Keats poetry Essay Example
Keats poetry Essay Example

Keats poetry Essay Example

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Predominately within Keats poetry one must indeed note the antithetic relationships between reality and ideals, rationality and imagination, physical sensations and logical reasoning.

The conflict between beauty and sensation and the clarity of intellect and reason was felt keenly by Keats, to whom true perception was the purity of sensation, free of any intellectual restrictions.Keat's was not simply a poet who longed for a life of sensation rather than thought, but was a man who desired sensation rather than the factual truth. To Keats the sensual imagination was the core of experience and unlike intellectual analysis, it was the abject imagination that brought intensity to all things; "..

.the imagination has pleasures more airy and luminous than those of sense, more massive and rapturous than those of the intelligence of the pure intellectuals


who hunger after truth." (George Santayana quoted in 'Introduction to Keats' William Walsh 1991, Meuthuen Press, Pg 78) Yet in ordinary life Keats could not be described as a sensual person, content with the privations and life of a hermit he maintained in the world.Keats was a platonic poet to whom ideas and abstractions were his life, having a lucid perception of essences and sensations. Furthermore, Keats concept of imagination as a power closely associated with sensation, intuition and a visionary insight; "apprehended a certain kind of philosophic truth that is correlative with beauty." (George Santayana quoted in 'Introduction to Keats' William Walsh 1991, Meuthuen Press, Pg 78) ) Keats had a yearning passion for the abstract idea of beauty in all objects for to; "see things in their beauty is to see things in their truth" (Matthew Arnold cited in 'Critics o

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Keats' Judith O'Neill 1967, George Allen and Unwin Ltd.

Pg13).To Keats, the imaginative mind was opposed to the intellect. It was capable of uncertainties, mysteries and doubts without any irritable seeking after fact and reason. Keats called this 'negative capability'. Unlike his fellow romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge who appeared to be following rational and logical trains of thoughts, Keats refrained from attempting to shape the world or allowing the world to shape you. Keats accepted and loved the world for what it truly was; "Welcome joy and welcome sorrow.

..fair and foul I love together"Keats is the romantic poet of lush, sensual imagery and in none of his works is this more apparent than in his odes. The odes grew out of the feelings, attitudes and thought during the time of Keats writings. They conveyed joy and pain, happiness and sorrow, the awareness and sensations of feelings and thoughts often intertwining different sensations in one image; ".

..attributing the traits of one sense to another, a practise called synaesthesia which exaggerates their sensuous effect as well as suggesting the oneness of life" (Wright Thomas and Stuart Gerry Brown cited in Romanticism: An Anthology 2001, Blackwell Publishers).The odes are not the expression of a single mood but of a succession of moods and sensations, they are the desires, longings and aspirations influenced by Keats own pain and misery often relating to inner states and perceptions such as indolence and melancholy.

Within the odes, the vivacity and force of the verbs used by Keats enabled him to unleash the full power of his language, allowing the emotional and sensual language to be conveyed; "...the 'Keatsian' feel of the

language is pure, sensual, an absolute sense of what exists. Determining Keats as an thinker rather than an intellectual" (Richard Woodhouse cited in 'Introduction to Keats' William Walsh 1981, Meuthuen Press, Pg 19).Keats theories of poetry are to be found in the letters he wrote at the time.

Keats argued; "A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence because he has no identity, he is continually filling in for and filling some other body" (Extract of epistle written to John Reynolds in March 1818).In 'Ode to a Nightingale' Keats is merged with the sensations and consciousness of the bird, clearly illustrating the imaginative involvement Keats undertakes in the odes. The poet is emerging from an imaginative experience in which he has lost 'awareness' of self and is awakening to an apprehension that he would not otherwise have been granted - that of the essential beauty of the object with which he has been merged; "What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth..

.the imagination may be compared to Adam's dream, he awoke and found it." (Letter written to Benjamin Bailey in November 1817). In an epistle written to John Reynolds in March 1818, Keats had wished that; ".

..dreams of poets and painters could take their colouring form something of the sublime rather than the gloomy inner conflict of material despondency.Keats insisted that any sensation derived from the imagination was much alike a dream, and that the poet was capable of loosing all sense of self in the contemplations of external reality making it thus possible for the poet to be anything he desired to be; "Such an imaginative involvement is inherently beautiful and

true, in the sense that it is real-rooted in the world of misery, pain and sorrow" (Romanticism: An Anthology Duncan Wu 2001, Blackwell Publishers, Pg 1011).

Indeed, there is nothing escapist in this merging of self as many of Keats odes are permeated with the sensations of death and sorrow.Yet, this world of imagination offers a release from the painful world of actuality and brings about an intense awareness of the joy and pain, the happiness and the sorrow of human life. This awareness is a feeling and becomes also a thought as the poet contemplates on these sensations of happiness in a world where joy and pain are inevitably and inextricably tied together. This union of the sensations of pain and joy, Keats has fundamentally accepted as true;"My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains,...

Being too happy in thine happiness" (Lines 1-6)The poet longs to escape from an existence in which "men sit and hear each other groan" to the realm of ideal beauty suggested by the nightingales song. Keats acknowledges the ecstasy of the nightingales voice, yet recognises that he can never triumph in his desire to 'dissolve' his identity with that voice:"Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forgetWhat thou among the leaves hast never known" (Lines 30-1)Keats feel an ambivalent response of joy and pain whilst listening, questioning why pleasure can be to intense that it paradoxically either numbs or pains one; "...bitterness is mingled with the poets joy of immortality with the music.

..full of pathos and regret" ('Keats Odes' G. S.

Fraser 1991, McMillan, Pg 46);"Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird" (Line 61)The sensations of pain and sorrow are

idealised as not only the sensations of the sufferer but as the perfect expressions of pain and suffering, allowing no intrusion of rational thought as indeed the rich, sensual beauty is too powerful for any intrusion."Where but to think is to be full of sorrow" (Line 27)Upon reading 'Ode to a Nightingale' the senses are stilled to a "drowsy numbness...of embalmed darkness" yet there is also a heightened sensuous awareness in which the reader engages in, of 'easeful death' and 'nothingness' as Keats contemplates on this divine oblivion. Keats, entranced by the nightingale's voice, appears to respond in apparent ecstasy that transcends all material and intellectual experiences of time, space and rationality.

Keats mentions the 'dull brain' within the ode, implying once again that the faculty of reason is at odds with the imagination. The 'dull brain' refers to the romantic chasm caused by the conflict inherent within romantic sensibility between intellect and reason, questioning the poet as a rational and thinking being opposed to the creative and romantic sensibilities of the time when poets such as Keats celebrated their relish of sensation and love of lush images."Though the dull brain perplexes and retards" (Line 34)'Ode to a Nightingale' is possibly meant to accord with the lyrical movement of the bird's song. The melodic pattern of onomatopoeic effects enacts successive states of feelings;"Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains" (line 3)Keats refers to the 'drowsy numbness' induced by excessive pleasure in the birds song, whilst longing to escape with the singer from;"The weariness, the fever, and the fret" (Line 33)into the flower-scented words.

Such luxurious words reveal the splendour and the luxury of the poet's

intoxication under the nightingale's song;"Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways2 (Line 39).In 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' Keats once again sustains his rejection of the real world in favour of an ideal beauty. The figures on the urn are everlastingly beautiful, happily immune from trouble, change and death. Keats once again used the ability to loose oneself in the poem (as chameleon poet Keats often did), becoming immersed in the Grecian urn.

To Keats, noting an object is not merely to give it recognition but to bring it into existence in a new way, thus he would identify himself with an object with sympathetic absorption. In many of Keats poems, the speaker is drawn back from a trance-like state to recognise the reality of the beauty he has experienced that is not separate but involved in the misery of the mortal world. In 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' Keats is concerned with; "the senses as well as the sensual, dealing with the relationships between reality and ideal and art and history" ('The Ode: The Critical Idiom' John D. Jump, Meuthuen Press, Pg 47).

The miseries of life opposed to the beauty of art and nature are juxtaposed with Keats using the concepts of transience and the inevitable imperfections of human existence. Yet for Keats, the excellence of every art lay in its intensity, capable of bringing in the "sensations of beauty and truth, whilst not omitting human suffering invaded by art. The 'cold pastoral' which, though perfect, lacks in the warmth of reality" ('Keats Odes' Kenneth Muir 1991, McMillan, pg 230).Many of Keats odes are related to inner conflict and in 'Ode to a Grecian

Urn' Keats intertwines the sensations of pain and pleasure; "..

.an intense awareness of both joy and pain, the happiness and the sorrow of human life, ...

an awareness as a feeling and also a thought" (http://kcweb/edu/samuels/keats/htm).'Ode to a Grecian Urn' suggests that art can speak but only tangibly. The urn is presented as an object of art that is never simply the past but is a finished product of it. Through the use of an urn, Keats explores the many paradoxes of death and passion, art and life and the isolated status and inscrutability of an object; "implicating that through art the message is conveyed of the ultimate identity of the true, beautiful and suffering/pain that makes art a friend to man" (Keats: Odes G.

S. Fraser 1991, McMillan, Pg 24).The urn is a world, frozen in its era, depicting unchanging youth, love and happy piety;"Fair youth...

thou canst not leave...never canst thou kiss" (Lines15-17)Indeed the ode would appear to be a "dialogue of the mind with itself" ('John Keats' Miriam Allott 1976, Longman, Pg 29) in that it is the poets imagination and senses that maintain the internal conflicts and that this stream of consciousness serves to exemplify the ambiguous relationship between real and imagined experience.The urn is captured eternally and does not have to endure the transient effects of the natural world as this world of beauty and passion has been fixed immutably by art.

Though protected from humanity's disillusionments the figures however are denied its rewards. Yet it would appear that the human passions and sensibilities are of more importance than the historical significances of the images on the urn. To Keats the sensuousness

of human nature was more important than the inanimate objects on the urn. The urn is beyond human passions and sensations;"All breathing human passion far above,That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd" (Lines 29-30).In 'Ode to a Grecian Urn' Keats continues with his infatuation with the 'drowsily vague' and the 'languorously narcotic';"Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness'Thou foster-child of silence and slow time" (Lines 1-2)Keats continues with his self-indulgent mood, which concentrates immensely on passion and sensation, yet he also makes a powerful philosophic discernment that though the urn is beautiful, its beauty is based on an imaginative perception of beauty, the demonstration of abstract beauty with concrete forms;"O Attic shape! Fair attitude! With bredeOf marble men and maidens..

.with forest branches and the troddenWeed" (Lines 41-3).In the last lines of the ode, the poet is contemplative and resigned to the transience of human life and passion;"Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is allYe know on earth, and all ye need to know" (Lines 48-50)The very words are conflicting; one can understand truth as the essential word of knowledge(science) whereas beauty can be understood as the essential word of art(poetry). Keats demonstrates once again his tendency to privilege the sensual over the intellectual as he suggests to see an object in its beauty is to see it in its truth, therefore what the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth. Furthermore in this context, Keats writing can be viewed as not an escape from the world of reality, but a determination to find the truth and beauty within it.'Ode to Melancholy' is not simply to be associated with the narcotic and conventional symbols of negation

that occupy the first stanza, but rather it is to be seen as an element that conveys a direct and sensual experience as well as conveying the realistic transcendence of melancholy.

Indeed when one is "...confronted by a fit of melancholy, it is advisable to glut one's sorrow on the contemplation of beauty" ('Introduction to Keats' William Walsh 1981, Meuthun Press, Pg 130).Within 'Ode to Melancholy' much of the effectiveness is derived from Keats passionate outcry not to reject melancholy, presented negatively in terms of no, not, neither and nor.

Moreover, Keats is using grammar to parallel his meaning thereby reinforcing it. The first two words "No, no" are both accented, emphasising their forcefulness and passion. The sensations of joy and sorrow in the first stanza are almost sexual;"Make not your rosary of yew-berries" (Line 5)Melancholy is to be sought in beauty and joy because beauty is transient and love and joy must fade. Beauty is lovely but it dies and its impermanence therefore is the essence of its joy;"She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die" (Line 21).The anguish in the first stanza is necessary for the contemplation of the experience of life.

Keats does not preclude a transcendence of sorts beyond the sorrow of the world;"For shade to shade will come too drowsilyAnd drown the wakeful anguish of the soul" (Lines 9-10)The melancholic fit falls suddenly like a shower in April "that fosters the droop-headed flowers". In this mood we are to "glut thy sorrow" and "feed deep, deep" on them, and to Keats this experience will provide insight.The 'fit' suggests the possible intensity and unpredictability of melancholy. Keats describes this melancholic

fit figuratively; the clouds are weeping and the flowers are drooped yet the hills are lush. Keats use of 'green hill' connotes fertility, beauty, youth and the possibility that Keats is suggesting through his sensual language that melancholy does have its own luxurious and agreeable tenderness ('Critical Introduction to Keats' Robert Bridges 1929, Oxford University Press, Pg 55);"And hides the green hill in an April shroud" (Line 14).Keats language is rich as he invites the reader to console oneself from the misery of melancholy with appreciation of beauty; the morning rose, sand-wave and globed peonies.

They are in reality the saddest of emblems; they are transient and thought possessing some degree of joy they are fleeting;"Or on the wealth of globed peonies" (Line 16).The last stanza suggests;"She dwells with Beauty - Beauty that must die" (Line 21)and it is uncertain if she is Keats mistress or the mistress of melancholy. "The experience of beauty is a revelation of the meaning of beauty and its transience that allows beauty to develop in the last stanza with a keener and tender equipoise of sorrow and of certainty" ('Romanticism: An Anthology' Duncan Wu 2001, Blackwell Publishers, Pg 1011).The paradox that this deep melancholy dwells with beauty is deeply felt whilst beauty and joy as transient suggests the sorrowful reality of life. The "aching pleasure" is a characteristic Keatsian oxymoron. Keats implies that while we are embracing joy it is departing therefore pleasure is painful because soon it will leave;"Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips" (Line 24).

Melancholy is most deeply felt by the organisation most capable of joy.The "veil'd melancholy' suggests that only in the mystery of her

ambivalence can true joy be found and Keats implies that the "Sovran shrine" is a fusion of joy and melancholy perhaps producing a satisfactory kind of melancholy. The "cloudy trophies" may hint at the elusiveness of the insight that dwells with beauty that whatever beauty is in our world is spoiled by something in the nature of our appreciation of it;"His soul shall taste the sadness of her might'And be among her cloudy trophies hung" (Lines29-30).To Keats, melancholy sharpened a man's enjoyment of short-lived beauty and his awareness of their transience nourishes his melancholy.

The ode can be compared to a languorous caress, perfect in its way and place but not to be accounted in the sum of human wisdom.Though Keats poetry would appear to be directly concerned with inner sensations and feelings it is not exclusively concerned with them, as in 'Ode to autumn'. Its three eleven-line stanzas ostensibly do nothing more than describe the seasons and no philosophical reflections are allowed to intrude. The ode opens with an evocation of the "mellow fruitfulness" which results from autumn conspiring with the sun.In the opening stanza, Keats conveys the sensuous, earthy and natural richness of autumn to describe the fertility of the season in a heavy preponderance of verbs demonstrating nature at the extremity of its bounty;"And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells" (Lines 6-7).

The ripening and fruitful images appeal to the visual and tactile imagination of the reader with connotations of sight, colour, sound and heat used simultaneously to produce a lyrical poem in which the sounds are orchestrated in a praise of autumn;"For

summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells" (Line 11).In the second stanza, an imaginative element enters the description and Keats conveys a personification of the season in several postures/greetings;"Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,...on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep" (Lines 4-6).

In the second stanza autumn is personified as a nymph-like figure, behaving in a way that is at once slovenly, sensuous, pagan and carefree;"Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind". (Lines 15).The description in stanza two is intoxicating as Keats presents the paradoxical qualities of autumn, its aspects of both lingering and passing. The autumn season is dying as well as fulfilling, hence it is with;"...

patient look, thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours". (Lines 21-22)The sibilance throughout the stanza increases the sense of almost drowsy fertility that Keats wishes to achieve. The evocation of the sights and sounds of autumn are also achieved through its personification that urges human empathy with suffering as a creative process.The opening question in the last stanza implies that the season of youth and rebirth with its beauties of sight and sound has passed, yet autumn while it lasts has its beauty, its music;"Where are the songs of spring?..

.thou hast they music too" (Lines23-24).The imagery of this stanza contrasts immensely with the first stanza conveying the final images of autumn as 'wailful' and 'mournful'.The transitive verb 'bloom with its spring-like associations is perhaps surprising and certainly effective/appropriate in suggesting the tensions of the theme - picturing a beauty that is lingering, only just. This is further emphasised by the preponderance of short syllables in the last stanza suggesting fertility on the edge of dissolution ('Keats: Odes' Leonard Unger,

McMillan, Pg 186).The ode is more sensually descriptive than dramatic with its latent theme of transience and morality symbolically dramatised by the passing course of the day.

Keats has produced an array of sounds that orchestrated in a song of praise in autumn. The descriptions are rich and lust to describe the ornate ness of autumn, emitting an evocation of the beauty of nature as experienced through physical sensations.An emphasis on feeling, in some ways a continuation of the earlier 'cult of sensibility' was the key feature of the Romantic era. Wordsworth described this as "the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings" and this became the manifesto of all Romantic poetry that encouraged an exaltation of emotion over reason and the senses over intellect. Keats was therefore greatly influenced by the Romantic era and his works of rich and sensual language was much celebrated.

The vivacity and force of Keats verbs and the feeling/emotion he administered to his odes allowed him to unleash the full potential of his sensual nature.

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