Keats' sonnet "On Seeing The Elgin Marbles" has never been one of my favorites. Michelle Fram Cohen is giving a talk Saturday night about Cognitive Poetics, and she included this poem in her hand-out under the heading "Malevolent sense of life". I can see why she would think so. Consider some snippets:
"My spirit is too weak...
I must die like a sick eagle looking at the sky...
'Tis a gentle luxury to weep...
Brings round the heart an indescribable feud...
A most dizzy pain..."
More dreary than cheery, you can see. The Elgin Marbles, by the way, are a big collection of sculpture fragments from an ancient Greek temple.
Keats could, however, be perfectly cheery, even when talking about the worldview of the ancient Greeks. In another sonnet, On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer, he sings the praises of a particular translator who has really brought Homer home to him:
"Much have I travelled in the realms of gold
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen...
Yet never did I breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold..."
This is Keats in his "benevolent sense of life" mode. Or should I say mood? A mood is a passing thing, a sense of life is a persistent subconscious outlook. As I see it, Keats' sense of life somehow allows for both of these moods.
He was dead at 25.
What more might he have done
If he'd just stayed alive