Context of Keats' work

The Political context, particularly the French Revolution but also the British Government's reaction to it with repressive laws and the suspension of habeas corpus

The context of Nature: perhaps to be the best explored by reference to something like To Autumn or parts of Endymion. 'To Autumn' describes his relationship to nature. In the first two stanzas Keats describes the richness of Autumn, later personified as a benevolent Goddess. The final stanza hints at the inevitability of decay and perhaps provides a good example of negative capability.

Social and Literary context: Keats was a trainee doctor, an impoverished poet and a frustrated lover. This was his social, economic and biographical context. He was in the second wave of Romantic poets, hugely influenced by Wordsworth but also by earlier writers such as Milton and Shakespeare. He was in the vanguard of a new type of writing and this is indicated by the poor reception his poetry received during his own life time. 'Isabella' is perhaps Keats' strongest social commentary and 'The Fall of Hyperion 'provides a good strong statement on Keats' ideas on being a poet. It is in this poem that we see most clearly the suffering and alienation of a Romantic poet. In 'Ode to a Nightingale', Keats described the actual moment when he had his poetic vision. The speaker says he is not helped by wine- 'charioted by Bacchus' but flies 'on the viewless wings of poesy'. What does this revelation tell us about how Keats regards poetry?

Romantic Context: Keats' relationship with Fanny Brawne epitomises his ambivalent attitude to women. Certainly hugely frustrated by her unwillingness to commit herself to him in the way that he wanted or expected, his poetry perhaps provides the true romance in his life. 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', 'Lamia', 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and many others provide evidence of his ideas on love. This dominant theme in his writing reflects the changes in mood that he passes through so be careful which poem you use when discussing this context. 'The Eve of St Agnes' provides an example of Keats' attitude to the positive aspects of human love and his use of the medieval world to portray this. The negative aspects of love are seen in 'Isabella and the Pot of Basil' where Lorenzo's murder seals Isabella's unhappiness.

In his poetry, Keats kept returning to certain key ideas:

How mankind comes to terms with the imperfections of existence
The relationship of 'real' life to art
The search for truth in the real life of a poet

As Keats believed that everything of beauty carried with it the seeds of its own decay, the nature of his vision is inevitably tragic. But this idea is conveyed through extremely sensuous language, so that, while the vision might be tragic, the expression of it is richly beautiful. Keats was influenced by the Greek writers and artists because he believed they addressed similar issues. In 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', Keats presents his own philosophy on the central conflicts in life and can find no solution to it other than the final two lines of the poem.



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