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John Keats

John Keats

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Published by AbdulRehman
A study guide to John Keats.Critical analysis of Keats poetry. Helpful for M.A English students.Keats as romantic poet.Keats as sensual poet. Sensuality in Keats' poems.
A study guide to John Keats.Critical analysis of Keats poetry. Helpful for M.A English students.Keats as romantic poet.Keats as sensual poet. Sensuality in Keats' poems.

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Published by: AbdulRehman on Sep 26, 2009
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Keats was much impressed by Spencer and was a passionate lover of beauty in all its forms. His aestheticism consistsof his passion for beauty. Beauty was his polar-star, beauty in Nature, in woman, and in art. He writes and identifiesbeauty with truth that “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”. Keats is very much associated with love of beauty in theordinary sense of the term. He was the most passionate lover of the world as the carrier of beautiful images and of the many imaginative associations of an objector word with whatever might give it a heightened emotional appeal.According to Keats, poetry should be the embodiment of beauty, not a medium for the expression of religious orsocial philosophy.For Keats, the world of beauty was an escape from the dull, gloomy and painful effects of ordinary experience. Heescaped from the political and social problems of the world into the realm of imagination. Unlike Wordsworth,Coleridge, Byron and Shelley, he remained absolutely untouched by revolutionary theories for the regeneration of mankind. His poems, such as, the “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Hyperion”, show an increasing interest in humanity andhuman problems, and if he had lived, he would have established a closer contact with reality. So, he may not whollybe termed as a poet of escape. He uses poetry not as an instrument of social revolt, but for the expression of beauty.The famous opening line of Endymion--- ‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever’--- strikes the key-note of his work. As themodern world seemed to him to be hard, cold and lacking imagination, he habitually sought an imaginative escapefrom it. But, this escape was not like Shelley into the future land of promise, but into the past Greek mythology, as inEndymion, Lamia and Hyperion, or of medieval romances, as in “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Isabella and “La Belle DameSans Merci”. In his treatment of Nature, this same passion for sensuous beauty is still the dominant feature. He lovedNature just for its own sake and for the glory and loveliness which he everywhere found in it, and no modern poet hasever been nearer than he was to the simple “Poetry of earth”. For him, there was nothing mystical in love, and Naturewas never full for him, as for Wordsworth and Shelley, with spiritual messages and meanings.Keats was not only the last but also the most perfect of the romanticists. While Scott was merely telling stories, andWordsworth reforming poetry or upholding the moral law, and Shelley advocating impossible reforms, and Byronvoicing his own egoism and the political discontent of the times, Keats lived apart from men and from all politicalmeasures, worshipping beauty like a devotee, perfectly content to write what was in his own heart or to reflect somesplendor of the natural world as he saw or dreamed it to be. He had the novel idea that poetry exists for its own sakeand suffers a loss by being devoted to philosophy or politics.Disinterested love of beauty is one of the great qualities of Keats that distinguished him from his contemporaries. Hegrasped the essential oneness of beauty and truth. His creed did not mean beauty of form alone. His ideal was theGreek ideal of beauty inward and outward, the perfect soul of verse as well as the perfect from. And because he heldthis ideal, he was free from the wish to preach.Love, for him was a bed of roses into which one sinks with a delicious sense of release from pain, responsibility andmoral inhibition. He tried his best, in his long fantasy of Endymion, to rise above the notion of love as the “merecommingling of passionate breath” and to depict love as “a sort of oneness, “a fellowship with essence”.According to Cazamian, the aestheticism of Keats has also an intellectual side. No one has ever reaped such a harvestof thoughts out of the suggestions which life had to offer. Through reading, and a thirst for knowledge, he becameacquainted with Greece, paganism and ancient art. From all these elements, Keats built for himself a personal store of reflections and ideas. Religion for him took definite shape in the adoration of the beautiful, an adoration which hedeveloped into a doctrine. Beauty is the supreme Truth. This idealism assumes a note of mysticism.
Shelley expressed the opinion that “Keats was Greek”. Indeed, Keats was unmistaken ably a representative of Greekthought, in a sense in which Wordsworth and Coleridge and even Shelley were not. The Greek spirit came to Keatsthrough literature, through sculpture and through an innate tendency and he gave his best under the Hellenicinfluence.The inborn temperamental Greekness of Keats’s mind is to be seen in his love of beauty. To him, as the Greeks, theexpression of beauty is the ideal of all art. And for him, as for them, beauty is not exclusively material nor spiritual,nor intellectual, but is the fullest development of all that goes to make up human perfection.Keats is a Greek, too, in his manner of personifying the forces of Nature. His “Autumn” is a divinity in human shape:she does all kinds of work, and directs every operation of harvest. This is a typical attitude of the Greek. The “Pan” of Greek myth was more than half human. Whoever wandered into the lonely places of the woods might expect to hearhis pipe or even to see his face. And the Pan of Keats’s ode is half-human too, as he sits by the riverside or wanders inthe evenings in the meadows. Keats has devised to talk about the gods much as they might have been supposed tospeak. The world of Greek paganism lives again in his verse, with all its frank sensuousness and joy of life, and with allmysticism. Keats looks back and lives again in the timeTowards the creation of Greek mythology, Keats was attracted by an overmastering delight in their beauty, and anatural sympathy with the phase of imagination that created them. He possessed the Greek instinct for personifyingthe powers of Nature in clearly defined imaginary shapes blessed with human beauty and half human faculties.Especially, he shows himself possessed and fancy-bound by the mythology, as well as by the physical enchantment of the moon, as shown in Endymion. It shows Keats’s love for symbolical beauty.Greek myth and to smaller extent Greek art and literature, provide either his main themes or numerous illusions.Classical myth had been a very rich element in Renaissance poetry from Spencer to Milton, but had been infected byAugustan rationalism. It revived with the romantic religion of Nature and the imagination. Wordsworth’s sonnet,“The world is Too Much With Us” shows the attraction of classical myth for Wordsworth. Keats’s “Sleep and Poetry”contains echoes of Wordsworth’s sonnet.Keats had no first hand knowledge of Greek literature. He derived his knowledge of the Greek classics fromtranslations and books of reference. But, Keats has his limitations as a Greek. He does not write of Greek things in aGreek manner. The rooted artistic instincts of the Greeks were absent from Keats’s nature and temperament. He didnot have the Greek instinct of selection and simplification. He did not have the capacity to deal with his material insuch a way that the main masses might stand out confused, in just proportions and with outlines perfectly clear.Though Keats sees the Greek world from afar, he sees it truly. The Greek touch is not his, but in his own rich anddecorated English way he writes with a sure insight into the vital meaning of Greek ideas. For the story of the war of Titans and Olympians he had nothing to guide him except the information that he got from classical dictionaries. Inconceiving and animating the huge shapes of early gods, Keats shows a masterly instinct. This is clear from his choiceof comparisons, drawn from the vast sounds of Nature, by which he seeks to make us realize their voices.
Written and Composed by:Prof. A. R. SomrooM.A. English, M.A. EducationCell Phone: 03339971417
Keats’s sentiment of Nature is simpler than that of the other romantics. He remains absolutely uninfluenced by thepantheism of Wordsworth and Shelley, and loves Nature not because of any spiritual significance in her but chieflybecause of her external charm and beauty. In Keats, the sentiment of Nature was simpler, more direct and moredisinterested than Wordsworth and Shelley. It was his instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake,and less for the sake of the sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and ambitions.He was gifted with a delighted insight into all the beauties of woods and fields. Keats is the poet of the senses, and heloves Nature because of her sensuous appeal, her appeal to the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, the sense of smell, the sense of touch. He loves flowers because of their beauty of colour, fragrant smell, and softness. He lovesthe streams because of their music. He loves the snow, the moon and rainbow for their visual loveliness.There is enough simple evidence of his love for Nature for Nature’s own sake in Keats first volume of poems. In “IStood Tiptoe” we have several Nature-pictures showing Keats’s delight in the beauties of Nature. For instance, in thefollowing lines:“The clouds were pure and white as flocks new-shorn,And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept”This beautiful picture of the white clouds sleeping on the blue fields of heaven is followed by the other pictures of Nature:“A bush of May-flowers with the bees about them;Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them…”This picture of the May-flowers, the long grass, the violets, etc., has an obvious sensuous appeal.Keats’s observation of Nature is very keen and nothing escapes it. In most of his poems we have Nature-descriptionfor its own sake, “expressive of nothing but a keen delight and genuine joy in Nature”. His Nature-pictures aredetailed and clear. It is for this reason that he is generally regarded as a precursor of the Tennysonian school of Nature.In the “Ode to a Nightingale” we have a couple of remarkable Nature-pictures showing Keats’s delight in the purelysensuous appeal of Nature. One is the picture of the moon shining in the sky while there is darkness on the grassyfloor of the forest:“And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,Cluster’d around by her starry fays…”In the “Ode to Psyche”, we again have a couple of superb picture of Nature. Cupid and Psyche are seen lying side byside. This is one of the best Nature-pictures in Keats’s poetry. We have the deep grass below and blossoms up on thebranches of trees, there is a Brooklet close by. It is a most inviting picture.Keats was one of the supreme poets of Nature. To Wordsworth, Nature is living with power to influence man for goodor ill. Keats neither gives a moral life of Nature, nor attempts to pass beyond her familiar expressions. Sidney Colvinobserves: Keats’s character as a poet of Nature begins directly to declare itself in his first volume. He differs by it alikefrom Wordsworth and Shelley. Wordsworth interpreted Nature by his soul. For Shelley, natural beauty wassymbolical in a two-fold sense. In Keats, the sentiment of Nature was simpler than in Wordsworth and Shelley. It washis instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of sympathy which the humanmind can read into her with its own workings and ambitions. He was gifted with a delighted insight into all thebeauties of the woods and fields.

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