Summary pack: Keats' Key Poems
Summary pack of poems for completion of revision activities
When I have Fears
"When I behold, upon the night's starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
"I stand alone, and think till love and fame to nothingness do sink".
- Love, death and poetic destiny: fear of mortality, love of half states, and desire for fame and immortality via poetry. Fear of lack of fulfilment in many areas.
- Subject matter is very Shakespearean: destructiveness of time in "When I have Seen by Time's fell hand defaced".
- Epitome of suffering. Isolatic, Byronic hero.
- Negative capability: to be happy being uncertain, images of dissolution of ego at end..
- Shakespearean sonnet (Keats's first) three quatrains: ideas developed with these divisions, linked by adverbials like "when".
- Concluding couplet refers back to sentiments at start: undermines the traditional 'conclusive' feel of the Classical couplet (Keats thought this was trivialising).
- Natural images used to describe process of poetic composition: 'teeming' brain like fertile field of corn. Abstract ideas constantly transformed into concrete images.
Sleep and Poetry
"O Poesy! For thee I hold my pen
That am not yet a glorious denizen of thy wide heaven".
"t'will bring me the fair visions of all places"
"O for ten years that I may overwhelm myself in poesy".
"Is there so small a range in the present strength of manhood,
that the high Imagination cannot freely fly as she was want of old?"
"Will not some say that presumptuously I have spoken?"
- Classical reading/Hellenic Revival evident: figures of Apollo, (allegory of the poet) Endymion-key imagined landscape (Poussin painting)
- Written on couch at Leigh Hunts-sleepless with excitement, contemplates his future as a poet, and the attitudes/subjects possible. Sees poetry progression from love of nature to agonies of human heart: 'vale of soul-making'. Pre-occupation with death not just due to ill-health but common in poets of intense emotions and extremes.
- In this long poem, posits Shakespeare's era and its free use of the Imagination as the ideal; subtle attack on cold formality of Classicists..
- Poetry should be a friend, a medicine, a God..
- Is really a manifesto of a young, inexperienced poet.
- An opening dedication from an exuberant young poet
- Use of less formal couplet, stigmatised as the relic from Classicists (see above)
- Varied caesura, frequent irregular stree, more feminine rhyme also differentiates Romantics here from pre-decessors.
And What is Love?
"And what is love? It is a doll dressed up
For idleness to cosset, nurse and dandle"
"A thing of soft misnomers, so divine
That silly youth doth think to make
Itself divine by loving"
- Ambiguity/cynicism re love and falling in love; a philosophical examination and mockery of concept.
- Could read it as self-reflexive; inner dialectic re insecurities etc.
- Title is rhetorical question, uncertainty but entertains possibility.
- Unusually comic and light-hearted register.
- Series of supposed 'transformations of love'; juxtapositions and contrasts, 'befores and afters'. Metaphor.
- Repitition of 'Fools' - punctuation.
- Use of conditional 'if'; love is possibility.
The Eve of St Agnes
"Numb were the Beadman's fingers"
"The sculptured dead on each side"
"Her (M's) maiden eyes divine"
"That he might gaze and worship all unseen"
"A hundred swords will storm his heart, love's fev'rous citadel"
"He forth from the closet.. a heap of candied apple, quince and plum and gourd.."
"A poor, weak, palsy-stricken churchyard thing"
"Never on such a night have lovers met, since Merlin paid his Demon all the worst debt"
"Her eyes were wide open, but she still beheld,
Now wide-awake, the vision of her sleep"
"Into her dream he melted"
- Romantic celebration of erotic fantasy.
- Flaws of imagination/dreams and harsh realism of waking: superstition, legend, mythical qualities of medieval courtly love.. Madeline is both awake and asleep; love of transcience, half-states.
- Negative Capability: "into her dream he melted"
- Fascination with death, age, decay: Beadsman and Angela (the original poem had both of them die more graphically)
- Long narrative: 42 Spenserian stanzas, written in a fortnight. Beautifully sequencial. Adopted Spenserian form, possibly due to chivalric, medieval subject matter?
- The lack of heroic coupets and the longer last line with the caesura mid line departs completely from Classicists. Southey and Hunt both stigmatised the heroic couplet, called it 'detestable'.
- Binary opposites: bitter cold v warm fires, decay v youth, waking v sleeping, chastity v lust, life v death.
- Pictorial, visual tableaux: scenes reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.
- Use of synaesthesia: mixed sense descriptions.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
"O what can ail thee, knight at arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing"
"I see a lily on thy brow"
"She looked at me as she did love,
and made sweet moan"
"She took me to her elfin grot, and there
she wept and sighed full sore.."
"And there she lulled me asleep and there I dreamed"
"I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale they all"
- Ideas of love, corruption and death: like Blake's The Sick Rose: Lady is personification of Death? Why is Knight 'alone and loitering'?
- Typical form of supernatural ballad: seduction of human by fairy (Thomas Rhymer). Also, typical possibility of a 'wasteland' made good by a visiting knight, as in grail legends. See references to haggard landscape.
- Oxymoronic title and parody of courtly love genre, a variant of the medieval supernatural ballad (based on Alain Chartier poem, C15)?
- Key Keatsian adjective used: 'pale' (in Grecian Urn and many others) hints at TB and mortality, the real world of love, loss and disappointment.
- Stanzas of three iambic lines and one languid, heavy one (used by Cloeridge earlier): effect is like a ghostly refrain..
- Use of narrative dialogue and Arthurian worlds heavily influenced by Spenser's The Fairie Queene (his Duessa a possible prototype for la belle dame?)
- Use of lexical ambiguity to reflect Keats' mistrust of women and Madonna/Whore syndrome: "she looked at me as she did love.."?
Ode on a Grecian Urn
"Thou still unravished bride of quiteness.. Sylvan historian"
"What men or gods are these.. what wild ecstasy"?
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter."
"For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty"
- Contemplation of images on Grecian vase: dazzling visual detail of tableaux portrayed. Leads to contemplation of immortality, eternal beauty, the value of art, history.
- Ideas of movement v stasis, reality of death and disappointing love v eternal bliss and immortality, 'cold pastoral' v real life, love and decay, beauty v truth.
- "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter" a conceit which suggests joyful anticipation and imagination are better than physical time and space bound experience. Robert Louis Stevenson said 'it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive". Obvious allegories to Keats' own life...
- The absence of real life in the last scene of the urn (the desolate village) echoes the absence of real life at all on the urn. If art (the urn) represents the ultimate consolation, then it is also death, because it promised no movement, hence 'cold pastoral'.
- Personification of urn: "bride.."
- Beauty/truth paradox and other apparent opposition/juxtapositions: perfect joy caught in art in a fixed moment gives a more ecstatic pleasure than the same joy experienced in real life as part of a process. Link to letter: "what the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth." Are there no 'ugly' truths? Or is every truth pleasant?
- Two favourite Keats words used: "soft and "sweet": connotations of sensuous and aesthetic pleasure.
Ode to a Nightingale
"My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense"
"Far away, dissolve, and quite forget
the weariness, the fever and the fret
here.. where youth grows pale".
"Away! Away! For I will fly to thee...
.. on the viewless wings of poesy"
"Embalmed darkness.. soft incense.. half in love with easeful Death".
"Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do, deceiving elf"
"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?"
-Negative Capability: imagines on wings of poetry flying with bird, images of ease with ideas of Death and uncertain 'dark' areas of the consciousness..
- Ecstasy in being in half states: 'drowsy numbness' link to negative capability.
- Poetic revelation: relationship of pain and pleasure: the Romantic, poetic world of poetic ecstasy and real world of death and suffering. The mythological immortality of bird like urn...
- Recognition of strengths of poetic Imagination AND weaknesses: "deceiving elf"
- One of the Spring 1819 odes. Ode comes from Greek word to sing/chant: songs/dedications to visionary experiences and objects. Is longest and most lyrical ode: commentary on workings of poetic mind, inspired by vision of bird.
- Eight stanzas, each thematically expanding of last: movement from emporers, to suffering of biblical characters, to a clearly Romantic domain of 'magic' and 'fairy lands', to death of inspirational mood (nudged by flight of the bird) and the suggestion that poetry is not a component of real life.
- Uncertainty captured in rhetorical questioning and juxtapositions..
- Creation of atmosphere (Byron didn't understand 'purple-stained mouth'!): depiction of nature like Oberon's speech in Midsummer Night's Dream..
- Use of nasal sounds to recreate humming of flies: 'murmuring'.
- Consider subject chosen for ode.. nightingale is traditional subject of poetry and courtly love (also see myth of Philomena, turned into this bird after being raped). A lonely and melancholic bird: allegory for Keats.
"The ever smitten Hermes empty left his golden throne,
bent on amorous theft."
"He found a palpitating snake"
"She seemed at once, some penanced lady elf,
Some demon's mistress, or the demon's self."
"It was no dream: or say it a dream was,
real are the dreams of Gods"
"Into the recessed woods they flew:
nor grew they pale, as mortal lovers do"
"The serpent began to change: her elfin blood to madness ran"
"Tis Apollonius sage: but too he seems the ghost of folly haunting my sweet dreams"
"Of wealthy lustre was the banquet room, filled with brilliance and perfume"
" "Fool! Fool!!" repeated he.. shall I see three made a serpent's pray?"
"Then with a frightful scream she vanished"
- Allegory of Keats' personal life and journey as a new poet (Lamia's transformation as a prelude to her bliss with Lycius). "Palpitating snake" - Fanny Brawne?
- Love of immortality/fantasy/Grecian myth: mortal with immortal. Shows Keats' yearning "to capture forever the apex of passionate intensity" (Perkins)
- Echoes of Milton's Paradise Lost and folk superstition (Burton's Anatomy)
- Women as paradoxical. Suggestion of Romantic subjugation of women: "she burnt, she loved the tyranny"
"Apollonius: as embodiment of truth/wisdom/reason/science, will eventually ruin Lycius' 'sweet dreams'.. Keats engaging in a Romantic debate: Hunt in 1818 gave lecture in which he said "the progress of knowledge limits the imagination and clips the wings of poetry"
- Binary opposites and oxymorons: poem reflects huge conflicts in Keats' poetic philosophy.
- Sensuous and opulent description: synaesthesia. Landscapes of Corinth. Letters: "poetry should delight with a fine excess"
- Often described by critics as 'comic satire'..
- Key word 'pale' used again: Hermes associated with death of mortals.
"Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness"
"Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
thee sitting careless on a granary floor..
drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy
hook spares the next swath"
"Where are the songs of spring?"
"While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying days"
- A valedictory poem, a farewell to a season.
- Images of process v statis: cycle of decay. Relate to own life and also progress at time- political instability. Decade was one of severe crises: food riots, demands for electoral reform and better wages. Peterloo Massacre happened one month before this. Historicist critics see the poem as Keats' attempt to evade or repress disruptions of history. Are these tensions reconciled? Still longing for a transcendant vision?
- Romantics: nature as a religion
- Main mood is lethargic blissfulness: Autumn sits, sleeps, watches pressing of apples.
- Relate to Shakespeare's "autumnal trees with their bare ruined choirs".
- Clear stanza movement from early autumn to high autumn to late autumn. Corresponding movement from ripening/harvesting to the barrenness of the 'stubble plains'. Suggestions of death: 'soft dying day' and gnats who 'mourn'. Yet final images still filtered with activity. Poem ends with process and statis combined: external oxymoron? The imagery also moves from tactile to visual to auditory. Clear parallelism and balance.
- Ode using 11 line stanza (one more line than other odes) preceded by a couplet which usually indicates closure. Effect? Establishes notion of abundance and overflow: letters 'a fine excess'. Syntactic doublings help this abundant mood: 'mists and mellow fruitfulness'.
- Subtle pattern of alliterative and assonantal sounds: 'oozings' and onomatopoeic 'whistles' and 'twitter'.
- Personification of Autumn.
- Helen Vendler: dominant use of imperative in first stanza ('to load', 'to bend').
- Ode to Autumn, so begins with an apostrophe to a personified 'bosom friend'.
On First Looking Upon Chapman's Homer
"Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen"
"Yet never did I breathe its sweet serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold"
"Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific"
-1816: after discovery of George Chapman's translation of Homer: NOT the 'accepted' Pope translation.
- Similes of wander, conquest and discovery: running metaphor of poet as literary adventurer: a visionary, eye-opening moment. Real sense of awe (too arrogant?)
- Poem's central idea: colonisation and experimentation is the job of a poet-ability to disclose the wonders of the world? BUT does Keats ignore the negative side of conquest (Spanish mission sponsored by greed, ambition, slavery, slaughter of indigenous peoples)? Is the 'realms of gold' a reference to the greed of C19 capitalist society? (link to Isabella outburst against brothers and Lamia's opulent palace). Does Keats merely 'pillage' old texts? Andrew Motion: "Keats was never sure whether he was climbing out of the lower class, or slipping out of the latter". Does sonnet reflect his insecurities about his class? Need to present himself as a 'literary great'?
- Petrarchan sonnet: one octave (8 lines), one sestet (6 lines)
- Pivotal moment is the 'volta' (the turn in line 8): one theme to another- the discovery.
- Alliteration in final lines and contrast between energy and pace of exploration v silence of last awe-inspiring 'view'. We must wait for the description of the leader (Keats).