advanced the argument that the Celtic fringe countries had a common experience in their relation to the English core that was colonial in nature. See Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1975.Google Scholar
  16. 40.
    Leigh Hunt, The Autobiography of Leigh Hunt, with Reminiscences of Friends and Contemporaries, 1850; rpt. New York: AMS Press, 1965, p. 278.Google Scholar
  17. 44.
    Nicholas Roe, “Leigh Hunt: Some Early Matters,” in Leigh Hunt: Life, Poetics, Politics, ed. Nicholas Roe, London and New York: Routledge, 2003, p. 27.Google Scholar
  18. 54.
    Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. The first two chapters are particularly valuable in establishing the extent to which Keats’s republicanism was formed and nourished by Enfield School.Google Scholar
  19. 61.
    Keats, Letters, I, p. 130. See also Robert Gittings, John Keats, Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, p. 127.Google Scholar
  20. 62.
    Napoleon carried the eight volumes of The Poems of Ossian (a translated French version of Macpherson’s supposed translation from the Gaelic) with him on several military campaigns; and Thomas Jefferson termed Ossian “the greatest poet that has ever existed” (Paul M. Allen and Joan deRis Allen, Fingal’s Cave, the Poems of Ossian, and Celtic Christianity, New York: Continuum, 1999, pp. 152–3).Google Scholar
  21. 63.
    Fiona J. Stafford, The Sublime Savage: A Study of James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988, p. 164.Google Scholar
  22. 65.
    Jerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 33.Google Scholar
  23. 70.
    Sir Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1902; ed. T.F. Henderson, Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968, Vol. I, p. 18.Google Scholar
  24. 72.
    See the brief allusion to parallels between Thomas and Endymion in Nancy Moore Goslee, Scott the Rhymer, Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1988, p. 207; and in her essay, “The Envisioning of Women: From Endymion to the Later Romances,” in Approaches to TeachingKeats’s Poetry, eds Walter H. Evert and Jack W. Rhodes, New York: Modern Language Association, 1991, pp. 112–15. See also the equally brief comparison of “Thomas the Rhymer” and “La Belle Dame sans Merci” by Tristram Coffin, p. 67.Google Scholar
  25. 73.
    Charles G. Zug, III, “The Ballad Editor as Antiquary: Scott and the Minstrelsy,” Journal of the Folklore Institute, Vol. 13, No. 1 (1976), p. 70.Google Scholar
  26. 74.
    W.H. Nicolaisen, “Scott and the Folk Tradition,” in Sir Walter Scott: The Long-Forgotten Melody, ed. Alan Bold, Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1983, p. 131.Google Scholar
  27. 77.
    Mary Ellen Brown, Burns and Tradition, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984, p. 23.Google Scholar
  28. 85.
    Murray G.H. Pittock, Celtic Identity and the British Image, Manchester: Manchester University Press and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999, p. 39.Google Scholar
  29. 86.
    Robert Gittings, John Keats, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1968, pp. 230–1.Google Scholar
  30. 91.
    Declan Kiberd, cited in Fiona Stafford, Starting Lines in Scottish, Irish, and English Poetry: From Burns to Heaney, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 252. Stafford agrees with Kiberd, commenting that “Keats [was] represen-tative of the problematic attitudes encountered by the Irish over so many years” (252).Google Scholar
  31. 92.
    Declan Kiberd, “The Fall of the Stage Irishman,” in The Genres of the Irish Literary Revival, ed. Ronald Schleifer, Norman, Oklahoma: Pilgrim Books, and Dublin, Ireland: Wolfhound Press, 1980, p. 43.Google Scholar
  32. 96.
    Jennifer Westwood, Albion: A Guide to Legendary Britain, Salem, NH: Salem House, 1985, p. 399. Motifs F420.1.1, Water-spirit as man; Motif F420.1.6.1, Water-spirits are dressed like people of surroundings; Motif F420.4.7, Seeing and observing of water-spirits has fatal consequences; and Motif F422, Marsh-spirit.Google Scholar
  33. 97.
    Diane Purkiss, At the Bottom of the Garden: A History of Fairies, Hobgoblins and Other Troublesome Things, New York: New York University Press, 2001. Scott had noted this earlier “…the character of the Scottish Fairy is more harsh and terrific than that which is ascribed to the elves of our sister kingdom [England]” (Minstrelsy, II, p. 351).Google Scholar
  34. 101.
    John Gregorson Campbell, Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland: Collected Entirely from Oral Sources, Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1900; rpt. Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1970, p. 23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Christine Gallant 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine Gallant

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations