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Keats and Imagination

Keats and Imagination

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John Keats, "Eve of St. Agnes"
John Keats, "Eve of St. Agnes"

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Published by: api-3703506 on Oct 18, 2008
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03/18/2014

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Gloria Lloyd
English 210
February 14, 2005

Sarah Alexander
Madeline\u2019s Dream Becomes Reality

In Keats\u2019 letter from November 22, 1817, Keats theorizes that imagination can
connect a dreamer to the ideal world that existed before the fall of man: \u201cThe
Imagination may be compared to Adam\u2019s dream\u2014he awoke and found it truth.\u201d
Imagination is so powerful that it can make a dream become reality, as it does in Keats\u2019
poem \u201cThe Eve of St. Agnes.\u201d Madeline wakes up from her dream in \u201cEve of St. Agnes\u201d
to find that her dream of her lover Porphyro has manifested into a \u201cvision\u201d of reality, in
her bedroom. In his letter, Keats implies that \u201cImagination\u201d is more powerful than the
most powerful thing many of us possess\u2014reality itself. Madeline wanted to be with
Porphyro, dreamed about him, and the \u201cwish\u201d came true. In this poem, there exists no
greater power than Madeline\u2019s own imagination\u2014when she, indeed, \u201cawoke and found it
truth.\u201d

Keats expressed his view of the imagination in this way:

\u201cI am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's
affections and the truth of the Imagination--what the imagination
seizes as Beauty must be Truth--whether it existed before or not...
The imagination my be compared to Adam's dream--he awoke and
found it truth.\u201d

In this statement, Keats lavishes praise on the power of the imagination to
transform our everyday lives from the mundane to the extraordinary. Madeline\u2019s dream
in \u201cThe Eve of St. Agnes\u201d does indeed elaborate on Keats\u2019 claim that the imagination is
wrought with powers that reality is not. In the poem, Madeline dreams of her beloved,
Porphyro, and then grapples with the fact that the dream has become her reality once she

awakens. As this occurs, the poem celebrates the ways that the power of imagination can
conquer both love and death. Madeline follows Keats\u2019 visions of imagination by first
falling into an enchantment, then waking to a different reality, and then accepting her
original enchantment as her new reality.

The significance that Madeline\u2019s vision wields over her is elaborated on in these
lines describing her dream state-- \u201c\u2019twas a midnight charm/ Impossible to melt as iced
stream\u2026 It seem\u2019d he never, never could redeem/ From such a steadfast spell his lady\u2019s
eyes\u201d (282-7). It is as if Madeline has been cast into a trance, from which she will never
wake up. \u201cHoodwink\u2019d with faery fancy,\u201d she sees a vision of Porphyro coming to her in
her dream (70). If something is \u201choodwink\u2019d,\u201d the implication is that it is tricked into
compliance\u2014whether Porphyro tricked Madeline or not, she is undoubtedly in an altered
state of consciousness, creativity and imagination throughout the stanzas of the poem. As
Porphyro approaches Madeline\u2019s bed, an allusion is made to the paradise of Milton\u2019s

Paradise Lost, which of course found Adam and Eve falling into sin after eating the apple

from the Tree of Knowledge. Keats made his great statement on the imagination in
relation to Adam\u2019s dream\u2014which occurred in paradise. Since Madeline\u2019s bedroom is
also portrayed as a paradise, the opportunity exists now for her also to \u201cawake and find
truth.\u201d

In stanza 35, Madeline laments the appearance of the earthbound Porphyro, as
opposed to the heroic lover of her dreams: \u201cHow chang\u2019d thou art! How pallid, chill, and
drear!\u201d she exclaims. The fact that the very same Porphyro seemed so much better in
Madeline\u2019s dream, rather than in her actual bedroom, points to the power the creative
imagination can exert over one\u2019s mind\u2014Madeline knows exactly what Porphyro looks

like, but somehow, in her dreams she conjured a new, improved version. The real
Porphyro could never serve to compare to the one of Madeline\u2019s vision. She exclaims,
\u201cGive me that voice again, my Porphyro,/ Those looks immortal, those complainings
dear!/ Oh leave me not in this eternal woe\u201d (312-14). Again, the power of Madeline\u2019s
dreams is such that she believes the dream more than the reality presented to her\u2014and
believes that anything less than the dream will result in \u201ceternal woe.\u201d However, she
soon grows to believe that the Porphyro with her now is also the Porphyro she met in her
dreams\u2014as Keats said, \u201cwhat the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth.\u201d The idea
of the Porphyro with her in her dream is so overwhelmingly beautiful to Madeline, and
the alternative so woeful, that she soon accepts that the dreaded, real image corresponds
with the image she cherishes in her mind of her lover.

After Madeline accepts that this Porphyro is the real Porphyro, they consummate
their love. Keats writes of the moment, \u201cInto her dream he melted, as the rose/ Blendeth
its odour with the violet,--/ Solution sweet\u201d (320-2). The dreaming imagery is present
even as the most important event of Madeline and Porphyro\u2019s relationship commences.
With this act, the imagination of Madeline\u2014her vision of Porphyro as her lover\u2014
collapses into the reality of Porphyro, who is no longer just standing beside her bed but
becoming part of her. In this way, the real and imaginative realms, the physical and the
spiritual aspects of their relationship, are united in Madeline\u2019s imagination, and their act
of lovemaking is enriched by both these worlds.

As Madeline awakens from the imagery of her deflowering, her regained
reasoning begins to question Porphyro\u2019s presence in her bedroom. After the \u201cmoon hath
set\u201d (324) on Madeline\u2019s virginity, Porphyro reminds her, \u201c\u2019This is no dream, my bride,

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