In his older age, Wordsworth could almost be likened to a Dawkins-type figure. While Wordsworth seems to still think of Nature as spiritual, he does end up deferring to common sense, or rather, his own personal common sense of how Nature works. For an older Wordsworth, perhaps it is more comfortable to have the answers, rather than the mysteries. Perhaps there is nothing more than what he can physically sense.
Dawkins is all about acknowledging only what you can experience with your human senses, rather than some greater supernatural purpose.
“Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions” (Dawkins ix-x).
While I do not prescribe to the idea that there is nothing more to life than what is right in front of us, I will acknowledge that the human senses are the most common attributes that we share. If we only rely on human sense, then there will be no more mysteries, because through science, we can hypothetically figure out everything perceived by human sense.
Keats, on the other hand, as one of the second-generation Romanticists, imagines the other-worldly, the non-human and not common, particularly through the shape-shifting Lamia. Lamia is not a character of “common sense,” by which I mean that her qualities are certainly not those that we would perceive as common to humans. A shape-shifting woman/serpent hybrid creature would not be deciphered by our senses as something typical or common. Lamia is exceptional to human existence, certainly not common. She cannot be experienced by human sense, because her very attributes are non-human and other-worldly.
Keats describes Lamia in terms that are impossible for humans to fully grasp, because we cannot shape-shift or will our spirits to go wherever we want.
“But first ’tis fit to tell how she could muse / And dream, when in the serpent prison-house, / Of all she list, strange or magnificent: / How, ever, where she will’d, her spirit went; / Whether to faint Elysium, or where / Down through tree-lifting waves the Nereids fait / Wind into Thetis’ bower by many a pearly stair” (pages 3 and 4 of handout).
By describing Lamia, Keats shows an appreciation for the mysterious, the inexplicable, and the impossible for human sense. First of all, Lamia can shape-shift, so she is beyond any human’s ability to physically change and change back at will. Second, she can dream of anything, no matter how “strange or magnificent,” which could be a human sense, but only so far as our unconscious human mind could imagine.
Keats seems more interested, not in what is common, but instead what is mysterious. Lamia is a mysterious creature because she does not follow human means of transportation, mutation, or thought. He is more interested in the mystery of her behavior rather than the answer to how she could possibly do these things. In class, we called this his “appetite for wonder.” Lamia is an imagined creature from Greek mythology. Keats seems interested in this classic creature because she cannot really be explained. In Greek times, she probably would not have been explainable. Even now, she is inexplicable, because we could not imagine a woman shape-shifting without believing there is some sort of magician’s illusion going on.
Keats seems to express a desire to appreciate the impossible for what it is: not possible by human means. He wants whatever is beyond this human experience to be acknowledged, even if it cannot be explained.