July 18, 2017 | Author: Seshadri Sekhar Chatterjee | Category: John Keats, Romanticism, Poetry, Homer, Religion And Belief
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Selected Poems by John Keats

An A level English Workbook by Steven Croft ~ Wessex Publications ~

About the Author of this Workbook Steve Croft is a lecturer and Programme Leader for English in a Tertiary College in Yorkshire and is committed to flexible forms of learning. He is a Senior AQA Examiner for A level English and also an Examiner for the International Baccalaureate.

Other workbooks in this series include: A level The Miller's Tale The Franklin's Tale The Wife of Bath's Tale and Prologue The Merchant's Tale The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales Much Ado About Nothing Hamlet Measure for Measure King Lear The Poems of John Donne The Poetry of Edward Thomas Poems of Seamus Heaney Mean Time The Whitsun Weddings High Windows Dead Sea Poems Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience Choice of Christina Rossetti’s Verse Three Victorian Poets Selected Poems by John Keats Wordsworth - Prelude Women Romantic Poets The World’s Wife Great Expectations Jane Eyre Mansfield Park The Handmaid’s Tale Gulliver’s Travels Dubliners Return of the Native Hard Times A Passage to India Tess of the d’Urbervilles Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Enduring Love Snow Falling on Cedars Edward II A Doll’s House The Rivals The Glass Menagerie Murmuring Judges The Country Wife Dr Faustus The Duchess of Malfi A Street Car Named Desire Volpone A Woman of No Importance English Language Topics English Critical Appreciation Communications - Semiotics and the Media English Language Change

GCSE I'm the King of the Castle The Lord of the Flies War Poetry Macbeth An Inspector Calls To Kill a Mockingbird Of Mice and Men Romeo and Juliet Twelfth Night

All materials available from: Wessex Publications Elwell House Stocklinch Ilminster Somerset TA19 9JF Tel/Fax: 01460 55660 or by using [email protected]

COPYRIGHT NOTICE The contents of this publication remain the copyright property of the publishers. They may be copied only within the purchasing institution. Any copying beyond these limits is illegal. ©Wessex Publications

Teacher Guide Selected Poems by John Keats

About the Workbook The material in this package is fully photocopiable for use within the purchasing institution. In addition, you will of course need a copy of Selected Poems (Penguin Poetry Library, editor John Barnard).

Using the Materials I recommend that students read the poetry at least once through first on their own or as a group in order to get a sound grasp of the texts. The Workbook examines the poems in detail, focusing on their meaning and significance as literature. A timeline is also included showing the main events in Keats’ life as well as revision essay titles to help students prepare for the examination are also included. Most Wessex Workbooks also contain sections on themes and style, but in this case the author has opted instead for very full interpretations of the poems, through which these points will emerge. It will be necessary to photocopy the Workbook for each student. You could give each student a guide to keep, but we suggest that you spiral bind or staple them and retain them for future use. The answer boxes may, of course, be used but you will probably prefer students to answer in their notebooks for reasons of cost. However the size of each box will enable students to gauge how much to write and will make it easier to discuss answers with individuals and groups. The Workbook is written and presented in a similar way to Open University/Open College materials and is intended to be interactive and student-centred. The package is far more than a revision aid or potted guide. Its purpose is to both support the student and enable her/him to work at her/his own pace. The Study Workbook is written for the student. It can be used in a variety of ways including: •

alongside classwork and group work led by the lecturer/teacher/tutor

individual supported-self study (flexible learning) work in class

individual work carried out at home

paired or small group work.

Using the CD version of the Workbook The CD provides you with three versions of the Workbook: •

the complete Workbook with questions, answer boxes and author’s responses

the Workbook with Tasks and answer boxes only

the author’s responses only.

Each of the above may be loaded onto your school/college Intranet or printed off separately. This will give you complete flexibility to use the materials as you see fit.

The Lecturer’s/Teacher’s Role

The pack is not intended as a substitute for the teacher/lecturer. In our view it is essential that she/he support the student throughout by providing: •

an introduction to the text

explanation when needed

guidance and support individually and within small groups

regular checks of the student’s work.

NOTE Tasks are written using New Times Roman font, and the author’s suggested comments/answers/responses to them are given in a different font (Arial) to enable students to pick then out more easily. The text: The author used Selected Poems (Penguin Poetry Library) edited by John Barnard.

Selected Poems by John Keats

Student Workbook by Steven Croft ~ Wessex Publications ~

CONTENTS Using the workbook ...........................................................................................................................1 John Keats - Timeline .........................................................................................................................2 Keats and Romanticism.......................................................................................................................5 The Poems Lines written on 29th May. The Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II .............................8 On first looking at Chapman’s Homer .........................................................................................9 To my brothers .............................................................................................................................13 Addressed to Haydon ...................................................................................................................15 ‘I stood on tip-toe upon a little hill’ .............................................................................................18 Sleep and Poetry...........................................................................................................................24 Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstitition .................................................................................28 To Kosciusko ...............................................................................................................................30 After dark vapours have oppressed our plains .............................................................................32 To Leigh Hunt, Esq. .....................................................................................................................33 On the Sea ....................................................................................................................................34 The Gothic looks solemn .............................................................................................................36 Endymion .....................................................................................................................................38 Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream ............................................................................................................48 To Mrs. Reynold’s Cat.................................................................................................................50 On Sitting Down to Read ‘King Lear’ Once Again .....................................................................52 ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be!’ .................................................................................54 To - *............................................................................................................................................58 ‘O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind’ .........................................................................59 To J. H. Reynolds, Esq.................................................................................................................61 Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil........................................................................................................63 On Visiting the Tomb of Burns....................................................................................................65 A Song About Myself ..................................................................................................................65 From Fragments of the ‘Castle Builder’.......................................................................................67 And what is love? It is a doll dressed up......................................................................................68 Hyperion: A Fragment .................................................................................................................69 The Eve of St. Agnes ...................................................................................................................81 The Eve of St. Mark .....................................................................................................................89 Why did I laugh tonight?..............................................................................................................91 Character of Charles Brown.........................................................................................................93 A Dream, after reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca................................................94 La Bells Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad ..........................................................................................96 To Sleep .......................................................................................................................................100 If by dull rhymes our English must be chained............................................................................101 Ode to Psyche...............................................................................................................................102 On Fame (I)..................................................................................................................................108 On Fame (II).................................................................................................................................109 Two or three posies ......................................................................................................................110 Ode on a Grecian Urn ..................................................................................................................111 Ode to a Nightingale ....................................................................................................................115 Ode on Melancholy ......................................................................................................................122 Ode on Indolence .........................................................................................................................126 Lamia ...........................................................................................................................................130 Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art! ..........................................................................143 Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes .................................................................................145 To Autumn ...................................................................................................................................146 The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream ...................................................................................................149 What can I do to drive away ........................................................................................................154 This living hand, now warm and capable.....................................................................................156 In after-time, a sage of mickle lore ..............................................................................................157 Essay and Revision Questions.............................................................................................................158

John Keats – Selected Poems

Using the Workbook

USING THE WORKBOOK The workbook examines various aspects of John Keats’s verse taken from Selected Poems (Penguin Poetry Library, editor John Barnard). You will be asked to complete tasks on each of these poems as you progress through the different sections. All the tasks are designed to help you look carefully at the poetry and to come to an appreciation of its meaning and significance as a piece of literature. In addition to work in the workbook itself, it is advisable to keep your own, fuller notes, in a notebook or ring binder. These will be an important revision aid if you are going to answer on this text in an examination. Some of the tasks require quite short answers and where this is the case a box is provided in the workbook where you can write down your responses if you wish. Some questions may require a fuller response and it would be best if you wrote your comments or answers in your own notebook or file. Where you see this notebook symbol though, a fuller response is required and it would be best if you write your comments or answers in your own notebook or file. The author of this Workbook addresses the social and historical context of the poetry that many examination boards require you to focus on in your study as appropriate, within his comments on the tasks. At the end of the workbook you will find a number of specimen essay questions of the kind that you might find set for AS or A2-Level English Literature (or an examination of similar standard). These titles and questions would also be suitable for coursework assignments on this text. If you are going to answer a question on this text in an examination it would be very useful to you to practise writing answers to several of these and have some idea of how you would tackle any one of them. Good luck and happy studying.

The author used Selected Poems (Penguin Poetry Library) edited by John Barnard.


John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats’s Life and Times


His brother George born


Keats born on 31 October in London 18 December, Keats baptised at St Botolph church, Bishopsgate


His brother Tom born


His brother Edward born

George Young Keats

1802 Edward dies. December, the Keats family moves to Swan and Hoop, 24 The Pavement, Moorfields. Tom


Keats starts school – a boarding school in Enfield, north London His sister, Fanny born


April, John's father, Thomas Keats, dies in a riding accident. Mother remarries (William Rawlings) and the children move to their grandparents’ house


Their grandfather dies

1806 John's mother leaves her husband and lives away from her children

Leigh Hunt


John's mother returns to her mother's home, but dies shortly thereafter Guardians are appointed for the Keats children


Keats’s mother dies of tuberculosis. Keats leaves school to become an apothecary’s apprentice


His grandmother dies


He enters Guy’s Hospital as a student


He qualifies as an apothecary but decides to become a poet 3 March, John enters Guy's as dresser (applies bandages) 5 May, publishes his first poem in The Examiner 25 July, becomes Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries October, writes his famous sonnet 'On Reading Chapman's Homer' meets Leigh Hunt, Benjamin Haydon, John Reynolds November, lives with George and Tom in Cheapside 1 December, John Keats is quoted in Leigh Hunt's 'Young Poets' article John gives up medicine for poetry before the year ends


John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats’s Life and Times


Moves to Hampstead. 3 March, Poems is published by C and J Ollier April-August, writes Books I and II of Endymion while travelling through Carisbrooke, Canterbury, Hastings, etc During his travels, John meets Benjamin Bailey and Charles Brown September, stays with Bailey at Oxford and writes Book III of Endymion October, John falls ill and takes mercury 28 November, finishes Book IV of Endymion at Burford Bridge December, John meets Wordsworth and writes some theatrical reviews


January-February, revises and copies Endymion and attends Hazlitt's lectures March-April, John stays at Teignmouth, nursing his ill brother Tom Writes Isabella, or the Pot of Basil Endymion published by Taylor & Hessey 22-30 June, George Keats leaves for America John tours the Lake District with Charles Brown July - 8 August, walking tour of Scotland with Brown August - December, nurses Tom at Hampstead and meets Fanny Brawne for the first time Attacks on Poems and Endymion appear in 'Blackwood's' and 'Quarterly' Begins Hyperion 1 December, Tom dies Keats moves to Wentworth Place


January, writes The Eve of St Agnes Stays in Sussex and Hampshire 13-17 February, writes The Eve of St Mark March-April, John experiences a bout of depression and gives up writing Hyperion The Brawnes move into part of Wentworth Place 21 April-May, writes La Belle Dame Sans Merci Writes his famous Odes John becomes unofficially engaged to Fanny Brawne July-August, John experiences the first signs of tuberculosis At Shanklin, Isle of Wight, writing Lamia Part I and Otho the Great August-October, moves to Winchester, writes Lamia Part II Writes To Autumn Begins and abandons The Fall of Hyperion October-December, John returns to Hampstead Becomes officially engaged to Fanny Brawne John suffers another bout of depression; he is ill and unhappy


January, George Keats returns to England to raise money John comes to a financial settlement with the executor of his grandmother's estate; the settlement leaves him penniless (he gives




John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats’s Life and Times

most of his money to George) 3 February, John has his first lung haemorrhage and is confined to his house May, Charles Brown rents out the house and John moves to Kentish Town, near Leigh Hunt 22 June, John has a severe second haemorrhage and moves to Leigh Hunt's home July, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and other poems is published and well-reviewed August, John leaves the Hunt home and is nursed by Fanny Brawne at Wentworth Place 17 September, John sails for Italy with Joseph Severn November, John reaches Rome 30 November, John writes his last known letter



Keats dies of tuberculosis on the 23 February 26 February, John is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome.

Life mask


John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats and Romanticism


Nature’s Fire by Theodore Rousseau, 1860

The particular features which are identified with the Romantic Movement are not exclusive to that period. However, they did come together and were accorded more importance in the Romantic Movement than at any other time in history. In England, what is generally referred to as the Romantic Period or the Romantic Movement ran roughly from 1790 to 1830. Some of the features, though came about as a result of developments through earlier periods and some continued to exert an influence through the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The movement involved so many diverging strands in literature, art and music as well as philosophical thought. A central idea, though, was a rejection of the eighteenth century faith in reason in favour of the power of the imagination and the intensity of individual personal experience. Here are some of the key distinguishing features of the Romantic Movement: •

The emphasis is on the individual who is often seen as a rebel against traditional conventions

The individual seeks to find value and spiritual fulfilment through the intensity of personal experience rather than orthodox religion

Often Nature, particularly the wilder, untamed aspects of it, gives rise to this kind of intense, often spiritual experience

The individual experiences the desire for solitary experience while, at the same time, interacting with society. This often involved a tension between the experience which transcended ordinary life while but also was a part of human life

The individual wants to change society and human nature

Dreams, semi-waking, drugged or entranced states are regarded as moments giving special insights or visions

The perceptions of children, the ‘uneducated’, the ‘uncivilised’ or those regarded as ‘mad’ are often looked as having special status or as containing particularly significant insights

Mythology, legends, folklore, etc. are used in various ways linking intellectual ideas to cultural tradition.

Essentially, then, the Romantic Movement represented a reaction or a rebellion against established ideas and attitudes. However, the Romantic Movement, not only affected literature but it was intimately


John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats and Romanticism

linked with changes in philosophical thinking, religion, politics, painting and music. The English Romantic poets, including Keats, reacted against a view of the physical world which was dominated by science and the emphasis on the material and ‘common sense’ which had dominated much of the eighteenth century – the ‘Age of Reason’.

Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix, The French Revolution 17871792

The Romantic period also coincided with the French Revolution and in its early stages provided the first generation of Romantic poets, particularly Wordsworth, Blake and Coleridge with both hope of change and inspiration. They were fired with revolutionary ideals – as Wordsworth wrote in the The Prelude : “France standing on the top of golden hours, And human nature seeming born again.” However, what was to follow – the Terror and the rise of Napoleon, caused bitter disillusionment as they saw thousands sent to the guillotine and the ideals of the revolution corrupted. The younger generation of poets, Byron, Shelley and Keats, though, grew up in a society dominated by the repression of a series of Tory governments frightened that allowing people freedom might invite the kind of revolution in Britain which they had seen France suffer. One way in which the Romantic poets differed from their predecessors was in their attitude to society. The eighteenth century attitude towards society was that it was an institution in which all ranks of society knew their place. For the Romantics, however, particularly the second generation including Keats, society had become a repressive force which held back and stunted the intellectual and spiritual growth of its citizens. One of the many consequences of this changed view was a move away from the idea of the city as the focal point. Much of Romantic literature saw the city as a place that imprisoned its inhabitants. Among the Romantics, only Blake’s view saw positive values in the ‘city’. The Romantic Poets also saw a shift in other ways too. Here is a summary: •

The Romantics describe many different kinds of the natural scene. Poets of the eighteenth century had described natural scenes too, but often their ‘nature’ had been cultivated by man. The Romantics’ view of nature was of a wildness that was independent of Man. For the Romantics it was nature rather than society that was Man’s proper setting. Man needed the help of nature to find true fulfilment.

The Romantic period also saw a shift in religious ideas. The Romantics found that the established Church failed to provide the answers to many of the issues they raised. They searched for a spiritual reality which orthodox Christianity did not supply. In their search for a spiritual truth the Romantic poets placed great


John Keats – Selected Poems

Keats and Romanticism

emphasis on feelings and imagination. Keats felt that the peculiar gift of the poet was to find a spiritual truth through imagination. The question is, then, how did these ideas manifest themselves in Keats’s poems? Here are some ideas: •

A major subject of his poetry is his absorption with love and beauty and the problem these ideals meet in the real world. For example, The Eve of St. Agnes illustrates this. This is also a poem that recreates the medieval world and uses as its vehicle the idea of legend.

He wrote again on the subject of illusion and reality in love in Lamia and La Belle Dame Sans Merci. Here he uses the supernatural to help convey the paradoxical nature of love.

One of the themes of Keats’s narrative poems is the search for the truth through visions of the ideal. In his Odes, one of his themes is the lack of permanence. There comes an understanding that the imaginative vision cannot be sustained for long. Ode to a Nightingale, for example, explores this idea, presenting such a vision and its loss and the poet is left at the end wondering which state is more true – that of sleeping or waking, ”Do I wake or sleep?”

He includes detailed descriptions of nature in his poems. To Autumn focuses on the natural description to explore the transitory nature of experience but it also forms important elements in the creation of settings and atmosphere of many of his poems.

Another of his key themes, and one which the Romantics generally were keen to explore was the nature of the poetic experience – what it is to be a poet. He examines this question in a number of the poems which follow.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John William Waterhouse, 1893


The Poems – Lines written on 29th May

John Keats – Selected Poems

THE POEMS Lines written on 29th May The Anniversary of the Restoration of Charles ll As the title of this poem suggests 29th May marks the anniversary of the Restoration of Charles II to the throne of England after the period during which the country was governed by Parliament under Oliver Cromwell. Keats wrote these lines in 1815 when church bells were rung throughout the country to celebrate this anniversary. During the same period Napoleon escaped from his imprisonment on the island of Elba. Louis XVIII fled from France and sought asylum in London where huge crowds gathered to meet him. TASK 1

Read the lines through carefully. What does Keats’s attitude towards the restoration of Charles II seem to be here?

Keats denounces these celebrations, declaring his fellow countrymen ‘infatuate Britons’ suggesting that they are deluded in celebrating such an event. Far from celebrating this Keats describes this proclaiming of the memory of Charles II as the ‘direst, foulest shame.’ His reference to the bells as ‘traitorous’ and ‘lying’ reinforces this view and for him they are a reminder of ‘…gallant Sidney’s, Russell’s, Vane’s sad knell’. Sir Henry Vane, Algernon Sidney and Lord William Russell were executed for treason by Charles II but they were widely regarded as heroes by Republican sympathisers. As a liberal, Keats disapproved of the Restoration feeling that it represented a betrayal of true patriotism.


John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On first looking at Chapman’s Homer

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer Before studying this sonnet it may help you to know that Keats wrote it in October 1816 after reading for the first time a translation by George Chapman of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. It is often regarded as Keats’s first poem of any real significance. Keats himself could not read Greek and so his knowledge of the works of Homer was limited to the refined translation of the eighteenth century writer Alexander Pope. However, one night, his friend and teacher, Charles Cowden Clarke, introduced him to the Elizabethan translator, Chapman’s version which he found much more exciting and powerful than the previous versions he had read. TASK 2

Read the sonnet through carefully and think about its possible meanings in the light of this information. Now look again at the first four lines. What effect does Keats create here?

Probably the most immediately striking thing about these lines is the richness of the language. Words like ‘realms’, gold’, ‘goodly’, ‘kingdoms’ give an immediate impression of one whose experience has brought him into contact with a wealth of riches. Notice too the reference to ‘bards’ (poets) who express their ‘fealty’ (loyalty) to their lord, Apollo (the Greek god of poetry and music).


Now look at the next few lines. How do they continue the metaphor with which Keats began the poem?

continue over


John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On first looking at Chapman’s Homer

Keats continues the metaphor of him as a traveller journeying in rich and mystical lands and speaks of how he had been told of a ‘wide expanse’ that Homer, the Greek poet and writer of the Iliad and Odyssey ruled as his kingdom. However, he says that he had never breathed the clear air, (‘its pure serene’) of Homer until he heard ‘Chapman speak out loud and bold’. In other words, although he had heard of Homer before he had never really fully experienced his work until he read Chapman’s translation.


Now look at the closing six lines of the poem. What similes does Keats use here to emphasise the impact that reading Chapman’s translation of Homer had on him?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On first looking at Chapman’s Homer

He uses two similes: •

He compares his excitement with that felt by an astronomer who discovers a new planet.

He compares his feelings to those experienced by Cortez when he discovered the Pacific Ocean and looked upon it from a hill in Darien (an isthmus in Central America).

Both these similes stress the magnitude of the effect that Chapman’s Homer had on Keats. It is perhaps worth noting here that many critics and writers have observed that, in fact, Balboa and not Cortez was the first European to discover the Pacific. It is known that Keats had read Robertson’s History of America which contains descriptions of Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific and Cortez’s discovery of Mexico City. Some feel that Keats deliberately wrote Cortez because he preferred the sound of that name to that of ‘Balboa’. However, in poetic terms the point is an insignificant one as the poetic intention here is not to present a historically accurate account but convey a sense of Keats’s experience. It could be argued that the name of ‘Cortez’ has more musical quality to it as well as carrying connotations of excitement and discovery that ‘Balboa’ lacks.


Pick out any words or phrases from these last six lines that you think add power to the sense of the excitement of a new discovery that Keats creates.

Here are some ideas: •

‘Stout Cortez’ and ‘eagle eyes’ give an impression of the intrepid, observant and sharp-eyed explorer constantly looking for new discoveries.

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – On first looking at Chapman’s Homer

The description of his men looking at each other ‘…with a wild surprise’ reinforces the impression hardly being able to believe the discovery. ‘Silent’ again reinforces this idea as Cortez’s men are speechless as the enormity of their discovery sinks in.

Now think about the structure of the poem. How does Keats use the structure to develop his ideas here?

The poem is written in the sonnet form and in the first eight lines or octave Keats describes his experiences of reading a wealth of rich literature in the past. In the final two lines of the octave, though, Keats prepares us for the final lines of the sonnet by telling us despite such reading he had never truly experienced its beauty and wonder until he read Chapman. The final six lines of the sonnet (the sestet) go on to describe how he felt at this exciting discovery through the imagery of an astronomer discovering a new star or an explorer discovering a new ocean. The poem is unified through the central metaphor of the traveller and the voyage of discovery. It is worth noting that many critics regard this poem as being Keats’s first poem of any real significance and it records, as many of his later poems do in different ways, the thrill of an aesthetic experience and the power of art to influence the human mind.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To My Brothers

To My Brothers This sonnet was written in November 1816 on the 19th birthday of Keats’s youngest brother, Thomas. At that time Keats was living with his brothers, George and Thomas in London. TASK 7

Read again the first eight lines of the sonnet. What does Keats have to say here?

The poet observes the flames playing over the coals in the fire and contemplates the quietness of the house in which he and his brothers reside, and the “…household gods that keep / A gentle empire o’er fraternal souls”. He thinks of how, as he searches for poetic inspiration, his younger brother’s eyes “…are fix’d, as in a poetic sleep” on his learning, and how the fall of night offers comfort to their cares.


Now look at the final six lines. How does Keats develop his ideas further here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To My Brothers

In these lines Keats focuses on the fact that it is his brother Tom’s birthday and he expresses gladness that it has passed in such a tranquil mood. He also expresses the wish that they may pass many such quiet evenings together and to experience life’s true joys before they die.


What seems to you to be the predominant mood of this poem?

The mood of this poem is very meditative as the poet weighs in his mind “What are the world’s true joys”. Overall, the tone is conversational although there are some more elevated poetic images such as “A gentle empire o’er fraternal souls” and “I search around the poles.” which help to suggest a more universal message in the poem beyond that of the domestic scene he celebrates.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Addressed to Hayden

Addressed to Haydon Another poem written in the sonnet form, Addressed to [Haydon] was also written in November 1816. The poem is addressed to Benjamin Robert Haydon, a painter whom Keats had met earlier that year. TASK 10

Look at the first eight lines of the sonnet. What do you think Keats is saying here?

Here are some ideas that might help you: • •

• •

He speaks of ‘Great Spirits’, who are staying or travelling (journeying) on earth. The first of these ‘Great Spirits’, “He of cloud, the cataract and the lake” refers to the poet William Wordsworth (Haydon’s painting, Wordsworth Musing Upon Helvellyn is in the National Portrait Gallery – Helvellyn is a mountain in the Lake District). Keats says that the inspiration of Wordsworth’s poetry came from the wing of an angel of the highest order. “He of the rose, the violet, the spring” refers to Leigh Hunt who was imprisoned “for Freedom’s sake” and who, whilst in prison, turned his cell into a bower of flowers using wallpaper.

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – Addressed to Hayden

The third reference, to Raphael (both the name of an archangel and the famous Renaissance painter) and is a tribute to the painter, Haydon.

Now look at the closing six lines of the poem. What ideas are explored in these lines?

Now look at the closing six lines of the poem. What ideas are explored in these lines?

The poet ponders on how there will be other great spirits that will appear from ages yet to come and how these ‘spirits’ too will have an important and shaping influence upon the world, “…these will give the world another heart, / And other pulses.” His emphasis here is upon the shaping of humanity and imagination. He asks the reader “Hear ye not the hum / Of mighty workings?” These are the workings of the imagination within the human spirit, and he urges all to be silent and listen to the imagination.


The structure of this sonnet is in the conventional form except for the unconventional thirteenth line, which is, in fact, half a line. Originally Keats completed this line with the words “in a distant Mart.” He then decided to leave out their second part of the line. What effect does this incomplete line have on a reading of the poem?

continue over

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Addressed to Hayden

By writing the second part of this line the poet allows the silence to take its place in a real sense in response to his question. “Hear ye not the hum / Of might workings?” Unlike To My Brothers the tone of this sonnet is elevated, in keeping with the sense of admiration Keats wants to create for Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt and Haydon, and specific in its reference to the poets and the painter.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ Keats completed this poem in December 1816 and it was left untitled. In many ways this poem is a forerunner or preparation for the ideas that he was to explore and develop as a poet later. On one level the poem tells the story from Greek mythology of Endymion (a subject Keats later took up again in the much longer poem of that name). Before studying the poem in more detail it would be useful to have some knowledge of the story of Endymion so here is a brief account of it. In Greek mythology, Endymion was the shepherd son of Aethlius. The Moon goddess, Selene, loved him. One version says that Zeus gave him eternal life and youth by allowing him to sleep perpetually on Mount Latmus and Selene came down nightly to embrace him. TASK 14

However, the poem takes as its starting point, a moment from the poet’s own experience. Look at this opening section of the poem (lines 1 – 34). What is the poet describing here?

He begins by recalling a moment from the summer when he stood on Hampstead Heath, taking a delight in the sights of nature he saw around him. Notice the detail of his description here as he observes the “sweet buds” and the “finely tapering stems”, the “clouds…pure and white as flocks new shorn”. As he looks about him he takes in the stream and wood, the flowers and bees and all the richness of the natural scene.


What kind of atmosphere and mood does Keats create in this opening section?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

The mood here is one of peace, tranquillity and harmony within nature. This is emphasised through phrases such as “A little noiseless noise”, “the very sigh that silence heaves”, “not the faintest motion could be seen”. Words such as “bright”, “milky”, “soft”, “rosy” and “moist”, “cool”, “green” reinforce this picture of the gentle, comforting and harmonious quality of the natural scene.


Now look at the next section (lines 35-56) and pick out any particular details of Keats’s description that strike you.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

Here are some ideas: • • • •


The description of the hedges and tangled wild briars “taking the soft wind / Upon their summer thornes”. The contrast between the “light green…shoots” and the “aged roots”. The personification of nature e.g. “…a spring-head of clear waters / bubbling so wildly of its lovely daughters”. The image of blue-bells plucked “thoughtlessly / By infant hands” left to die on the path. Notice the reference to Apollo (the god of the sun) here (Mercury – the messenger of the gods was mentioned in the previous section) which introduced a mythological element into the poem.

Look at lines 57-106. Again we see the specific detail in the poet’s description of nature. Make a note of any features that he finds particularly vivid.

Again we see the personification of nature here as Keats speaks of lingering awhile to “…watch intently Nature’s gentle doings”. Note the vivid detail in his description of the goldfinches: “Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop From low-hung branches; little space they stop – But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek, Then turn off at once, as in a wanton freak, Or perhaps, to show their black and golden wings, Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.” (lines 87-92)

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

Now look at lines 94-105. What does Keats introduce into this scene in these lines?

A female figure is introduced into the scene and Keats’s description here has an element of the erotic about it as he talks of her “halfsmiling lips and downward look”.


In what ways is Keats’s view developed further in lines 107-162?

The image of the erotic maiden fades and gives way to an image of the moon which Keats personifies here as “…lifting her silver rim / Above a cloud”. The presence of the moon (who he later identifies as Cynthia, the goddess of the moon) suggest images of mythalogical lovers including Eros and Psyche.


What is the significance of these?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

In mythology Psyche was a beautiful maiden beloved by the god of love Cupid who visited her every night but left by sunrise. He had asked her never to seek to discover his identity but curiosity got the better of her and one night she took a lamp so that she could see him. A drop of hot oil from the lamp fell on his shoulder and woke him and he fled. Abandoned she searched far and wide for her lover and brought upon her the wrath of Zeus – “The silver lamp – the ravishment – the wonder – The darkness – loneliness – the fearful thunder;” (lines 147-148) Keats speaks of Pan, whose sorrow at the loss of Syrinx is described a “sweet desolation” and “balmy pain” which hints at the relationship between pleasure and melancholy, an idea that was to become one of his major themes. Keats also presents an image of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection leaving the nymph, Echo, who was in love with him, to pine away.


Now look at lines 181-242. What shift now occurs in the poet’s mind?

continue over

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – I stood tip-toe…..

The poet’s thoughts now return to the love between the goddess Cynthia and the mortal Endymion. He sees in this love a power that would fill both healthy and sick with a poetic power. Endymion and the moon are symbolic of poetic achievement but as the crucial moment is reached Keats breaks off – “Was there a Poet born? – but now no more, My wandering spirit must no further soar. –“ (lines 241-242) He perhaps senses that he is not, as yet, ready to reach the heights of poetic achievement but he would use this image to develop his ideas much more fully in his later poem Endymion.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Sleep and Poetry

Sleep and Poetry This is another poem written in the Autumn of 1816 in which Keats’s early poetic development begins to come to fruition. The poem was written whilst Keats was staying at his friend Leigh Hunt’s cottage in Hampstead. They had stayed up talking late into the night and when eventually Keats went to bed his mind was still so stimulated by the conversation that he was unable to sleep. Instead he began to compose some lines of poetry in his head in which he summed up his understanding of the nature of poetry and speculated about his own future as a poet. TASK 22

Think about the title of this poem. What do you think the significance of it is?

In a sense the title expresses two contradictory terms in that sleep generally describes an unconscious state while poetry is often associated with a state of heightened consciousness. At first these two ideas may appear irreconcilable but the poem’s central point is that sleep and poetry are, in fact, two aspects of the same creative force.


Look at the opening section of the poem, (lines 1-40). How does Keats open his poem?

continue over

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Sleep and Poetry

He begins with images of a gentle and soothing nature which leads him to contemplate the idea of ‘sleep’ – the “Soft closer of our eyes!”. He goes on to develop a range of images emphasising the restorative effects of sleep and the idea of awakening refreshed to a new day – “…when the morning blesses Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise”. (lines 16-18) The body needs rest to prepare it for a fresh day as the poet’s mind needs sleep to refresh it for new poetic experiences.


Now look at lines 41-84. What ideas does Keats develop here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Sleep and Poetry

Keats goes on now to express his desire to achieve poetic inspiration: “O Poesy! For thee I hold my pen” but he is aware that, as yet, he has not achieved this state and that he is: “…not yet a glorious denizen Of thy wide heaven”. He goes on, through rich imagery, to describe his ambitions to achieve the sublime state that poetry can provide and to “Write on my tablets all that was permitted, All that was for our human senses fitted, Then the events of this wide world I’d seize Like a strong giant, and my spirit tease Till at its shoulders it should proudly see Wings to find out an immortality.” (lines 79-84)


Now look at the following sections: lines 85-162; lines 163-312; lines 313-388. Summarise the key ideas expressed in each of these sections.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Sleep and Poetry

Here are some ideas: Lines 85-162 • •

• •

Keats wants to steep himself in poetry so that he can “taste the pure fountains.” He uses sensual imagery to express the delights he will experience through “poesy”. He will “Feed upon apples red, and strawberries” and “Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places.” He must pass these delights for a “nobler life” where he can find “the agonies, the strife / Of human hearts.” He will strive to keep his poetic visions alive.

Lines 163-312 •

Keats gives a catalogue of some contemporary poets and gives a lofty idealisation of poetry – “…A drainless shower / Of light is Poesy; ‘tis the supreme of power; ‘Tis might half slumbering on its own right arm.” He asserts that poetry should be a friend “To soothe the cares and lift the thoughts of man”. (line 247)

Lines 313-388 • •


He describes the pictures on the walls depicting the poets of other ages He thinks of their achievements and feels that “Happy he who trusts / To clear Futurity his darling frame!” (lines 358-9)

Now look at the ending of the poem (lines 389-404). How does he conclude his poem?

The poem ends as Keats awakes, refreshed and full of resolve to begin a new day and continue his pursuit of poetry and achieve his ambitions to be a poet.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Written in Disgust of ….

Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition This poem, written on 22nd December 1816 is important for the light it sheds on Keats’s attitude towards conventional religion and his aversion to Christianity. He wrote the sonnet while Sunday morning church bells were ringing. TASK 27

Think about the title of the sonnet. What does it reveal about Keats’s attitude?

Once you are aware of the fact that the “vulgar superstition” that he refers to is Christianity his attitude becomes obvious. He is clearly dismissive of conventional religious faith and although it is expressed here in an early and, as yet, poetically unrefined way it was an attitude that was to stay with him.


Now look at the first four lines. What impression do these lines give?

The association of melancholy with church bells immediately reveals Keats’s attitude. This is reinforced by his use of the words “gloominess”, “dreadful” and “the sermon’s horrid sound” as he describes the people being called to church and prayer.

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – Written in Disgust of ….

How does the second part of the octave continue this note?

The image of man’s mind being “…closely bound / In some black spell” sustains the grim and gloomy tone. This is reinforced further through the image of people being torn “…from fireside joys” as they are called to prayer.


What effect is created in the sestet?

The insistent ringing of the bells is emphasised through the repetition of “Still, still they toll” – the word “toll” making them sound more like a death-knell. This image is further developed as Keats tells us that “I should feel a damp / A chill as from a tomb” if he did not know that “they are dying like an outburnt lamp”. He takes heart that such manifestations of conventional religion are dying and will eventually pass into “oblivion” and in their place “fresh flowers will grow / And many glories of immortal stamp.”

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Kosciusko

To Kosciusko This sonnet, again written in December 1816, is dedicated to Tadeusz Kosciusko (1746-1817), a Polish patriot who fought against Russia and for the United States in the War of Independence. He was a hero of English Liberals. TASK 31

Read the first four lines of the sonnet. What does Keats have to say here?

It is immediately clear that Keats holds Kosciusko in high esteem, speaking of his “great name” and saying that his name alone is enough to inspire “high feeling”. The greatness of his reputation spreads far and wide like the peeling of bells and sends out an “everlasting tone”.


Now look at the next four lines. How does Keats develop this idea in the second part of the octave?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Kosciusko

Keats speaks of how a hero figure sometimes appears who has the power to change things for the better in the world. He obviously thinks that Kosciusko is one of these figures.


What else does Keats say that the name of Kosciusko tells him?

He feels that someday good spirits both of the present and those of the past, such as Alfred, the King of Wessex (849-99AD) who defeated the Danish invaders and encouraged learning and writing in English, will combine on earth to create a better world.

At the centre of this poem is Keats’s admiration for those who resist and fight against what he regards as injustice and repression.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – After dark vapours….

After dark vapours have oppressed our plains


This sonnet was written in January 1817. Read through the octave carefully and make notes of the key points and the mood that Keats creates here.

Here are some ideas: • The language of the first line creates a dark and oppressive and dreary atmosphere • The third line introduces a note of relief – a day “born of the gentle south” clear the dull skies • The atmosphere lightens as the month of May brings a refreshed mood – and the “drip of summer rains”.


How are the ideas developed in the sestet?

The imagery suggests peace and tranquillity with words such as “stillness”, “smiling”, “sleeping infants’ breath”. This is complemented with natural imagery of “leaves budding”, “fruit ripening”, “autumn suns”, “quiet sheaves”. The final two lines maintain this tone of peace and tranquillity so that the final lines come as something of a surprise as Keats speaks of – “The gradual sand that through an hour-glass runs. A woodland rivulet – a Poet’s death”.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Leigh Hunt, Esq

To Leigh Hunt, Esq. This poem is written to Keats’s friend, Leigh Hunt. He was a fellow poet, essayist and editor of the Examiner which was the first publication to include any of Keats’s work. He was a supporter of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley, Keats and, later, Byron. TASK 36

Think carefully about the whole sonnet. What is Keats saying here?

Basically the poem is a vehicle to express Keats’s admiration for Leigh Hunt. He begins by saying that the “glory and loveliness” of past times, the times portrayed through mythology have “passed away”. When we walk in the morning air incense does not rise into the east, nor do we see nymphs bringing baskets of corn to adorn the shrine of Flora. However, although we may lack these delights, there are other delights “as high as these” to be enjoyed.


What is Keats referring to here?

Keats tells us that knowing that he can please a man like Leigh Hunt with the “poor offerings” of his poetry causes Keats to “…ever bless his destiny”.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On the Sea

On the Sea


This sonnet was written on 16th or 17th April 1817 when Keats was staying at Carisbrooke on the Isle of Wight. Look at the octave. What do you notice about Keats’s use of language here?

His imagery brings out the eternal nature of the sea and the use of personification adds power to this. There is little elevated language here (despite the reference to Hecate – a goddess who had power over the heavens, earth and the sea). Notice the description here – the “desolate shores”, “its mighty swell”, the finely observed detail – “the very smallest shell”, which creates a contrast between the sea’s mightiest and minutest effects.


Now look at the sestet. What idea does Keats develop here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On the Sea

The sestet opens with an invocation to those “who have your eye-balls vexed and tired” to look upon the sea; and to those whose “ears are dinned with uproar rude” to sit near the mouth of a sea-cave and listen to the sounds of the sea. Notice here how Keats captures the noise of the sea through a succession of onomatopoeic consonants “dinned with uproar rude” for example. The poem, then, reveals Keats’s admiration, not only for the sea’s eternal nature and awesome power, but also for its restorative effects on the human heart and mind.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Gothic looks solemn

The Gothic looks solemn This poem was written in September 1817 whilst Keats was visiting a friend, Benjamin Bailey, at Oxford during the time he was working on Endymion. TASK 40

Look at the first stanza. What is Keats looking at here?

He is looking at a building built in the Gothic style, a style of architecture used throughout western Europe from the 12th to the 16th centuries. The building has Doric columns, a style modelled on that of Ancient Greece. He observes the “mouldering arch” which has been put into shade by a larch tree growing nearby. He also observes that this solemn and classical looking building stands next to the shop of “Wilson the Hosier”.


Now look at the second stanza. What does Keats observe here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Gothic looks solemn

He observes the university academics in their mortarboards and the choir boys singing in the chapel while the steeple bells rings. His response to the Chancellor of the university is “dominat”. Here he uses a series of short images to capture the essential nature of the university life.


How does Keats conclude his poem?

In this final stanza he gives an impression of the life of well-fed ease that these privileged scholars and men of God lead. Theirs is a life of ease and there is plenty of fat deer for the parsons to eat. He ironically comments that when venison is not on the menu the prayer is short so they can quickly get to eat the fine food. Note the image of gluttony created by “Then each on a log or thigh fastens”. This final stanza forms a complete contrast to the opening stanza which initially seems to contain a solemn air. Overall this emphasises the poet’s scathing attitude to easy, well-fed life led by members of the university clergy.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

Endymion In Endymion which was written between April and November 1817 and published as a separate volume in 1818 Keats continues and develops ideas he has begun to work towards, particularly in I Stood Tip-Toe. One aspect of this was his exploration of the myth of Endymion and the quest for his own poetic identity. The story of Endymion varies – one account tells of the beautiful youth, Endymion, who grazed his flock on Mount Latmos. One night Diana, (Cynthia in Keats’s poem) the goddess of the moon, looked down and saw him sleeping. She was touched by his beauty, came to him, kissed him and watched over him as he slept. In another version of the story, Jupiter bestowed on him the gift of perpetual youth and perpetual sleep. Diana took care of him and made his flock multiply and kept his sheep and lambs safe from the wild animals. The essential point about the Endymion story is that we can see in him the young poet seeking in vain for that which can satisfy his poetic aspirations – the search for love and this becomes symbolic of Keats’s search for poetic power and achievement. In the end Keats allows Endymion to attain a perfect love, which symbolises Keat’s own poetic and his personal aspirations.

Preface TASK 43

Read Keats’s Preface and make a note of the key points.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

• • • • • • •

The Poems – Endymion

He has some feelings of regret at making his poem public He says his reader will see in his work his inexperience and immaturity as a poet and see it as something he has attempted rather than accomplished He feels that some of the books are not really ready for them to go into print but if he had longer to work on them he could not improve them further because their “foundations are too sandy”. He is not saying this to forestall criticism but he wishes to placate men who have the ability to look at his poetry with a keen eye There is a space between the imagination of a boy and a mature man and during this time his soul is in a constant state of development that produces an uncertainty This can result in some overly-sentimental writing which his reader will detect in his poem He hopes that he has captured the beauty of Greek mythology and has not made it too dull.

Book 1 TASK 44

Now look at Book 1 from the opening to line 33. What does Keats have to say in this opening section?

The poem opens with, perhaps, Keats’s best known line “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” which expresses the theme of the poem – the perfection and immortality of love and beauty. He expands on this idea through a vivid evocation of the natural scene.


Examine lines 34-134 and make a note of the key points here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

Here are some ideas: • • • • •

Keats tells the reader he relates the story of Endymion and tells of the powerful effect the story has had on him. He begins his story straightaway and moves the scene to the forested Mount Latmos where Endymion grazed his sheep He describes the hillside scene in terms which create a pleasant and peaceful atmosphere In the midst of this stood a marble altar Dawn breaks and a troop of children garlanded with flowers gathered round the altar and other figures from all around approached.

In lines 135-184 Keats describes further the gathering around the altar where a “venerable priest” (line 149) prepares to lead worship of the rural fertility god, Pan. His description of the gathering worshippers continues in lines 185-406 as the group of shepherds and their girls chant their “Hymn to Pan” which is one of the high-spots of this opening section of the poem. The worshippers call upon their god in praising terms and finally they plead with him to – “…be still the leaven, That spreading in this dull and clodded earth Gives it a touch ethereal – a new birth”. (lines 296-298) These worshippers continue to dance as Endymion sits in a trace-like state yearning for Cynthia. TASK 46

Now look at lines 407-768. Make a note of the key points here:

Here are some ideas: •

Endymion’s sister, Peona, seems to comfort him and takes him away and rows him to her favourite island.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

• •


The Poems – Endymion

She lets him sleep on a flower bed – “a magic sleep” and he awakes refreshed He confesses to his sister the cause of his sadness – his dream of visiting the moon goddess, Cynthia, and kissing her Peona tells him off for being concerned with dreams which are more insubstantial whims rather than the ‘high and noble life’ he should be concerned with.

How does Endymion reply to this? (lines 769-992)

Endymion explains to his sister his ideals for what he calls “…fellowship divine, / A fellowship with essence” by attaining a kind of fellowship with nature, then appreciating various kinds of music and this will lead to forming “love and friendship”. This means that love crowns everything and – “Life’s self is nourished by its proper pith” (line 814)


He tells his sister that he has had three visions of the goddess. How have these visions manifested themselves?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

Here are some ideas: • • •

He first of all has seen her vision in the sky. He has seen her face in a dream where she smiled at him from the cool depths of a clear well His third vision of her came when, following a lance he had thrown, he came across a cave. On entering the cave he heard a mysterious voice which accused him of being an ‘impious mortal’ and seemed to offer him hints of love.

Having told Peona of these things he resolves not to continue the quest which brings him misery but instead he will spend his time in “demurest meditation “ (line 975) and his life will be “…a calm round of hours”. They then leave the island in the boat.

Book 2 (extracts) TASK 49

Now look at Book Two from the beginning to line 43. How does Keats open his second book?

He begins with an elevated defence of “love and poesy”. He contends that these are the real subjects of concern and importance and not military conflicts or various adventures of the "death-day of empires” (34).


The next extract (lines 387-587) picks up the story where Endymion descends into a cavern that he has been led to by a “golden butterfly”. Look carefully at these lines and make a note of what Keats describes here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

Descending into the depth of the cavern, Endymion comes across the bower of Adonis (the handsome, youthful shepherd and symbol of poetry and spring). Adonis lies sleeping on a silken couch surrounded by cupids. One of these cupids tells Endymion the story of the wooing of Adonis by Venus and “how she strove to bind / Him all in all unto her doting self”. (lines 459-460) Adonis was killed by a wild boar but Venus asked the gods to restore him to life but it was decreed that he spend each winter sleeping in the underworld and be restored to life each summer-time. Venus appears and awakes Adonis to new life. Venus promises Endymion happiness if he continues to “still obey the guiding hand that fends / Thee safely through these wonders for sweet ends” (lines 574-575). Venus and everything else then vanishes leaving Endymion alone in the twilight.

Now look at the ending of Book Two (lines 827-1023). Just before this section, an eagle has carried Endymion to a scented bower. He falls asleep there and wakening finds himself in the arms of his goddess. They embrace but their lovemaking is not consummated because she fears the repercussions in heaven at her loss of chastity. Endymion falls into another sleep and the goddess leaves him. TASK 51

How does Endymion react when he awakes?

He sadly reflects on what has happened “And most forlorn upon that widowed bed / Sat silently”.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

He had known “love’s madness” but the intensity of that had now passed. Instead of raging he “…communed / With melancholy thought.” (line 868) As Endymion ponders on “…all his life: his youth, up to the day When ‘mid acclaim, and feasts, and garlands gay, He stepped upon his shepherd throne; the look Of his white palace in wild forest nook, And all the revels he had lorded there;” (lines 885-891) and he hears a “humming tone”, which gets louder and louder. This sound is the arrival of the nymph Arethusa, who appears in the form of an underground stream. This stream carries him out of the underground cavern and the first part of his journey has come to an end as he “saw the giant sea above his head”. (line 1023)

Book Three TASK 52

Look at the opening of Book Three from the beginning up to line 71 and make a note of what Keats has to say here.

He begins with an attack on contemporary society and those: “…who unpen Their baaing vanities, to browse away The uncomfortable green and juicy hay From human pastures”. (lines 3-5) He then moves back to his tale describing how Cynthia sends down – “A moonbeam to the deep, deep, water-world, To find Endymion.” (lines 101-2)

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – Endymion

What effect does this have on Endymion?

The moonbeam has a reviving effect on him and he moves across the sea bed until he meets Glaucus, the sea god.


Now look at the extract lines 314-638 and make a note of the key points here.

Here are some ideas: • • •

He tells Endymion his story Glaucus has fallen for Circe’s charms – she was an enchantress who bewitched those who fell for her charms As a consequence she had changed him into an old man and doomed him to endure infinite old age He found the nymph he was in love with, Scylla, dead – another victim of Circe.

Book Four TASK 55

Now look at the opening of Book Four from the beginning to line 290. Make notes on the development of the story of Endymion in these lines.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

• •

• •

The Poems – Endymion

Keats begins with an invocation to past poets We see Endymion ready to embark on the third and last of his journeys. His journey will take him to win the “immortality of passion” which was promised to him in his dream Endymion meets an Indian maid who sings a “Song of Sorrow” Although he feels guilty, Endymion quickly forgets about the moon goddess and falls in love with the beautiful Indian maiden.

The next extract skips forward to line 900 and the ending of the poem. However, it is useful to know what happens in between. Here is what happens in this section of the poem not in your edition – Mercury, the messenger of the gods appears with horses to carry Endymion and the Indian maiden, sleeping, up into the night sky. There, Endymion finds Cynthia and realises, at last, that this is the lover of his dreams. As he moves to embrace her, though, she disappears. The Indian maid then disappears too and only the cold moonlight remains. Endymion now enters the “Cave of Quietude” (line 558) and falls into a deep sleep. When he awakes, he feels refreshed and finds that the Indian maid has reappeared. They are returned to earth and she agrees to be his friend rather than his lover. Endymion’s sister, Peona, reappears. TASK 56

Now look at the ending of the poem (lines 900 – 1003). What happens here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Endymion

Towards the end of the poem, Endymion experiences an important realisation. As the sun sets he experiences a sense of his own mortality and realises that he must accept that one day, he, like all other things, must die: “…Night will strew On the damp grass myriads of lingering leaves, And with them shall I die; nor much it grieves To die, when summer dies on the cold sword.” (lines 933-935) This experience gives Endymion a new understanding and, as he goes to take the Indian maid by the hand, she is miraculously transformed into the goddess of his dreams. The two of them “…vanished far away!” (line 1002) leaving Peona to make her way home “…through the wood in wonderment”, (line 1003).


It is true that the ‘meaning’ of Endymion is not always entirely clear. In fact, Keats himself did not feel entirely clear about the development of his poem and his own ideas about the nature of experience changed during the time he was composing the poem and so, perhaps, it is of no surprise that the poem has been open to a number of interpretations. What ideas do you think are explored in the poem?

Here are some possible ideas: • • • • •

Endymion recognises that human love is fleeting and yearns for something more lasting He sees lasting love in loving a goddess, an immortal He is set a series of tests to prove the powers of love One message of the poem is that man can achieve a kind of immortality but in doing so sacrifices must be made In the end he recognises the beauty of the mortal world.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream The date of this poem is uncertain but it seems likely that it was written in December 1817. Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon from 604BC to 561BC. He restored the country to its former prosperity and importance. It is thought that Nebuchadnezzar probably stands for George III and the “valiant crew” (line 10) for his ministry. It is also thought that “Daniel” probably stands for William Hone (1780-1842) who was unsuccessfully tried for blasphemous and seditious writings between 18-20 December 1817. Liberals including Keats followed the trial with great interest. TASK 58

Read the poem carefully and make a note of the key points.

Here are some ideas: • • • • •


Nebuchadnezzar’s ugly dream frightens him so much that he calls for Daniel (the one who shows wisdom beyond his years) Daniel “did straight away pluck the beam / From out his eye” so that Nebuchadnezzar could see the truth of things Daniel tells the King that the trappings of his office are worth nothing A similar nightmare has recently haunted “a most valiant crew” This “valiant crew” have “lying lips” which can be turned “pale of hue” by anyone who speaks truth and wisdom.

What do you think Keats’s purpose is in this poem?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

It seems that Keats’s main purpose here is satire. He uses his poem as a vehicle to satirise the repressive measures taken by the government of George III to silence those who criticise it, such as William Hone. Clearly Keats’s liberal views were in direct conflict with those represented by the Tory government of the time.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Mrs. Reynold’s Cat

To Mrs. Reynold’s Cat This sonnet was written on 16th January 1818 and displays a certain humour and lightness. In the poem Keats addresses himself directly to a cat. TASK 60

Read the octave carefully and make a note of the key ideas.

The cat has passed “grand climacteric” (the critical stage in life) and Keats asks the animal to reminisce about its past and remember the rats and mice he has killed, how many tit-bits he has stolen. He urges the cat to look with his “bright languid segments green” and to prick his “velvet ears”. He asks the cat not to stick his talons into him but to remember the high spots of his life.


How does Keats conclude the sonnet in the sestet?

There is some close observation of the cat here – the “dainty wrists”, “the wheezy asthma” and the “tail’s tip…nicked off”. Keats reflects on how, although the cat has seen and endured much, his fur is still as soft as when he first entered into the fray of life “along the glasstopped wall”.


What features do you find striking about this poem?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Mrs. Reynold’s Cat

Here are some ideas: • •

Keats’s identification with the cat but without appearing patronising or forced The vivid description The light tone while at the same time giving a serious rendering of the experiences of the cat. For example, the image of the youthful cat entering the “lists” gives an image of knightly jousts and tournaments without making the cat seem silly. The reference to the “glass bottled wall” shows close observation of the world inhabited by the cat.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On Sitting Down to Read ‘King Lear’ Once Again

On Sitting Down to Read ‘King Lear’ Once Again This sonnet was also written in January 1818 and contains Keats’s thoughts as he sits down to read King Lear again. TASK 63

Read the octave carefully. What does Keats have to say here?

In the opening lines here he dismisses the idea of “Romance” which he personifies as “golden-tongue Romance, with serene lute!” He is referring here to a kind of self-indulgent writing which has lured him in the past – note the use of “syren”, in mythology a bewitching figure. He bids farewell to this kind of writing for he must “burn through” the “fierce dispute / Betwixt damnation and impassioned clay”. The latter refers directly to the theme of the play King Lear while “burn through” presents the reading of the play as a kind of ordeal by fire – an image which is picked up again in the final couplet of the sonnet. Note also the image of the play as a “bitter-sweet…fruit”.


Now look at the concluding lines of the sonnet. How does Keats bring his poem to an end?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On Sitting Down to Read ‘King Lear’ Once Again

He speaks of “Albion” – the ancient name for Britain, and the setting of King Lear and therefore the “begetters of our deep eternal theme”. The “Old oak forest” into which Keats speaks of going points to the endurance of suffering that the poet must face but his plan is that when he is consumed by fire he can be re-born with the poetic selfdiscipline and determination that he desires. It is worth noting that this sonnet concludes in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet with a rhyming couplet and in that it differs from the early sonnets that we have looked at. This rhyming couplet adds a sense of finality to the ideas expressed. It is also worth noting that the last line contains an extra foot which breaks the pattern of pentameters that is established in the rest of the sonnet. It is unclear whether this was an oversight on Keats’s part or a deliberate feature. It is worth thinking about the effect achieved through this lengthened final line though.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be!’

‘When I have fears that I may cease to be!’ Written between 22 and 31 January 1818 this sonnet shows even more clearly than the previous one the influence of Shakespeare on Keats’s writing. The thirty-six sonnets Keats wrote up to the beginning of 1818 are all Petrarchan in form – the pattern used by Milton and Wordsworth. This is a form which follows the pattern of an octave rhyming abbaabba followed by a sestet of two tercets (three lines) rhyming either cdcdcd or cde cde. Keats moved away slightly from this form in On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again which is basically Petrarchan in form but with a concluding rhyming couplet. However, When I have fears that I may cease to be, written a day or two later, is fully Shakespearean in form. TASK 65

Look carefully at the rhyme scheme and form of the poem. How does the use of the Shakespearean form of sonnet effect the poem?

The rhyme scheme is abab/cdcd/efef/gg. This form of three quatrains concluding with a rhyming couplet is one that Shakespeare commonly uses in his sonnets. The three quatrains, although separate, are logically linked and develop one from the other. The concluding couplet links back to the whole of the rest of the poem to give both a sense of unity and conclusion. However, Shakespeare’s influence extends beyond the rhyme scheme: Keats’s subject matter also has features that are reminiscent of Shakespeare’s concerns ie. ‘death’, ‘love’ and ‘the immortality of words’.


Now look at the sonnet as a whole and make a note of the key ideas that Keats expresses here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be!’

Here are some points you might have noted: • • •


The poet expresses the fears that death will come to him before he has been able to write all that is in his mind He thinks of all the beauty that exists and regrets that he “…may never live to trace / Their shadows with the magic hand of chance” He thinks of the “fair creature of an hour!” (often regarded as a reference to a young woman he met briefly in a chance encounter but transformed into a metaphor for man in quest of a rare, nameless and unattainable beauty) and the fact that he will “never look upon thee more” At the end of the poem he is left empty and alone to face death in the face of which “love and fame to nothingness do sink”.

Now look again at the poem and make a note of the ways in which Keats uses imagery here.

Here are some ideas: •

The first part of the poem is rich in harvest and cosmic imagery eg: “gleaned my teeming brain”, “…rich garners the full-ripened grain”, “the night’s starred face”, “Huge cloudy symbols”. These images

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John Keats – Selected Poems


The Poems – ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be!’

blend together the richness and fruitfulness of the poetic imagination and ambition within the context of the universe The imagery of the second part of the poem elevates the ephemeral experience to an importance greater than that of ambition but this is a level that he will never attain – “Never have relish in the faery power / Of unreflecting love!” Images of death run throughout the poem – “…fear that I may cease to be”, “I may never live”, “I shall never look upon thee more”, “I stand alone”.

Although it is perfectly possible to read this poem as an expression of a universal experience without reference to biographical overtones the poem does possess these overtones. From your knowledge of Keats’s biography do you see any ways that events from his life might have influenced him in writing this poem?

The main factor here relates to the tuberculosis that ran through Keats’s family. He had nursed his mother through the last stages of the disease and by January 1818 he was already becoming concerned about the state of his brother Tom’s health. It is understandable, therefore, particularly bearing in mind his medical training, that he might have thought too about the prospects for his own health. He had, in fact, already begun to think that he did not have long to live himself, even though no signs of the disease had yet shown themselves in Keats. As it turned out, his own misgivings turned out to be remarkably accurate as his death came only three years later.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To - * (*A lady whom he saw for a few moments at Vauxhall)

To - * (*A lady whom he saw for a few moments at Vauxhall)

Written on 4th February 1818, this sonnet again in the Shakespearean style is dedicated to a nameless young woman. Many critics identify this as the young woman referred to in When I have fears. This relates to a young woman Keats had seen in the summer of 1814 when visiting Vauxhall Gardens. Although this seemed to be a trivial encounter it aroused an emotion in Keats which took on a great significance. TASK 69

Read the sonnet carefully and make a note of the key ideas.

Here are some ideas: • • •


He speaks of five years having passed since he was first captivated by the woman’s beauty In all this time, though, he has never looked at the midnight sky without seeing her eyes and she has captured his very soul He cannot look at a flower without sweet images of her coming into his mind The memory of her brings him both grief and joy as he sees in his mind her unattainable beauty.

Now make a note of any images or ideas that have struck you in the sonnet.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To - * (*A lady whom he saw for a few moments at Vauxhall)

Here are some ideas: • • • •

A sense of the long passage of time is created through “slow ebb”, “long hours”, “creep the sand” (note how the long vowel sounds add to the sense of being drawn out) The image of “tangled…web” creates a sense of being trapped, an idea reinforced with the image of “snared by the ungloving of thy hand” The attention to detail and the sensual appeal of the image of the ungloving of the hand The image of the midnight sky introduces a universal element to the experience (which complements the idea of universality created through the image of the sea and tides in the first two lines) The bitter-sweet image created through the idea of grief/joy at the end encapsulates the extremes of emotion Keats experienced (this duality of the experience of love is an idea that Keats returns to many times in his poetry).

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – ‘O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind’

‘O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind’ This sonnet was written on 19th February 1818 and marks another stage in Keats’s experimentation with the sonnet form. TASK 71

Look carefully at the sonnet. What do you notice about the form in which Keats has written it?

The immediately striking feature of this sonnet is that it does not rhyme. Keats had, for some time, been searching for the ideal poetic form. His feeling was that the Petrarchan sonnet did not entirely suit the English language because of the restrictions imposed by the rhyme scheme and the fact that rhyme sounds in English are relatively scarce in contrast to French and Italian. He also felt that the Shakespearean sonnet appeared too elegiac and that the final rhyming couplet seldom achieved a satisfactory effect. This sonnet represents one of his experiments to overcome the problem and find what he called a new long “interwoven and complete” stanza. He was to develop this idea further in the Spring Odes of 1819.


Now look at the content of the poem and make a note of the key ideas.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – ‘O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind’

Here are some ideas: •

In the octave of the poem the poet addresses the thrush and thinks of how the bird has endured the bitter cold of winter and how spring will be a “harvest-time” – “a triple morn,”. The poet feels that this bird has seen things of a universal significance In the sestet the poetic voice switches to that of the thrush who tells the poet to “…fret not after knowledge – I have none” but even so the bird’s song “comes native with the warmth” and “the evening listens” The poem ends with the paradox of “…he’s awake who thinks himself asleep”.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To J.H. Reynolds, Esq.

To J.H. Reynolds, Esq.


This poem was written as a verse letter to Reynolds on 24th March 1818 whilst Keats was in Devon. The main interest in this lies in the thoughts it expresses rather than its poetic qualities. Read it through carefully and make a note of the ideas that Keats explores here.

Here are some possible ideas: • • • •

He tells Reynolds of how, as he lay in bed, a series of wide, varied and disconnected images came before his eyes. He goes on to develop a series of images and speaks of the “Enchanted Castle” and wishes he could show this castle to “my friend, while sick and ill he lives” These images continue as he enters into a detailed description of the enchanted castle. These images give way to a darker vision of the world – “O that our dreamings all, of sleep or wake, Would all their colours from the sunset take, From something of material sublime, Rather than shadow our own soul’s daytime In the dark void of night” (lines 67-71)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To J.H. Reynolds, Esq.

He describes to Reynolds a vision of “…eternal fierce destruction” which has put him into a mood of great unhappiness. The dark imagery continues and concludes the poem – “Still do I that most fierce destruction see – The shark at savage prey, the hawk at pounce, The gentle robin, like a pard or ounze, Ravening a worm – Away, ye horrid moods”. (lines 102-105)

It is worth noting here how the series of images which open the poem foreshadow the images that Keats develops further in Ode on a Grecian Urn.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil Keats wrote Isabella in the spring of 1818 and it came about as a result of an idea suggested by Hazlitt in a lecture on Dryden and Pope that Keats had attended in February. Hazlitt had suggested that a poetic translation of a story by Boccaccio, such as that of Isabella “could not fail to succeed in the present day”. Keats chose the story of Isabella on which to base his poem although he did make some changes to the original. TASK 74

Read the poem through for yourself and then write a summary of the plot.

The story is basically a simple one and involves Isabella and Lorenzo, two Florentines, who love each other deeply. Lorenzo, though, is Isabella’s inferior in terms of wealth and social status. Isabella’s two brothers, are greedy men who have always planned that their sister should marry a wealthy nobleman. When they learn that she is in love with Lorenzo they lure him into the forest, murder him and bury his body. They tell Isabella that her lover has suddenly left the country.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil

As time goes on, Isabella becomes more and more desolate as she hears nothing from her lover but then, one night, Lorenzo comes to her in a dream and tells her of his tragic fate. He gives her instructions on where to find his body and Isabella immediately goes to the place accompanied by her old nurse. She finds the body and removes her lover’s head placing it in the bottom of a large plant-pot before covering it with earth and planting her – “sweet basil” over it to conceal it. It is soon noticed, however, that Isabella has become preoccupied with the pot of basil and the plant grows so well that her two brothers become curious about the plant and one day they steal the pot. On examining it, they learn the truth and flee from Florence in terror and never return. Isabella, devastated by the whole affair dies herself soon afterwards.

Some critics feel that this poem is not one of Keats’s greatest works by any means. Various problems have been identified with it. Here are some points that critics have made about it: •

• •

The stanza form Keats chose is not ideal for the subject matter – it is written in stanzas consisting of eight lines of iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme abababcc. In many ways this form is better suited to present light material rather than tell a rather gruesome tale The story allows little opportunity for what Keats does best – write lyrical, contemplative verse Some feel that there is a kind of superficiality about the story as well as an element of the ludicrous.

Having said that, other critics have been more positive noting aspects of the ways in which Keats chose to present the poem that are significant. Here are some ideas that have been put forward: • • • •

The poem contains a ‘youthful, romantic sensibility’ He explores the nature of love and its tragic outcome In three sections throughout the poem he explores his own position as a poet treating this subject. The poem presents three of Keats’s key concerns in poetry – ideas of love and death and immortality.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On Visiting the Tomb of Burns

On Visiting the Tomb of Burns This sonnet was written on 1st July 1818 on the day that Keats visited Burns’s tomb at Dumfries. TASK 75

Read the poem through carefully. What tone does Keats create here and what attitude does he show towards his surroundings?

He seems to recognise the beauty of his surroundings but though they are beautiful they seem “cold – strange – as in a dream”. He thinks of how the summer will be short-lived before returning all too soon to “winter’s ague”. Everything around him it seems “…is cold Beauty” and “…pain is never done”. The overwhelming feeling created by the imagery up to this point is one of cold deadness.


How does the ending of the poem show a change of direction?

At the close of the poem Keats turns his attention to Burns who, he feels, has “honour due” and the poet tells how “I have oft honoured thee”. He clearly recognises the greatness of Burns who he feels wrote true poetry even though he finds the Scottish surroundings antipathetic to true poetry. The ending is, therefore, a kind of apology to Burns.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – A Song About Myself

A Song About Myself This poem was written on 3rd July 1818 at Kirkcudbright during Keats’s walking tour of Scotland. It was composed off the cuff in a letter to his sister, Fanny, who was fifteen at the time. TASK 77

Read the poem through carefully. What kind of tone does Keats create here and what do you think his purpose was in writing this poem?

Here are some ideas: •

It is clearly a light-hearted poem with a jaunty rhythm creating a light tone, full of fun It is designed to entertain his young sister and make her laugh as he presents various images of himself on his Scottish walking tour.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – From Fragments of the ‘Castle Builder’

From Fragments of the ‘Castle Builder’ The date of this poem is unclear but late October 1818 has been suggested. The piece is thought to be a fragment of a satire on Regency taste. TASK 78

Read the poem through carefully and make a note of any ideas that you have about it.

Here are some points you might have noted: • • •

The poet focuses on a description of Covent Garden in London at different times of the day From four o’ clock in the morning to twelve noon it serves as the fruit and vegetable market which it used to be famous for From twelve until two, cooks and old ladies walk there At night, the place throngs with coaches and gentlemen and he says, ironically that “’tis a very place for monks” for it contains “twenty thousand punks” ( a ‘punk’ is another term for a prostitute). He says that any man may count there for his sport ”By following fat elbows up a court…” (a court here means a small courtyard surrounded by houses).

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – And what is love? It is a doll dressed up

And what is love? It is a doll dressed up It is thought that this poem was written in October 1818. TASK 79

Read it through carefully. Make notes on what Keats has to say here.

Here are some ideas: • • • •

Keats begins by asking the question: “What is love?” and answer his question through the metaphor of love as a “doll dressed up” a thing to pamper or toy with casually . It is a thing that misleads the “silly youths into thinking to make itself / Divine by loving” It is a thing of illusion that can make a girl’s haircomb seem a “pearl tiara” or “Wellingtons” turn into “Romeo boots”. The lovers are transformed into romantic figures “Cleopatra” and “Antony”. Notice the combination of the romantic with the prosaic here – “Cleopatra lives at Number Seven” and “Antony resides in Brunswick Square” Keats’s view of such attitudes is made clear in the next line “Fools!” and is dismissive of the overly romanticised attitudes towards love and says that genuine love can flourish “…in spite of beaver hats”.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Hyperion: A Fragment The majority of this long poem was written between late September 1818 and the death of Tom Keats on 1st December 1818. Keats finally abandoned it in April 1819 and left the work unfinished. In the poem Keats relates the epic struggle in which Saturn and the Titans are overthrown by their children, the Olympian gods led by Jupiter, who were to replace them as divine rulers of the world. The poem opens in the middle of this action. The Titans have been defeated and only Hyperion, the Titan god of the sun is, as yet, undefeated by the god who was to succeed him, the Olympian, Apollo. Books I and II of the poem describe the Titans’ suffering and the unfinished Book III depicts Apollo’s elevation to the godhead.

Book I TASK 80

Read Book I carefully. What kind of atmosphere is created at the opening of Hyperion?

At the opening of the poem, Saturn is sitting in a silent depression in a secluded vale, the victim of a deposition, and the mood is appropriately subdued. The description of Saturn reveals a deity in mourning for his lost empire. Notice how the description of him suffering his loss even subdues nature:

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

“A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more By reason of his fallen divinity Spreading a shade; the Naiad ‘mid her reeds Pressed her cold finger closer to her lips.” (lines 11–14) Note Keats’s use of language here to create the atmosphere of sadness and desolation. Saturn is described as sitting “deep in the shady sadness of a vale / For sunken from the healthy breath of morn.” (lines 1-2). He is “quiet as a stone” and is “unsceptred” while his “realmless eyes” are closed. His “…old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead.” (lines 18)


Now look at lines 22-71. What does Keats describe here?

Hyperion’s wife appears and touches Saturn on the shoulders and she shares his grief. His wife is Thea, a beautiful goddess and another of the Titans. She tries to comfort him but she is in despair herself and can only weep at his feet. We are told that: “One hand she press’d upon that aching spot Where beats the human heart, as if just there, Though an immortal, she felt cruel pain.” (lines 42-44) This is symbolic of the fact that these once immortal gods are becoming mortal.


Now look at lines 72-212. What effect is created here and how does Keats develop the story?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Keats’s description emphasises the sheer weight of the grief they are suffering. It is so heavy that even time itself is slowed down by it: “One moon, with alteration slow, had shed Her silver seasons four upon the night, And still these two were postured motionless, Like mutual sculpture in cathedral cavern; The frozen God still couchant on the earth, And the sad Goddess weeping at his feet.” (lines 83-88) Eventually, though, Saturn rouses himself to reply to Thea. Saturn tells her that he is “smothered up, / And buried from all godlike exercise.” (lines 106-7) and that: “…I am gone Away from my own bosom; I have left My strong identity, my real self, Somewhere between the throne and where I sit Here on this spot of earth.” (lines 112-116)


What is Saturn’s state of mind here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

At first he cries out in confusion and then more desperately: “…Saturn must be King. Yes, there must be a golden victory; There must be Gods thrown down, and trumpets blown Of triumph calm…” (lines 125-128) However, he recognises his own weakness: “…But cannot I create? Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forth Another world, another universe, To overbear and crumble this to naught? Where is another Chaos? Where?” (lines 141-145)


How does this scene shift from line 158?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Thea leads Saturn to where the fallen Titans have gathered and the attention now switches to the, as yet, unfallen Hyperion. In other Titan realism “big tears were shed” (line 158) and like Saturn, the fallen Titans are full of sorrow: “But one of the whole mammoth-brood still kept His sovereignty, and rule, and majesty – Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fire Still sat…” (lines 164-166)


What feelings does Hyperion experience at this point?

Despite the fact that he has not yet fallen, he too experiences apprehensions and suffers from ominous dreams and apparitions of disaster.


Now look at lines 213-357 and make a note of the key points of the ending of Book I.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Here are some ideas: •

• •

As he declines, Hyperion is defiant“I will advance a terrible right arm Shall scare that infant thunderer, rebel Jove, And bid old Saturn take his throne again.” (lines 248-50) He tries to use his sun-power to bring about an early dawn against the clouds of the night and there ensues a battle between light and dark Hyperion’s father, Coelus, the Titan god of the sky comes to try and comfort him and advises him to go down to earth to find Saturn Hyperion leaves the sun in the care of his father while he goes to find his brother, Saturn.

Book II TASK 87

Now look at the opening of Book II from the beginning to line 100. What does Keats describe here?

Here the deposed Titans are taking counsel among themselves and suffering various torments in a dark and craggy landscape where some were chained in torture and some were wandering while others: “Were pent in regions of laborious breath; Dungeoned in opaque element…” (lines 22-23) Note the description of the barren and desolate place and the vivid descriptions of individual Titans.


Look at the description of Saturn’s and Thea’s arrival at this place (lines 83-91). What effect is created here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Note how the description gives an impression of the size of these two Titans and creates an air of mystery surrounding them.


Look at lines 100-243. Make a note of the development of the story here. What do Saturn and Oceanus have to say?

Saturn begins by saying that he finds no reason why they find themselves in this situation and he asks Oceanus for his view. Oceanus tells Saturn that he cannot see the truth of things:

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

“…thou art the King, And only blind from sheer supremacy. One avenue was shaded from thine eyes, Through which I wandered to eternal truth.” (lines 182-184) He also encourages a wise endurance telling Saturn that: “We fall by course of Nature’s law, not force Of thunder or Jove”. (lines 181-182) Oceanus goes on to argue that “The pain of truth” is that life involves change, but it only causes pain to those who resist it. Clearly the change he is referring to has involved their deposition but that represents a kind of progress: “So on our heels a fresh perfection treads, A power strong in beauty, born of us And fated to excel us, as we pass In glory that old Darkness.” (lines 212-215) He recommends that Saturn accept his fate calmly and give praise to his successor, Neptune. He feels that the best way to give consolation in “this woe extreme” is to urge Saturn to “Receive the truth, and let it be your balm”. (line 243)


Look at the closing section of Book II from line 244 to the end. Make notes on the key points here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Here are some ideas: •

• •

Oceanus’s daughter the sea nymph, Clymene speaks next and tells of her feelings on hearing an enchanting melody which made her ”…sick / Of joy and grief at once”, (lines 288-289). Like Oceanus, she too counsels for an acceptance of the situation. This view, however, is challenged by “…the overwhelming voice / Of huge Enceladus” (lines 303-304) the strongest amongst all the Titans. He urges them to resist the enemy and fight against them. He scorns the “baby-words” of Oceanus and Clymene and advocates aggressive revenge against Jove reminding them: “…that Hyperion, Our brightest brother, still is undisgraced – Hyperion, Lo! his radiance is here!” (lines 343-345) At this moment, in a burst of light, Hyperion arrives, and the others turn to him in hope. However, even Hyperion has: “…a vast shade / in midst of his own brightness.” And “his hands contemplative…pressed together.” (line 377) It is clear that he is defeated and has accepted his defeat The Book ends with the Titans in confusion but shouting defiantly the name of their leader “Saturn”.

Book III This third and unfinished book of the poem changes the scene to a Greek island. TASK 91

Read Book III carefully and summarise its main points.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Here are some ideas you might have noted: • • •

The victorious young god, Apollo is wandering by a rivulet, but he is inexplicably sad He is approached by Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and mother of the muses She gives him an understanding of his own immortal nature as he gazes at her – “…I can read A wondrous lesson in thy silent face; Knowledge enormous makes a God of me.” (lines 111-113) Apollo struggles to come to terms with his new sense of divinity. He seems like: “…one who should take leave Of pale immortal death, and with a pang As hot as death’s is a chill, with fierce convulse Die into life.” (lines 127-130)

At this point in the poem, Keats lost his inspiration and the poem ends unfinished. His original plan had been to continue the story from here by going on to describe the fall of each Titan and then the second war of the Giants against Gods. However, his plan remained uncompleted and the poem unfinished. TASK 92

Now think back over the poem as a whole. What themes do you think that Keats explores here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Here are some ideas: •

• • •

Scenes from Greek mythology were fashionable in Keats’s time and very much influenced the fashions of the time. However, more than from a decorative back-drop to the poem the paganism provided Keats with the opportunity to explore his subject without the constraints that a Christian background such as those found in Milton’s Paradise Lost, would have placed on him Through the poem, Keats uses a mythological setting to explore the idea of a revolution. Politically Keats was a liberal and a progressive writer at a time when Britain’s near neighbour, France, had not long before gone through a bloody revolution. Napoleon had only recently been defeated and the British government were frightened of the idea of revolution spreading. Their response was to adopt a repressive approach to running the country. The setting of Keats’s poem is the aftermath of a revolution Oceanus’s speech suggesting resignation to the defeat of the Titans reflects Keats’s own view that ‘progress’ is a struggle achieved through suffering and change Suffering is the part of life and pain and troubles are necessary to make us what we are and fuse the heart and mind into a soul In the poem, Saturn, deposed of power, becomes a victim of suffering and laments his loss of identity. Oceanus, though, understands the nature of progress and advocates facing up to the fact of change It is important this is not just understood by felt in the heart. Clymene knows that “joy is gone, / And the thing of woe crept in among our hearts” but on hearing Apollo’s music, for the first time she feels it

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John Keats – Selected Poems

• •

The Poems – Hyperion: A Fragment

Apollo feels his sorrow but he cannot understand it. It is from Mnemosyne that he receives an understanding of human suffering Through Apollo’s mystical transformation into a god Keats presents another of his ideas – that of the creation of the poet and the mystical and god-like power of the artist.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

The Eve of St. Agnes Keats wrote this poem of forty-two stanzas in a fortnight at the end of January 1819 while on holiday near Chichester. TASK 93

Read the poem through carefully. Write a summary of the ‘story’ the poem tells.

It is St. Agnes’s Eve, a night on which, according to popular superstition, young virgins might be visited by their lovers in their dreams. The heroine of the poem, Madeline, is in the Great Hall of her father’s castle thinking about these superstitions and feeling lonely even though dancing and revelry is going on. She intends to retire to bed to test out the superstition. In the meantime, her lover, Porphyro, is actually making his way towards the castle with the intention of seeing Madeline. However, there is some kind of feud between Porphyro’s family and Madeline’s, and his entry to the castle is dangerous. He is helped by Madeline’s old nurse, Angela. When she tells him that Madeline is asleep, Porphyro comes up with the idea of creeping into her room in time to see her undress and get into bed. When she is asleep he comes out of his hiding place and makes love to the still sleeping girl. Madeline, thinking it is all a dream allows this

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

but when she wakes and finds that the dream is reality she is dismayed. Porphyro persuades her to flee with him. He tells her that her dangerous kinsmen are all in a drunken sleep and so they can make their escape. They leave together out into the cold and stormy night.


Now look at the first four stanzas of the poem. What effect is created here?

The poem opens evoking a sense of bitter cold. It is the depth of winter and all of nature is suffering from the intense cold – “The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold; The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass, And silent was the flock in woolly fold:” (lines 2-4) The only human we see at first is the Beadsman (an old man who is paid to pray for the souls of the dead) and his fingers are “numb” with the cold. The second stanza intensifies this impression of both cold and death and the overall effect of these stanzas is contrary to the idea of the warmth and passion of youth and love. The Beadsman does not have long to live- “already had his deathbell rung” (line 22) and the aisle down which he slowly walks is lined with the tombs of the “sculptured dead” (line 14).

Notice too here, that through the Beadsman Keats creates a sense of the religious setting of the poem.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

It is worth noting the emphasis that Keats gives to cold, age and death in a poem that is ostensibly about young love. We will return to this aspect a little later but bear it in mind as you study the rest of the poem. TASK 95

Now look at stanzas V-IX. How do these stanzas contrast with what has gone before?

In contrast to the imagery of cold and death with which the poem opens the imagery now becomes full of warmth and life as the youthful revelry of the young men and women is described with its “argent revelry” and “rich array”. The superstition of St. Agnes’ Eve is in the mind of Madeline too as she ignores all the other young men and dreams of her lover and soon she intends to retire to bed. Meanwhile, unbeknown to her, her lover Porphyro approaches across the moor and arrives at her castle imploring “All saints to give him sight of Madeline”. This atmosphere of the passion and desire of young love and romance again contrasts to the atmosphere created at the beginning of the poem.


Look at stanzas X – XV. Make a note of the key points in these stanzas.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

Here are some ideas: •

• •


Porphyro ventures into the castle. Note how the sense of danger in this action is created – “All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords / Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel”. (lines 8384) The imagery here accentuates the danger to Porphyro if his presence is discovered – “For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes, Hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords, Whose very dogs would execrations howl Against his lineage” (lines 85-88) Porphyro has only one potential ally in the whole place – one old woman “weak in body and in soul”. (line 90) She finds Porphyro and urges him to leave listing some of the “blood-thirsty race” who would kill him if they knew he was there. He will not leave, though, so she takes him to a safer place He wants to know where Madeline is and the old nurse, Angela, tells Porphyro of Madeline’s desire to retire to bed to see if the superstition of St. Agnes’ Eve would come true. When Porphyro hears this “his eyes grew brilliant”.

How does Keats develop the story in stanzas XVI – XXI?

Porphyro comes up with the idea of going to Madeline’s chamber to watch her sleep. Angela is shocked by this suggestion but eventually she agrees to help him in his plan and leads him to Madeline’s chamber.


Now look at stanzas XXII to XXV. What do you find striking about Keats’s use of imagery here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

Here are some points you might have noted: Madeline appears, not yet prepared for bed. Notice the description of the casement “garlanded with carven imag’ries / Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass” (lines 209-211). The imagery here creates a sense of the stained glass window of a church or cathedral and the light cast through it gives a sense of Madeline as a religious figure – “Full on this casement shone the wintry moon, And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast, As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon; Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together pressed, And on her silver cross amethyst, And on her hair a glory, like a saint: She seemed a splendid angel.” (lines 217-223) Watching unseen, Porphyro senses the purity of Madeline, “…so free from mortal taint.” (line 225).


Look at stanzas XXVI to XXXII. What significant events happen in these stanzas?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

As Porphyro watches Madeline undress: “…by degrees Her rich attire creeps rusting to her knees.” (lines 229-30) In classical mythology, Actaeon is torn apart by hands for looking at Diana’s naked form. Here, though, Porphyro gets off rather more lightly and the fact that he wants to take Madeline away and marry her appears to justify his action. Madeline now sleeps and Porphyro comes out of his hiding place and lays a rich cloth of “crimson, gold and jet” on the table. On this he places a rich feast of exotic sweets displayed on gold and silver dishes. He speaks to the sleeping Madeline in terms of love and he bids her to open her eyes or “…I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache”. (line 279) Madeline thinks that this is all part of her ‘dream’.

TASK 100

Make notes on how the plot progresses in stanzas XXX to XXXVIII.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

Madeline continues in her dream until Porphyro wakes her by playing a love song on his lute. She is shocked to see him there and “Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone” while Porphyro “Upon his knees sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.” Madeline begins to weep and begs him not to leave her: “Oh, leave me not in eternal woe, For if thou diest, my love, I know not where to go.” (lines 314-315) Madeline’s dream and reality become one and she fears that he will leave her because she feels, in a sense, her innocence has been lost: “Though thou forsakest a deceived thing – A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.” (lines 332-333) He reassures her that he wants to take her away with him.

TASK 101

Now look at the ending of the poem from stanza XXXIX to XLII and make a note of the key points.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Agnes

Here are some ideas: • •

TASK 102

The lovers make their escape into the stormy night past the drunken and sleeping kinsmen of Madeline’s As they begin their new life together the final stanza reminds us that all this took place long ago and the two lovers, like the old beadsman and the palsied Angela died long ago.

Now think back over the poem as a whole and make a note of the key ideas or themes that you think it touches upon.

Here are some ideas that you might have noted: • •

The contrast between cold and warmth, light and shade, life and death – as an expression of Keats’s vision of the paradox of existence The contrast between dreams and reality but also the sense of what the two states have in common. Note the sense of loss Madeline experiences as she awakens from her dream The religious imagery of the poem.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Eve of St. Mark

The Eve of St. Mark This poem was composed in five days from the 13th to the 17th February 1819 and is unfinished. Like the Eve of St. Agnes there is the obvious connection with medieval legend and St. Mark’s Eve, 24th April. The legend holds that if someone stays in the church porch from 11.00pm to 1.00am on St. Mark’s Eve for three years in succession all the people who are to die that year will be revealed to them. However, Keats only touches on this legend briefly in the sixteen lines of pastiche Middle English (lines 101-116) although the central figure, Bertha, reads of the legend “Of holy Mark from youth to age”. (line 92) TASK 103

Now read the first three stanzas (lines 1-56) and make a note of what they describe.

Here are some ideas you might have noted: • • • • • •

The poem begins on the Sabbath and people are called to prayers It is April and the rains have cleaned the town streets People leave their firesides to go to prayer at the church at evening time The prayers begin and Bertha has been captivated since morning with the religious images of the church Bertha was a young woman who lived in the Minster Square and could see the church from her window She reads her book which tells of the legend of St. Mark and she can see from her window and in her mind’s eye “saintly imageries.” (line 56).

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John Keats – Selected Poems

TASK 104

The Poems – The Eve of St. Mark

Look at the remainder of the poem from line 57 to the end and summarise the key points here.

Here are some ideas: • • •

TASK 105

It is late at night, the jackdaws roost for the night In her room, Bertha continues to read about the legend of “holy Mark” Keats quotes this text written in a kind of pseudo-Middle English The poem ends (unfinished) as Bertha comes to the part describing St. Mark’s holy shrine.

Think back over this fragment of poetry. What features have struck you about it?

Here are some ideas you might like to consider: • • • •

Keats’s use of the idea of Medieval legend The series of word pictures he presents e.g. the description of nature; the description of the streets of the cathedral city The contrasted atmospheres of the city and the surrounding countryside e.g. lines 1-22, 42-47, 57-66 and that of Bertha’s room lines 69-88 The serene and tranquil atmosphere Keats evokes The inclusion of the pastiche of Middle English lines (99 – 114).

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Why did I laugh tonight?

Why did I laugh tonight? Keats wrote this sonnet in March 1819. TASK 106

Read the sonnet through carefully. What question does Keats ask in this poem?

He asks why he is capable of laughter when his “human heart” is so concerned with suffering. Within himself the desire for fame through poetry offers the intensity necessary for fulfilment in life “Verse, Fame, and Beauty are intense indeed” (line 13)

TASK 107

What idea concludes the poem?

Here he seems to consider positively the idea of death as being an even more intense experience than life:

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Why did I laugh tonight?

“yet could I on this very midnight cease, And the world’s gaudy ensigns see in shreds Verse, Fame, and Beauty are intense indeed, But Death intenser – Death is Life’s high meed.” (lines 11-14) In the last line, death is placed as superior to “Verse, Fame, and Beauty”. This implies that “Life’s high meed” is ultimately claimed by Death which is more intense than even the most intense elements of life. It is the final end that all must face.

Death was one of his preoccupations which often found expression through his poetry. The intensity of this was, no doubt, increased from this time on with his growing feeling, and later certainty, that his own death was not far away.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Character of Charles Brown

Character of Charles Brown This poem was written on 16th April 1819 and was a reply to a skit Brown was writing on Keats and Fanny Brawne. Charles Brown (1787-1842) and Keats were good friends. TASK 108

Look at each stanza and make a note of Keats’s description of Charles Brown.

Here are some ideas: • • • •

He is melancholy He is thin with plentiful hair He did not drink wine or eat meat He did not flirt with women He did not partake of strong drink.

The significance of this is that Charles Brown was really the opposite of the way Keats describes him here. At this time he was in his thirties and he was heavily built and bald. He enjoyed good food and drink and was very fond of the ladies, being noted for his flirtatious nature. He did, in fact, have a child to his housekeeper.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – A Dream, after reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca

A Dream, after reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca This sonnet was written in 1819, probably April. Keats had been reading Cary’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. TASK 109

Read the sonnet through carefully and write down your ideas on what Keats is saying here. (You may need to do some research on Hermes, Argus and Paolo and Francesca).

Hermes, the son of Zeus, rescued Io from Argus, the hundred-eyed giant who was keeping watch over her. He did this by lulling Argus to sleep with his flute. Paolo and Francesca are sinners punished in Hell for their adultery. Dante tells this story in his epic poem 'The Inferno' in which he creates a sense of compassion for them. Keats's point is that just as Argus is lulled by Herme's music so the poet's reading makes him forget his cares.

TASK 110

Now look again at the poem in more detail and make a note of the key ideas Keats develops through the poem.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – A Dream, after reading Dante’s Episode of Paolo and Francesca

Here are some ideas: • •

The poem begins in the world of mythology as Hermes makes music on his “Delphic reed” which charms and conquers the “dragon-world” The world of mythology/poetry “is seen as a place of refuge”.

The sonnet contains a number of features typical of Keats’s work: • • • •

It draws on classic mythology It draws on the medieval heritage Love is connected with sorrow, rejection and death Creativity is connected to a dream-like state.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad

La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad This ballad was written on 21st April 1819 and is one of Keats’s best known poems. Many of the Romantic poets made use of the ballad form which they saw as a form which found its roots in the literature of folk songs and ballads. As the romantics preferred the natural to the artificial they found the idea of the literary ballad, imitating the style of original folk songs an appealing form. However, the ballads produced were often more sophisticated than they first appeared. Although they use the simple rhythms of folk songs they contain complex ideas expressed through symbolism and metaphor. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci Keats combines a simple stanza form, clarity of diction and a fairy-tale plot which he uses to explore one of his favourite themes, that of illusion and reality. The poem is an evocation of a medieval supernatural ballad involving seduction of a human by an enchantress. Keats took the title of the poem from an early fifteen-century French poem. It means ‘the beautiful lady without mercy’. TASK 111

Now look at the first three stanzas. What kind of atmosphere is created here?

The poem opens by the question asking what is wrong with the knight who is “Alone and palely loitering”. The description of the landscape evokes images of a desolate winter devoid of life – “The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing!…” (lines 3-4)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad

the paleness of the knight is accentuated through the image “I see a lily on thy brow” and words such as “ail”, “haggard”, “anguish”, “feverdew”, “withereth” add to this atmosphere of sickness.

TASK 112

Look at stanzas IV-VII. Make a note of the key points here.

Here are some ideas: • • • • • •

The knight begins to answer the question posed He tells of how he met “a lady in the meads”. She was beautiful but was a spirit – “a faery’s child” and therefore supernatural. Note how her “…eyes were wild” The knight is captivated by her and makes a garland for her head and bracelets and a sweet-smelling girdle. She seduces the knight with her looks of love. The knight puts her on his horse and he was so enchanted with her he saw nothing else all day long. She would sing him “A faery’s song”. She finds him “roots of relish sweet”, “honey wild” and in a strange language she told him she loved him.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

TASK 113

The Poems – La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad

Now look at the ending of the poem, stanzas VIII-XII. How does the story develop here?

He gladly follows her to her “elfin grot” where she lures him to make love to her and then she lulls him to sleep. When he awakes he finds himself alone on the cold hillside.

TASK 114

Whilst asleep this knight dreamed. What is the significance of the dreams that he had?

In his dreams, the knight is visited by “…pale kings” and “Pale warriors” who warn him that “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is an evil enchantress who has him in her power. The description has a nightmare quality about it: “I saw their starved lips in the gloom, With horrid warning gaped wide,” (lines 41-42) Notice how the repetition of “pale” here emphasises the feeling of lifelessness and death.

TASK 115

Now think about the poem as a whole. What themes and ideas do you think Keats explores here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – La Belle Dame Sans Merci. A Ballad

Here are some ideas: •

Some critics have felt that this poem suggests Keats’s own guilt about love. Whether or not this is true, though, it couples the ideas of love and death (again some critics have linked this to death by consumption which we know was in Keats’s mind) It explores the confusion between the waking and dreaming states. In the poem both the dream and the reality are bitter and offer no comfort

It is worth noting that this idea of the “belle dame” was to reappear in Lamia.

TASK 116

What features how you found striking in the poem?

Here are some ideas: • •

The use of the ballad form The sustained atmosphere of desolation created through the diction and imagery The blend of the medieval and the supernatural atmosphere.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Sleep

To Sleep This poem was probably written in late April 1819 and is a sonnet which, together with If by dull rhymes our English must be chained are representative of Keats’s experimentation with forms which led to the stanzaic structure he used in Ode to Psyche. TASK 117

Read the sonnet through carefully. What is Keats writing about here?

The poem is a kind of prayer to sleep in which the poet prays for sleep to come to him – a sleep that will save him from pain and guilt, to – “Save me from my curious conscience, that still hoards Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole; Turn the key deftly in thy oiled wards, And seal the hushed casket of my soul.” (lines 11-14) Perhaps the most striking feature of this sonnet is the sense of tranquillity that it evokes through the smooth rhythm of the lines.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – If by dull rhymes our English must be chained

If by dull rhymes our English must be chained Also written in April 1819 this sonnet is the last of his experimental sonnets in which he searched for a stanza form more ‘interwoven and complete’. TASK 118

Look at the sonnet and make a note of the ideas he expresses about poetic form.

Here are some ideas: • • •

He feels that English poetry is constrained by “dull rhymes” The conventional sonnet form is a restricting influence on the poetry If these constraints must exist we should find a form “more interwoven and complete” to suit the poetry Through this search and experimentation poetry can be more effective.

He was to develop these poetic variations further in the Spring Odes of 1819. These Spring Odes present Keats’s thoughts on a topic that was very important to him, that of the beauty and permanence of art compared to the transitory nature of life, love and happiness.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

Ode to Psyche In the first of these odes Keats returns to the myth of Psyche which he had touched upon in I stood tip-toe upon a little hill. The Psyche Myth: There are different versions of the myth but the account Keats used as the basis for his poem involved the goddess Venus becoming jealous when men, instead of paying homage to her, pay homage to a mortal girl, psyche. In revenge, Cupid, Venus’s son is ordered to make Psyche fall in love with a hideous creature. Instead though, Cupid falls in love with Psyche and keeps her in a palace, visting her only at night because she must never see him. One night, though, she disobeys him and lights a lamp to discover who he really is. Some hot oil from the lamp drops on Cupid, wakes him and he angrily leaves her. She is devastated and wanders the earth in search of her lover, but with no success. Finally, in desperation, Psyche goes to Venus who is very cruel to her. Cupid finally takes pity on her and begs Jupiter to help. Jupiter gives Psyche immortality and she can now become the wife of Cupid. TASK 119

How does the poem open? (lines 1-23)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

The poem opens with a short invocation to Psyche: “O Goddess! Hear these tuneless numbers” This is quickly followed by a question which touches on Keats’s creative mood, which, characteristically hovers between consciousness and a dream-like state“Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see The winged Psyche with awakened eyes?” (lines 5-6) Notice how Keats withholds the identity of the lovers until the end of the stanza“The winged boy I knew; But who wast thou, O happy, happy dove? His Psyche true!” (lines 21-23) (In classical statues both Cupid and Psyche are represented as being winged).

TASK 120

Now look at the second stanza, (lines 24-35). What kind of tone does Keats create here?

The stanza begins in a similar tone to the opening of the poem praising Psyche and describing her as being – “Fairer than Phoebe’s sapphire – regioned star” (line 26) which emphasises her brightness. She is fairer even than Venus in her guise of the evening star. The tone, then, is one of praising Psyche but one of also expressing regret that unlike these goddesses she has no “altar heaped with flowers” or temple at which she can be

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

worshipped. It is worth noting here the detailed description of the manner of worshipping the ancient gods.

TASK 121

Look at the third stanza (lines 36-49). What reasons does the poet give for why Psyche has been ignored?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

The poet explains why Psyche has been ignored. She arrived “too late”, a phrase that is repeated to give it added emphasis. The “antique vows” suggest the religious worship of ancient times and the “lyre” is a symbol of poetry. Psyche has no poet to glorify her as earlier goddesses once had in ancient times when religion was in all things: “When holy were the haunted forest boughs, Holy the air, the water and the fire.” (lines 38-39) In more modern times, though, the wonders of the natural world no longer inspire divine thoughts and feelings. Keats is making the point that if Man has lost his sense of the divine in nature he is not likely to fully appreciate the human soul. If Psyche had not been worshipped in ancient times when men gave such worship it is not surprising that she is not worshipped now when such forms of worship have vanished. However, the poet seeks to rectify the failure of the ancient world to see her as a goddess: “Yet even in these days so far retired From happy pieties, thy lucent fans, Fluttering among the faint Olympians, I see and sing, by my own eyes inspired. So let me be thy choir and make a moon Upon the midnight hours – Thy voice, thy lute thy pipe, thy incense sweet”. (lines 40-46)

TASK 122

Read again the final stanza of the poem. What effect does Keats achieve here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

In this final stanza the poet thinks about how he will fulfil his pledge to create a shrine dedicated to Psyche and become her special worshipper. He draws together in this stanza elements of what has gone before in the poem. The forest here resembles the description of the opening of the poem and creates the sense of the calm of “wide quietness” and a sheltered and soft environment for the “rosy sanctuary” of Psyche’s shrine. The effects of the detail here is to create a softening effect on a rugged terrain and create the perfect setting for the divine Psyche. The climax of the poem presents an image which many critics interpret as ‘expressing the ideal beauty and passion of successful poetic creation’ – “And there shall be for thee all soft delight That shadowy thought can win, A bright torch, and a casement ope at night, To let the warm Love in!” (lines 64-67)

TASK 123

Now think about the idea and issues that the poem focuses on. Make a note of possible ideas to be found within the poem.

Here is a range of ideas that various critics have mentioned: • • •

Through it, Keats explores the relationship that he wanted to exist between his soul and his poetry The mood of the poem is one of reverence at the thought of the immortality of poetry The ode implicitly deals with how human beings should respond to love and to the world itself

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to Psyche

Psyche, representing the soul, keeps her casement open “to let the warm Love in”. The soul is ready to receive love, symbolised by Cupid When Keats says that Psyche is fairer than Diana and Venus he is using the language of mythology to express an idea about and attitudes towards life and love. Diana would have shut love out whereas Venus let love in but lacked the sensitivity to fully appreciate it. In that sense both Diana and Venus are lacking whereas Psyche has the capacity to appreciate the full range of human experience.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On Fame (I)

On Fame (I)

TASK 124

This poem was written on 30th April and the sonnet deals, as the title suggests, with the idea of ‘Fame’. Read it through carefully and make a note of the key ideas:

The sonnet expresses the poet’s attitude towards fame which he compares to a “wayward girl” and he makes the point that fame is illusive to those who seek and pursue it. Fame, he says: “…will still be coy To those who woo her with too slavish knees.” (line 3) He continues this image referring to fame as a “gipsy” who “will not speak to those / Who have not learnt to be content without her”. (lines 5-6) In the sestet he makes his concluding point by exhorting poets to stop searching for fame but if it is to be, fame will find them: “Make your best bow to her and bid adieu – Then, if she likes it, she will follow you.” (lines 13-14)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – On Fame (II)

On Fame (II) Also written on 30th April 1819, Keats wrote this sonnet while Charles Brown was transcribing the preceding one. TASK 125

Read the sonnet through and make a note of its key points.

Basically, the essence of this poem is summed up by the proverb quoted as an epigraph – “You cannot eat your cake and have it too” The poem explores the idea of man leaving things to nature and accepting things as they were meant to be which is how they are best left. To try to interfere with what is natural – “It is as if the rose should pluck herself, Or the ripe plum finger its misty bloom.” (lines 5-6) Instead it is best that – “…the rose leaves herself upon the briar, For winds to kiss and grateful bees to feed, And the ripe plum still wears its dim attire.” (lines 9-11) Keats ends by posing the question, which the poem itself has answered – “Why then should man, teasing the world for grace, Spoil his salvation for a fierce miscreed?” (lines 13-14)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Two or three posies

Two or three posies Written on or about 1st May 1819 in a letter to his sister Fanny. TASK 126

Read the poem and write down you impressions of it. (The reference to “Mrs ___” is a reference to Mrs. Abbey, the wife of Richard Abbey who acted as the guardian of the Keats children from 1810. The relations between Abbey and Keats were rather strained.

Here are some ideas: • • •

It seems like a light-hearted children’s verse The rhyme scheme and the rhythm pattern emphasise the ‘childlike’ quality The images created again have a ‘child-like’ quality to them The reference to the “dove’s eggs” hatching into sonnets.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on a Grecian Urn

Ode on a Grecian Urn Written, probably in May 1819, this ode, together with Ode to a Nightingale are generally thought of as Keats’s best. TASK 127

Read Stanza I of the poem. Make a note of the striking images created here as Keats contemplates the figures portrayed on the urn.

Here are some points you might have noted: • • • • • •

TASK 128

The first two lines create a sense of the urn’s silence “still” can create a sense of unchanging or unmoving as well as “still unravished” or as yet unravished The imagery evokes the ideas of sex and virginity “bride” personifies the urn The first of three scenes depicting some kind of courtship dance are described and there follows some kind of orgy of love – a “wild ecstasy” The poet poses the question of whether these are men or gods portrayed in the scene.

Now look at Stanza II. What seems to be the subject of this stanza?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on a Grecian Urn

The stanza begins with an idea which, if taken literally, makes no sense: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter” (lines 11-12). Obviously there can be no “unheard” melodies. However, Keats is creating a paradox in that the pipes on the urn sound “not to the sensual ear” (line 13) but “to the spirit” (line 14). Music ‘heard’ through the imagination can be even sweeter than that heard through the ear. The subject is the youth singing to his girl accompanied by pipemusic. “Sweet” and “soft” establishes the nature of this music. The remainder of the stanza goes on to express the central truth about the urn – the idea that the ecstasies portrayed are frozen forever in poses which suggest the anticipation of desire but which can never be fulfilled. The stanza ends with another paradox in that the lover can never kiss even though so close to winning his goal, but he should be happy nevertheless with the thought that: “She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”. (lines 19-20)

TASK 129

Read Stanza III. How does this stanza develop the ideas expressed in Stanza II?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on a Grecian Urn

This stanza continues with the picture created in the second stanza and develops further the paradox which is at the heart of the poem – that perfect joy captured and fixed by art gives more ecstatic pleasure than joy experienced in life as a passing moment and as such is transitory. The subject of the stanza this time is the girl who, frozen in time on the urn, is – “For ever panting, and for ever young.” (line 27) Notice too Keats’s repetition of the word “happy” to emphasise the sense of bliss. The final section of the stanza describes “human passion” in real life as being less powerful than its artistic depiction on the urn – “All breathing human passion far above, That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloyed, A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.” (lines 28-30)

TASK 130

Now look at Stanza IV. What new picture is introduced here and what effect does this create?

The scene depicts a procession led by a priest taking the sacrificial cow to the altar. Keats poses the questions of who these people are and to what altar they are leading the beast. The idea of this pagan crowd involved in sacrifice contrast strongly with the two lovers described earlier. Keats does not dwell on this, however, but moves on to imagine a scene not depicted on the urn – “What little town by river or sea shore, Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel Is emptied of these folk, this pious morn?” (lines 35-37) This raises another paradox in the sense that the town, normally a place full of life, is empty and dead. The idea of the sacrifice also introduces the idea of death.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

TASK 131

The Poems – Ode on a Grecian Urn

How does the fifth stanza serve as a summary of the poem?

The poet reconsiders the whole urn reflecting that – “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity…” (lines 44-45) Through this change of viewpoint he presents the urn from a new perspective. He now views the urn as an object, a thing without life and the pictures that it displays as “marble men” and the scene a “Cold Pastoral”. This cold lifelessness of the urn, however, does not tell the whole story. Keats has come to see that the urn does not tell a tale – it is the tale. The urn delivers its final message as a “friend to man” (line 48) and to each generation as it comes along. The final message – “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” (lines 49-50) has provoked much scholarly debate and is both cryptic and paradoxical. Beauty to Keats, though, represented an experience rather than a concept and experiences intensely felt can be considered as truth. Truth, on the other hand, would have to be beautiful in that it must stimulate our deepest feelings in order to be ‘true’. The final affirmation is more to do with how we know rather than what we know – in other words we know through intensely experienced feelings as opposed to rational thought.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to a Nightingale The exact date that this ode was written is in some doubt but it is dated ‘May 1819’ and references suggest that it may have been written in mid-May. Ode to a Nightingale is the longest of Keats’s odes and is the most personal in an autobiographical sense. It is worth noting that in classical times the nightingale was a bird associated with poetry and love and set apart from other birds by its beautiful song. In medieval times the bird was associated with the idea of courtly love often figured in poetry and literature generally. TASK 132

Now look at the opening of the poem (lines 1-10). How does the poem open?

The poem opens with a sense of pain and numbness – “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains / My sense” (lines 1-2). The comparison to “hemlock”, a poisonous herb, and “some dull opiate”, (line 3), reveal this “ache” to be of a particular kind. This seems to be the kind of pain that is more to do with dull powers of receptivity rather than the conventional sense of pain. This is important in understanding the meaning of the poem which is concerned with the way the poet perceives things and the effect that the nightingale has on this perception. However, this is the prelude to a sense of creativity as Keats reveals the reason for this “numbness”. The effect is paradoxical in that it is a reaction to the happiness he experiences through the nightingale’s song. The poet identifies himself with the bird and is happy but the rub is that he is “Too happy in thine happiness” (line 6) and so the sense of joy also brings with it a sense

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

of loss. He then describes how he sees the bird as a “Dryad of the trees” (line 7), presiding over “some melodious plot” (line 8).

TASK 133

Now look at the second stanza. What comparison does Keats develop here?

The bliss he experiences through hearing the beautiful song of the bird and the state of drowsiness it creates leads the poet to compare it with a state of intoxication – a state that he yearns for. Although the imagery used here of “…a drought of vintage” with “…beaded bubbles winking at the brim” leaving a “…purple –stained mouth” create a vivid sense of wine, the intoxication Keats yearns for is far from that of mind-dulling drunkenness. The intoxication he refers to is a state of aesthetic emphoria evoked through imagery of sensual Bacchic revelry. The mention of “Hippocrene”, the fountain of the Muses, here, suggest that art and aesthetic pleasure of the nightingale’s song lifts the poet out of his “ache” and escape into another kind of oblivion “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim” (lines 19-20)

TASK 134

What does Keats explore in Stanza III?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

In this stanza Keats goes on to explore the consequences of this kind of “intoxication”. The poet is reminded of the need to forget all the weariness, the fever, and the fret, and wretchedness of the world – a wretchedness that the nightingale has never known. He graphically describes this through images which bring to mind his own life experiences in watching his brother die – “Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; Where palsy shakes a few sad, last grey hairs, Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;” (lines 23-26) This is a world where everything is transient – “Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.” (lines 29-30) it is significant here, though, that the poet experiences both states, the pain of the human condition and the happiness of the nightingale, and as such is a mediator between these opposite conditions. This opposition is not resolved in the stanza but the overall sense is a negative one which presents a desire to escape the human world of sorrow.

TASK 135

How does the focus of the ode change in Stanza IV?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

The despair felt at the end of Stanza III is immediately and emphatically rejected stressed by the repeated “Away!” with which the stanza opens. The poet returns to the nightingale and this return is accompanied with the very means of identification with the bird that had been suggested in Stanza II. The wine of Bacchus is rejected in favour of poetry which will lift the poet’s spirit on “viewless wings”. The night is dark but “tender” and even the light of the moon cannot penetrate the thicket from which the nightingale sings – “But here there is no light, Save what from heaven is with thy breezes blown Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways”. (lines 38-40)

TASK 136

Now look at Stanza V. What ideas are developed here?

It seems that the poet’s identification with the nightingale was only transient and the poet is in darkness. The many beautiful things which surround the poet are left unseen. However, although all this natural beauty may be denied his eye it is not withheld from his imagination. Once again a paradox is introduced as although the poet is in darkness he presents us with an array of all the beautiful flowers, grasses and trees that surround him and that give out their colours and scents evoking a sense of the creative mood that Keats desires. Note, though, the combined idea of fragrance and death introduced by the phrase “embalmed darkness”. (line 43)

TASK 137

How does the rhythm and tone of this stanza emphasise the thematic change in the poem?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

The most striking point here is that the abruptness and impatience of Stanza IV – “Away! away!” is replaced with a more relaxed rhythm as the irritations of Stanza IV give way to the poet’s list of imagined beauties.

TASK 138

Make a note of the ways in which Stanza VI develops the idea of Stanza V.

The poet is still in darkness but he now distances himself to contemplate the effect on himself of the beauty of nature described in the previous stanza as “Darkling I listen” (line 51), to the song of the bird. However, the idea of death suggested by the use of “embalmed” in the previous stanza is enlarged upon as he talks of having “been half in love with easeful Death” (line 52). He is only “half” in love with the idea, though which again suggests a paradox of his desire for both life and death. His apparent death-wish is immediately dismissed as it only “seems…rich to die” while listening in such ecstasy to the song of the nightingale. If he were to die, though, he would no longer be able to hear the song of the nightingale even though the bird would continue to sing as a kind of requiem to the poet: “Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain – To thy high requiem became a sod” (lines 59-60)

TASK 139

What thoughts do these ideas lead Keats to in Stanza VII?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

Keats returns to a consideration of the nightingale and the thoughts of his own mortality causes him to reflect on the kind of ‘immortality’ that the bird possesses – “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!” Notice here how the use of the capital B universalises the nightingale, making it representative of all nightingales and their spirit. Each individual bird may be short-lived but their songs live on, generation after generation. Keats takes this idea further by developing a series of images from history to show how the music of the bird is eternal and above all change – “No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown:” (lines 62-64) Keats moves from the serious/comic world suggested by this idea to suggestions of human suffering symbolised by Ruth in the Biblical account and from there to the world of Romantic sensibility of Keats himself signalled by the use of the adjectives “magic”, “perilous”, “faery” and “forlorn”.

TASK 140

How does the final stanza (VIII) link with what has gone before?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode to a Nightingale

The stanza begins by picking up the final word of Stanza VII “forlorn” which connects it to the idea of the unattainability of the “faery lands” for man. This stanza explores the emotional implications of being “forlorn” and without hope. He says that the very word is like a bell – the use of “toll” here being suggestive of a bell that sounds a deathknell as the poet is drawn away from the song of the nightingale and back to himself – “Forlorn! The very word is like a bell To toll me back from thee to my sole self.” This reveals how Keats feels about the dying of the creative and inspirational mood symbolised by the disappearing sound of the nightingale’s song as the bird flies into the distance. The poet plaintively bids “Adieu” to the bird as the song fades, reluctant to let go the comforting numbness and pleasure that the music had given him. This reluctance changes to regret at the fleeting nature of the joy and the vision and special beauty that the nightingale’s song had brought to his world. The ode ends in a note of both farewell and doubt: “Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?” (lines 79-80) Now the perception of the ideal world created by the nightingale’s song has gone Keats questions the nature of the experience and attempts to come to terms with the interaction between human uncertainty and poetic vision.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Melancholy

Ode on Melancholy The date that this ode was written is open to conjecture but it was probably written in May 1819. In this poem Keats expresses his familiar idea about how he functions as a poet through the coming together of opposite sensations and emotions. He uses an analysis of melancholy to explore the nature of despair and suggests a remedy for it. As he examines the nature of the psychological state he raises significant questions about the nature of reality itself. TASK 141

Now read the first stanza and make a note of what Keats says here.

The poem begins by warning the reader against thinking of melancholy as the mood of despair and hopelessness that it has generally been thought of as being. He expresses this idea through a number of symbols and allusions such as the reference to “Lethe”, in mythology - the river in Hell whose waters, when drunk, had the power to make the dead forget their past lives. “Wolf’s bane” and “nightshade” are both poisonous plants and Proserpine, in Greek mythology was the queen of Hell and so any fruit of hers would be deadly. These three key images of the first stanza, therefore, are associated with death but are also linked to the idea of some kind of potion which wipes out consciousness. The idea he expresses here is that we should not seek escape from the pain of melancholy through poisons and drugs that destroy consciousness.

The next few lines present another list of things that the victim of melancholy should not use to try to cure the condition – yew-berries, the beetle, the dead moth, and the owl. Again these are all images that

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Melancholy

have connotations of the graveyard and death. These are linked to the idea of religious rites through his use of the word “rosary”. TASK 142

What advice about what to do instead of giving in to melancholy does Keats offer in the second stanza?

Stanza II presents a contrast with Stanza I as now he prescribes the remedy which he believes to be the right one. He begins by referring, for the first time, to melancholy as a “fit” whose onset can be “sudden . . . like a weeping cloud” that produces an April shower. The poet creates a sense of the melancholy through his use of this simile which he goes on to develop further the association with mourning and death as the rain “…hides the green hill in an April shroud.” (line 14) On the other hand the rain can also be life giving and “fosters the droopheaded flowers” and so Keats is also providing a positive association with melancholy creating a paradoxical effect indicating the ambiguity of melancholy. The final lines provide Keats’s remedy through a series of sensuous impressions. The images of flowers and the natural scene show the enriching power of melancholy. In the last three lines Keats shifts his focus from that of natural beauty to that of feminine beauty suggesting that women show a beauty through anger: “Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows, Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave, And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.” (lines 18-20)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Melancholy

Again this creates a sense of the Keatsian paradox and suggests that to cope with melancholy we must be sensitive to pleasure but also to pain.

TASK 143

How does Keats draw his ideas together in the final stanza?

Although at first the “She” of the opening line might be thought to be the “mistress” mentioned at the end of the previous stanza and Keats leaves the line ambiguous, “She” refers to melancholy itself though the personification “Joy”, on the other hand, is personified as masculine. The combination produces “aching Pleasure” (line 23) which turns to “poison” (line 24). Some critics have interpreted this as creating a sense of the ecstasy and joy of sexual experience followed by a kind of sadness. The phrase “the bee-mouth sips” hints at the limited capacity of human beings to experience pleasure. This return to the idea of poison brings the poem back to where it started from. Even if we avoid the complete dulling of the senses he warned against in Stanza I and have the intense human experiences he indicates in Stanza II, ultimately we must still face death. At the end of the poem Keats speaks of Melancholy as a goddess and the poem ends with an assertion that the ambiguous effects of true melancholy can only be experienced by those sensitive to their feelings. “Veiled Melancholy has her sovran shrine, Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;” (lines 26-28)

TASK 144

What, ultimately, do you think is Keats’s view expressed in Ode to Melancholy?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Melancholy

In one sense Keats seems to be expressing the notion that implicitly the “goddess” Melancholy is the goddess of ‘true feelings’ but some critics have seen his vision in this poem as being an essentially tragic one. They argue that he expresses the view that the pain of existence will triumph over the pleasure. Paradoxically, though, pain and pleasure and sadness and joy are inextricably interwoven with one another. To experience one we must experience the other and that our choice lies not between pain and pleasure but between awareness and unconsciousness. If we choose awareness then pain is the price we pay as well as reaping the reward of pleasure.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Indolence

Ode on Indolence This ode was probably written in late May or early June 1819 and is a much less intense and more loosely constructed than the other odes we have looked at. TASK 145

Read the first stanza and make a note of the ideas that it introduces and the tone created.

The poem begins with a tone of self-contemplation and has a slightly humorous note. The idea of the figures on the Grecian urn immediately brings to mind Ode on a Grecian Urn. Three figures are seen on the urn and they are posed “with bowed necks, and joined hands, side-faced” (line 1). The poet appears to be walking round the urn or the urn is revolving in front of him.

TASK 146

How does Keats develop these ideas in the second stanza?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Indolence

He refers to these figures as “shadows” and “strange” to him and he does not, at first recognise them. However, he then seems to accuse them of deceiving him – “How come ye muffled in so hush a masque? Was it a silent deep-disguised plot To steal away, and leave without a task My idle days?” (lines 12-15) The poet says “Ripe was the drowsy hour” – note his use of the word “drowsy” here. Keats’s often used this word to suggest that creative mood when the poet is neither fully awake nor asleep. However, on this occasion because he is in a “…blissful cloud of summerindolence” which “Benumbed” his eyes, the poetic inspiration is lacking – “Pain had no sting, and pleasure’s wreath no flower.” (line 18) He ends the stanza with the question“O, why did ye not melt, and leave my sense Unhaunted quite of all but – nothingness?” (lines 19-20)

TASK 147

What is revealed in Stanza III?

The identity of the three figures is now revealed as they face the poet directly. Love is the “fair maid”, Ambition, “pale of cheek” and, the one who the poet loves more, “my demon Poesy”.

TASK 148

What effect on the poet is described in Stanza IV?

As the poet identifies these figures they fade before him and indolence has denied him of his inspiration. Instead he wants to be sheltered from having to think about things –

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Indolence

“Oh, for an age no sheltered from annoy, That I may never know how change the moons, Or hear the voice of busy common-sense!” (lines 38-40)

TASK 149

What does Keats say in the fifth stanza?

He admits that, despite his indolence, the many subjects for poetry remain in his dreams – “My sleep had been embroidered with dim dreams: My soul had been a lawn besprinkled o’er With flowers, and stirring shades, and baffled beams.” (lines 42-44) However, because of his indolence, they remain dormant and unused: “O shadows, ‘twas a time to bid farewell! Upon your skirts had fallen no tears of mine.” (lines 49-50)

TASK 150

How does Keats conclude the ode?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Ode on Indolence

The poet bids adieu to the “Ghosts” who, in his present mood, are unable to provide him with poetic inspiration. The poem ends with the dismissal of these three “phantoms” leaving the poet to his Indolence – “Vanish, ye phantoms! from my idle sprite Into the clouds, and never more return!” (lines 59-60) The paradox of the poem lies in the fact that though Keats is telling us that his mood prevents him from being receptive to poetic inspiration he is at the same time creating a poem out of this idea.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

Lamia This long poem was written in the period May to September 1819.

Part I TASK 151

Read Part I of the poem through and then write a brief summary of the story.

Here are the key points: • • • • • • • •

Hermes is searching for a nymph he desires He comes across a snake with a woman’s mouth and eyes who wants to be restored to her full woman’s form She tells Hermes that she has power over the nymph he is seeking In exchange for seeing his nymph he restores the snake to the full woman’s form and then he goes away with the nymph Lamia, now restored to woman’s form, goes to a valley to wait to accost the youth who she desires Lamia tells of how even when in serpent form she had the power to will herself anywhere In Corinth she had seen and desired a young charioteer names Lycius She knows he will pass by that evening and lies in wait for him

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John Keats – Selected Poems

• • • •

The Poems – Lamia

When he arrives she gets him to look at her and, bewitched, he begs her to stay with him Lamia tells him that she loves him and he is taken by her spell to Corinth. As they arrive they pass Apollonius, Lycius’s teacher and, ashamed, he muffles his face and passes by Lamia takes him to a secret palace.

Part II TASK 152

Now read Part II and summarise the story here.

Here are the key points: • • • • • • • •

Lycius and Lamia are enthroned in the palace After a while, Lycius becomes aware of noise outside At this, Lamia begins to sigh to attract his attention Lycius tells her that he is proud of her beauty and wants to show her to the outside world Lamia begs him to change his mind, but he will not give in and so she submits but asks that she is not seen by Apollonius Guests are invited to the palace but Apollonius is not invited Guests arrive and so does the uninvited Apollonius who fixes Lamia with his gaze Lamia turns cold with terror and, upset at this, Lycius verbally attacks Apollonius Apollonius uses the word “serpent” and when repeated Lamia disappears with a scream and Lycius dies.

Now let’s have a look at the poem in a little more detail.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

TASK 153

The Poems – Lamia

Re-read the opening of the poem from the beginning to line 46. What do you notice about this opening?

One thing that you might have noticed is that the opening of the poem places it clearly in the magical world of mythology through language such as “faery broods”, “Nymph and Satyr”, “Dryads”, “Fauns” and, of course “Hermes”. Within this setting, Hermes vigorously pursues the nymph he desires – “From vale to vale, from wood to wood, he flew, Breathing upon the flowers his passion new, And wound with many a river to its head To find where this sweet nymph prepared her secret bed.” (lines 27-30) Whilst on his search, Hermes encounters the “palpitating snake”. (line 45)

TASK 154

Look at the description of the snake (lines 47-67). What do you find striking about this description?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

The richness of the imagery used here imbues the snake with a beauty all of her own. She is a “dazzling hue” (line 47) and – “Vermillion-spotted, golden, green and blue; Striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, Eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barred.” (lines 47-50) There is a slightly sinister note introduced to the description here, however, as we are told – “She seemed, at once, some penanced lady elf, Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self”. Even stranger, the serpent possesses a woman’s mouth “…with all its pearls complete” and a woman’s eyes. Although she had the throat of a serpent her words – “Came, as though bubbling honey, for Love’s sake.” (line 65)

TASK 155

Look at lines 68-144. How does Keats develop the story here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

It seems that some unexplained power holds the creature in the form of a snake against her will. The creature seems to know about Hermes’s quest for the nymph and strikes a bargain with him. If he will return her to her woman’s shape she will tell him where the nymph is. She wishes to – “…have once more A woman’s shape, and charming as before. I love a youth of Corinth – Oh, the bliss! Give me my woman’s form, and place me where he is.” (lines 117-120) Hermes grants this and he is shown the nymph. The two make love, euphemistically described as – “Bloomed, and gave up her honey to the lees.” (line 143) The two of them – “Into the green-recessed woods they flew; Nor grew they place, as mortal lovers do.” (lines 144-145) Note here Keats’s use of the word “pale” which in La Belle Dame Sans Merci represents a warning of death. Unlike the Knight in that poem, though, Hermes is not mortal and therefore undergoes no suffering.

TASK 156

Now look at lines 145-349. How does Keats describe the transformation of Lamia and her encounter with Lycius?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

Lamia the serpent, now undergoes the process of change into a beautiful woman. This process, though, is full of pain and suffering: “Her mouth foamed”, (line 148) and “Her eyes in torture fixed” (line 149) and – “The colours all inflamed throughout her train, She writhed about, convulsed with scarlet pain.” (lines 153-154) The brilliant and rich adornments of her serpent skin are shed until – “Nothing but pain and ugliness were left.” (line 164) This suffering, though, is only a transitional phase and is the prelude to Lamia becoming – “…a lady bright, A full born beauty new and exquisite.” (lines 171-172) Keats’s description, though, points to her double nature being virginal and yet experienced in sexual love – “A virgin purest lipped, yet in the love Of love deep learned to the red heart’s core; Not one hour old, yet of sciental brain To unperplex bliss from its neighbour pain.” (lines 189-192) He goes on to say that it was – “As though in Cupid’s college she had spent Sweet days as a lovely graduate, still unshent,” (lines 197-198) Lamia is now free from her “serpent prison-house” (line 203) and can pursue her purpose of bewitching Lycius. Lamia’s magical powers are emphasised and when she encounters him he falls immediately under her spell – “…every word she spake enticed him on To unperplexed delight and pleasures known.” (lines 326-327) Lycius greets her as a goddess and begs her not to leave him. At first Lamia plays ‘hard to get’ and asks him why she should stay to roam – “Over these hills and vales, where no joy is – Empty of immortality and bliss!” (lines 277-278) and she pretends to leave him. Lycius swoons “pale with pain” – note the use of “pale” with its associated connotations here. The paradox

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

is clear that ultimately Lamia is death to Lycius but he cannot live without her. Lamia lures him back, reviving him with a kiss and then – “…she began to sing, Happy in beauty, life, and love, and everything, A song of love, too sweet for earthly lyres.” (lines 297-399) Notice here the parallels with the way in which the knight in La Belle Dame Sans Merci is lured with “fairy’s song”. Notice too the erotically suggestive quality of the language here through “held breath”, “panting fires”, “trembling tone”, as she whispers to him that she is a human like himself and not immortal as he thought. She magically transports them both to the city of Corinth.

TASK 157

Now look at the ending of Part I from lines 350-397 and make a note of the key points here.

Here are some ideas: • •

Lines 350-361 contain a short description of Corinth. The description elements suggestive of both wealth and sexual corruption Lamia and Lycius pass Lycius’s “trusty guide / And good instructor” Apollonius and Lycius tries to hide his face. The fact that Lamia trembles and her “tender palm” dissolves “in a dew” and Lycius feels that his teacher seems “The ghost of folly haunting my sweet dreams” (lines 377) create a sense of foreboding of what is to come The couple install themselves in Lamia’s magically created mansion, not knowing whether Apollonius has seem them or not

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

This first part of the poem ends with the poet commenting that as no-one knew they were there many would prefer to leave the story there to end happily but for the sake of truth he must tell “what woe afterwards befell”. (line 395).

Part II TASK 158

Re-read the opening of Part II from line 1 to line 105. How does the story develop here?

Part II opens with a note of ambiguity in which Keats suggests the bliss of “love in a palace” is, perhaps, “More grievous torment than a hermit’s past.” (line 4) He goes on to describe how the two enjoy each other “… enthroned… upon a couch”, until Lycius is startled by sounds from outside. For the first time he begins to think about the outside world beyond the “palace of sweet sin” (line 31). The fact that he is thinking about the outside world causes pain to Lamia because it indicates his desire for something more than her alone and in order to recapture his attention she begins to sigh. When he asks her what is wrong she tells him “You have deserted me” (line 42). She realises that she is loosing her grip on him.

TASK 159

What is it that Lycuis wants and how does Lamia respond?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

He wants to marry Lamia and invite guests to the palace to witness their nuptials. Lamia’s cheek trembles at this suggestion and she – “…wept a rain Of sorrows at his words” (lines 66-67) and implores him to change his mind. She knows that creating reality out the enchantress’s illusion will be disastrous. In a perverse kind of way, though, Lycius revels in his dominance over her and will not be moved from his purpose. At this point Lamia emotionally sheds her nature as a serpent/enchantress and behaves like a submissive woman – “The serpent – Ha, the serpent! Certes, she Was none. She burnt, she loved the tyranny, And, all subdued, consented to the hour When to the bridal he should lend his paramour.” (lines 80-83) They discuss their wedding plans and Lamia has to admit that she has no friends and resorts to lies to explain why she has no relatives – “My parents’ bones are in their dusty urns Sepulchred where no kindled incense burns, Seeing all their luckless race are dead, save me.” (lines 94-96) Her only request is that she begs him not to invite Apollonius to the celebrations and when he asks why not she pretends to be asleep and puts him into an enchanted sleep.

TASK 160

Now look at lines 106-172. Make a note of the key developments here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

Here are some ideas: •

Lamia prepares herself and the banquet-room by conjuring helpers, music and a magnificent feast while Lycius is out summoning his friends. Note here the detailed description of the setting The guests arrive but so does the uninvited Apollonius who meets Lycius in the vestibule where he explains why he has appeared uninvited and asks Lycius to forgive him.

The sense of disaster is now looming and the tension mounts.

TASK 161

Look at lines 173-238. How does Keats build the tension in this section?

The guests are pampered by “ministering slaves” and dressed in white robes, while wondering at the opulence of this wedding feast. Music plays and wine flows but there is an underlying sense of foreboding throughout all this. Each guest selects a garland but Keats gives Lamia, Lycius and Apollonius symbolically significant ones. Lamia

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

has a garland of “leaves of willow and of adder’s tongue” (line 224) which signifies grief and sorrow. Lycius is given the leaves stripped from the thyrsus (Bacchus’s staff) symbolising drunken forgetfulness and Apollonius is given “spear-grass and the spiteful thistle” which we are told “…wage / War on his temples” symbolising the attitude of Apollonius to Lycius’s folly. It is clear, then, at this point in the poem that Apollonius with his power of truth will destroy something of fragile beauty in “the tenderpersoned Lamia”. This causes Keats to question whether – “…all charms fly At the mere touch of cold philosophy” (lines 229-230) and concludes that – “Philosophy will clip an angel’s wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Emptied the haunted air and gnomed mine – Unweave a rainbow, as it erstwhile made The tender-personed Lamia melt into a shade.” (liens 234-238)

TASK 162

Think about the final section of the poem (lines 239-311). What do you think is the significance of the ending of the poem?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Lamia

Lycius is anxious to make amends with his teacher and he manages to tear his gaze away from looking at Lamia in his “love trance” to cast a beseeching look at his teacher. He wants Apollonius to meet his eyes as a sign of approval. However, Apollonius has his gaze fixed “Full on the alarmed beauty of this bride” (line 247). Lycuis takes Lamia’s hand and finds it icy cold. This is the beginning of the end for Lamia. As Lycius looks but – “There was no recognition in those orbs.” (line 260) The music stops and even the ornamental plants began to die and everyone present feels a sense of terror. Lycius looks again at Lamia but – “Lamia, no longer fair, there sat a deadly white.” (line 276) He realises that Apollonius is the cause of this and curses him urging him to – “Shut, shut those juggling eyes, thou ruthless man!” and accuses him of “impious proud-hearted sophistries / Unlawful magic and enticing lies.” (lines 285-286) Apollonius’s answer is simply “Fool! Fool!” (line 295) as he continues to stare at Lamia. He tells Lycius that he has saved him from being “made a serpent’s prey” (line 298). Lamia breathes her “death-breath” (line 299) and Apollonius shows no mercy as he says “A Serpent!” once more and with a terrible scream Lamia vanishes. When Lycius’s friends approach him they find him dead, lying in his marriage robe.

Here are some points to bear in mind about the poem: • •

Lamia is Keats’s third poem exploring an idea that is important in his poetry – that of the sexual union of a mortal with an immortal or non-human This symbolised for Keats the human desire to achieve and retain passionate intensity. In Endymion this results in bliss and immortality after suffering. In La Belle Dame Sans Merci the knight is returned to the human world damaged and weakened with a suggestion of death about him In Lamia, though, we see from the beginning that she is a snake transformed into a lustful woman. Her love for Lycius, is her attempt to escape from the form of the serpent. She is destroyed and banished back to serpenthood by the ‘truth’, represented by the gaze of Apollonius, but this also destroys Lycius too.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art!

Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art! There is a good deal of controversy surrounding the composition date of this poem and it was long regarded as Keats’s last poem. Some think a date in July 1819 the most probable whilst others place it in the late autumn of that year. The sonnet is addressed to Fanny Brawne and is the last of a series of poems that he wrote to or about her. TASK 163

Read the poem through carefully. How does Keats approach his subject here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou art!

He adopts what has been called “one of the most resplendent images in the whole work of Keats.” This is the image of the bright star that he uses to symbolise the steadfastness that he longed for in his relationship with Fanny – “Bright Star! would I were steadfast as thou art.” (line 1). His identification with the star – “…watching, with eternal lids apart, Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite” (lines 3-4) Looking down on the earth and – “…gazing on the new soft-fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moors.” But he is different. The star is alone and he is with Fanny but like the star he longs to be: “…still steadfast, still unchageable.” (line 9) At the end of the poem Keats’s focus shifts from the universal image of the star to the personal image of himself with his head – “Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast.” (line 10) Both images create a sense of tranquillity and, in using the image of the star, he elevates the concept of his relationship with Fanny to the level of the eternal transcending the commonplace.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes

Pensive they sit, and roll their languid eyes This poem was written on 17th September in Keats’s journal-letter to George and Georgina Keats. TASK 164

Read the poem through carefully and make a note of the key points of the poem.

In his letter, Keats prefaced the poem with this remark which helps to throw light on the ideas it contains – “Nothing strikes me so forcibly with a sense of the ridiculous as love – A man in love I do think cuts the sorryest figure in the world – Even when I know a poor fool to be really in pain about it, I could burst out laughing in his face – His pathetic visage becomes irresistible.” This, perhaps, helps to establish the subject of Keats’s scorn here. He is cataloguing the behaviour, small-talk and foolish little idiosyncrasies of lovers. His mocking tone is evident through his descriptions of their “languid eyes”, the way in which they “Nibble their toasts and cool their tea with sighs” (line 2) and his attitude to them is clearly summed up in his reference to them as a “…hapless crew” (line 5).

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Autumn

To Autumn This poem was written about 19th September 1819 and is one of Keats’s best known and best loved poems. It is addressed throughout to a personified “Autumn” and in many ways is a valedictory poem which presents the fruitfulness of autumn and signals the approaching winter. It presents a vision of humanity working in close harmony with the natural processes of nature. TASK 165

Now read the first stanza of the poem in which the poet addresses the season, autumn. Make a note of your initial responses to this stanza..

Here are some possible ideas: The first line immediately captures a sense of the essence of autumn combining the characteristics of “mists” and “mellow fruitfulness”. The second line links the season to the sun – a “maturing” sun in the sense that the natural cycle of the year has reached its maturity. It also introduces the idea of the sun being an essential component of the natural process in bringing the fruits of autumn to ripeness and fruition. In this first stanza autumn is characterised by a strong reproductive force which is traditionally represented as female (in mythology, Ceres, the goddess of corn and the harvest). Just as the earth is generically female (hence phrases like “Mother Earth”) the sun is traditionally characterised as male (as through the god Apollo) and the two together produce the rich fruits of autumn. Keats describes this union as “conspiring” (line 3). Notice the way in which Keats’s imagery creates a sense of the bounty produced by this union –

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Autumn

“To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees, And fill the fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will never cease, For Summer has o’er brimmed their clammy cells.” (lines 5-11)

TASK 166

Look at Stanza II. What four images does Keats develop here?

1. The first image personifies autumn as being “amid thy store” cleaning the grain of chaff – one of the routine tasks following the harvest called “winnowing” – hence Keats’s reference to the “winnowing wind” (line 15). Notice again the feminine connotations created by the reference to “Thy hair soft-lifted” (line 15). 2. The second image is of the field worker asleep on a “half-reaped furrow”. The reference to “Drowsed with the fume of poppies” suggests not only sleep but a sleep that is drug induced and therefore implying a state of heightened subconscious awareness. The worker’s scythe is suspended sparing the “next swathe and all its twined flowers” (line 18). 3. The third image creates a picture of a gleaner carrying a head of corn across a brook. The “laden head” (line 20) creates the sense of plentitude. 4. The final image is of a worker at the cider-press crushing the juice from the apples to make cider. This image reminds us of the richness of the apple harvest created in Stanza I.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – To Autumn

These images together present a series of tableaux which capture some of the activities that typify autumn and the harvest. As well as reinforcing the impression of abundance they also suggest a sense of progression – the reaper cuts the crop, the gleaner gathers it after the reaper, the winnower winnows it. The crushing of the apples marks a stage of progression from apple to cider. Each of these activities, then, brings us closer to the end of nature’s annual cycle of life and prepares us for the final stanza. TASK 167

Now look at the final stanza of the poem. What is the effect of this final stanza?

In the final stanza Keats unites and universalises the experiences of the first two stanzas. It presents an acceptance of autumn’s passing, with its suggestion of death and the impending winter. However, the opening question with its reference to spring has a consoling effect in that it reminds us not only that the “songs of Spring” (line 23) have passed and winter is approaching but that spring will come again too. The poet consoles himself also with the idea that although autumn signals the approaching end of the natural cycle, it too has its own beauty. The compensation for the loss of the “songs of Spring” lies in the beauty of natural maturity and it is this that the poem celebrates. There are compensations in that although autumn has no ‘songs’ it has its own ‘music’. There is a melancholy in this music though: “…in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn” (line 27) and the “full-grown lambs bleat from hilly bourn” (line 30). On the other hand the “Hedgecrickets sing” (line 31) and the “red-breast whistles” (line 32) while the swallows “twitter in the skies” and they prepare to migrate for the winter; like autumn, their stay is nearing its end.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream

The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream In this poem, which was composed between July and September 1819, (though it was revised later) Keats revisits the theme of the fall of Hyperion. Although the poem deals with the same subject there are significant differences between the treatment of the theme that you should note. Here are some of them: • •

TASK 168

There is a difference of mode between the two poems. Hyperion is structured as an epic in which the story is told through a detached and objective poetic voice The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream gives a much more personal and subjective narrative in which the events are presented imaginatively through the mind of the poet and through the goddess of memory, Mnemosyne (Moneta in the poem)

Look at the opening lines (1-80) and make a note of what Keats is saying here.

Here are some ideas: •

The poem opens with a defence of poetry and the dreams that poetic vision can engender. It is the poet’s declaration of what the ultimate meaning of poetry is to the poet himself

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream

In his dream the poet finds himself in a mysterious forest surrounded by trees of every type – “Palm, myrtle, oak and sycamore, and beech” (line 20) and hearing the sound of fountains “soft-showering” his ears • He is hungry and eats some of the remnants of the food which, in turn, makes him thirsty and he drinks from “a cool vessel” (line 42) he finds nearby • This drink turns out to be a magic potion and puts him into a “swoon”. He then finds himself before a mysterious, impressive but deserted temple in which he finds an array of abandoned artefacts to do with the rituals of worship“Robes, golden tongs, censer and chafing-dish, Girdles, and chains, and holy jewellries.” (lines 79-80)

TASK 169

Now look at lines 81-215. How does the narrative develop here?

The poet turns and sees, far off – “An Image, huge of feature as a cloud, At level of whose feel an altar slept, To be approached on either side by steps, And marble balustrade”. (lines 88-91)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream

He approaches the steps and begins to climb but then hears a warning voice telling him – “…If thou canst not ascend These steps, die on that marble where thou art.” (lines 107-108) and that – “…no hand in the universe can turn Thy hourglass if these gummed leaves be burnt Ere thou canst mount up these immortal steps.” (lines 115-117) As he approaches the steps he, at first, feels a “fierce heat” which suddenly changes to a “palsied chill” as he struggles onwards striving to escape the numbness of death. However, one minute before his death, his foot touches the lowest step and he is immediately restored by their life-giving powers and is transported speedily to the top of the stairs. When he reaches the top he discovers a “veiled shadow” (line 141) the keeper of an ancient flame. This mysterious figure is Moneta.

TASK 170

He asks the veiled figure why his life has been spared. What is the significance of the answer he receives?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream

He is told that he has felt what it is to “die and live again before / Thy fated hour” (lines 142-143) and since he has learnt this his life will be extended. Symbolically “life” represents the heights of poetic achievement. The figure goes to tell him – “None can usurp this height… But those to whom the miseries of the world Are misery, and will not let them rest. All else who find a haven in the world, Where they may thoughtless sleep away their days, If by a chance into this fame they come, Rot on the pavement where thou rotted’st half.” (lines 147-153) The poet says that there are thousands in the world who “love their fellows even to the death; / who feel the agony of the world” (line 156157). The figure tells him, though, that they “are no visionaries…they are no dreamers weak” (lines 161-162). The figure tells the poet he is “…a dreaming thing” (line 168). The poet though, longs for visionary experience which he will use as part of his creative process. Those who, like him, know the suffering in the world, but do not strive for visionary experiences are better off because – “They seek no wonder but the human face; No music but a happy-noted voice – They came not here, they have no thought to come.” (lines 163-165) The distinction is being made here between the poet and all others. His devotion to true poetry is so intense that he calls on Apollo, this god of poetry, to explain why he has allowed bad poetry to be written by – “…mock lyrists, large self-worshippers And careless hectorers in proud bad verse.” (lines 207-208) The poet asks the figure to reveal her identity.

TASK 171

Now look at lines 216-468 and Canto II 1 – 61. Make a note of the key points here.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream

Here are some ideas: •

TASK 172

In response to his request Moneta reveals herself to him and her reply introduces the theme from Hyperion – She indicates on old image of Saturn “wrinkled as he fell” (line 225). She is left “Sole priestess of his desolation” (line 227) She is moved by his appeal to Apollo and reveals to him scenes of the fall of the Titans. This is significant because it shows that she has accepted his defence of poetry and that he is not a dreamer but one whose poetry is bound up with all of human life. Moneta then goes on to re-tell the story of the fall of Saturn and the Titans, in other words the story Keats related in The Fall of Hyperion. Its relationship with Moneta is clear, for it is the shrine of these giants that Moneta guards.

Now think about the poem as a whole. What simple message do you think Keats wanted to convey here?

Basically the poem explores one of Keats’s favourite ideas – what it is to be a poet, and what is the relationship between the poet and the society within which he operates. The message seems to be that a poet must share the burdens and the miseries of common humanity in order to fully understand the workings of the world and strive to improve it.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – What can I do to drive away

What can I do to drive away This poem is dated October 1819, probably written on the 13th when Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne expressing his love for her. TASK 173

Read the poem through carefully. What thoughts do you think Keats is expressing here?

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – What can I do to drive away

In this poem Keats expresses his confused feelings on fully admitting his love for Fanny. He half-feared that his passion for her might subdue or even displace his ambitions as a poet. The poem opens with the poet expressing the way in which thoughts of Fanny dominate his mind and of how part of him rebels at being so dominated – “What can I do to drive away Ay, an hour ago, my brilliant Queen! Touch has a memory. Oh, say, love say, What can I do to kill it and be free In my old liberty?” (lines 1-6) he wishes he were a sea-bird flying free over the sea. He thinks about the conventional idea of escape though drink (as in Ode to a Nightingale) but he recognises that “wine is only sweet to happy men” (line 27). He was worried at this time because of his brother George’s financial failure in America and he launches an attack on that country – “…that most hateful land, Dungeoner of my friends, that wicked strand Where they were wrecked and live a wrecked life.” (lines 30-33) This attack takes up thirteen lines of the poem and is a little surprising in a poem which began as a love poem. However, the ending of the poem returns to his original theme and he expresses a sense of longing – “Oh, let me once more rest My soul upon that dazzling breast!” (lines 48-49) and ends with a typically Keats paradox – “Oh, the sweetness of the pain! Give me those lips again! Enough! Enough! It is enough for me To dream of thee!” (lines 54-57)

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – This living hand, now warm and capable

This living hand, now warm and capable This poem was probably written November-December 1819. It was formerly thought to be addressed to Fanny Brawne but is now generally regarded as a fragment meant for later use in a play or poem. TASK 174

Read the poem through carefully. What thoughts strike you about it?

Here Keats presents a haunting few lines which suggest a threat to an unknown person if he does not take the hand that is offered. There is a sinister note in the contrast of the idea of the “living hand, now warm” and how cold the same hand would be if “in the icy silence of the tomb”. The image of “hunting” is striking as is the image of the heart drying of blood, “So in my veins red life might stream again.”

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – In after-time, a sage of mickle lore

In after-time, a sage of mickle lore This was probably written about July 1820. In the stanza, Keats describes the re-education of the giant, Typographus who wanted to create equality amongst all. The poet Spenser wrote of this giant but in his version Artgall (representing Justice) and his squire Talus defeat the giant and prove his simple-mindedness. In Keats’s version, though, with the help of knowledge gained from books, Typographus (representing the printed word) destroys the other.

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John Keats – Selected Poems

The Poems – Essay and Revision Questions

ESSAY AND REVISION QUESTIONS 1. With close reference to two or three poems that you have studied, in what ways was Keats a Romantic Poet? 2. “Sensuous verse has a content which may make a strong appeal to the senses and employs techniques which simultaneously exploit the sensuous aspects of language.” With close reference to Keats’s poetry discuss the ways in which you have found his verse “sensuous”. 3. It has often been said that in his short life Keats never formed a settled doctrine and he moved in various directions as his moods and influences changed. How have you found this to be reflected in his verse? You should refer closely to the poems you have studied to support your ideas. 4. Compare and contrast two of Keats’s odes that you have studied. 5. With close reference to two or three poems of your choice discuss Keats’s qualities as a narrative poet. 6. Keats wrote, “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the Truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be the truth.” Discuss this view with close reference to two of Keats’s odes. 7. Examine Keats’s ability to create contrasting atmospheres in his poetry. 8. With reference to Endymion and one other poem of your choice discuss Keats’s use of classical mythology in his poetry. 9. How does Keats create a sense of the medieval world in his poetry? You should refer to two poems of your choice to support your ideas. 10. Choose two or three of the poems of Keats that you have studied and discuss the ways in which he uses imagery to create his effects.

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