Keats wrote the poem ‘Endymion’ between 1817 and 1818. The epic focuses predominantly on the adventures of a young shepherd named Endymion, the story having been derived from Greek Mythology. ‘Endymion’ is a romantic poem, due to the themes that it encompasses. One of the major themes featured in the poem is that of Nature. The theme of Nature is used more extensively in ‘Endymion’ than any other, used to capture the different moods of humans by mirroring them with those of Nature.
The poem is divided into four books, each of which use Nature to a different degree. Keats often uses nature to uplift the spirit of the reader. This is displayed in book one, where Keats opens with a description of all things beautiful, using a great deal of positive imagery to put himself as well as the reader in a positive frame of mind. As book one progresses, there is a scene with a gathering of many people for a ceremony at a temple. The temple is dedicated to the Greek God Pan, the God of nature.
Keats shows how the people of the time that the mythology is set had simple and rather uncivilised lives. He does this by introducing shepherds into the scene. Readers think of shepherds as simple folk who lead very calm and serene lives, therefore giving the impression that the scene is set in relatively primitive times. Keats also has a tendency to describe the scenery very well, for example, he says ‘Some idly trailed their sheep hooks on the ground… Now coming from beneath the forest trees’.
This is a good example of how generous Keats is in the detail that he uses, perhaps in an attempt to coalesce the reader with the scenery, allowing for a better understanding of the messages being put across. The priest who leads the ceremony sings a hymn, which uses a large amount of natural imagery, relating nature to religion as well. Book one continues with the young shepherd Endymion being visited in his dream by Cynthia, Goddess of the moon, also known as Diane. Keats uses moods of nature to put across the mood that the characters are feeling at this time, for example ‘O magic sleep!
O comfortable bird, that broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind’ this quote refers to the troubled sea of the mind, meaning that Endymion had been suffering from turbulent thoughts, which were clarified by sleep and helped him to understand what was going on in his mind. Endymion dreams about Cynthia twice more before he realises that he is in love with her, and goes on to describe what that love is like, relating it to positive natural imagery; ‘What could it be but love?
How a ring dove let fall a sprig of yew tree in his path’ this type of imagery is aesthetically pleasing for the reader, and enhances the understanding of what Endymion is experiencing. Book two focuses on the journey of Endymion to find his loved one, upon which he meets the God Adonis and Goddess Venus, who both encourage him to continue searching and that he will find what he is looking for. Keats uses nature again to exalt the Gods and once again manages to tie in nature with religion, displaying his abilities to the reader.
Endymion then encounters the river God Alphaeus, and the Nymph Arethusa. Upon seeing that they are unhappy, he prays to Dian to ‘make them happy in some happy plains’ and for this he is transported to the sea by Arethusa so he can continue his journey. Once again the reader is given an example of natural religion, as Alphaeus is the God of the river, which is symbolic of the forces of nature. Book three shows Endymion continuing his pilgrimage to meet his lover. Keats uses moods of nature again emphasise the moods that Endymion is experiencing, making it easier for the reader to empathise with him.
Endymion then encounters a sea God called Glaucus, who told a story of a time when he was a mere fisherman. He told of how he was once surrounded by nothing but nature, yet was not contented. This relates to one of Keats’ letters where he describes a ‘Pleasure Thermometer’ which shows that a person can have three levels of happiness. The first of these is the love of nature. The second is the love shared between two friends, and the highest level is the unbridled passion shared between two people who are in love with each other.
The reason Glaucus did not feel content was due to the fact that he did not possess the highest level of happiness, therefore he craved to be in love with someone in order to achieve happiness. Glaucus tells his story as a warning to Endymion that love is a powerful force, which can destroy lives, as the Goddess Circe had envied the lovers and turned Glaucus into a withered old man, and his lover into a ghastly monster. In book four, Endymion continues his journey to find Celia. This book features a song called the Indian Maid’s Roundelay, which is sung by an Indian Maid whom Endymion encounters.
The song features Nature which helps to convey the various emotions displayed by the Indian Maid. After hearing her song, Endymion despairs and wishes to die, using nature to show his feelings. For example, he says ‘Night will strew on the damp grass with lingering leaves, and with them shall I die’. Keats is comparing death in nature to Endymion’s wish to die, in order to give the reader a better understanding of his despair. Endymion is met with his sister, and he tells her of his despair, and at that moment his beloved Cynthia appeared before him and told him that his journey was over.
The story ends with Endymion disappearing with Cynthia, having reached the highest level of happiness. To conclude, the theme of Nature is one that eclipses all others as the main element of the romantic epic ‘Endymion’. It is useful in revealing human moods and feelings, setting the scenery to give readers a richer understanding of the story, and emphasising religion and exalting individuals and their qualities. Without the theme of nature, ‘Endymion’ may not have been the renowned classic that it is today.