Yet Bate doesn't perceive this ambition as hubris so much as an entirely sympathetic and even modest yearning. To a great extent this attitude has to do with the fact that he's writing about Keats, who really did have reason to yearn for greatness. But he also offers me latitude to acknowledge my own yearnings and fears. Why shouldn't I wish to be the poet that Milton was? That Keats was? Very probably I'm not. But why shouldn't I hope, and write like one who hopes?
from John Keats: A BiographyW. Jackson BateWhether we want it or not, the massive legacy of past literature is ours. We cannot give it away. Moreover, it increases with each generation. Inevitably, we must work from it, and often by means of it. But even if we resist paralysis and do try to work from and by means of it, the question at once arises, does the habitual (and almost sole) nourishment of the imagination by the great literature of the past lead to the creation of more poetry of equal value? . . . Keats . . . was to feel such apprehensions only too keenly. For the moment, we are only stressing that, much as Keats might wish to face common experience imaginatively and vividly throughout the next three years, his principal impetus, like that of most poets of the past century, was literary; and that still--with all the liabilities that this self-consciousness might imply--he managed to make headway, and at a sure pace. The magnetic appeal of Keats to every later poet is that somehow the dilemma is constructively put to use.