Chris Townsend, “‘The Very Music of the Name’: Uncertainty as Aesthetic Principle in Keats’s Endymion” (pp. 441–472)

It is well known that John Keats thought that true poets were those who are capable of being in “uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts” without feeling the need to reach after solid facts. And “uncertainty” is a recurrent term in his 1818 poem Endymion and its preface. But what does it mean for the figure of Endymion to follow an “uncertain path,” and what role do experimental poetics play in that experience of not knowing? This essay reflects on three aspects of the rhythms of Endymion—the relation of line to sentence, the transformative quality of the poem’s rhymes, and the rhythmical malleability of the name “Endymion” itself—to argue that what Keats’s early critics were hostile to in his poem was precisely what he strove to produce: a poetics of uncertainty. By turning close attention to the local effects of Keats’s rhythms, and by mounting an argument about the structure of his thinking that concerns the shape of his verses, I also want to reopen a perennial question in both Formalist and New Historicist branches of Keats scholarship: whether it makes sense to think of Keats as a “political” or “ideological” poet, and of what that might mean in relation to his aesthetics.

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