JOHN KEATS: KEATS’S AESTHETICISM KEATS’S LOVE OF BEAUTY KEATS AS A POET OF ESCAPE Keats was much impressed by Spencer and was a passionate lover of beauty in all its forms. His aestheticism consists of his passion for beauty. Beauty was his polar-star, beauty in Nature, in woman, and in art. He writes and identifies beauty with truth that “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”. Keats is very much associated with love of beauty in the ordinary sense of the term. He was the most passionate lover of the world as the carrier of beautiful images and of the many imaginative associations of an objector word with whatever might give it a heightened emotional appeal. According to Keats, poetry should be the embodiment of beauty, not a medium for the expression of religious or social philosophy. For Keats, the world of beauty was an escape from the dull, gloomy and painful effects of ordinary experience. He escaped from the political and social problems of the world into the realm of imagination. Unlike Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelley, he remained absolutely untouched by revolutionary theories for the regeneration of mankind. His poems, such as, the “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Hyperion”, show an increasing interest in humanity and human problems, and if he had lived, he would have established a closer contact with reality. So, he may not wholly be termed as a poet of escape. He uses poetry not as an instrument of social revolt, but for the expression of beauty. The famous opening line of Endymion--- ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’--- strikes the key-note of his work. As the modern world seemed to him to be hard, cold and lacking imagination, he habitually sought an imaginative escape from it. But, this escape was not like Shelley into the future land of promise, but into the past Greek mythology, as in Endymion, Lamia and Hyperion, or of medieval romances, as in “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Isabella and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. In his treatment of Nature, this same passion for sensuous beauty is still the dominant feature. He loved Nature just for its own sake and for the glory and loveliness which he everywhere found in it, and no modern poet has ever been nearer than he was to the simple “Poetry of earth”. For him, there was nothing mystical in love, and Nature was never full for him, as for Wordsworth and Shelley, with spiritual messages and meanings. Keats was not only the last but also the most perfect of the romanticists. While Scott was merely telling stories, and Wordsworth reforming poetry or upholding the moral law, and Shelley advocating impossible reforms, and Byron voicing his own egoism and the political discontent of the times, Keats lived apart from men and from all political measures, worshipping beauty like a devotee, perfectly content to write what was in his own heart or to reflect some splendor of the natural world as he saw or dreamed it to be. He had the novel idea that poetry exists for its own sake and suffers a loss by being devoted to philosophy or politics. Disinterested love of beauty is one of the great qualities of Keats that distinguished him from his contemporaries. He grasped the essential oneness of beauty and truth. His creed did not mean beauty of form alone. His ideal was the Greek ideal of beauty inward and outward, the perfect soul of verse as well as the perfect from. And because he held this ideal, he was free from the wish to preach. Love, for him was a bed of roses into which one sinks with a delicious sense of release from pain, responsibility and moral inhibition. He tried his best, in his long fantasy of Endymion, to rise above the notion of love as the “mere commingling of passionate breath” and to depict love as “a sort of oneness, “a fellowship with essence”. According to Cazamian, the aestheticism of Keats has also an intellectual side. No one has ever reaped such a harvest of thoughts out of the suggestions which life had to offer. Through reading, and a thirst for knowledge, he became acquainted with Greece, paganism and ancient art. From all these elements, Keats built for himself a personal store of reflections and ideas. Religion for him took definite shape in the adoration of the beautiful, an adoration which he developed into a doctrine. Beauty is the supreme Truth. This idealism assumes a note of mysticism.
JOHN KEATS: KEATS’S HELLENISM THE GREEK NOTE IN KEATS’S POETRY Shelley expressed the opinion that “Keats was Greek”. Indeed, Keats was unmistaken ably a representative of Greek thought, in a sense in which Wordsworth and Coleridge and even Shelley were not. The Greek spirit came to Keats through literature, through sculpture and through an innate tendency and he gave his best under the Hellenic influence. The inborn temperamental Greekness of Keats’s mind is to be seen in his love of beauty. To him, as the Greeks, the expression of beauty is the ideal of all art. And for him, as for them, beauty is not exclusively material nor spiritual, nor intellectual, but is the fullest development of all that goes to make up human perfection. Keats is a Greek, too, in his manner of personifying the forces of Nature. His “Autumn” is a divinity in human shape: she does all kinds of work, and directs every operation of harvest. This is a typical attitude of the Greek. The “Pan” of Greek myth was more than half human. Whoever wandered into the lonely places of the woods might expect to hear his pipe or even to see his face. And the Pan of Keats’s ode is half-human too, as he sits by the riverside or wanders in the evenings in the meadows. Keats has devised to talk about the gods much as they might have been supposed to speak. The world of Greek paganism lives again in his verse, with all its frank sensuousness and joy of life, and with all mysticism. Keats looks back and lives again in the time Towards the creation of Greek mythology, Keats was attracted by an overmastering delight in their beauty, and a natural sympathy with the phase of imagination that created them. He possessed the Greek instinct for personifying the powers of Nature in clearly defined imaginary shapes blessed with human beauty and half human faculties. Especially, he shows himself possessed and fancy-bound by the mythology, as well as by the physical enchantment of the moon, as shown in Endymion. It shows Keats’s love for symbolical beauty. Greek myth and to smaller extent Greek art and literature, provide either his main themes or numerous illusions. Classical myth had been a very rich element in Renaissance poetry from Spencer to Milton, but had been infected by Augustan rationalism. It revived with the romantic religion of Nature and the imagination. Wordsworth’s sonnet, “The world is Too Much With Us” shows the attraction of classical myth for Wordsworth. Keats’s “Sleep and Poetry” contains echoes of Wordsworth’s sonnet. Keats had no first hand knowledge of Greek literature. He derived his knowledge of the Greek classics from translations and books of reference. But, Keats has his limitations as a Greek. He does not write of Greek things in a Greek manner. The rooted artistic instincts of the Greeks were absent from Keats’s nature and temperament. He did not have the Greek instinct of selection and simplification. He did not have the capacity to deal with his material in such a way that the main masses might stand out confused, in just proportions and with outlines perfectly clear. Though Keats sees the Greek world from afar, he sees it truly. The Greek touch is not his, but in his own rich and decorated English way he writes with a sure insight into the vital meaning of Greek ideas. For the story of the war of Titans and Olympians he had nothing to guide him except the information that he got from classical dictionaries. In conceiving and animating the huge shapes of early gods, Keats shows a masterly instinct. This is clear from his choice of comparisons, drawn from the vast sounds of Nature, by which he seeks to make us realize their voices.
Written and Composed by: Prof. A. R. Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education Cell Phone: 03339971417
JOHN KEATS: KEATS AS A POET OF NATURE Keats’s sentiment of Nature is simpler than that of the other romantics. He remains absolutely uninfluenced by the pantheism of Wordsworth and Shelley, and loves Nature not because of any spiritual significance in her but chiefly because of her external charm and beauty. In Keats, the sentiment of Nature was simpler, more direct and more disinterested than Wordsworth and Shelley. It was his instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of the sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and ambitions. He was gifted with a delighted insight into all the beauties of woods and fields. Keats is the poet of the senses, and he loves Nature because of her sensuous appeal, her appeal to the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, the sense of smell, the sense of touch. He loves flowers because of their beauty of colour, fragrant smell, and softness. He loves the streams because of their music. He loves the snow, the moon and rainbow for their visual loveliness. There is enough simple evidence of his love for Nature for Nature’s own sake in Keats first volume of poems. In “I Stood Tiptoe” we have several Nature-pictures showing Keats’s delight in the beauties of Nature. For instance, in the following lines: “The clouds were pure and white as flocks new-shorn, And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept” This beautiful picture of the white clouds sleeping on the blue fields of heaven is followed by the other pictures of Nature: “A bush of May-flowers with the bees about them; Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them…” This picture of the May-flowers, the long grass, the violets, etc., has an obvious sensuous appeal. Keats’s observation of Nature is very keen and nothing escapes it. In most of his poems we have Nature-description for its own sake, “expressive of nothing but a keen delight and genuine joy in Nature”. His Nature-pictures are detailed and clear. It is for this reason that he is generally regarded as a precursor of the Tennysonian school of Nature. In the “Ode to a Nightingale” we have a couple of remarkable Nature-pictures showing Keats’s delight in the purely sensuous appeal of Nature. One is the picture of the moon shining in the sky while there is darkness on the grassy floor of the forest: “And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, Cluster’d around by her starry fays…” In the “Ode to Psyche”, we again have a couple of superb picture of Nature. Cupid and Psyche are seen lying side by side. This is one of the best Nature-pictures in Keats’s poetry. We have the deep grass below and blossoms up on the branches of trees, there is a Brooklet close by. It is a most inviting picture. Keats was one of the supreme poets of Nature. To Wordsworth, Nature is living with power to influence man for good or ill. Keats neither gives a moral life of Nature, nor attempts to pass beyond her familiar expressions. Sidney Colvin observes: Keats’s character as a poet of Nature begins directly to declare itself in his first volume. He differs by it alike from Wordsworth and Shelley. Wordsworth interpreted Nature by his soul. For Shelley, natural beauty was symbolical in a two-fold sense. In Keats, the sentiment of Nature was simpler than in Wordsworth and Shelley. It was his instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and ambitions. He was gifted with a delighted insight into all the beauties of the woods and fields.
JOHN KEATS: KEATS’S MEDIEVALISM Keats was a great lover of Middle Ages. He responded more than any other poet to the spell of medieval romance. He was not interested in the political or social conditions of his age nor did he dream of the Golden Age of man. He was more or less a poet of escape and an idealist. The Middle Ages have always charmed the poets by virtue of their chivalry, romance, supernatural beliefs etc. Keats was naturally fascinated by the charm of the Middle Ages, because he was a poet of imagination and had not much contact with reality. Keats has shown this fascination in “The Eve of St. Agnes”, “The Eve of St. Mark”, and “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. “The Eve of St. Agnes” is a medieval poem in background, motive and atmosphere. Its story is based on a medieval superstition according to which, a maiden by observing certain rituals on St. Agnes’ Eve could win sight of her wouldbe husband in a dream. Keats wove into this superstition the motive of a love-passion between the son and the daughter of hostile families. The love motive brings in the play the courage of Porphyro who enters the castle of his enemies to meet his beloved at the risk of his life. Medieval chivalry is the basic motive of the poem. The medieval atmosphere is built up by many other touches. There is the Beadsman with his rosary and saying the prayer; there is marry –making in the hall with plume, Tiara and trumpets. There is wonderful picture of thousand heraldries, dim emblazoning and shielded scutcheon blushing with the blood of queens and kings. Each of these touches has some medieval association. The Beadsman praying before e the Mary in the chapel shows the devotional character of the times; the plume and tiara and the stained glass windows show the medieval art; the heraldries take us back to the chivalrous character of the period while the witch and the demon reflect the superstition of the Middle Ages. “La Belle Dame sans Merci” deals with the love of a knight-at-arms for a fairy. The knight-at-arms immediately reminds us of the Middle Ages when there used to be many knights wandering about in search of adventure for the fun or for money. The supernaturalism of this poem is also a medieval quality. The beautiful lady here is not an earthly woman. She is a witch who appears in the shape of a beautiful woman to entrap the men who fall in love with her. “The Eve of St. Mark” again deals with a medieval superstition. This superstition was that a person stationed near a church-porch at twilight on the Eve of St. Mark would see the visual of those about to die, or be brought near death in the following year. An important point about Keats’s medievalism is its stress upon passion and the romantic background of that passion rather than the action and the adventure. Keats shows his hero in “The Eve of St. Agnes” entering stealthily into the castle with his heart on fire for Madeline, feasting his eyes upon her physical charms and playing on a lute for her till she wakes up and the two “melt” into each other. The note of passion is strong here. When the moon throws its beautiful light on Madeline’s breast, Porphyro grows faint with love and desire. On seeing Madeline undressing herself in order to go to bed, Porphyro feels that he is in paradise. His soul aches with love. When she opens her eyes, he sinks upon her knees. She heaves many sighs and speaks in a tone of sexual pleasure, while he keeps gazing on her in an appealing manner. Addressing her passionately, he says, “My Madeline! Sweet dreamer! Lovely bride!” Indeed the whole poem throbs with passion. The same is the case in “La Belle Dame sans Merci”. There is hardly a story or a plot in this poem. Keats sets before us, with imagery from the medieval world of enchantment and knight’s style of life, a type of wasting power of love. The imagery powerfully expresses the passion of the knight. Written and Composed By: Prof.A.R.Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education. Cell Phone: 03339971417
JOHN KEATS: KEATS’S SENSUOUSNESS Sensuousness is the highest quality of Keats’s poetical genius. Keats is highly distinguished poet of the senses and their delights. No one has satisfied the five human senses to the same extent as Keats. He is a great lover of beauty in the concrete. His religion is the love of the beautiful..The sensuousness of Keats is a striking characteristic of his entire poetry. In the volume of 1817, we have a lot of sensuous imagery. In “The Eve of St. Agnes” the description of the Gothic window is famous for its rich sensuous appeal. Keats describes the rich colours of the window panes of “quaint device’, on which were stains and splendid dyes as the “tiger moth’s deep damask’d wing. The reference to the music of the instruments in the same poem appeals to our sense of hearing: “The boisterous, mid-night, festive clarion, The kettle-drum, and far heard clarionet” Again, the description of the feast arranged by Porphyro is highly sensuous. The apple, quince, plum, gourd, jellies and dates make our mouth watered. This passage of the spread feast of dainties is splendid and inviting. Our senses of sight and smell are also satisfied when the poet describes the wintry moon throwing its light on Madeline’s fair breast and the rose-bloom falling on her hands. We have a delightful combination of coloures in these lines. Even more sensuous is the picture of Madeline undressing herself. As Madeline removes the pearls from her hair, unclasps the jewels one by one, and loosens her bodice, she looks like a mermaid in sea-weed, and Porphyro thinks himself to be in paradise. The phrases: warmed jewel, fragrant bodice and rich attire are particularly noteworthy here. The stanza in which the poet describes the passionate love-making of Porphyro and Madeline has a richly sensuous appeal. The odes which represent the highest poetic achievement of Keats are full of sensuous pictures. The “Ode to Psyche” contains a lovely picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrace in deep grass, in the midst of flowers of various coloures. The Ode on a Grecian Urn contains a series of sensuous pictures—passionate gods and men chasing reluctant maidens, the flute players playing their music, the fairy youth trying to kiss his beloved etc. The Ode to a nightingale is one of the finest examples of Keats’s rich sensuousness. The lines in which the poet expresses of passionate desire for some red wine from the fountain of the Muses appeal to both our senses of smell and taste. Thus, Keats always selects the objects of his description and imagery with a keen eye on their sensuous appeal. This sensuousness is the principal charm of his poetry. Sometimes this sensuousness degrades into sensuality. In other words, Keats often shows a tendency to consider too much upon the charms of the feminine body and refers to the lips, cheeks and breasts a little more than is necessary. In “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Porphyro almost faints with passion. When he melts in the dream of Madeline, there is “Solution sweet”; this phrase is generally taken to mean the sexual love-making of Porphyro and Madeline. In Sonnet, “I Cry Your Mercy”, Keats, addressing a sweet-heart says that he would like to possess her wholly and completely. He expresses, in a sonnet, a desire to spend his life with his head resting upon the bosom of his beloved. Thus, sometimes Keats’s imagination becomes wild and too much uncontrolled.
Written and composed by: Prof. A.R. Somroo M.A. Education, M. A. English. Cell Phone: 03339971417
JOHN KEATS: KEATS’S IMAGERY Keats is one of the greatest word-painters in English poetry. The pictorial quality in his poetical work stands above all its other qualities. Picture follows picture in quick series in his poems and each picture is remarkable for its vividness and minuteness of detail. His images are concrete and stand in a striking contrast with Shelley’s images which are abstract and vague. The Eve of St. Agnes is literally full of pictures. We have the hare limping through the frozen grass; the frosted breath of the Beadsman; the aged creature Angela walking along with ivory headed wand; the little moonlight room, pale, chill and silent as a tomb; Madeline on whose fair breast the wintry moon threw its light and whose rich attire came rustling on her knees, etc. Each image is distinctly drawn and we are enabled fully to see it. In the Eve of St. Mark, we have two very clear pictures, one expressing the out door scene in the street and the other, describing the maiden over her book in the fire-lit chamber. In the Ode to Autumn, Autumn has been represented in the concrete forms of a reaper, winnower, etc. The Ode on a Grecian Urn contains a series of clear and concrete pictures--- passionate men and gods chasing the reluctant maidens, the flute players playing their music, the fairy youth trying to kiss his beloved, etc. While giving us the pictures of inanimate objects, Keats puts in them life and power to feel, see and think so as to make his pictures more vivid. He tells of dead and senseless things in terms of life, movement and feeling. For example, in The Eve of St. Agnes, he draws the pictures of the statues of kings and queens and represents them as capable of feeling cold. Another point about Keats’s pictorial quality is that most of his pictures are sensuous in appeal. In other words, his pictures appeal to our sense of sight, taste, smell, hearing and touch. I stood Tiptoe, Sleep and poetry and Endymion contain many such pictures. Many of his pictures are colourful. In richness of colour, no picture can compete with Keats’s description in The Eve of St. Agnes of a high window decorated with carven imageries with splendid dyes like the tiger moth’s deep damasked wings. The description of the fruit in the poem appeals our sense of sight, smell and taste. The Ode on Indolence contains a number of pictures which represent Keats’s gift of concrete and sensuous imagery. In the Ode to Psyche, we have several concrete and sensuous pictures. There is the lovely picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrace in the deep grass. The Ode to Nightingale contains some of the finest pictures of Keats. The lines, in which the poet expresses a passionate desire for some red wine from the fountain of Muses, have a rich appeal. The, there is a magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky and surrounded by the stars. The concreteness of Keats’s images impresses our minds. Many of these images were drawn from his own observation of English woods and gardens, sea-side and brook-side, and, he is one of the most devoted poets in depicting these scenes. But, he also draws his images from regions far from his personal experience. Ancient Greece serves as the setting in his Endymion, Lamia and Hyperion. And the Gothic Middle Ages from the background in both, The Eve of St. Agnes and, The Eve of St. Mark. And in all cases, he is successful, even though his knowledge of past ages in foreign lands was not based on a first-hand study of foreign languages, but on a careful study of secondary sources and on his own poetic intuition.
Written And Composed By: Prof. A. R. Somroo M.A. Education, M.A. English Cell Phone: 03339971417