Where's the Poet? Show him! show him,
nine, that I may know him!
'Tis the man who with a man
Is an equal, be he king,
Or poorest of the beggar-clan,
Or any other wondrous thing
A man may be 'twixt ape and Plato
'Tis the man who with a bird,
, finds his way to
All its instincts. He hath heard
The lion's roaring, and can tell
What his horny throat expresseth,
And to him the tiger's yell
Comes articulate and presseth
On his ear like mother-tongue.
This is a concept I've been thinking about for a while now. Keats seems to be suggesting that a poet is one who truly understands the world and his environment. He is equal to a king, and he is (somehow) also equal to a beggar. It is as if the poet is not a part of humanity, but stands next to it, observing it from the outside. I place myself here, next to a king, and for a while I will be his equal. But I don't think that this is the proper interpretation. I don't think that Keats was saying that poets are outside of humanity, or if he was, then he didn't believe that for long. I think that when Keats says, "is an equal," what he means is, "knows about." The poet understands the king and the beggar (and the eagle and the lion.) The poet is not outside or alongside humanity. The poet is humanity, and can understand humanity at every level. Further, the poet also understands nature. He knows the eagle, and he knows the lion and the tiger. Notice that the poet is the equal of a man, but "finds his way" to the wren. Humanity the poet understands as part of himself, but nature the poet reads as his "mother-tongue."
I think (and I very well could be wrong) that the poet is the one who understands Beauty. By Beauty I don't mean some subjective aren't-those-pretty-roses beauty, but some kind of overarching thing, like Pirsig's Quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I think there might actually be something like this, that can be found in the world and is expressed by poetry. And I think the poet is the one who perceives it.