Main Characteristics of John Keats Poetry

Also Read

      Unending Pursuit of Beauty: 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 intellectualized his poetry. He was gifted with extraordinary sensibility and had an ardent passion for the beauty of the visible world. He therefore cried, “O for a life of sensation rather than of thought.” (It may be mentioned here that Keats uses the word ‘thought’ in the sense of abstract reasoning or speculation.) His entire being was thrilled by the beauty of the world; nothing gave him greater delight than the excitement of his sense, produced by ‘a thing of beauty’. All his poetry is full of the sensuous appeal of beautiful things. To Wordsworth nature is a living being with power to influence the human mind, and carry a spiritual message. Shelley, though not a moralist, is an idealist—“The poet of the sky and the sea and the cloud—the gold of dawn and the gloom of earthquake and eclipse.” The world that he depicts and makes symbolic of human passions—is rarely the world that we know, but it is a world that he has intensely imagined. His grand description of the effects of the west wind, is a great poetry.

      O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being. But the beauty and grandeur of the west wind goes beyond our actual experience. When we turn to Keats’s Ode to Autumn, we are brought into imaginative contact with beauty that we know. Autumn is represented by Keats by its familiar qualities: “mist and mellow fruitfulness”. Realism and truth inform every detail of the poem. Keats neither attributes moral life to nature, nor attempts to pass beyond her familiar manifestations. He, the pure poet that he is, sees and presents nature as she is, and his presentation has that magic quality with which his imagination has supremely endowed him.

      Spontaneity and concentration of thought and feeling. 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. Poetry came naturally to him, as leaves come to a tree; it was the spontaneous utterance of his powerful feeling. The poetry of Keats was based on his actual experience of life, and therefore it is marked by spontaneity and intensity. What he experienced and felt upon his pulse, he expressed. He actually listened to the song of a nightingale, and the music of the song actually transported him to the world of imagination. He attained the realization of eternity and truth in the beauty of the song, and he wrote the famous line, “thou wast not born for death, immortal bird”. Much has been written about the logical fallacy of the line, but what did the poet in Keats care? What he felt he wrote. Keats genuinely felt the thought that a beautiful thing also pleases, and so he wrote, thing of beauty is a joy forever. And because he felt the truth of what he wrote, it carries an instant conviction and is in itself a joy forever. In fact, the power of Keats’s poetry is due to intense concentration of thought and feeling.

      Submission to the Truth of Life and Experience: Keats possessed what Bradley calls “the Shakespeare on strain”, and submitted to the truth of life. He knew that the cold wind and the hot sun were as essential as the fresh blown rose. The poetry of Shakespeare reveals the beauty of life; truth is beauty, it says. It accepts the world of men and women and accepts them as they are. This is also true of Keats. 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. A pure poet always submits to life, so that life is glorified through him. “Keats submitted himself” says Middleton Murry, “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 realises also a new aspect of beauty, which is truth. In this identity of Beauty and Truth lies the secret harmony of the universe. Keats realizes this harmony when he emphatically says,

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. He arrived at this truth through ‘negative capability’ and through the realization of the necessity of pain and sorrow. A pure poet like Keats 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 experience into beauty which is truth.

      We may in conclusion quote a few lines from T.S. Eliot to show the contrast between Wordsworth and Shelley on the one hand and Keats.

      ‘‘Wordsworth had a very delicate sensibility to social life and social changes. Wordsworth and Shelley both theorize. Keats had no theory, and to have one was irrelevant to his interests, and alien to his mind. If we take either Wordsworth or Shelley as representative of his age; as being a voice of the age, we cannot so take Keats. But we cannot accuse Keats of any withdrawal or refusal; he was merely about his business.” His business was that of a pure poet.

      Pursuit of Truth: But Keats’s aestheticism was not only sensuous—it had an intellectual element. He was constantly endeavoring to reach truth through beauty; he had a conviction that “for his progress towards truth, thought, knowledge and philosophy were indispensable. But he felt also that “a poet will never be able to rest in thoughts and reasonings, which do not also satisfy the imagination and give a truth which is also beauty”. But in so far as they fail to do this, in so far as they are thoughts and reasonings, they are no more than a means to an end, which end is beauty—that beauty which is also truth. This alone is the poet’s end and therefore his law.” (Bradley). Keats was led to this conviction by the poetic instinct in him. He was more than Wordsworth or Coleridge or Shelley, a poet pure and simple.

      Negative Capability: Keats has an impulse to interest himself in anything he saw or heard. He accepted it and identified himself with it “If a sparrow comes before my window,” said Keats, “I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.” A poet, he says, has no identity. He is continually in, for and filling some other body. “Of the poetic character,” Keats says, “it has no self; it is everything and nothing. It enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated. It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago or Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the chameleon poet.” This is the spirit of Shakespeare. Though Keats did not fully achieve this ideal, he was growing towards it. For Keats, the necessary quality of poetry is a submission to things as they are, without any effort to intellectualize them into something else. Keats and the nightingale are merged into one—it is his soul that sings in the bird. He was wholly in the place and in the time and with the things of which he wrote. He could be absorbed wholly in the loveliness of the hour and the joy of the moment. (He is fully thrilled by the beauty of autumn. He does not complain,

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.

      This joy in the present, this absorption in the beauty of the hour—is one of the chief marks of his genius as a pure poet.

      No Moral Teaching or Didacticism: Keats often says that the poet must not live for himself, but must feel for others, and must do good but he must do so by being a poet—not by being a teacher or moralist. He must have a purpose of doing good by his poetry, but he must not obtrude it in his poetry—that is, he must not show that he has a palpable design upon us. Keats says: “We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive— thing which enters into one’s soul and does not startle it”. To make beauty, says Bradley, is his (poet’s) philanthropy. He must be unselfish; by refusing, that is, to be diverted from his poetic way of helping by his desire to help in another way. Hence there is no didacticism in Keats as there is in Wordsworth. There is no moralizing in The Eve of St. Agnes as there is none in King Lear; in both, the poets leave their works to speak for themselves.

      Keats Poetical Achievement: Keats’s influence has been very strong from Tennyson to the present time. His emphasis upon craftsmanship has had excellent following. Many a poet has been led through the example of Keats to perfect verse that might otherwise have been carelessly written. Keats also turned attention to richness of verse, unlike the simplicity of Wordsworth. Again, he taught a new use of the classics. Instead of finding in the classics models for restraint he found a highly colored romanticism. Restraint of form he did emphasize, but for his material, he chose the legends of Endymion and Lamia rather than the tales of Greeks and Romans of inspiring deeds.

      Keats’s greatest achievement, however, is in his presentation of pure beauty. Beauty itself was his interest, not beauty to point a moral or to carry a message. Keats had no lesson to teach. He did not want to call his readers’ 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. Because of this lack of bias, his poems have an objective beauty which is especially attractive to young people. But to readers of all ages Keats sings enduring music.

      The underlying principle of all Keats’s poetic thoughts is this: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty”. In one of his letters, he says: “I have loved the principle of beauty in all things”. But his “passion for the beautiful” was not that of the sensuous or sentimental man, it was an intellectual and spiritual passion. There was a deep melancholy about him, too; pain and beauty were the two intensest experiences of his mind. “Do you not see”, he writes, “how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Keats studied the Elizabethans, and “caught their turn of thought, and really saw things with their sovereign eye...He rediscovered the delight and wonder that lay enchanted in a dictionary” (Lowell). “There is something of the innermost soul of poetry in almost everything he wrote”. (Tennyson).

      Keats’s Sensuousness or His Sensuous Beauty. What is meant by sensuousness? The term sensuousness implies that poetry is related, not to philosophical thought, but chiefly to the task of giving pleasure to the senses. Sensuous poetry appeals to the reader’s eyes by presenting beautiful and colorful word pictures by the sensuous poet. Keats was a sensuous poet in the best sense of the term. “Sensuousness is a paramount bias of Keats’s genius.” He made excellent efforts in using his five senses and translated into poetry the appeal made by the external world to his senses. “It was a temper in Keats,” says Stopford Brooke, “of unmuffled pleasure, a sensitive, girl-like sensuous pleasure in beauty, and in the consolation of beauty to the soul. He flies from one beautiful object (of Nature) to another in a butterfly fashion; tasting and sipping honey and little caring to settle upon anyone. He is thus completely and frankly sensuous in his attitude towards Nature.”

      Keats’s cry was, “O for a life of sensations rather than of thought.” The beauty which he reveled in was sensuous, though imaginative, and his poetry, therefore, “has scarcely been equaled in description of the beauties perceptible to the senses, such as, form, color, perfume, music” In this respect, Helleck observes: “It was his mission to interpret, not the highest spiritual life, but the highest type of sensuous beauty. Such beauty has its moral side and its power to elevate and purify. Since all the higher operations of the intellect rest upon sensory foundations, it is well that the latter should be built of the most beautiful masonry that Nature can offer.”

      Keats’s poems are entirely saturated with sensuousness. All the five senses of eye, ear, nose, touch and smell are enchantingly put together in his poems. In the following lines from the Eve of St. Agnes the appeal is to the eye, to the sense of touch, to the sense of smell, and to the ear—

      Thus referring to his sensuousness and pictorial imagery, Dawson remarks: “Keats created the school of ornate and artistic poetry—poetry which has no human robustness or passion about it, but which excels in the exquisiteness of its workmanship, and the delicacy and remoteness of its imagination. He himself said that a perfect phrase delighted him with a sense of intoxication. His view of poetry was that it should aim at the production of perfect phrases, beautiful enough to be welcomed for their own sake, apart from any thought or lesson that may convey.” Says Herford: “Poetry, as it came to Keats, was not a spiritual vision with Wordsworth, nor an emancipating vision, with Shelley, but a joy wrought out of sensations as exquisite as Coleridge’s by an imagination not weird and mystic like his but plastic and pictorial.” Whereas Wordsworth spiritualities, and Shelley intellectualizes Nature, Keats, is content to extend her through the senses. The color, the scent, the touch, the pulsating music—these are the things that stir him to his depths. There is not a mood of earth he does not love, not a season that will not cheer and inspire him. “The setting sun will always set one to rights, or if a sparrow come before my window. I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel.”

      Undoubtedly, Keats is sensuous through and through. But his sympathies broadened as his mind matured. In his maturer poems, there is an awakening intellect and spiritual passion. As a critic remarks: “Keats’s mind is mainly sensuous by direct action, but it also works by reflex action, passing from sensuousness into sentiment. Certainly, some of his work is merely extremely sensuous; but this is work in which the poet was trying his materials and his powers, and rising towards mastery of his real faculty and his final function. In his maturer performances in the Odes, for example, and in Hyperion, sensuousness is penetrated by sentiment, voluptuousness is permeated by vitality, and aestheticism is tempered by intellectualism. In Keats’s palace of poetry, the nucleus is sensuousness, but the superstructure has chambers of more abiding things and more permanent colours.”

      Keats’s Cult of Beauty. Keats had a passionate love for beauty. He had no religion save the religion of beauty. “Religion for him takes definite shape at an early age in the adoration of the beautiful. But this adoration he elaborates into a doctrine: Beauty is the supreme truth, it is imagination that discovers it, and scientific reasoning is an altogether inferior instrument of knowledge. This idealism easily assumes a note mysticism; one can see a sustained allegory in Endymion and certain passages are most surely possessed of a symbolical value. On the other hand, the religion of beauty is here more pagan.”

      Keats once said: “I have loved the principles of beauty in all things.” To him, poetry meant no “Criticism of life,” it is not an attempt to cope with its “obstinate questionings” and “blank misgivings,” no searching after abstract truth a Science he abhorred as an intruder on the fairy world of imagination. As Horace Groser observes: “To the beauty of Keats men are not likely to go in their deeper moods; the troubled, the perplexed, the unrestful we find little for their need. He does not attempt to exhort, or to direct, or to restrain. But he has beauty to offer, and passion, and love.” Like Keats, Shelley was also an apostle of beauty, but the distinction between them was vital. Beauty for Shelley was metaphysical; it was an intellectually idea, aspirit working through the universe and ultimately indistinguishable from love, which believed to sustain the universe. Keats approached beauty from the other side; to him it m exaltation of senses, but of the senses made creative by that exaltation. The passion love for beauty is an instinctive desire first and foremost, implanted in a nature that is sensual. And in his last days, Keats wrote: “I have loved the principle of beauty in all thin In fact, Keats approached beauty from the other side; to him it was an exaltation of the senses created by exaltation. “Oh for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts cried. And that was his attitude to life. Sensation, whether real or imagined, was to finest experience life brought, he was the lover of beauty, and in the presence of beauty of kind he was like a man in the presence of a woman whom he loves. And on this exaltatic senses he built, or rather was beginning to build, his philosophy of beauty. Beauty is the truth beauty—that is all we know and all ye need to know”. Or, as he put it elsewhere prose: “What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be true.” He enunciates his creative Beauty in Endymion when he says—

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its lovelines even increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness.

      Keats had a simple, direct passion for natural beauty just for its own sake—the ‘beauty of forest and field, of flower and sky and sea. Haydon speaks of him: “He was in his in the fields. The humming of the bee, the sight of a flower, the glitter of the sun, seem make his nature tremble; then his eyes flashed, his cheeks glowed and his mouth quiet. In other words, each object of Nature was beautiful for its own sake and for its magic of sound, odor and touch. It is this intense, whole-hearted sensuous love of all forms of natural beauty that inspired Keats.”

      Keats was not merely aesthete. His conception of beauty widened and deepened became less aesthetic and more humanitarian as his well-known verse indicates—Beauty is truth beauty. As Clarence Torpe remarks: “Keats’s conception of beauty was on a higher than has been commonly supposed. To him, beauty is the subjective reaction to a beyond the veil. It is truth—truth made to live through the power of a creative image that is capable of dissolving the flying vapors of intangible substance into reality, or true through the power of the re-creative imagination that is capable of reconstructing, which the original artist has brought into being.” Keats thinks that this beauty is eternal indestructible - Beauty and truth are the highest characteristics of the transcendental being whom all we call God. His concept of beauty has the underlying elements of pain and of anguish.

      Referring to this sonnet, Middleton Murray observes: “A deeper Keats is disowning and putting away the Keats who laughed. It is the conquering of despair by a deeper faith. And the faith itself is not an easy one. ‘I know all the joys of life,’ he declares, ‘Not one is hidden from my mind. Yet would gladly die tonight. Poetry, Fame, and Beauty are glorious; they fire the soul. But none is so glorious, none lights so great a flame in soul as Death. Death is the crown of life—Thus it is clear that the laugh had been one of cynical despair. It was a laugh of bitterness, of the sudden sense. ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.’ The fearful imminence of death, with its looming menace to the love he desired, the poetry he dreamed, the fame he coveted, the beauty he adored, jarred him to the depths and be laughed But the laughter was not he - For him, the true Keats, Death is not a mockery, but a triumph; not a darkness than blots out the Soul’s ecstasies, but the greatest ecstasy of all: Eloquent, just and mighty Death-”

      Poetry, as it came to Keats, was not a spiritual vision, as with Wordsworth, nor an emancipating vision, as with Shelley, but a joy, wrought out of sensations as exquisite as Coleridge’s by an imagination, not weird and mystic like his, but plastic and pictorial. Where Wordsworth spiritualizes and Shelley intellectualizes Nature, Keats is content express her through the senses. The color, the scent, the touch, pulsating music - these are the things that stir him to his depths. There is not a wood on earth he does not love, not a season that will not cheer and inspire him. ‘The setting sun will always set one to right, or if a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel’. But in his measure works, a metamorphosis occurred which indicates that he had great affectation for humanity. ‘We may say that Keats never really wavered in his belief that the highest kind of poetry was the vehicle of the highest kind of truth, and as such the supreme benefit that could be conferred upon humanity at large. The end of poetry for Keats was not the cult of beauty of an external sort cognizable well as smell or touch or sight or hearing: his eyes are already set upon the beauty of sorrow and joy, a beauty of the moral being and of the spirit.

      Keats Hellenism. Keats is essentially a Greek among the English poets. He was a Greek temper. Shelley said of him that ‘he was a Greek’. It is significant, says Selinconrt, “that in Endymion, Hyperion and Lamia which are the most ambitious of his works and reflect most fully his inner experience and his poetic ideals, Keats should turn for his source and much of his framework to the world of Greece, whose legends had fascinated his childhood, and had never lost their hold upon his imagination. There was much indeed in the Greek attitude to life, as he understood it, that made an irresistible appeal to him. The expression of truth in forms essentially beautiful, the spontaneous unquestioning delight in the life of nature and its incarnation in forms human but of more than human loveliness, made the pagan creed, outworn to Wordsworth, retain for Keats all its freshness and its vitality.” Prof Hales observes: “There was in Keats the keenest sense and enjoyment of Beauty, and this gave him a fellow feeling with the great Greek master. He recognized in them the most perfect representation of the beautiful and this, so far as literature went; through translations. But it was only one side of Greek art that he saw. He saw its beauty but he did not see its purity, its self-restraint, its Severe refinement. He did not learn from it that the fancy must not be merely indulged.”

      “In what does the Greek element in Keats consist? First, he was a Greek in his power of assimilating Greek mythology and legend, his Endymion and Hyperion being his greatest tributes to what he calls the mythology of Greece. Secondly, he was a Greek in his wholehearted devotion to the cult of art and beauty and this frank paganism which revels in the delight of the senses and which is entirely non-moral in character. Thirdly, in the simplicity and directness of expression which belonged to Homer and the Greek tragedians. Fourthly, in his gift for the personification of the poet is of Nature; as for instance, in his Ode to Autumn. Fifthly, in the human interest which he at times, as in Lamia, allows to dominate minor details. Sixthly in the delight he everywhere shows in the myths, ‘the beautiful mythology of Greece’ as he calls it in the preface to Endymion. The interest in the Elgin Marbles, which Haydon had awakened in him, gave a special and beautiful turn to Keats’s Hellenism. To this motif, we owe his Ode on a Grecian Urn and his Ode on Indema, poems of a unique and characteristic beauty. Lastly, “he is a Greek also in the manner of his response to the appeal of Nature; in the consciousness of primal bodily kinship with earth, and quick sensitiveness to its magic of color, sound, odor, and touch, and in the imaginative appr then sing of the living forces about him which gives them a local habitation and name and figures them forth as deities of woods and streams, of sky and sea.” Keats was a Greek in spirit. In other words, he had classical instincts in an abundant measure. But, on the other hand, he held that “poetry should surprise by a fine excess.” He was essentially romantic and Gothic. In his poems, “Hellenism and Romanticism move hand in hand, leaving behind a trail of fragrant perfection.”

      Keats treatment of Nature. Keats’s attitude towards Nature was essentially different from that of the romantic poets of his time. “Where Wordsworth spiritualities and Shelley intellectualizes Nature, Keats is content to expressions through the senses. The color, the sound, the touch, the pulsating music—these are the things that stir him to his depths. There is not a mood of earth he does not love, not a seas, that not will cheer and inspire him.” “He peopled woods and glades with fauns and myths because to him as to the Greek that was the natural way of expressing his own mental attitude towards Nature.” As Leigh Hunt said of him: “He never beheld the oak tree without seeing the Dryad.”

      Commenting on the treatment of Nature, Hudson observes; Keats loved Nature just for its own sake and for the ‘glory’ and loveliness, which he everything found in it. There was nothing mystical in this love, and Nature was never fraught for him, as for Wordsworth and Shelley, with spiritual messages and meanings. In other words, His sympathy with Nature is not of the reflective and ethical order, drawing food for moral aspiration from the flower of her meadows and moors, as the bees draw their honey. He does not philosophies upon the phenomena around him. But with an intense and passionate simplicity, holding, as it were, his breath with wonder and delight, he seeks to know Nature perfectly, and to enjoy her fully with no ulterior end of other thought than to give her complete expression. He loves her purely for her own sake, and paints her, not with the reason but with the imagination...”

      To sum up: “Keats at times wishes to die into nature — to ‘cease upon the midnight with no pain’; but this is not his ordinary mood—it is rather characteristic of Shelley. He seeks, instead, to live in nature, and to be incorporated with one beautiful thing after another. This Pan-like temper is plain from the first. Besides, for him, the difference between nature and: art becomes unreal, for both you the same sort of enjoyment. Keats does not, like Chaucer and Wordsworth, tell us to throw away our books and go out into the sun or shade. Nature is herself a delicious poetry-book. The affinity between natural and artistic beauty, he states, with more than a pleasant extravagance, in his youthful couplets:

      In the calm grandeur of a sober line, We see the waving of the mountain-pine; And when a tale is beauty fully staid, we feel the safety of a hawthorn glade.

      Keats’s Odes. What is an Ode? The ode in English admits of no more exact definition than that it is generally an exalted and sustained lyric. It is usually longer than the ordinary lyric, and its theme is commonly greater. Thus typical odes are Dryden’s Alexander s Feast, Collins’s Ode to Evening and To The Passions, Wordsworth’s Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, and Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale.

      “The odes of Keats are not only the greatest lyric achievements, but they are the finest expression of his genius.” Nothing like his odes is to be found in English literature. His odes re achieved deathless glory because they are par excellence. Just as Byron finds the ultimate and most complete expression of his personality and temperament in Don Juan, so in the Odes as Keats give us most of his inmost self, and when he does so it is with the sure hand of the at artist.

      Keats wrote eight Odes, namely, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to Psyche, Ode on Poets, (“Bards of passion and of Mirth”), Ode to Autumn, Ode to Melancholy, Ode on violence, Ode to Fanny, and Ode to Maia (a fragment). The Ode to a Nightingale, the Ode on a Grecian Urn, the Ode on Melancholy, and the Ode to Autumn are among the magnificent achievements of English verse. The note of sadness sounds through all, that insistent minor that rings go like through all the haunting music of Nature and of Art; and the vivid joy of the precipice life, the ideal permanence of Art, the glamour of romance, the benison of Nature’s varying Gods contrasted with the mutability of life and the transience of pleasure. Most satisfying all the Odes, in thought and expression, is the Ode to Autumn. Most satisfying because, for the splendor of directions in the others, there are times when poetic fire dwindles for a moment, whereas in this Ode, from its inception to its close, matter and manner are not only superbly blended, but every line carries its noble freight of Beauty. The first stanza is symphony of color, the second symphony of movement, the third a symphony of sound. The artist apes the first and last, in the midst the man, the thinker, gives us, its human significance, Thus is the poem perfected, its sensuous imagery enveloping as it were its vital idea.

      Commenting on these Odes, Dowson remarks: “In these poems there is no rhetoric or rhapsody; nothing that suggests the bard or the musical accompaniment, still less the choral. They were composed in reflective spirit, now pensive, now joyous, according to the scheme or mood, but always self-contained and natural. The tension is sometimes great, tough restrained, and the sympathy with beauty cultivated to its highest degree. They are the reflection of the poet’s innermost mind.” “Had Keats left us only his Odes”, writes ridges, “his rank among the poets would not be lower than it is.”

      Keats’s Sonnets. His sonnets are superb in poetic quality. The four masterpieces are: On first looking into Chapman s Homer (1816); When I have fears that may cease to be (1817); To one who has been long in city pent (1818); Bright Star; Would I were steadfast as thou art (1819), commenting on these sonnets, Dr. Read remarks in his book English Lyrical Poetry: “Keats wrote some sixty sonnets. Many of them are surprisingly poor, written in no serious mood, but added to his letters as one might scrawl a pen sketch on the margin. Ten of his sonnets, Robert Bridges believes, comprise his best work. Matthew Arnold has chosen eight, and these are enough to place Keats with finest English sonneteers. Of the sonnets written in the Italian form, On first Looking into Chapman’s Homer is his masterpiece, and indeed its sestet for to perfect picture of the poet’s mood and for its breadth and amplitude of suggestion is unsurpassed in the English sonnet literature, In this same form, To one who has been long in city pent, and The poetry of earth is never dead (On the Grasshopper and Cricket), are beautiful expressions of lighter mood. The first has caught the languor and the tenderness of a summer’s day; the second shows Keats resembling Bums by his interest in the life of the small creatures of the earth. On Visiting the Tomb of Bums, To Sleep, If by dull rhymes our English must be chained, The Slower and the Leaf, and After dark vapors have oppressed our pains are also fine. Others are in Shakespeare’s rhyme arrangement. For his deepest utterances, Keats turned to Shakespearean sonnets. When I have fears that I may cease to be (The Terror of Death) is so rich in its expression that its intense though restrained pathos is at times obscured. To sonnet, Time’s Sea hath been the years at it’s low ebb is a fervid and triumphant mimicry of Shakespeare, and in The Human Seasons at the beginning and end there is the same element but the middle is in Keats’s own fashion. Of the remainder, two are of the loftiest rank, namely, When I have fears (The Terrors of Death), and Bright Star the last of his poems. Of his last, sonnet Bright Star, it can be said without fear of contradiction that on one of Shakespeare’s surpasses its rare union of emotional force, melody, and imaginative description.”

      Quality in Keats’s Poetry. He has been considered instinctively and naturally sensuous. “Whatever his political sympathies were, he never suffered them to color his poetry. He fled from the work a day world into an enchanted realm of his own, jealously, closed against the intrusion of ordinary human affairs. Shelley’s idealism is continually colored by his revolutionary ardor. Keats’s idealism reflects nothing of the life of his day. He took from Medievalism and Hellenism material for fashioning his sequestered land of beauty, but what he found there he used for sensuous delight, not ethical inspiration. (Compton-Rickett).

      But, on the other side, Keats was not a mere dreamer - He intended to lead “nobler life” in which he would find “the agonies, the strife of human hearts.” He was a poet who was well-conversant with the social responsibilities. Criticism generally seizes upon some ore aspect of the complex nature of a poet and presents it is his comprehensive and salient characteristic, Accordingly, Keats has been known as the poet of pure beauty and sensuousness. The twentieth century, however, in its ruthless search for Truth, has made another discovery, that or the Yogi or the Philosopher of Renunciation in John Keats. Today he has an appeal not for youngsters because of his flowers and fruits, but the mature are also awed by him. They find in his poetry that balanced attitude towards life of which everyone is so keenly conscious in the present age. In reality, however, neither one nor the other of the these aspects was wholly comprehensive of Keats; Keats definitely presents a duality—and which sensitive human being does not ?—a duality between his innately sensuous temperament and reasoning which groped in the direction of detachment. He died young and came to no final conclusions about life, His Letters and his Poetry both avouch this. His Letters are not statements of high Philosophic truths discovered by him. They are the tangible expression of Keats’s attempts to clarify and elucidate his thoughts to himself. He writes to Woodhouse: “It is a wretched thing to confess but is a very fact that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing, out of my identical nature, how can it, when I have no nature? Prof. Mahajan has beautifully expressed Keats’s duality in his poetry. As he says: “On a first study Keats’s work gives the impression of being deeply pictorial and sensuous, in which the voluptuous enjoyment of the scenes is expressed with the highest intensity of rapture. But to describe him as one in whose poetry there is matter directed only towards the satisfaction of the sensuous impulse would be to take an extremely limited and unduly superficial view. Keatsis no doubt something of a worshipper of the cult of Beauty. There is also the suggestion broadcast in Keats’s work that he is something of an ‘escapist’ which by definition every Romantic is expected to be But there is in Keats another element also present. This is a shaping philosophy of life, an eager quest after the principle of life in which the mind, thirsting after the perfection of experience, should be able to rest Keats is perceived to have been groping his way to such a principle when prematurely death snatched him away.”

      Shakespeare and Keats. Middleton Murray has written a book named Keats and Shakespeare which has classed Keats with Shakespeare. He held that “John Keats was the greatest of Shakespeare’s successors; he was as though a mediator between the nominal consciousness of men and the pure poetic consciousness in which form alone Shakespeare remains with us. Keats was potentially at feast, the next greatest poet after Shakespeare and the only poet who is like Shakespeare; Keats and Shakespeare are alike, because they are pure poets, and pure poets consists in the power so to express a perception that it appears at the same time to reveal a new aspect of beauty and a new aspect of truth.” Says Arnold: “By virtue of his feeling for beauty and of his perception of beauty with truth, Keats accomplished so much in poetry, that in one of the two great modes by which poetry interprets, in the faculty of naturalistic interpretation, in what we call natural magic, he ranks with Shakespeare. No one else in English poetry, as Shakespeare, has in expression quite the fascinating felicity of Keats, his perfection loveliness, ‘I think,’ he said humbly: I shall be among the English poets after my death’. He is: he is with Shakespeare.”

      Keats as an Artist. Keats was a consummate artist. He was a master of form and style. “I look upon fine phrases like a lover,” wrote Keats. He loads every rift with gold. His verse is marked by felicitous expression and pictorial imagery. As Dawson writes: “He surprises us by fine excess of his imagery; he waves a fabric of phrase wonderful for its color and beauty. He created the school of ornate and artistic poetry — poetry has no human robustness about it, but which excels in the exquisiteness of its workmanship, and the delicacy and Remoteness of its imagination. He himself said that a perfect phrase delighted him with a sense of intoxication. His view of poetry was that it should aim at the production of perfect phrases, beautiful enough to be welcomed for their own sake, apart from any thought or lesson they may convey.” His tendency was to multiply word pictures. “He cannot write without making pictures with his words; and every picture has its own atmosphere. The pictures of Keats are all aglow with color not always very accurate painter’s color, but the color which captivates or over-whelms the senses.”

      Regarding Keats’s style, E. Albert remarks: “His style is even more distinctively his own, and it has had a great effect on later English poets, most notably on Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites. The most striking feature of his work is the speed with which he learned his craft, and evolved from the imitator of Leigh Hunt, Spenser, Shakespeare, or Milton to the artist with a style of his own. His early verse was rich in melodic beauty and decorative effect, full of color and the images of the senses (particularly of touch). In his own metaphor, every rift was T-loaded with lore. But often the result was an over luxuriance and a lack of restraint which betray his, as yet, uncertain taste and the weakness of his artistic economy. Two years from the publication of Endymion sufficed for him to evolve the blank verse of The Fall of Hyperion, and to reach perfection in narrative and lyric forms in The Eve of St. Agnes and the best of his odes. In the new Keats all the qualities of the old are controlled by a restraint and poise, a delicacy of touch and a purer taste, and the result is one of the most striking of all English poetic styles.”

      To sum up: “His style is marked by (i) power of picturesque description, (it) word-painting, (fit) his power of forming picturesque compounds, (to) his flawless workmanship, (v) his mastery over the verse - forms mastery over the Spenserian stanza, mastery over the rhymed couplet, (vi) his sense of music.”

      Keats as a Romantic Poet. Keats was essentially a romantic poet. The following aspects of his poetry indicate that Keats, was romantic through and through:—

      Mixture of Hellenism and Medievalism. “His poetry it the meeting-ground of old Hellenism and medieval romanticism and even his Hellenism is romantic. His romance is largely derived from English and Italian romancers of the Middle Ages. His imagination, naturally ardent, is kindled by his reading of Spenser and Boccaccio for whom he had great admiration. He recreates, in subject and style, the world of medieval romance, the Spenserian world in all its variety in three poems — The Eve of St. Agnes, Isabella, and La Belle Dame Sans Merci particularly—the varied romances of beauty, love, chivalry, adventure, pathos and weird mystery.” In short, the romances of three worlds, the antique (Hellenic), the medieval, and the modem have found a rich and pictorial expression in Keats’s poetry. Pagan sensuousness, the spirit of antique myth and legend, the far-off Bible and legendary romance, his passionate pursuit of Elizabethan poetry. For these reasons Keats is like Spenser, a poet’s poet, his work profoundly influenced Tennyson and indeed, most of the poets of the present era (Long).

Previous Post Next Post