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SELECTED POEMS

&
Hyperion book I

John Keats
(1795-1821)

“The humming of the bee, the sight of a


flower, the glitter of the sun, seemed to
make his nature tremble, then his eyes
flashed, his cheeks glowed and his mouth
quivered.”
Hayden (a friend of Keats)

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LIFE AND WORKS OF JHON KEATS
John Keats was born on 31 October 1795, the eldest son of Thomas and Frances
Keats: his brother George, was born in 1797, Tom was born in 1799 and his sister Fanny
(Frances Mary), in 1803. Thomas Keats was the head ostler at his father-in-law's livery
stables, the Swan and Hoop at Moor fields (now Moorgate), Finsbury, on the edge of the
City of London. He died on 16 April 1804 after falling from his horse, and just one year
later Keats lost his grandfather John Jennings, with whom he had been living since his
mother's remarriage. Five years later, Keats mother died from tuberculosis, a disease that
was to kill one of Keats brothers and the poet himself. Provision had been made for the
children, but the trustee Richard Abbey, proved reluctant to release funds, which, when
combined with legal wrangling, resulted in financial difficulties for Keats and his
siblings. Keats complained of “bill pestilence” and at times feared Debtor's prison:
“A few days ago we had but a few shillings left. [...] I have been in fear of
Winchester Jail for some time”.
Another problem facing Keats was his status in society. In a recent biography of
Keats, Andrew Motion states: “Keats was unsure whether he was climbing out of the
working class, or likely to slip at any moment from the lower rungs of the middle class.”
The introduction to Walter Jackson Bate's landmark biography of 1963 similarly
highlights the “handicaps or restrictions” that hampered Keats. Bate wonders how Keats
was able to achieve so much given his distinct lack of advantages, especially with regards
to education. Keats did, however, attend the Rev. John Clarke's school at Enfield for eight
years. Initially lessons held little interest for Keats's lively disposition, but by the end of
his time at Enfield he had won a number of prizes. Even though Keats left Enfield in the
summer of 1811 as an apprentice to Thomas Hammond, a surgeon in Edmonton, he
frequently returned to the school to discuss literature with the headmaster's son, Charles
Cowden Clarke. In a verse-letter of September 1817, Keats wrote of his school friend:
“You first taught me all the sweets of song”. An example of how influential Clarke was
in the early period of Keats's life is the composition of “On First Looking into Chapman's
Homer”; one night Clarke showed his friend Chapman's translation of Homer's Odyssey,
and the next day Keats rose at dawn to write the famous sonnet.
“On First Looking into Chapman's Homer” was published a few months later in
Leigh Hunt's The Examiner. Keats had become familiar with the radical paper at the
liberal school in Enfield, and his sonnet, “Written on the Day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left
prison”, marked the poet's release after being imprisoned for libelling the Prince Regent.
Clarke had initially introduced the two men, and Keats prophesied that meeting Hunt
“will be an era in my existence”. Hunt was a vigorous supporter of young poets, and his
high opinion of Keats's poetry is evident in the final couplet of his sonnet “To John
Keats”: “I see even now,/ Young Keats, a flowering laurel on your brow.” Keats
regularly visited Hunt's home in Hampstead and wrote of this time: “For I am brimful of
the friendliness/ That in a little cottage I have found”. During this period, Keats met
most of his future circle, including Benjamin Robert Haydon, Benjamin Bailey, Charles
Brown and John Hamilton Reynolds. Some of these acquaintances proved advantageous
in terms of connections: through Hunt, Keats was introduced to Percy Shelley and the
essayist William Hazlitt, while Haydon, who compared “Keats's genius” to
Wordsworth's, introduced the two poets. When Haydon sent a copy of the sonnet, “Great
Spirits now on Earth are sojourning” to Wordsworth, Keats expressed his regard for the
older poet: “the very idea of your sending this to Wordsworth puts me out of breath: you
know with what reverence I would send my well-wishes to him”. Wordsworth praised
the sonnet as “vigorously conceived and well expressed”, but was later to dismiss Keats's
“Hymn to Pan” (from Endymion) as “A Very pretty piece of Paganism”. It was, however,

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a close group of companions who supported Keats throughout his life. Bailey wrote to
the Oxford Herald, championing Keats's poetry as “the richest promise I ever saw of an
ethereal imagination maintained by vast intellectual power”, while Reynolds
remembered Keats as “the most loveable associate, – the deepest Listener to the grief’s
and disappointments of all around him”, who also had “the greatest power of poetry in
him, of any one since Shakespeare”.
Keats exclaimed with enthusiasm: “What a time! I am continually running away
from the subject”. This receptive period culminated on 3 March 1817 with the publication
of a volume of verse entitled Poems. Keats's friends recognised the potential in this work,
but the volume elicited little response from the reviewers. The publishers of Poems,
Charles and James Ollier, were unimpressed by its poor reception, and declined any
further connection with the young poet. Keats himself acknowledged the immaturity of
the volume and fixed on the idea of proving himself by writing an epic poem. Keats
conceived Endymion as “a test, a trial of my Powers of Imagination and chiefly of my
invention”. Keats felt the discrepancy between his vision of poetry and his competency
with the craft: “the idea has grown so monstrously beyond my seeming power of
attainment”. In tracing the changing fortunes of the shepherd king of Greek legend from
hero to dejected lover, Keats subjects himself to the trials of poet hood. The question he
recalls to Hunt – “I have asked myself so often why I should be a Poet more than other
men” – is echoed throughout Endymion:
“And thoughts of self came on, and how crude and sore
The journey homeward to habitual self!
O 'tis a very sin
For one so weak to venture his poor verse,”
The poem does, however, progress through seasons of growth, albeit tentative,
towards the promise of a harvest: “all the good I expect from my employment this
summer is the fruit of Experience which I hope to gather in my next Poem”.
Endymion was published in April 1818 by John Taylor and James Hessey. Whereas
Poems elicited few or generally favourable responses (the Monthly Magazine praised “a
rapturous glow and intoxication of the fancy”), Endymion was the subject of scorn. The
poem itself was deemed to be the “gross slang of voluptuousness”, but the worst attacks
were aimed at Keats's “Upstart” pretensions and his involvement with Hunt (to whom
he had dedicated Poems). The Tory reviewers objected to the “vulgarity” of Hunt's verse,
and John Wilson Croker, writing for the Quarterly Review, complained that Keats was
merely “a copyist of Mr. Hunt”. In attempting to defend Endymion, Taylor wrote to the
poet John Clare (for whom he also acted as publisher): “it has been thought necessary in
the leading Review, the Quarterly, to damn his [poetry] for imputed political Opinions –
Damn them who could act in so cruel a way to a young man of undoubted Genius”. It
was, however, Keats's “lowly” origins that attracted the most scathing criticism; writing
for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, John Gibson Lockhart not only mocked the
“Cockney rhymes” of Poems and Endymion, but also ridiculed Keats's medical training
(after studying at Guy's Hospital in London, he was eligible to practise as an apothecary,
physician or surgeon): “It is a better and a wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a
starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John, back to 'plasters, pills, and ointment boxes'”.
Such condescension was not limited to the Tory reviewers. While Byron took exception
to “Johnny Keats’ p-ss a bed poetry”, his disdain for “that dirty little blackguard”
conveys distinct class connotations; similarly, Walter Scott castigated Keats’ “insulting”
aspirations.
Keats responded to the criticism of his experimental poem with apparent
equanimity: “This is a mere matter of the moment – I think I shall be among the English
Poets after my death.” The impact of these attacks has often been exaggerated, largely
due to Shelley's version of events in his elegy to Keats, “Adonias” (1821). Shelley exacted

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revenge on the critics of his own poetry and vindicated his advice to Keats not to publish
“first blights”, by claiming that Keats was killed by harsh reviews. After hearing this
story of Keats's demise from Shelley, Byron further established the myth of a delicate
poet in Don Juan: “Tis strange the mind, that fiery particle,/ Should let itself be snuffed
out by an Article”. The reviews were, for the most part, scathing, yet Croker also
applauded Keats's “real power of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius”; and,
feeling guilty about his abuse of the poet to critique the so-called “Cockney School”,
Lockhart wrote: “I have been tempted to say something kind of Mr Keats in Blackwood's
Magazine”, and goes on to commend him as “a fine lad of feeling”.
While Keats was flexing his poetic muscles in Endymion, he was also writing some
of the letters that would become as famous as his most celebrated poems. In December
1817 Keats wrote to his brothers: “Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of
being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and
reason”. Just a week after he coined the term “negative capability”, Keats attended
Haydon's “Immortal Dinner” where he discussed with Wordsworth how Newton had
destroyed all the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to the prismatic colours. This view
is reiterated in his poem “Lamia”, when the illusion of beauty is shattered by an old sage:
“Do not all charms fly/ At the mere touch of cold philosophy?” Keats believed that art
and literature were not subject to the ordinary standards of evidence and truth, an
ideology outlined in the enigmatic ending of “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: “' Beauty is truth,
truth beauty,' – that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Keats did not, however, devote all his energies to literature during this period. Due
to advances made by his publishers and the release of a substantial sum of money from
Abbey, Keats was able to travel. After a walking tour of the Lake District, northern
England and Scotland with his friend Charles Brown, an exhausted Keats returned to
find Tom in a “very dangerous state” with tuberculosis. Keats nursed his brother
through the final weeks of his illness. Tom died on 1 December 1818, and Keats felt the
loss keenly, underlining Edgar's cry of helplessness, “Poor Tom” in King Lear, and later
describing to Brown how his sister “walks about my imagination like a ghost – she is so
like Tom”. An eighteen-year-old girl called Fanny Brawne did, however, provide a
significant distraction. Fanny's mother rented part of Wentworth Place in Hampstead,
where the poet was now living with Brown. Keats referred to Fanny as a spirited “Minx”,
becoming increasingly frustrated with a relationship hampered by a lack of financial
security and increasingly severe periods of ill-health, yet his declarations of love
remained intense: “I cannot exist without you. [...] You have absorb'd me. [...] – I cannot
breathe without you”.
As well as forming a serious attachment to Fanny, 1819 is also referred to as Keats'
“annus mirabilis”. During this year, Keats produced some of his most accomplished and
memorable poems. At the start of 1819, he was already working on the epic “Hyperion”,
which traced the overthrow of the Titans by younger gods, a new generation supplanting
the existing establishment. However, “Hyperion” remained a fragment, and Keats
revised the subject, exchanging a Miltonic influence for that of Dante, in “The Fall of
Hyperion”. After struggling with these poems, Keats exclaimed, “I wish to give myself
up to other sensations”, and whilst visiting the Gothic town of Chichester, wrote the
medieval narratives “The Eve of St Agnes” and “The Eve of St Mark”. The significance of
these poems is emphasised by “dialectical description”: rich colours, music and food are
contrasted against images of cold, dark, restraint, and death. In addition, the theme of
youth rebelling against patriarchal authority – also prominent in “Isabella; or, the Pot of
Basil” – appealed to numerous nineteenth-century artists, including William Holman
Hunt, John Everett Millais, Daniel Maclise and Arthur Hughes. The sexual subtext of
Keats's “La Belle Dame sans Merci” similarly enthralled the Victorians; Mario Praz
described the poem as containing in “embryo the whole world of the Pre-Raphaelites and

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the Symbolists”, while William Morris hailed the work as “The germ from which all the
poetry of this group [the Aesthetes] had sprung”. A ballad of some forty-eight lines
recounting the tale of a knight who is stranded on a “cold hill's side” after meeting “a
lady in the meads”, Keats's “La Belle Dame sans Merci” has proved perplexing with
various commentators interpreting the work as a comment on poetic inspiration and the
imagination, the limitations of the romance genre, and the physical act of intercourse.
Feminists have also questioned the traditional perspective of Belle Dame as a femme
fatale by re-examining the knight's position in the text and the narrative voice.
Experimenting with different forms, Keats also wrote the odes in the same year:
“Ode to Psyche”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Melancholy” and “Ode on a Grecian
Urn” were composed at Wentworth Place in the spring of 1819 while “To Autumn” was
written at Winchester in September. Influenced by the reviews of Endymion, Keats wrote
to George and Georgiana, “we must temper the Imagination as the Critics say with
Judgement”, and the form of the ode harnessed the density of Keats's thought and
expression; for example, the “o'er-brimmed” “ripeness” of “To Autumn” is checked by a
tight structure. The tension between form and sensory gratification is the subject of “Ode
on a Grecian Urn”; the moment of fruition is immortalized – “For ever wilt thou love,
and she be fair!” – but the scene remains impenetrable to the mortal poet. Another
prominent theme of the odes is inertia. Even though the poet composed nearly all of his
most celebrated work during this year, periods of industry – often necessitating seclusion
– were followed by bouts of morbid brooding. In “Ode to a Nightingale” Keats courts the
effects of a “dull opiate”, the “drowsy numbness” that leads to the Underworld's river of
forgetfulness, Lethe. In the opening of “Ode on Melancholy” the poet has sunk into a
torpor that must be resisted: “No, no, go not to Lethe”.
A principal factor in Keats' depressive moods was his, and his brother George's,
worsening financial situation. Becoming increasingly dependent on the support of his
friends, the poet turned dramatist, writing the tragedy Otho the Great in collaboration
with Brown, but after initially having the play accepted at Drury lane, it was not
performed during Keats's lifetime. The poet considered a number of more lucrative
occupations, from journalist to ship's surgeon, and Abbey, who had scoffed at his ward's
decision to become a poet, suggested entering the trades of hat-making, tea-brokerage or
bookselling. Keats's last volume, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and other Poems,
was published in July 1820. While preparing the edition, Taylor wrote, “if it does not sell
well, I think nothing will ever sell again”, but Keats was less confident: “My book is
coming out with very low hopes, though not spirits on my part. This shall be my last
trial; not succeeding, I shall try what I can in the Apothecary line.” Keats trepidation was
justified; Taylor was still advertising the first edition eight years later. However, even
though the volume did not sell, critical responses were far more positive. Charles Lamb,
one of the guests at the “Immortal Dinner”, wrote a favourable review of “Isabella” and
“The Eve of St Agnes” in The New Times, and various magazines, including Edinburgh,
New Monthly and London, gave generous praise. In the latter magazine, even Endymion
was commended: “It is the May-day of poetry. [...] It is the sky-lark's hymn to the day-
break, involuntarily gushing forth”.
Unfortunately, Keats was by now too ill to appreciate the upturn in his fortunes.
The poet was “rather unwell” in December 1819, the same month in which he became
engaged to Fanny, and in February of the following year, Keats suffered a severe
haemorrhage and exclaimed: “I know the colour of that blood; – it is arterial blood; [...] –
that drop of blood is my death-warrant; – I must die”. Experiencing further
haemorrhages in the summer, Keats became a feverish and fretful invalid who was
confined to Wentworth Place for long periods. After being advised to avoid another
English winter, Keats and his travelling companion Severn, began an arduous journey to
Italy. In mid-September they set sail on the Maria Crowther and almost immediately

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encountered storms. After suffering a stifling ten day quarantine in Naples, where Keats
“Summoned up more puns, in a sort of desperation, in one week than in any year of my
life”, the two men finally reached Rome and took rooms at no. 26 Piazza di Spagna.
During the long decline from December to February, Severn describes Keats as “dying in
horror”. At 11pm, on 26 February, John Keats died at the age of 25 and was buried in the
Protestant Cemetery at Rome where, three years later, Shelley's ashes would also be
interred. Keats’ tombstone’s inscription is;
"Here lies one whose name was writ on water”

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KEATS AS POET OF ODES
In his short life, John Keats wrote some of the most beautiful and enduring poems
in the English language. Among his greatest achievements is his sequence of six lyric
odes, written between March and September 1819--astonishingly, when Keats was only
twenty-four years old. Keats's poetic achievement is made all the more miraculous by the
age at which it ended: He died barely a year after finishing the ode "To Autumn," in
February 1821.
In Hampstead, he fell in love with a young girl named Fanny Brawne. During this
time, Keats began to experience the extraordinary creative inspiration that enabled him
to write, at a frantic rate, all his best poems in the time before he died. His health and his
finances declined sharply, and he set off for Italy in the Summer of 1820, hoping the
warmer climate might restore his health. He never returned home. His death brought to
an untimely end one of the most extraordinary poetic careers of the nineteenth century--
indeed, one of the most extraordinary poetic careers of all time. Keats never achieved
widespread recognition for his work in his own life (his bitter request for his tombstone:
"Here lies one whose name was writ on water"), but he was sustained by a deep inner
confidence in his own ability. Shortly before his death, he remarked that he believed he
would be among "the English poets" when he had died.
Keats was one of the most important figures of early nineteenth-century
Romanticism, a movement that espoused the sanctity of emotion and imagination, and
privileged the beauty of the natural world. Many of the ideas and themes evident in
Keats's great odes are quintessentially Romantic concerns: the beauty of nature, the
relation between imagination and creativity, the response of the passions to beauty and
suffering, and the transience of human life in time. The sumptuous sensory language in
which the odes are written, their idealistic concern for beauty and truth, and their
expressive agony in the face of death are all Romantic preoccupations--though at the
same time, they are all uniquely Keats's.
Taken together, the odes do not exactly tell a story--there is no unifying "plot" and
no recurring characters--and there is little evidence that Keats intended them to stand
together as a single work of art. Nevertheless, the extraordinary number of suggestive
interrelations between them is impossible to ignore. The odes explore and develop the
same themes, partake of many of the same approaches and images, and, ordered in a
certain way, exhibit an unmistakable psychological development. This is not to say that
the poems do not stand on their own--they do, magnificently; one of the greatest felicities
of the sequence is that it can be entered at any point, viewed wholly or partially from any
perspective, and still proves moving and rewarding to read. There has been a great deal
of critical debate over how to treat the voices that speak the poems--are they meant to be
read as though a single person speaks them all, or did Keats invent a different persona
for each ode?
There is no right answer to the question, but it is possible that the question itself is
wrong: The consciousness at work in each of the odes is unmistakably Keats's own. Of
course, the poems are not explicitly autobiographical (it is unlikely that all the events
really happened to Keats), but given their sincerity and their shared frame of thematic
reference, there is no reason to think that they do not come from the same part of Keats's
mind--that is to say, that they are not all told by the same part of Keats's reflected self. In
that sense, there is no harm in treating the odes a sequence of utterances told in the same
voice. The psychological progress from "Ode on Indolence" to "To Autumn" is intimately
personal, and a great deal of that intimacy is lost if one begins to imagine that the odes
are spoken by a sequence of fictional characters. When you think of "the speaker" of these
poems, think of Keats, as he would have imagined himself while writing them. As you

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trace the speaker's trajectory from the numb drowsiness of "Indolence" to the quiet
wisdom of "Autumn," try to hear the voice develop and change under the guidance of
Keats's extraordinary language.

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SELECTED POEMS
ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE
SUMMARY
The speaker opens with a declaration of his own heartache. He feels numb, as
though he had taken a drug only a moment ago. He is addressing a nightingale he hears
singing somewhere in the forest and says that his "drowsy numbness" is not from envy of
the nightingale's happiness, but rather from sharing it too completely; he is "too happy"
that the nightingale sings the music of summer from amid some unseen plot of green
trees and shadows.
In the second stanza, the speaker longs for the oblivion of alcohol, expressing his
wish for wine, "a draught of vintage," that would taste like the country and like peasant
dances, and let him "leave the world unseen" and disappear into the dim forest with the
nightingale. In the third stanza, he explains his desire to fade away, saying he would like
to forget the troubles the nightingale has never known: "the weariness, the fever, and the
fret" of human life, with its consciousness that everything is mortal and nothing lasts.
Youth "grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies," and "beauty cannot keep her lustrous
eyes."
In the fourth stanza, the speaker tells the nightingale to fly away, and he will
follow, not through alcohol ("Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards"), but through
poetry, which will give him "viewless wings." He says he is already with the nightingale
and describes the forest glade, where even the moonlight is hidden by the trees, except
the light that breaks through when the breezes blow the branches. In the fifth stanza, the
speaker says that he cannot see the flowers in the glade, but can guess them "in
embalmed darkness": white hawthorne, eglantine, violets, and the musk rose, "the
murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves." In the sixth stanza, the speaker listens in the
dark to the nightingale, saying that he has often been "half in love" with the idea of dying
and called Death soft names in many rhymes. Surrounded by the nightingale's song, the
speaker thinks that the idea of death seems richer than ever, and he longs to "cease upon
the midnight with no pain" while the nightingale pours its soul ecstatically forth. If he
were to die, the nightingale would continue to sing, he says, but he would "have ears in
vain" and be no longer able to hear.
In the seventh stanza, the speaker tells the nightingale that it is immortal, that it
was not "born for death." He says that the voice he hears singing has always been heard,
by ancient emperors and clowns, by homesick Ruth; he even says the song has often
charmed open magic windows looking out over "the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery
lands forlorn." In the eighth stanza, the word forlorn tolls like a bell to restore the speaker
from his preoccupation with the nightingale and back into himself. As the nightingale
flies farther away from him, he laments that his imagination has failed him and says that
he can no longer recall whether the nightingale's music was "a vision, or a waking
dream." Now that the music is gone, the speaker cannot recall whether he himself is
awake or asleep.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS
With "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats's speaker begins his fullest and deepest
exploration of the themes of creative expression and the mortality of human life. In this
ode, the transience of life and the tragedy of old age ("where palsy shakes a few, sad, last
grey hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies") is set against the
eternal renewal of the nightingale's fluid music ("Thou wast not born for death, immortal
bird!"). The speaker reprises the "drowsy numbness" he experienced in "Ode on
Indolence," but where in "Indolence" that numbness was a sign of disconnection from
experience, in "Nightingale" it is a sign of too full a connection: "being too happy in thine
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happiness," as the speaker tells the nightingale. Hearing the song of the nightingale, the
speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to reach the
bird's state through alcohol--in the second stanza, he longs for a "draught of vintage" to
transport him out of himself. But after his meditation in the third stanza on the transience
of life, he rejects the idea of being "charioted by Bacchus and his pards" (Bacchus was the
Roman god of wine and was supposed to have been carried by a chariot pulled by
leopards) and chooses instead to embrace, for the first time since he refused to follow the
figures in "Indolence," "the viewless wings of Poesy."
The rapture of poetic inspiration matches the endless creative rapture of the
nightingale's music and lets the speaker, in stanzas five through seven, imagine himself
with the bird in the darkened forest. The ecstatic music even encourages the speaker to
embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the
nightingale's music and never experiencing any further pain or disappointment. But
when his meditation causes him to utter the word "forlorn," he comes back to himself,
recognizing his fancy for what it is--an imagined escape from the inescapable ("Adieu!
the fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf"). As the nightingale
flies away, the intensity of the speaker's experience has left him shaken, unable to
remember whether he is awake or asleep.
In "Indolence," the speaker rejected all artistic effort. In "Psyche," he was willing to
embrace the creative imagination, but only for its own internal pleasures. But in the
nightingale's song, he finds a form of outward expression that translates the work of the
imagination into the outside world, and this is the discovery that compels him to
embrace Poesy's "viewless wings" at last. The "art" of the nightingale is endlessly
changeable and renewable; it is music without record, existing only in a perpetual
present. As befits his celebration of music, the speaker's language, sensually rich though
it is, serves to suppress the sense of sight in favour of the other senses. He can imagine
the light of the moon, "But here there is no light"; he knows he is surrounded by flowers,
but he "cannot see what flowers" are at his feet. This suppression will find its match in
"Ode on a Grecian Urn," which is in many ways a companion poem to "Ode to a
Nightingale." In the later poem, the speaker will finally confront a created art-object not
subject to any of the limitations of time; in "Nightingale," he has achieved creative
expression and has placed his faith in it, but that expression--the nightingale's song--is
spontaneous and without physical manifestation.
Like most of the other odes, "Ode to a Nightingale" is written in ten-line stanzas.
However, unlike most of the other poems, it is metrically variable--though not so much
as "Ode to Psyche." 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. "Nightingale" 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 except "To Psyche," which has the loosest structure of all the odes).
Each stanza in "Nightingale" is rhymed ABABCDECDE, Keats's most basic scheme
throughout the odes.

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ODE ON A GRECIAN URN
SUMMARY
In the first stanza, the speaker stands before an ancient Grecian urn and addresses
it. He is preoccupied with its depiction of pictures frozen in time. It is the "still unravish'd
bride of quietness," the "foster-child of silence and slow time." He also describes the urn
as a "historian" that can tell a story. He wonders about the figures on the side of the urn
and asks what legend they depict and from where they come. He looks at a picture that
seems to depict a group of men pursuing a group of women and wonders what their
story could be: "What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? / What pipes and timbrels?
What wild ecstasy?"
In the second stanza, the speaker looks at another picture on the urn, this time of a
young man playing a pipe, lying with his lover beneath a glade of trees. The speaker says
that the piper's "unheard" melodies are sweeter than mortal melodies because they are
unaffected by time. He tells the youth that, though he can never kiss his lover because he
is frozen in time, he should not grieve, because her beauty will never fade. In the third
stanza, he looks at the trees surrounding the lovers and feels happy that they will never
shed their leaves. He is happy for the piper because his songs will be "for ever new," and
happy that the love of the boy and the girl will last forever, unlike mortal love, which
lapses into "breathing human passion" and eventually vanishes, leaving behind only a
"burning forehead, and a parching tongue."
In the fourth stanza, the speaker examines another picture on the urn, this one of a
group of villagers leading a heifer to be sacrificed. He wonders where they are going ("To
what green altar, O mysterious priest...") and from where they have come. He imagines
their little town, empty of all its citizens, and tells it that its streets will "for evermore" be
silent, for those who have left it, frozen on the urn, will never return. In the final stanza,
the speaker again addresses the urn itself, saying that it, like Eternity, "doth tease us out
of thought." He thinks that when his generation is long dead, the urn will remain, telling
future generations its enigmatic lesson: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." The speaker says
that that is the only thing the urn knows and the only thing it needs to know.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS
If the "Ode to a Nightingale" portrays Keats's speaker's engagement with the fluid
expressiveness of music, the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" portrays his attempt to engage with
the static immobility of sculpture. The Grecian urn, passed down through countless
centuries to the time of the speaker's viewing, exists outside of time in the human sense--
it does not age, it does not die, and indeed it is alien to all such concepts. In the speaker's
meditation, this creates an intriguing paradox for the human figures carved into the side
of the urn: They are free from time, but they are simultaneously frozen in time. They do
not have to confront aging and death (their love is "for ever young"), but neither can they
have experience (the youth can never kiss the maiden; the figures in the procession can
never return to their homes).
The speaker attempts three times to engage with scenes carved into the urn; each
time he asks different questions of it. In the first stanza, he examines the picture of the
"mad pursuit" and wonders what actual story lies behind the picture: "What men or gods
are these? What maidens loath?" Of course, the urn can never tell him the whose, whats,
whens, and wheres of the stories it depicts, and the speaker is forced to abandon this line
of questioning.
In the second and third stanzas, he examines the picture of the piper playing to his
lover beneath the trees. Here, the speaker tries to imagine what the experience of the
figures on the urn must be like; he tries to identify with them. He is tempted by their
escape from temporality and attracted to the eternal newness of the piper's unheard song

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and the eternally unchanging beauty of his lover. He thinks that their love is "far above"
all transient human passion, which, in its sexual expression, inevitably leads to an
abatement of intensity--when passion is satisfied, all that remains is a wearied
physicality: a sorrowful heart, a "burning forehead," and a "parching tongue." His
recollection of these conditions seems to remind the speaker that he is inescapably
subject to them, and he abandons his attempt to identify with the figures on the urn.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker attempts to think about the figures on the urn as
though they were experiencing human time, imagining that their procession has an
origin (the "little town") and a destination (the "green altar"). But all he can think is that
the town will forever be deserted: If these people have left their origin, they will never
return to it. In this sense he confronts head-on the limits of static art; if it is impossible to
learn from the urn the whose and wheres of the "real story" in the first stanza, it is
impossible ever to know the origin and the destination of the figures on the urn in the
fourth.
It is true that the speaker shows a certain kind of progress in his successive
attempts to engage with the urn. His idle curiosity in the first attempt gives way to a
more deeply felt identification in the second, and in the third, the speaker leaves his own
concerns behind and thinks of the processional purely on its own terms, thinking of the
"little town" with a real and generous feeling. But each attempt ultimately ends in failure.
The third attempt fails simply because there is nothing more to say--once the speaker
confronts the silence and eternal emptiness of the little town, he has reached the limit of
static art; on this subject, at least, there is nothing more the urn can tell him.
In the final stanza, the speaker presents the conclusions drawn from his three
attempts to engage with the urn. He is overwhelmed by its existence outside of temporal
change, with its ability to "tease" him "out of thought / As doth eternity." If human life is
a succession of "hungry generations," as the speaker suggests in "Nightingale," the urn is
a separate and self-contained world. It can be a "friend to man," as the speaker says, but it
cannot be mortal; the kind of aesthetic connection the speaker experiences with the urn is
ultimately insufficient to human life.
The final two lines, in which the speaker imagines the urn speaking its message to
mankind--"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," have proved among the most difficult to
interpret in the Keats canon. After the urn utters the enigmatic phrase "Beauty is truth,
truth beauty," no one can say for sure who "speaks" the conclusion, "that is all / Ye know
on earth, and all ye need to know." It could be the speaker addressing the urn, and it
could be the urn addressing mankind. If it is the speaker addressing the urn, then it
would seem to indicate his awareness of its limitations: The urn may not need to know
anything beyond the equation of beauty and truth, but the complications of human life
make it impossible for such a simple and self-contained phrase to express sufficiently
anything about necessary human knowledge. If it is the urn addressing mankind, then
the phrase has rather the weight of an important lesson, as though beyond all the
complications of human life, all human beings need to know on earth is that beauty and
truth are one and the same. It is largely a matter of personal interpretation which reading
to accept.
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" follows the same ode-stanza structure as the "Ode on
Melancholy," though it varies more the rhyme scheme of the last three lines of each
stanza. Each of the five stanzas in "Grecian Urn" is ten lines long, metered in a relatively
precise iambic pentameter, and divided into a two part rhyme scheme, the last three lines
of which are variable. The first seven lines of each stanza follow an ABABCDE rhyme
scheme, but the second occurrences of the CDE sounds do not follow the same order. In
stanza one, lines seven through ten are rhymed DCE; in stanza two, CED; in stanzas
three and four, CDE; and in stanza five, DCE, just as in stanza one. As in other odes
(especially "Autumn" and "Melancholy"), the two-part rhyme scheme (the first part made

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of AB rhymes, the second of CDE rhymes) creates the sense of a two-part thematic
structure as well. The first four lines of each stanza roughly define the subject of the
stanza, and the last six roughly explicate or develop it. (As in other odes, this is only a
general rule, true of some stanzas more than others; stanzas such as the fifth do not
connect rhyme scheme and thematic structure closely at all.)

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ODE TO AUTUMN
SUMMARY
Keats's speaker opens his first stanza by addressing Autumn, describing its
abundance and its intimacy with the sun, with whom Autumn ripens fruits and causes
the late flowers to bloom. In the second stanza, the speaker describes the figure of
Autumn as a female goddess, often seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair "soft-lifted"
by the wind, and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the
juice from apples. In the third stanza, the speaker tells Autumn not to wonder where the
songs of spring have gone, but instead to listen to her own music. At twilight, the "small
gnats" hum above the shallows of the river, lifted and dropped by the wind, and "full-
grown lambs" bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and
swallows, gathering for their coming migration, sing from the skies.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS
In both its form and descriptive surface, "To Autumn" is one of the simplest of
Keats's odes. There is nothing confusing or complex in Keats's paean to the season of
autumn, with its fruitfulness, its flowers, and the song of its swallows gathering for
migration. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest,
explore, and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm, gentle,
and lovely description of autumn. Where "Ode on Melancholy" presents itself as a
strenuous heroic quest, "To Autumn" is concerned with the much quieter activity of daily
observation and appreciation. In this quietude, the gathered themes of the preceding
odes find their fullest and most beautiful expression.
"To Autumn" takes up where the other odes leave off. Like the others, it shows
Keats's speaker paying homage to a particular goddess--in this case, the deified season of
Autumn. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the other odes' themes of
temporality, mortality, and change: Autumn in Keats's ode is a time of warmth and
plenty, but it is perched on the brink of winter's desolation, as the bees enjoy "later
flowers," the harvest is gathered from the fields, the lambs of spring are now "full
grown," and, in the final line of the poem, the swallows gather for their winter migration.
The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving
moments in all of poetry; it can be read as a simple, uncomplaining summation of the
entire human condition.
Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats's
speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first
stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural
creatures in the third. Keats's speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and
meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no
longer indolent, no longer committed to the isolated imagination (as in "Psyche"), no
longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in
"Nightingale"), no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject
eternal beauty to time (as in "Urn"), and no longer able to frame the connection of
pleasure and the sorrow of loss only as an imaginary heroic quest (as in "Melancholy").
In "To Autumn," the speaker's experience of beauty refers back to earlier odes (the
swallows recall the nightingale; the fruit recalls joy's grape; the goddess drowsing among
the poppies recalls Psyche and Cupid lying in the grass), but it also recalls a wealth of
earlier poems. Most importantly, the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting (in a
sequence of odes often explicitly about creativity) recalls an earlier Keats poem in which
the activity of harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. In his sonnet "When
I have fears that I may cease to be," Keats makes this connection directly:
“When I have fears that I may cease to be
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Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain...”
In this poem, the act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting; the pen
harvests the fields of the brain, and books are filled with the resulting "grain." In "To
Autumn," the metaphor is developed further; the sense of coming loss that permeates the
poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season's creativity. When Autumn's harvest is
over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their "twined flowers" cut down, the cider-
press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle
softens the edge of the tragedy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow
again, and the birdsong will return. As the speaker knew in "Melancholy," abundance
and loss, joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined
flowers in the fields. What makes "To Autumn" beautiful is that it brings an engagement
with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday
world. The development the speaker so strongly resisted in "Indolence" is at last
complete: He has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an
appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time.
"To Autumn" is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme.
Each stanza is eleven lines long (as opposed to ten in "Melancholy", and each is metered
in a relatively precise iambic pentameter. In terms of both thematic organization and
rhyme scheme, each stanza is divided roughly into two parts. In each stanza, the first
part is made up of the first four lines of the stanza, and the second part is made up of the
last seven lines. The first part of each stanza follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, the first
line rhyming with the third, and the second line rhyming with the fourth. The second
part of each stanza is longer and varies in rhyme scheme: The first stanza is arranged
CDEDCCE, and the second and third stanzas are arranged CDECDDE. (Thematically, the
first part of each stanza serves to define the subject of the stanza, and the second part
offers room for musing, development, and speculation on that subject; however, this
thematic division is only very general.)

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HYPERION BOOK 1
CRITICAL ANALYSIS
“How beautiful, if sorrow had not made
Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty’s self”
Hyperion Book 1, l, 35.
This famous fragmentary poem seems to have afforded Keats less satisfaction than
any other of his works. It was printed, as the “Advertisement” shows, at his Publishers’
desire, “and contrary to the wish of the author.” Still later, he “re-cast it into the shape of
a Vision, which remains equally unfinished.” “I have given up Hyperion,” Keats writes
from Winchester, Sep. 22, 1819 “-there were too many Miltonic inversions in it-Miltonic
verse cannot be written but in an artful, or rather, artist’s humour. I wish to give myself
up to other sensations. English ought to be kept up.” This phrase apparently refers to the
mood in which he had just written those noble lines to Autumn, which have been put,
with Lamia, and five or six more pieces, amongst his maturest work; the work wherein
art touches its genuine triumph in concealing itself: the work which, in matter and
manner alike, embodies his most essential, his most intimate, genius.
And, in the remarks, which follow, the poet clearly shows a consciousness that in
Hyperion the “artist’s humour “was too prevalent: “the false beauty, proceeding from
art,” blended with “the true voice of feeling.”-Keats, criticizing here for the last time his
own work, touches on the note which is most sensible in his poetry, as it is that which lay
the deepest in his own nature. Almost more than passion for beauty,-although, indeed it
is, rather, itself the fine flower of beauty,-tenderness,-almost passing into tremulousness,-
seems to me his characteristic. Here and there, whilst he was little more than a boy, we
hear this note in excess.
But Keats, in both the qualities just named, true child of Spenser, has also the
manliness of nature, the sanity of sentiment, which underlie everywhere that river of
gold, which ripples through the Faerie Queene. Beyond any of his great compeers during
the last two centuries, (if I may here venture thus to sum up the imperfect criticisms on
his genius which are offered in these notes), Keats had inherited, not only as Man but as
Poet,-or rather, as Poet because he was so as Man,-the inspiration and the magnanimity
of the great age of our Muses;-more than any, he is true English-Elizabethan:-Had the
years of Milton been destined for him, of him, more than of any other it might have been
prophesied, Despite the marvellous grandeur of its execution, the judgment of Keats
upon this work appears to be thoroughly well founded. After an introduction worthy to
be compared with what the Propylaea of the Acropolis at Athens must have been, at once
in severe majesty and in refinement of execution, the interest of the story rapidly and
irremediably falls off. It is, truly, to take a phrase from the Preface to Endymion, “too late
a day.” The attempt to revivify an ancient myth,-as distinguished from an ancient story
of human life,-however alluring, however illustrated by poets of genius, seems
essentially impossible. It is for the details, not for the whole, that we read Hyperion, or
Prometheus Unbound, or the German Iphigeneia. Like the great majority of post-classical
verse in classical languages, those modern myths are but exercises, (and, as such, with
their value to the writer), on a splendid scale. The story of which Hyperion tells the
beginning is, in fact, far too remote, too alien from the modern world: it has neither any
definite symbolical meaning, nor any of that “soft humanity” which underlies the wild
magic of Lamia, and has rendered possible a picture, true not only to Corinth two
thousand years ago, but to all time.-Yet, with such strange vital force has he penetrated
into the Titan world, and all but given the reality of life to the old shadows before him,
that, had this miracle been possible, we may fairly say that Keats would have worked it.

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The author was, hence, right in “giving up” Hyperion. Yet, by a singular irony of
literary fate, Hyperion was the first of his poems, which seems to have reached fame
beyond his own English circle of admirers. Byron, in a passage often quoted, placed its
sublimity on a level with Aeschylus. But the criticisms, which it called forth from Shelley,
are the most noteworthy. In Nov. 1820 we find him writing that he has received “a
volume of poems by Keats; in other respects insignificant enough, but containing the
fragment of a poem called Hyperion.... It is certainly an astonishing piece of writing.”
Nor was this Shelley’s first impression only; for on 15 Feb. 1821 he returns to Keats: “His
other poems are worth little; but, if the Hyperion be not grand poetry, none has been
produced by our contemporaries.”-If we remember the masterpieces contained in the
precious little book of 1820, it may be reasonably held that even the political antagonists
of Keats and his friends could hardly have exceeded these criticisms in blind prosaic
injustice. So may one great poet,-and he, snow-pure from taint of envy or malice,-
misunderstand and misestimate another!

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MOST EXPECTED QUESTIONS
Q: DISCUSS THE DEVELOPMENT OR DEGENERATION OF KEATS IDEAS
FROM IDEALISM TO REALISM, FROM ESCAPISM TO ACCEPTANCE.
Q: DISCUSS THE KEATS’ AS AN ESCAPIST.
Ans:
All Romantic poets more or less are escapists. Romantic poetry presents not the
world of reality, but the world of dreams. The romantic poet seeks an escape from the
hard and stark realities of life into a world of romance and beauty. Like all romantic
poets, Keats longs to escape from the biter realities of life and to “fade far away”,
“dissolve and quite forget, the weariness, the fever and the fret of real life”. But a careful
study of his poetry reveals that his escapism is only a passing mood. In “Sleep and
Poetry”, Keats first plunges into “the realm of Flora-imagination and Pan” then he puts
the question, “Can I ever bid these joys, farewell”. Then he comes to answer. “Yes I must
bid these joys farewell”.
“Yes, I must pass them for a noble life where I must find the agonies, the strife
of human hearts.”
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” This was the life long creed of Keats. He had
the artist’s vision of beauty and he expresses it in a picturesque style. Keats pursued
beauty everywhere in nature, in art, in the deeds of chivalry and in the great tales of
ancient Greece and to Keats beauty and truth were identical. This was the profoundest
and innermost experience of Keats’s soul and he expressed it most emphatically.
“Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty — that is all,
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know,”
If his aim was to pursue Beauty, which was also truth, he cannot be called an
escapist, for in pursuing Beauty, he pursued truth.
Sorrows and sufferings, as we know, are inevitable in life. And an escape from the
realities of life is neither possible nor desirable. Keats does not think of the rose without
its thorns. He accepts life as a whole with its joy and beauty as well as its pain and
despair. He attempts to reconcile the loveliness of the world with its transience; its
pleasures with its pains, the longing to enjoy the beautiful with the suspicion that it
cannot be long enjoyed unless much that is not beautiful is faced.
In “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats would yearn for a life of joy and happiness like
that of the nightingale. The imagination of the poet is set aglow by the song of the bird,
and he forgets his sorrow and joins the nightingale in spirit. This is the moment when
nature with her moon and stars and flowers, enters into his soul and his soul is merged
in nature. Keats and nightingale are one, it is his soul that sings in the bird, and he sings.
“Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy.”
Finally, the illusion is broken; the poet comes back to his daily consciousness and
regrets that imagination has not the power to beguile him forever. He says
“Forlorn! The very world is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my soul self!
Adieu! That fancy cannot cheat so well!”
In the “Ode on Melancholy”, Keats points out how sadness inevitably accompanies
joy and beauty. Melancholy arises from the transience of joy and joy is transient by its
nature. Keats, therefore, accepts life as a whole. It is this alternative of joy and pain, light

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and shadow, that gives life to its harmony and beauty, this is the truth of life and truth is
beauty.
“She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die,
And joy, whose hand is ever at his
Lips, Bidding adieu.”
In the “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the poet takes us away from the world of time to the
world of eternity. The imagination of the poet passes from the conceited form of beauty
to the eternal spirit of beauty — that is, from the finite to the infinite.
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual fear, but more endeared
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.”
Nevertheless, the world of fun which is the world of escapism has its drawbacks, as
it is a “Cold Pastoral”. It has desolation and non-fulfilment. It is, therefore, in “Ode to
Autumn” Keats finally bids farewell to the world of flora and pan and accepts the world
of reality with its ever glittering spring and noble and solemn autumn. Here his
aspirations for disappearing are over, he no more wishes an easeful death which he has
had admired many times in his life. He accepts and teaches even to accept the real world.
He is happy with the songs of autumn, “thou hast thy music too”. Autumn is
everywhere: it is in form of a gleaner, a harvester, a cider press owner and in sounds of
evening. Thus his maturity makes him accept and propagate the often deadly-referred
season in the cloak of beauty, reality and music. He achieves the standard of a universal
poet and spreads the message of universal relevance. His flight ends in acceptance that
did commence from rejection of the realities and bitterness of life.
To sum up, we can confidently remark that Keats is essentially a poet of beauty and
no one else, in pursuit of his life long aspired dream he enters sometime into a world
which is not plausible regarding the standards of such a great poet, but his forgetfulness
introduces him to the real meanings of life. He appreciates the beauty of art but he does
not declare art as the ultimate finding of human struggle, with its beautified unrealistic
presentation he also mentions its drawbacks. It is unsatisfied, cruel, though eternal
world. Life is preferred by him in spite of all its transiteriness and flux. He declares
loudly, “fancy cannot cheat well as it is fame to be”. This is what makes him a realist
rather than an escapist.
Q: DISCUSS JOHN KEATS’ NEGATIVE CAPABILITY.
Q: KEATS IS CALLED NEXT TO SHAKESPEARE. WHY?
Ans:
Keats was one of the finest flowers of the Romantic Movement. His genius
blossomed under the romantic breeze and matured under the sunshine of classicism. The
poetry of Keats is not a vehicle of any prophecy or any message. He did not take much
notice of the social, political and literary turmoil but devoted himself entirely to the
worship of beauty, and wrote poetry as it suited his temperament. He was above all, a
poet and nothing else. His nature was entirely and essentially poetical and whole of his
vital energy went into art. The most living thing in Keats’s poetry has been the recreation
of sensuous beauty, first as a source of delight for its own sake then as a symbol of life of
the mind and the emotions. Speculative and philosophical interests always formed the
major part of Shelley’s experience and the young Wordsworth but there is almost no
trace of this in Keats. He hates the “poetry that has a palpable design upon us”.
Negative capability is a capacity to negate one’s individual personality and to
identify oneself with the personality of a person whom the writer wants to portray in his
work of art. The writer must first himself live the life of his character and make his
mental set up adaptable to various moods and temperaments. Keats had an impulse to
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interest himself in anything he saw or heard. He accepted it and identified himself with
it. “If a sparrow were before my window”, says Keats “I take part in its existence and
pick about the gravel”. A poet, he articulates has no identity; he is continually in for and
filling some other body i.e. the poetic character. Keats says,
“He has no self, he is everything and nothing enjoys light and shade, lives in
guests, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated. It has as
much enchantment in conceiving an Iago or Imogen. What shocks a virtuous
philosopher delights the Chameleon”.
Keats found this quality at its fullest in Shakespeare. Though he did not fully
achieve his ideal, he was going towards it. Keats exhibits his distinct mastery on negative
capability in his odes. In the Ode to a Nightingale, Keats faces the tragic dilemma of life
with courage, though he does not quite completely resolve the dilemma. The poem is
about the contrast between his own immediately experienced happiness in the bird’s
song, his imaginative participation in an untroubled natural life and a less immediate but
more enduring knowledge of sorrow. Happiness is momentary and transient, the only
thing certain is
“The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other green;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs.”
For Keats the only way of escaping to share the happiness of the bird is “on the
view less wings of poesy”. As the imaginative participation in bird’s life can be really
made eternal with a desire to die at the moment of greatest happiness. “I have been half
in love with easeful death”. The poet’s desire for death is not a longing for extinction; it is
a desire to make a happiness, which he knows to be transient, last for ever. The first
word of the seventh stanza “forlorn”, recalls Keats the poet who creates, foreseeing a
poetic immortality, to Keats the man who suffers, foreseeing only sickness and sorrow
and an early death. The song of the nightingale fades and Keats finishes where unlike
Shelley, he generally finishes with his feet on the ground. On the level of ordinary
human experience there is no solution to the conflict. The poet who creates can offer little
consolation to the man who suffers but on the level of poetic creation the conflict
disappears. Transitory human happiness is given permanence is a different sense by
being embodied in art.
“Thou was not born for death immortal bird!
No hungry generation tread thee down.”
For Keats, the necessary precondition of poetry is submission to things as they are,
without trying to intellectualize them into something else, submission to people as they
are trying to indoctrinate or improve them.
In Ode on Grecian Urn, the urn is taken as a type of enduring beauty and again the
immortality of art is only a quasi immortality, the contrast between the permanence of
the one and the transience of the other is another poetic pursuit. It is the only way in
which human feeling, and natural loveliness can be given lasting significance. The happy
boughs that can not shed their leaves and the lover who can never kiss, but whose love
can never fade, are types of the only earthly paradise that exists
“She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever will thou love and she be fair!”
In Ode to Autumn, the transience, the pain and ugliness are all unregretfully
accepted, for it is all part of a greater more permanent cycle of birth, growth, death and
renewal. Keats allows life to flow upon him. The Ode stands at the end of Keats’s search
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to achieve the maturity of negative capability. The rhythms of seasons are inevitably the
rhythms of man’s life and Keats in enjoying this Autumn accepts the brute fact of winter
and affirms faith in the ultimate but ceaselessly wonderful return of spring.
“Where are the songs of spring? Any where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too”.
It would be idle to try to turn the odes into great philosophical poems. They come
to no conclusion and make no synthesis. His temperament with its eager love of life,
would have been satisfied with a speculative solution like Yeats’ belief in reincarnation:
but he would surely have dismissed it as too fantastic (But their was not the kind of
speculation to which Keats was prone) Yet his odes are not mere decorative and
descriptive poems as parts of them appear to be; nor yet poems of luxurious self-
abandonment; nor yet mere manipulation of feeling. The cavernous conflict, from which
they spring, is both emotional and intellectual; yet they proceed solely by the methods
peculiar to poetry. They are in fact supreme example of Negative Capability.
Q: DISCUSS JOHN KEATS AS A PURE POET.
Ans:
Pure poetry can be defined as the verse which allegedly is devoid of instructions
and moral content and aims not to educate but merely to delight one’s aesthetic
sensibility by its music or by the pictures it evokes. John Keats is the first of those in the
nineteenth century, who wished to carve out a separate empire for poetry. He does not
see the poet as the trumpet that signs to the battle. He hardly shares, at all, Shelly’s
political and social passions. He is, perhaps, the portent of the doctrine that is later to
develop into “art for art’s sake”. The poetry of Keats is not a vehicle of any prophecy or
any message. It is poetry for its own sake. It has no moral, political or social significance.
It is, therefore, the purest poetry.
With a pure poet, the pursuit of beauty overcomes every other consideration. The
poetry of Keats is an unending pursuit of beauty. He pursued truth, indeed, but truth for
him was beauty. He never intellectualised his poetry. He was gifted with extra ordinary
sensibility and had an ardent passion for the beauty of the visible world. His entire being
was thrilled by beauty of the world. Nothing gave him greater delight than the
excitement of his senses produced by ‘a thing of beauty’. All his poetry is full of the
sensuous appeal of beautiful things. When we go through Wordsworth and Shelly, we
observe a marked difference between them and Keats in their treatment of beauty and
nature. For example, Shelly is known as “The poet of the sky, the sea and the cloud……”
The world that he depicts is rarely the world that we know, but it is world that he has
intensely imagined. His grand description of the effects of the west wind is a great
poetry, but the beauty and grandeur of the west wind go beyond our actual experience.
But Keats’s poetry gives us a diverse experience. It brings us into imaginative contact
with beauty that we know. For instance, in “Ode to Autumn” autumn is represented by
Keats by its familiar qualities such as:
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun….”
Realism and truth inform every detail of the poem. He, the pure poet that he is, sees
and presents nature as she is, and his presentation has that magical quality with which
his imagination has supremely endowed him. Keats was a pure poet in the sense that in
his poetry he was a poet and nothing else not a teacher, not a preacher, not a conscious
carrier of any humanitarian or spiritual message. His ambition was to become a poet
pure and simple and his ambition was fulfilled. A critic rightly says;
“Poetry came naturally to him (Keats), as leaves come to a tree it was the
spontaneous utterance of his powerful feelings.”

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The poetry of Keats is based on his actual experience of life and, therefore, it is
marked by spontaneity and intensity. He actually listened to the song of a nightingale
and the music of the song actually transported him to the world of imagination.
“Fade for away, dissolve and quite forget….”
“But on the viewless wings of poesy”
“Though the dull brain perplexes and retards
Already with thee! Tender is the night”
The power of Keats’s poetry is due to intense concentration of thought and feeling.
Keats being a pure poet accepts life as it is. Joy and sorrow, happiness and melancholy
both exist side by side. If there is discord in life it has ‘its music too’. He knows that the
cold wind and the hot sun are as essential as the fresh assumed rose. This is also true to
the great genius Shakespeare. The poetry of Shakespeare accepts the world of men and
women and accepts them as they are. A pure poet always submits to life, so that life is
glorified through him, so is Keats. A renowned critic Middleton Murray observes about
Keats:
“Keats submitted himself steadily, persistently, unflinchingly to life” and had
“the capacity to see and to feel what life is.”
A pure poet feels and expresses his joy in beauty, but when he feels this joy he
realizes also a new aspect of beauty, this is truth. In this identity of beauty and truth lies
the secret harmony of the universe. Keats realizes this harmony and in “Ode on a
Grecian Urn” he emphatically cries out.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty’— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Beauty transcends individuals, time and space. For Keats, Beauty is truth. It is the
touchstone of truth. For Keats, says Mathew Arnold,
“To see things in their beauty is to see things in their truth.”
A pure poet like Keats loves foul and fair, joy and sorrow, mean and elevated alike.
Keats turns unflinchingly to life and human experiences and by an act of imagination
transmutes the bitterest human experience into beauty which is truth.
The joy in the present and the absorption in the beauty of the hour is one of the
chief marks of Keats genius as a pure poet. For him, the necessary quality of poetry is a
submission to things as they are, without any effort to intellectualise them into
something else. Keats and the nightingale are merged into one — it is his soul that sings
in the bird:
“But being too happy in time happiness.” (Stanza –I)
“That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim” (Stanza –II)
“Already with thee! Tender is the night” (Stanza –IV)
He has immersed wholly in the place and in the time and with the things of which
he writes. He could be absorbed wholly in the loveliness of the objects and the joy of the
moment. He is fully thrilled by the beauty of autumn. He does not complain;
“Where are the songs of springs Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.”
(Ode to Autumn)
He has an impulse to interest himself in anything he saw or heard. He accepted it
and identified himself with it. Keats himself explains:
“If a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick
about the gravel.”

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He further enumerates that a poet has no identity. He is continually in, for and
filing some other body. Keats has opinion that,
“Of the poetic character, it has no self, it is every thing and nothing. It enjoys
light and shades, poet lives in gusto be it foul or fair…. It has as much delight
in conceiving an Iago or Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher,
delights the chameleon poet.”
This is also the spirit of Shakespeare. Though Keats did not fully achieve this ideal
but he was advancing towards it. Summing up our discussion, it can be justly stated that
Keats greatest achievement is his presentation of pure poetry and pure beauty. Beauty
itself was his interest, nor beauty to point out moral or to carry a message. Keats had no
lesson to teach. Keats often says that the poet must not live for himself, but must feel for
others and must do well but he must do so by being a poet not by being a teacher or
moralist. There is no didacticism in Keats. He did not want to call his reader attention to
social wrongs as Shelley did to the corrupt state of society as Byron did, to nature as a great
moral teacher as Wordsworth did.
Q: KEATS FINDS TRUTH IN BEAUTY AND VICE VERSA, EXPLAIN.
Q: EVEN DEATH IS A SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE AND IT IS AN ACCEPTED
REALITY OF LIFE, ELABORATE WITH REFERENCE TO KEATS’ IDEAS
EXPRESSED IN HIS ODES.
Q: DISCUSS KEATS AS A POET OF BEAUTY.
Ans:
In nothing else is Keats as romantic as in his frank pursuit of beauty to him. Beauty
for him is synonymous with truth. A thing of Beauty is for him a joy forever. Beauty is
his religion, a Deity. It is in this pursuit of Beauty that he completely forgets himself and
the world around him. Beauty was for Keats the moving principle of life. He loved
beauty in its forms and shapes in the flower and in cloud, in the song of a bird and in the
face of a workman, in a work of art and in tales of romance and mythology. He utters
fervently,
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever,
Its loveliness increases,
It will never pass into nothingness.”
Keats did not care for history, or for politics or for religions. The ruling principle of
his life was worship of beauty. He declared, “With a great poet, the sense of beauty over
comes every other consideration.”
His (Keats) friend Hayden tells us that;
“The humming of the bee, the sight of a flower, the glitter of the sun, seemed to
make his nature tremble, then his eyes flashed, his cheeks glowed and his mouth
quivered.”
He was as sensitive to the beauty of art and literature as to that of life and nature.
Keats in his last days wrote:
“If I should die, I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my
friends prove of my memory, but I have loved the principle of beauty in all
things and if I had time I would have made myself remembered.”
In his earlier poem “Sleep and Poetry”, the vast idea (beauty in all things) had
involved the poets passing beyond the realm of Flora and old Pan — that is away from
the realm of beautiful things. He had asked:
“And can I ever bid, these joys farewell?”
And he had answered,
“Yes I must pass them for nobler, life

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where I may find the agonies,
The strife of human hearts.”
He had thus, in that prophetic poem, seen beyond the principle of beauty that the
beauty in all things. But in “Endymion” he remained wholly within the realm of Flora
and old Pan because the agonies and strife of human heart had not yet touched him
directly. He knew that he had to triumph over pain, but pain had not yet come and he
was not one to invoke it intellectually — Death of his brother.
For Keats beauty is truth. He loved not merely beauty but truth as well and not
merely the world of imagination but that of reality. He saw beauty in truth and truth in
beauty. He had the artist’s vision of beauty and he expresses it in picturesque style. To
him beauty and truth were identical and he expresses it most emphatically because in it
lays the secret harmony of the universe.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty
That is all ye know on earth,
And all ye need to know.”
He never escaped from the realities of life in pursuit of the beautiful vision of his
imagination. In fact, the visions of his imagination are based on reality. He persistently
endeavoured to reconcile the world of imagination with the world of reality. He accepted
life as it is, joy and sorrow, happiness and melancholy both exist side by side; if there is
discord in life, it has its music too. That’s why he loves foul and fair, joy and sorrow
mean and elevated alike. He turns unflinchingly to life and human experiences, and by
an act of imagination transmutes the bitterest human experiences into beauty which is
truth.
To understand the true nature and beauty we go to his famous sonnet, “Why Did I
Laugh Tonight?” where he says:
“Why did I laugh tonight? No voice’
……………………………………
……………………………………
……………………………………
Verse, fame and beauty are intense
Indeed, But death intenser………
Death is life’s need.”
Here, Keats is disowning and putting away the Keats who laughed. It is conquering
of despair by a deeper faith. Poetry, Fame and Beauty are glorious, none lights so great a
fame in soul as death. Death is the crown of life.
“Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful death.”
In part the ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a very triumph song to death; as it is a song of
despair; as the song of the bird is an invitation to the supreme ecstasy of death, the voice
of immortality is sounding clear amid the agony of mortality. These two movements of
the divided soul are now blending into one strange and unearthly harmony; it is as
though that deep division of his soul had been reconciled with no joy diminished and no
pain denied. All that Keats had felt and thought is there with all its contradictions; but
now the contradictions are made one. This acceptance of his love of good and ill is
manifest in all Keats’s poetry as in “Ode to a Nightingale”, so it is in “Ode to a
Melancholy”:
“She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die
And joy whose hand is ever at his lips bidding Adieu”
To Keats, death is not a mockery, but a triumph; not a darkness that blots out the
soul’s ecstasies, but the greatest ecstasies of all.

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Keats wrote his great odes when his inward victory was accomplished. In “Ode to a
Nightingale” we find that the poet is drowsy with happiness at the Nightingale’s song
and he dreams that he might follow the voices of the bird into a realm of utter
forgetfulness of the pair of the world and wants an escape from;
“The weariness, the fever, and the fret’
Here where men sit and hear each other’s groan,
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale and spectre-thin and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow,
And leaden – eyed despairs,
Where beauty can not keep her lustrous eyes,”
Suddenly the dream is real. On the viewless wings of poesy he is fled after the voice
to a place of ‘embalmed darkness’ where he is conscious only of the bird’s song. He is
lost in the world which was his life’s achievement, he finds beauty at its peak, here are
colours, flowers, dreamlike forgetfulness, fragrance and most beautiful not a tinge of
bitter real life. He becomes a worshipper of beauty, finds a religious coexistence with its
appearance.
Keats concept of beauty is prone to change as well, he has been in love with the
beauty of imaginative world but in “Ode to Autumn” he understands the real meanings
of beauty, when he accepts life with its all apparently drawbacks. He declares “Thou hast
thy music too”. This is what makes him a real follower of real beauty.
Q: GIVE A CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF “HYPERION”. WHY KEATS DID NOT
COMPLETE IT?
Ans:
It is a commonplace of Keats criticism to present the poet as struggling against both
a debilitating sense of his own immaturity and the wider public perception of him as
'immature'. Keats's doleful suspicion that he was merely a 'weaver-boy' in the eyes of
reviewers and other 'literary fashionables' was confirmed by Byron's caustic reference to
his 'p–ss a bed' poetry, and by John Gibson Lockhart's conclusion that Keats was only 'a
boy of pretty abilities'.
In 1820, the Guardian ironically praised his 'juvenile industry', while the London
Magazine condemned his 'boyish petulance'. Throughout his poetic career, Keats
contended with reviewers who configured him as 'effeminate' or 'callow', and who
routinely exhorted him to 'grow up'. But while Keats's relationship with immaturity and
'juvenile industry' may have been fraught, it was by no means wholly disabling. Marjorie
Levinson has shown with customary dexterity how Keats used his cultural marginality,
stylistic vulgarity, and 'adolescent' sexuality to subvert authoritarian values extolled by
'soi disant guardians of public taste' like Lockhart and J. W. Croker. Indeed, Keats's work
often teeters self-consciously on the edge of puerility, such 'teeterings' becoming the
condition for contestations of various kinds.
In the prevailing callous critical atmosphere, Keats continued to prove himself the
greatest of his contemporaries. Though he was never admitted in his lifetime, yet his
approach towards fine or poor creations was par excellence. His assortment and
denunciation of poetic process was from a full-grown mind. Famous fragmentary poem
“Hyperion” seems to have afforded Keats less satisfaction than any other of his works. It
was printed, as the “Advertisement” shows, at his Publishers’ desire, “and contrary to
the wish of the author.” Still later, he “re-cast it into the shape of a Vision, which remains
equally unfinished.”
“I have given up Hyperion,” Keats writes from Winchester, Sep. 22, 1819 “there
were too many Miltonic inversions in it—Miltonic verse cannot be written but in an

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artful, or rather, artist’s humour. I wish to give myself up to other sensations. English
ought to be kept up.”
This phrase apparently refers to the mood in which he had just written those noble
lines to Autumn, which we put, with Lamia, and five or six more pieces, amongst his
maturest work; the work wherein art touches its genuine triumph in concealing itself: the
work which, in matter and manner alike, embodies his most essential, his most intimate,
genius. And, in the remarks, which follow, the poet clearly shows a consciousness that in
Hyperion the “artist’s humour “was too prevalent: “the false beauty, proceeding from
art,” blended with “the true voice of feeling.” Keats, criticizing here for the last time his
own work, touches on the note, which is most sensible in his poetry, as it is that which
lay the deepest in his own nature. Almost more than passion for beauty, although,
indeed it is, rather, itself the fine flower of beauty, tenderness, almost passing into
tremulousness, seems his characteristic. Here and there, whilst he was little more than a
boy, we hear this note in excess.
But Keats, in both the qualities just named, true child of Spenser, has also the
manliness of nature, the sanity of sentiment, which underlie everywhere that river of
gold, which ripples through the Faerie Queene. Beyond any of his great compeers during
the last two centuries, (if we may here venture thus to sum up the imperfect criticisms on
his genius which are offered in these notes), Keats had inherited, not only as Man but as
Poet, or rather, as Poet because he was so as Man, the inspiration and the magnanimity of
the great age of our Muses; —more than any, he is true English-Elizabethan: Had the
years of Milton been destined for him, of him, more than of any other it might have been
prophesied, fortunate.
Despite the marvellous grandeur of its execution, the judgment of Keats upon this
work appears to be thoroughly well founded. After an introduction worthy to be
compared with what the Propylaea of the Acropolis at Athens must have been, at once in
severe majesty and in refinement of execution, the interest of the story rapidly and
irremediably falls off. It is, truly, to take a phrase from the Preface to Endymion, “too late
a day.” The attempt to revivify an ancient myth, —as distinguished from an ancient story
of human life, —however alluring, however illustrated by poets of genius, seems
essentially impossible.
It is for the details, not for the whole, that we read Hyperion, or Prometheus
Unbound, or the German Iphigeneia. Like the great majority of post-classical verse in
classical languages, those modern myths are but exercises, (and, as such, with their value
to the writer), on a splendid scale.
The story of which “Hyperion” tells the beginning is, in fact, far too remote, too
alien from the modern world: it has neither any definite symbolical meaning, nor any of
that “soft humanity” which underlies the wild magic of his other works, and has
rendered possible a picture, true not only to Corinth two thousand years ago, but to all
time. Yet, with such strange vital force has he penetrated into the Titan world, and all but
given the reality of life to the old shadows before him, that, had this miracle been
possible, we may fairly say that Keats would have worked it.
The author was, hence, right in giving up “Hyperion”. Yet, by a singular irony of
literary fate, “Hyperion” was the first of his poems, which seems to have reached fame
beyond his own English circle of admirers. Byron, in a passage often quoted, placed its
sublimity on a level with Aeschylus. But the criticisms, which it called forth from Shelley,
are the most noteworthy. In Nov. 1820 we find him writing that he has received “a
volume of poems by Keats; in other respects insignificant enough, but containing the
fragment of a poem called “Hyperion”.... It is certainly an astonishing piece of writing.”
Nor was this Shelley’s first impression only; for on 15 Feb. 1821 he returns to Keats: “His
other poems are worth little; but, if the Hyperion be not grand poetry, none has been
produced by our contemporaries.”
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If we remember the masterpieces contained in the precious little book of 1820, it
may be reasonably held that even the political antagonists of Keats and his friends could
hardly have exceeded these criticisms in blind prosaic injustice. So may one great poet,
and he, snow-pure from taint of envy or malice, misunderstand and misestimate another!

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