Keats' Imagery

Keats' world with its abundance of fruits and concern with forests is far more Mediterranean than English. Keats is fond of the exotic, sub-tropical kind of flora: grape vines, myrtles, palms, cinnamon etc. The climate of his poems is generally warm and genial, the atmosphere being of spring or summer. However, the atmosphere is never oppressive or blazing. There is always green shade, cool, soft breezes ("zephyrs"), springs, fountains, streams and rivers.

1) "Leafy luxury"
a) Bowers: Lorenzo and Isabella meet "close in a bower of hyacinth and musk"
Ode to a Nightingale: the whole of a stanza
Ode to Psyche: the sleeping god and goddess are in a bower "beneath the whisp'ring roof Of leaves and trembled blossoms"
The shrine that the poet builds for Psyche is in an arbour: "And in the midst of this wide quietness A rosy sanctuary will I dress..."
b) Moisture: Keats has a strong sense of moisture nourishing the roots of things. Ode on Melancholy: "weeping cloud That fosters the droop-headed flowers all And hides the green hills in an April shroud" Ode to Psyche: "hush'd cool-rooted flowers" grow from a moist earth through which flows "a brooklet, scarce espied" Many references to dew- the moist verdure is subtle and barely noticed. Ode to a Nightingale: "The coming musk-rose, fill of dewy wine."
c) Imaginative identity with trees, fruits and flowers- intense and spontaneous. Physical: The Eve of Saint Agnes- description of the casement Lamia: the picture of Lamia's magic palace: "Fresh-carved cedar, mimicking a glade..." Metaphorical: The Eve of Saint Agnes: "Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose Flushing his brow" Lamia: "How to entangle, trammel up and snare Your soul in mine, and labyrinth you there Like the hid scent in an unbudded rose."
d) The green, leafy world is also a richly fruitful one : apples, pears, plums and clustered grapes: Ode to Autumn: "wealth of globed peonies" "To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel" (Keats had an appreciative eye for rounded, swelling forms of buds in leaves and flowers.) Gently curving stems, branches and drooping heaviness of leaf and flower bud: Ode on Melancholy: " droop-headed flowers" Ode to Autumn: "To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees" The Eve of Saint Agnes: "He follow'd through- a lowly arched way, Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume."

2) "Soft":
Keats had an exceptional sensitivity to bland air and soft breezes.
Ode to Autumn: onomatopoeia: "Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" The softness of flesh and lips, hands etc.
Sleep: Cupid and Psyche repose in "soft-handed slumber"
Softness as coolness (NOT coldness as this has associations with death in Keats) This is so intense that one wonders whether, as an early symptom of the disease that killed him, he suffered from spells of feverish heat that made him exceptionally appreciative of the relief offered by images of coolness.) Isabella: "Until sweet Isabella's untouched cheek Fell sick within the rose's just domain, Fell thin as a young mother s, who doth seek By every lull to cool her infant's pain." Indirect suggestions of coolness: streams, fountains, deep grass and green, leafy shade.
Drinking of cool liquors:
Ode to a Nightingale: "let the red wine within the goblet boil, Cool as a bubbling well."

3) Sounds: Usually soft and delicate:Ode to Autumn: "rustle of reaped corn, gnats, bleating lambs, twittering swallows. A memorable line might be "The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves" (Ode to a Nightingale)
Paradox in the sound of silence: "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." The sanctuary for Psyche is set in "wide quietness". Occasionally loud music intrudes:
The Eve of Saint Agnes: "silver-snarling trumpets"
Lamia: the streets of Corinth. Lamia is notable for an outstanding example of a loud, arresting sound used for dramatic effect. This is the "thrill of trumpets" that suddenly awakens Lycius from his long love-swoon into a realisation of the outside world and its claims. Similar to this is the sound of the "boisterous, midnight festive clarion" etc. that suddenly bursts on Porphyro's ears as the doors of the distant banqueting hall are momentarily flung open. More typical is Keats' use of silence for imaginative effect. Hyperion: the magical evocation of stillness and silence at the beginning. This is the heavy silence of death, but it is also a soothing silence and in time it is to be broken by the sweet, gentle sounds- the murmurous "noise of waves" around Apollo's isle of Delos and Apollo's own "blissful golden melody".

Keats' Kingdom 2004 -