Ode on a Grecian Urn Critical Analysis
John Keats Odes...
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ODE ON A GRECIAN URN: CRITICAL ANALYSIS ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ was inspired by a collection of Greek pottery which Keats saw in the British Museum in 1817. Perhaps, the inspiration for the poem was derived from a marble urn which belonged to Lord Holland. In giving us the imagery of the carvings on the urn, Keats was not thinking of a single urn but of Greek art in general. Keats had a natural tendency towards Greek way of life. This ode shows the full force of Hellenic influence on Keats’s mind. This ode is based on the tension between the 'ideal' and the 'real'. Keats here imagines an urn as a symbol of the world of art which represents the ideal world. Then he experiences that world created through his imagination. The perfect, permanent and pleasurable world of the urn stands against the destructive, corrupt and painful world of reality. ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is a well built poem in three parts: introduction, main subject and conclusion. The first stanza gives the introduction; the second, third and fourth stanzas describe the main subject, and the fifth stanza presents the conclusion. The introduction describes the mystery of the urn and shows what questions the images painted on the urn pose to the poet; the main subject consists of the scenes on the urn as Keats sees them not with his physical sight but with his imaginative sight. The conclusion answers the question which the poet has raised in the first stanza. Thus in the words of Graham Hough, “The poem has what Aristotle would call a beginning, a middle and an end.” The ode begins with an apostrophe to the urn. Keats uses three metaphors to personify the urn: “the unravished bride of quietness”, “the fosterchild of silence and slow time” and “sylvan historian”. In the rest of the stanza, he meditates upon the pictures painted on the urn and raises some questions to remove the ambiguity. “What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?”
In the second stanza, the poet ceases his search after the identity of the painted images and addresses them. To him,
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter,…”
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THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara because such music is lasting and permanent. Thus Keats shows supremacy of art over life. Art has given permanence and immortality to the musician and the lover painted on the urn. Keats is forced to think about the superiority of Art over Nature. Art is permanent, while human life and its sensuous beauty are transitory. Compton Rickett says, “Human life and happiness may be brief; yet art has given them a lasting durability, and so links the ages together.”
In the third stanza, Keats emphasizes the unchanging happiness of the figures by the repetition of words and phrases. Even though their passion is unsatisfied, their state is far better than that of the mortals for whom satisfaction turns pleasure into satiety. The last two lines give us a glimpse of Keats’s personal life. “She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”
Here Keats refers to Fanny Brawne with whom his love remained unachieved.
In the fourth stanza, Keats describes the picture of a sacrificial procession. He imagines that the people who have come to see the sacrifice can never return to their homes. He realizes that just as a moment of happiness is fixed for ever in art, so is the moment of desolation.
In the fifth stanza, the Keats addresses the urn in a different way. He calls it “Attic shape”, “Silent form” and “Cold pastoral”. In this way, the urn is personified. It will remain unchanged for the future generations and will continue to teach that beauty and truth are inseparable.
“… a friend to man, to whom whou say’st, ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
The central thought of this ode is the unity of truth and beauty. According to Keats, beauty and truth are not separate things but two sides of one and the Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara same thing. What is beautiful must be true, and what is true must be beautiful. The knowledge of this great fact is of supreme importance and this fact represents the very essence of wisdom. Having this knowledge, mankind needs no other knowledge. Keats has summed up his philosophy of life and theory of art in these lines. But they have aroused much controversy among the critics. T. S. Eliot even called this statement “a serious blemish on this beautiful poem.”
The features of Keatsian Romanticism and Keats’ philosophy of art, beauty and truth are also important in this poem. Though it is a romantic poem, we find the classical interests of Keats in the style and form of this poem. This is a romantic poem mainly because of its dominant imaginative quality. Keats had a strong desire to belong to the realm of the eternal, the permanent, perfect and the pleasurable. For this purpose, he establishes some means to achieve that world of his wish with the help of imagination.
To sum up, we may say that in ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, Keats emphatically points out the difference between art and life. Life, though real, is subject to decay and death; art, though unreal, has permanence of beauty. However, there is hidden pathos that runs throughout the poem and it remains a sad poem. The urn is a ‘cold pastoral’; it has no warmth of human life. Nor can it make any progress, because progress implies change. But the urn is beyond any change. So the urn is deathless, but is also lifeless.
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE: CRITICAL ANALYSIS ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is the loveliest poem of Keats. Robert Bridges says about it: “I could not name any English poem of the same length which contains so much beauty.” Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara This ode reveals the highest imaginative powers of the poet. It was inspired by the song of a nightingale which the poet heard in the gardens of his friend, Charles Brown. It is a spontaneous expression of Keats’ life. The poem presents the picture of the tragedy of human life. It brings out an expression of Keats' pessimism and dejection. He composed this poem in 1819 when his family life was shattered at the time when his heart was full of sorrow. His youngest brother Tom had died, the second one had gone to America and the poet himself was suffering from Tuberculosis. At that time he was also in the agony of his passionate love for Fanny Brawne. His financial condition was unsecured. All these happenings had induced in the poet a mood of sorrow. He could not suppress it. According to Douglas Bush, “All these things compelled Keats to seek a favourite relief in abstract images.” It is a ‘richly meditative ode’ as Prof Hereford calls it. The central idea of this poem is the contrast of the joy and beauty and permanence of the nightingale’s song with the sorrows of human life and the transitoriness of beauty and love in this world. The nightingale’s song in the poem symbolizes the beauty of nature and art. In the beginning, Keats seems to be an immature youth with a melancholic heart urging to find a means of oblivion and escape. The poet’s mood in the two opening stanzas is one of joy and ecstasy which almost benumbs his senses. "My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains, My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk." This mood is due to the rapturous song of the nightingale. But, the poet also feels an acute pain because he is conscious of his mortality and suffering. Being an escapist Keats wants to throw of the burden of self consciousness and sinks gradually into the world of imagination. He desires for a beaker of wine by drinking which he can forget this world of sorrows and misfortunes and fade away into the forest where the nightingale is singing its joyous song. The poet’s desire for wine does not mean a desire for warmth and gaiety; it is a desire for escape from the world of realities. “That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim.” Finally, by the help of the poetic imagination, he makes himself able to fly in the world of the nightingale. Next, we find the poet “half in love with easeful death”. The thought of his own death makes him contrast the mortality of human beings with the immortality of the nightingale. According to Calvin, “The poet contrasts the transitory of human life with the permanence of the song of the bird”. Having denied a feeling of envy of the nightingale’s joy in the opening stanza, he is now in a mood of envying the immortality of the nightingale. In fact, no one can escape into the ideal world forever. Imaginative minds can Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara have a momentary flight into the fanciful world. But, ultimately one has to return to the real world and must accept the reality. John Keats is no exception to this. He makes imaginative flights into the ideal world but accepts the realities of life. He wants to escape from the world of anxiety by virtue of his imagination but he is fully aware of the fact that: “The Fancy cannot cheat so well, As she is famed to do, deceiving elf”. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a highly romantic poem. Its romanticism is due to (a) its rich sensuousness, (b) its expression of intense desire and deep melancholy, (c) its sweet music, and its fresh and original phrases. These lines in the poem represent the pure romanticism: “The same that oft-times hath Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” The touch of the supernatural, the mystery, and above all the suggestiveness of these lines have made them a test by which purely romantic poetry can be judged and measured. The poem is one of the finest examples of Keats’s pictorial quality and his rich sensuousness. We have an abundance of rich, concrete, and sensuous imagery. The lines in which the poet expresses a passionate desire for some Provencal wine or the red wine from the fountain of the Muses have a rich appeal. “O, for a draught of vintage, that hath been Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth, Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth!” Then there is the magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky and surrounded by stars, looking like a queen surrounded by her attendant fairies. “And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne. Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays.” The rich feast of flowers that awaits us in the next stanza is one of the outstanding beauties of the poem. Flowers, soft incense, the fruit trees, the white hawthorn, the eglantine, the fast-fading violets, the coming musk-rose full of sweet juice—all this is a delight for our senses. "Ode to a Nightingale" is written in ten-line stanzas. However, unlike most of the other poems, it is metrically variable. The first seven and last two lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter; the eighth line of each stanza is written in trimeter, with only three accented syllables instead of five. It also differs from the other odes in that its rhyme scheme is the same in every stanza (every other ode varies the order of rhyme in the final three or four lines. Each stanza in this ode is rhymed ABABCDECDE. Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara To sum up, Keats soars high with his 'wings of poesy' into the world of ideas and perfect happiness. But the next moment, consciousness makes him land on the grounds of reality and he bids farewell to the ideal bird. At this moment, Keats must also have been conscious that the very bird, which he had idealized and immortalized, existed in the real world, mortal and vulnerable to change and suffering like himself.
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE & ODE ON A GRECIAN URN: COMPARISON AND CONTRAST Give a detailed comparison of Ode to a Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn. (PU – 2008) Compare and contrast any two odes of Keats that you have read. (PU – 2010) With close reference to any two poems discuss the imagery that Keats uses. (PU – 2010 Sup) Ode to Nightingale and Ode on a Grecian Urn are poems about art. Explain. (PU – 2011 Sup, 2012) “Ode to Nightingale” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” are the finest examples of pictorial quality and sensuousness. As the theme is concerned both of the poems are similar. Both poems describe a universal theme – mortal and immortal, transience and permanence. Ode on Grecian Urn gives us a very important message and this message is Keats’ message which is recurrent motif running throughout Keats’ poetry. The message is that “Beauty is truth-truth beauty”. On the other hand, the message which we get after reading ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is that human being cannot run away from the problems of life and they have to live with the problems of life. In both odes poet’s admiration is for the ideal world of art and nature. Things carved on the Grecian urn are permanent and free from decay whereas things of life are exposed to change and decay. The branches of the tree on the urn will always remain green; the lovers will enjoy their present state; the music will always remain enjoyable; the lover will always have his beloved before his eyes and the beloved will never grow old. On the other hand earthly things keep on changing. Earthly passions do not give satisfaction and comfort to human being rather they leave a ‘heart high-sorrowful and cloyed’. Those who nourish these passions get nothing but a ‘burning forehead’, and a ‘parching tongue’. If ‘Ode on Grecian Urn’ shows Poet’s admiration and yearning for the world of art, ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ shows the same for the world of nature. Here once more, the poet wants to escape in the world of nightingale which does not know pain and suffering. The world of nightingale is free of fever and fret of human world; in that world pain and groan are totally absent; things do not grow old there; there is nothing like disease there; thought which makes people sad and sorrowful is not present in there; frustration and disappointment are nowhere in the world of nature; and love does not change there. And just as in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats deepens the Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara significance of his poem by his contrasts between ideal beauty and actual life, so in the “Ode to a Nightingale”. Both of the odes are rich in the use of symbol. The central symbol of “Ode to Nightingale” is Nightingale. On the other hand the main symbol of “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is Urn. The Grecian Urn is the symbol of immorality of art. Nightingale symbolizes happiness. As the poem progresses, the song of Nightingale does not remain the song of a particular bird it becomes a symbol of the eternal beauty for the poet. It is in this sense that the poet cries out: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.” In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats calls the Urn as ‘unravish’d bride of quietness’ and “foster child of silence and slow time.” Addressing the Urn Keats says; “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity.” In the poem “Ode to a Nightingale”, Nightingale is personified. The bird is a symbol of happiness and perfection. The Nightingale’s world is the ideal world where the poet wishes to go to free himself from the pangs and sufferings of the world. But just one word “forlorn” is enough to call him back from the world of Nightingale to the world of those who are suffering from palsy, growing pale, spectre-thin and then dying. The world of Nightingale with all its charms cannot take away from Keats’ heart his sense of oneness with his earthly fellow beings who are suffering from “fever and fret” of the world. Same is true in the case of the Urn. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn'’ the Urn is personified. It stands for beauty and permanence. It contrasts with the transitoriness of human life which is full of misery. The poet knows the value of the Urn as a beautiful piece of art but at the same time he realizes that beauty is not the only thing of importance. The Urn though immortal is speechless. It lacks the warmth and vigor of life. Keats expands the range of his sensuousness from pictures of physical love to the pictures of natural beauties. In “Ode to a Nightingale” the poet looks for eternal beauty. The beauty of the song of Nightingale is beautiful from time immemorial. It delights all people in all ages everywhere. The Urn itself is a symbol of everlasting beauty. The painter may die but the beauty of the painting is everlasting. The poet may die but poetry is undying. In all his poems, the poet is Greek in temper and spirit. He is a representative of Greek thought and culture in a sense in which Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge are not. In “Ode to a Nightingale” there are references of Dryad, Hippocrene, Bacchus, Lethe- which remind us of Greek mythology. The Urn itself is from Greek mythology. It immortalizes Greek joy, culture, religion. The Grecian Urn shows the poet as the true representative of Greek, as the Urn outlives Greek culture. The Urn is the beauty. It is as true as the Greek immortality. Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
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Both poems show that escape from the real world is never possible. In “Ode to the Nightingale” it is the word “forlorn” that puts the clock black. In the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” it is the realization of the death like warmthless and speechless silence of the Urn that brings Keats back into the world of reality. The tone of “Ode to Nightingale” is pathetic and it is more subjective than “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The tone is joyous and objective in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. The overall tone of the poem is melancholic in “Ode to Nightingale”. The poem is also very subjective, because it draws reference from Keats’ own life. The expressions “fever and fret” the “spectre-thin” etc. clearly refer to the pathetic death of Keats’ brother. The poem is written immediately after the death of his brother. On the other hand Keats’ tone in “Ode to Grecian Urn” is very joyful. Here he celebrates the beauty of the Urn, the joyfulness of the lovers and the excitement of the religious sacrifice. He uses the word “happy” several times. More importantly, unlike Nightingale, it is not based on his personal loss. The poem was written after one of his visits to the British museum. Keats is called least romantic of all the romantic poets. He uses all the elements of romantic poetry like imagination, escape, love of the past, enjoyment of beauty, love of picturesque, sensuality, spontaneous expression of feelings, experiment with form and theme, subjectivity, depiction of nature, love of exotic, death wish, simplicity of language and expression. Yet we find great care of a great classic poet in Keats’ poetry. His balance is outstanding. Both odes carry all the qualities of classic art as well as romantic art. It is this blend of romanticism and classicism which makes Keats’s poetry of everlasting appeal. And this blend is nowhere so prominent in Keats’ poetry as we find them in his great odes. This is the reason that critics say that Keats’ odes were enough for his greatness.
KEATS’ NEGATIVE CAPABILITY Negative Capability was first used by John Keats in 1818 to explain a capacity that negates intellectual pursuit of mysterious answers. The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile its contradictory aspects or understand them through reason. Keats wants to find beauty in what is an ugly world. In a letter to his brothers, George and Thomas Keats, on 21 December 1817, Keats used the phrase Negative Capability for the only time. “… at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” What does Keats mean by ‘Negative Capability’? Actually he is using the word ‘negative’ not in a negative sense, but to convey the idea that a person’s potential can be defined by what he or she does not possess. According to Keats, poetry should be the result of a poet’s Negative Capability which means to be capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries or doubts and to be free of “any irritable reaching out after fact and reason.” Such a position put Keats at the forefront of the Romantic movement, and even at the cusp of modernism. Through the example of Coleridge, Keats himself has explained the meaning of his statement. “Coleridge, for instance … being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge, … that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration.” Stephen Hebron comments on the remarks of Keats about Coleridge: “Essential to literary achievement is a certain passivity, a willingness to let what is mysterious or doubtful remain just that. Coleridge would do well to break off from his relentless search for knowledge, and instead contemplate something beautiful and true from the most secret part of mystery. The experience and intuitive appreciation of the beautiful is central to poetic talent, and renders irrelevant anything that is arrived at through reason.” So the Negative Capability is the willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity . Keats wants to accept the every aspect of world from disappointment and disgust to exaltation and serenity. He condemns Coleridge for searching for a single, higher-order truth or solution to the mysteries of the natural world. He went on to find the same fault in Dilke and Wordsworth. He claimed that all these poets lacked objectivity and universality in their view of the human condition and the natural world. The origin of the term is unknown, but some scholars have claimed that Keats was influenced in his studies of medicine and chemistry, and that it refers to the negative pole of an electric current which is passive and receptive. In the same way that the negative pole receives the current from the positive pole, the poet receives impulses from a world that is full of mystery and doubt, which cannot be explained but which the poet can translate into art. This concept of Negative Capability is a rejection of set philosophies of nature. Keats says that the poet must be receptive rather than searching for fact or reason, and to not seek absolute knowledge of every truth, mystery, Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara or doubt. The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. In order to create true poetry, one had to be able to remain in state of conflict without 'irritably' reaching after facts or reasons. The poet should not impose himself upon the doubts and uncertainties which make up a conflict. This concept of Negative Capability is closely related to Keats’ concept of beauty and truth. The inspirational power of beauty is more important than the quest for objective fact; as he writes in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Negative Capability is not just denying the need for correct answers, but denying humanity’s ability to fully understand any kind of phenomena. In other words, Keats says that for some things, those correct answers might not be available. In fact, they might not exist at all. Keats was seen as rejecting the Enlightenment’s attempts to rationalize nature, and by doing so, he ended up at the forefront of the Romantic Movement. Keats thinks that a poet is succeeded if he is able to share with his readers what he has experienced. He should inspire the reader to such an extent that the reader blindly starts following the poet and forgets his miseries. It is the duty of the poet to remove his ego from his work. He says, “A poet is the most unpoetical of anything because he has no identity.” In ‘Ode to a Nightimgale’, we see that Keats is himself the victim of “drowsy numbness” but he comes out of himself to enter into the ecstasy of the nightingale’s song. He becomes, “Too happy in thine happiness.” In ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, Keats is fully aware of the temporariness of human life. But he even takes joy in ‘unheard melodies’ because: “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter.” The finest example of Keats’ Negative Capability is to be found in ‘Ode to Autumn’. Almost all the literary tradition holds this season to be a symbol of decay and decline. Whereas Keats sees it as a “season of mellow fruitfulness”. The cruel fact of winter is not forgotten. Rather it is placed in wider perspective and thus loses its destructive effects. This is how he arrives his concept of truth and beauty through the medium of Negative Capability. This discussion on Keats’s Negative Capability can be concluded well with the remarks of a critic, Allen Somervell: “The excellence ofevery art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with beauty and truth.”
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ESCAPISM OF KEATS CONTRAST BETWEEN REALITY AND IMAGINATION
CONTRAST BETWEEN ART AND REALITY “Keats’ poetry puts man’s mind exactly where it should be – on a delicate balance, below which it cannot descend; beyond where it has no will to rise.” In the light of this statement, critically evaluate Keats’s odes. (2005) The sharp contrast between the desire for beauty and awareness of pain makes Keats’ odes dramatic. Discuss. (2006) How does the dramatic spirit express itself in the odes of Keats? (2013) Keats’ odes reflect his constraint vision. The poems show the poet trying to resolve the conflict between happiness and melancholy, flux and stasis, art and life, life and death with a brilliant artistic force. (2013 Sup) The odes of Keats deal basically with some of the conflicts and inner struggles that troubled him. These conflicts give to his odes a dramatic quality. The odes of Keats are dramatic in the sense that they arise from certain basic conflicts and are based on certain contrasts. The chief conflict is between the real world and the ideal world. They also imply the opposition between pleasure and pain, imagination and reason, permanence and transitoriness, Nature and the human beings, art and life, freedom and bondage waking and dream. This sharp contrast between the desire for beauty and awareness of pain makes Keats’ odes dramatic. Keats is often called and ‘escapist’ because of his escaping tendency from the real world to an imaginative world. When does Keats think of escaping from the reality of his life? Is there any particular time? – Yes. Keats’ life-long creed is ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’ (Endymion). Unlike other romantic poets, he does not make his poetry a vehicle of any prophecy or message. It has no moral, political and social significance. The major characteristic of his poetry is an unending pursuit of beauty. He had no interest in the world outside. Stopford Brook says, “Keats was so pre-occupied with beauty that he turned an blind eye to the actualities of life around him.”
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THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara Experiencing the bitter realities of life, wherever he sees some beautiful pictures whether depicted on an ‘Urn’ or hears the song of a ‘Nightingale’, he tries to fly to an ideal world of happiness, beauty, music and imagination forgetting his reality in the world. For example, having seen a beautiful Grecian Urn in the British Museum, he forgets his position; even he talks with the pictures depicted on the Urn; “Ah, happy, happy boughs that cannot shed Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu.” Again, having heard the song of a nightingale, his senses begin to loose in excessive joy as if he has drunk hemlock. As a result, he says, “One minute past, and lathe-wards had sunk.” How does Keats escape from reality? What is his medium or transport? Keats’ own words give answer to these questions: “Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards But on the viewless wings of poesy.” Keats’ escape is from his real life to an imaginative and ideal world. But why is this escape? Because, according to Keats, reality of human life is full of suffering, pain etc; this world is not a desirable place. ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is an excellent example of Keats’ escapism in his poetry. He has summed up his individual as well as common sufferings of life in the following lines of stanza 11 of the poem ‘Ode to a Nightingale’: “The weariness, the fever, and the fret …………………………………………………….. Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin and dies; Where but to think is to be full of sorrow ………………………………………………………… Where beauty can not keep her lustrous eyes.” Here he considers that life is full of misery, sorrow and disease, of tiring struggle, of restlessness and pain; that old men’s life is helpless and pitiful, that even the young are dying of terrible disease; that beauty is short-lived; that one’s love for another does not last long. Therefore, we see that Keats is so disgusted with the real life that he always tries to escape from it. This is the view of reality by Keats. But Keats’ world of imagination remains only a short while. In his imagination, the moments of pure happiness do not last long; he is to come back to this world again. When he thinks that the Urn and the song of the nightingale will remain for ages but he will not, rather he is ‘forlorn’, he comes back to reality. He says in the last stanza of ‘Ode to a Nightingale’: “Forlorn! The very would is like a bell To toll me back from thee to my sole self”. The word ‘forlorn’ reminds him his position in ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret’, like the alarm clocks of our clocks that turn us from our dreamy sleep to the world of bitter reality. He calls his imaginative escape ‘fancy’, ‘deceiving elf’. Keats is always trying to escape to the world of imagination, the world of beauty and perfection, such as, the world of the Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara nightingale or the Grecian urn. But this escape is always obstructed by a painful realization of the bitter realities of life. Almost all the great odes of Keats reveal this conflict. Keats’ odes reflect his constraint vision. The poems show his trying to resolve the conflict between happiness and melancholy, flux and stasis, art and life, life and death with a brilliant artistic force. The Grecian Urn as a piece of Greek art, very much like the Nightingale, has a monumental value. It is immortal because it is a substitute for the miserable world of reality. The Urn will always give this message to man, “Beauty is truth – truth beauty.” Keats knows the limitation of his imaginative escape to world of things like the Urn or the Nightingale. He realizes that the speechless Urn will remain ‘forlorn’ like the Nightingale. Thus he comes back on the hard crust of earth on which every man lives. To conclude, we can claim unhesitatingly that Keats, after escaping into the world of beauty and permanence, finds himself compelled to return to the real world of impermanence and suffering. He derives the conclusion that true beauty consists not in an escape from this world but in an acceptance of it. We can sum up this discussion with the concise statement of a critic: “Keats’ poetry puts man’s mind exactly where it should be – on a delicate balance, below which it cannot descend; beyond where it has no will to rise.”
KEATS’ AS A ROMANTIC/PURE POET KEATS AS A POET OF BEAUTY/NATURE The overwhelming passion and theme of Keats’ poetry is beauty. He pursues and loves the principle of beauty in all the things of Nature. Hence, among all the romantic poets, he is the pure poet. It is because he is neither a teacher, nor a preacher, nor a reformer, nor a carrier of any message of humanitarianism or spiritualism. Middleton Murry says, “Keats had the persistent capacity to see and to feel what life is. That’s why, he equally loved both foul and fair, joy and sorrow, mean and noble alike.” Keats is not only a pure poet but a pure romantic as well. As a romantic poet, he was greatly inspired by the Greek art and culture. He was also inspired by the Elizabethans, especially Spenser. Keats is a true romantic poet and makes poetry an instrument for the expression of his personal and emotional feelings. His poetry has no didacticism (moral teachings) like Wordsworth neither it has revolutionist approach like Shelley. Riddley Scott says, “Keats feels the impression of beauty on his pulses and breathes it into poetry.” Keats romanticizes beauty in various aspects of life. Thus, the pursuit of beauty becomes his life-long creed. He reaches at the reality of things through the medium of beauty. In this context, Compton Rickett says, Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara “Keats had no religion save the religion of beauty.” As a pure poet, the dominant theme of all Keats’ poems is beauty. Unlike the other romantic poets of his age, he did not take notice of the social, political and literary turmoil but devoted himself entirely to the worship of beauty. He himself says, “With a great poet, the sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration.” A pure poet feels and expresses his joy in beauty, but when he feels this joy, he realizes also a new aspect of beauty, which is truth. In this identity of beauty and truth, lies the harmony of universe. Keats realizes this harmony when he says; “Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that’s all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Love for nature is the chief characteristic of all the romantic and pure poets. Keats also loves nature but he loves nature for the sake of nature. He does not give any theory or ideology about nature. He only admires the beauty of nature. But on the other hand, Wordsworth spiritualizes nature, Coleridge finds some supernatural elements in nature, Shelley intellectualizes nature and Byron is interested in the vigorous aspects of nature. Keats was a pure poet as he does not project any theory in his poetry. He believes in Negative Capability. Negative Capability is the willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity. Keats wants to accept the every aspect of world from disappointment and disgust to exaltation and serenity. So most of Keats’ poetry is devoted to love, pathos, disappointment in love, and loss of beauty and joy. Where is then beauty in life? Actually he realizes the truth of life after passing through his agonies. Pain and suffering cannot be divorced from joy as they together make up life just like day and night together make up time. “Wordsworth and Shelley both had theories but Keats has none. We cannot accuse Keats of any withdrawal or refusal; he was merely about his business and his business was that of a pure poet.” A very significant element which one finds in Keats’ poetry, and in other romantics, is more or less a desire for escape. Romantic poetry presents the world of dreams and imagination; therefore, the romantic poets seek an escape from the hard realities of life in the world of imagination. As Keats says in ‘Ode to a Nighingale’: “Away! Away! For I will fly to thee, Bot charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of poesy.”
Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090
THE ACCESS ACADEMY, Nawab Colony, Okara Keats was extra ordinarily endowed with the native ability of feeling acutely with senses like Shakespeare and Milton. All his five senses react quickly to the beauties of external world. Thus sense impression of these beauties is transmitted into poetry by his imagination. In ‘Ode to Autumn’, he describes the sensuous beauty of the season but his tone is of joy mixed with solemnity of thought. Keats poetry reveals the sensuous aspect of his love for beauty. His expression of beauty is not only sensuous but also romantic. The poem ‘Endymion’ begin with the utterance of romantic poetry. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever, Its loveliness increases, it will never pass into nothingness.” Keats saw that life was full of pains, sufferings and melancholy. Even he himself was a prey to pain and disease. His poetry is coloured with melancholy. In ‘Ode to a Nighingale’, there is poignant note of melancholy when he says, “Where but to think is to be full of sorrow And laden-eyed despairs; Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes; Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.” Concluding it, Keats possesses the qualities of a romantic and pure poet who loves nature, which is seen by him with Greek temper. He never thinks about past and future and his only concern is the present time; the present moment of beauty and truth. In his early poetry, one can perceive him as an escapist because there was joy and delight and overcharged imagination because of inexperience youth. But with gradual development of thought and experience, he comes to the conclusion that sorrows and joys are always together; rose cannot be taken without its thrones. One can clearly sees in his Odes that he is not an escapist but he is accepting the realities of life. Tennyson says, “There is something of the innermost soul of poetry in almost everything he wrote.”
Lectured by: MUHAMMAD MUSSAWAR (M.A English; Diploma in TEFL) 03317494090