We are the children of the revolution
The last poem written by John Keats when he was about 24, just before he died, never completed. At such an incredibly young age (even for the 1800s), Keats was, albeit unbeknown to him, part of a revolution in literature which was sweeping across the globe. An old stuffy prescriptive style of poetry, known as Classicism, was being taken over by a bunch of passionate, idealistic young men, now known as the Romantics. Keats was part of the second wave of Romantics, along with Byron and Shelley, with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Blake preceeding him.
Hyperion, Keats’s second attempt at an epic poem (considered the height of poetic excellence) after the poorly received Endymion, focuses again on Greek mythology and in particular the fall of the Titans. The Titans, led by Saturn, have been overthrown by a new bright set of young gods, the Olympians, with Apollo at the helm. One famous scene from the poem is the opening image of Saturn in his sorry state – a decaying, decrepid, dying old man:
Degraded, cold, upon the sodden ground
His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
Unsceptered; and his realmless eyes were clos’d,
While his bow’d head seem’d listening to the Earth,
His ancient mother, for some comfort yet.
Saturn wakes from his troubled sleep and says of his doomed kingdom:
Moan, brethren, moan; for we are swallow’d up
And buried from all godlike exercise
Of influence benign on planets pale
The Titans have put all their hope in Hyperion, the Sun God, to fight against Apollo. The poem is left unfinished just after we have met Hyperion, but the story goes that Hyperion fails and the Olympians take over.
How does the Romantic period, and Hyperion in particular, reflect anything to do with the online journalism? The comparision is not actually as crass as it might at first seem. The Augustan style of poetry (Classicist) was bent on sticking to rules, always wanting to give a realistic picture of nature in rigid ABAB rhyming pentameter. The Romantics wanted to push out of this stuck mould; even though it had had heroes like Pope, it had become boring, old, and restrictive. They clustered ideas and at first unconsciously developed a new style of poetry that was lyrical, experiemental and based on new revolutionary philosophies.
A new, young, hip, internet-savvy school of journalists are rising up like the Olympians. We are the Romantics of journalism, excited by new media tools, gadgets and the future. I have heard too many times about how ‘murky’ and ‘uncertain’ the future is for journalism – but this is coming from the old, dying, Saturns of the media: the old codgers who don’t understand online tools and feel they threaten their ‘godlike’ status and so condemn them. Traditional journalism has its fundamentals – which will always be carried through by the new models and forms, but the age of print media is dying and some of the old hacks will die out with it. This shouldn’t be terrifying – it is a fact of life to do with cultural change – new movements begin when a time or chapter is coming to a close. We are the sproggs of the technological age which has taken over from the industrial. Just like how 60s mini-skirts broke out of 50s domestic suffocation.
We don’t need to be preached to about the revolution in journalism – we are the ones creating it. We are the children of the revolution.