Intellectual & Sensuous Passion Toward John Keats Odes

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Keats: an ardent lover of Beauty

      John Keats is one of the most sensuous in the realm of English poetry. His poems reflect his intensely passionate love for all that is beautiful, irrespective of whether that beauty belongs to art, nature or woman. Beauty is one of the major hallmarks of his poetry. This becomes abundantly clear when we find that for Keats.

A thing of beauty is a joy for even.

      He goes to the extent of saying that "with a great poet sense of beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all considerations.” In the process of exhibiting his love for beauty, Keats lends a touch of the sensuousness to his poetry. But stretching or exaggerating the element of sensuousness too far will amount to underestimating the real poetic caliber of Keats. Appreciating beauty is not an end in itself for Keats. He goes beyond mere appreciation and carves deeper meanings in beauty and these deeper meanings pertain to intellect and spirit. He also tries to find the truth and reality in beauty. It is apparent in the Ode on a Grecian Urn where, in addition to being an object of artistic beauty, the urn, for Keats, is also an apostle-like messenger of the message that

Beauty is truth, truth beauty.

      Keats is highly sensuous in his earlier works.

Keats’s sensuousness and sensuality

      In The Eve of St. Agnes, the picture of the feast that Porphyro spreads by the side of his sleeping mistress is highly sensuous in character. So are the candied apple, jelly, manna and dates, with their appeal to one or the other of the five human senses?. At moments of high sensations, Keats’s sensuousness enters the genre of sensuality. We experience this when we see moonlight falling on the fair breast of Madeline or when we see Porphyro making love with Madeline in the bed-chamber. Almost the same experience repeats itself in the tight embrace of Cupid and Psyche in the Ode to Psyche.

      The Ode on a Grecian Urn is equally abundant in pictures bearing the stamp of Keats’s sensuousness. We see gods in a “mad pursuit” after the maidens. Then we see the

Bold lover, never, never cans’t thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal.

      Keats makes us feel that absolute warmth of love when he names it as something

Forever warm.
Forever panting and for ever young

Keats’s love for Beauty of Nature

      Keats expands the range of his sensuousness from pictures of physical love to the pictures of natural beauties. This can be exemplified best from his Ode to a Nightingale which is like a panorama of flowers giving sweet fragrance to our breath:

      Ode To Autumn is equally full of sensuous imagery. We smell something of the sort of sex when we read that autumn is conspiring with sun:

How to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run
...And fill and fruit with ripeness to the core.

Deeper meanings of Beauty

      We have talked at length about what is sensuous in the poetry of Keats, but as we have already made it clear in the introduction, to our subject, we shall like to lay a fresh emphasis on the fact that all is not sensuous in his poetry. Sensuousness fails to confine the scope of his poetic abilities. After indulging in sensuousness he rises above it and sets out to prove his spiritual and intellectual calibre. The world of the Nightingale, with all its charms cannot take away from Keats’s heart his sense of oneness with his earthly fellow-beings who are suffering from the “fever, and the fret” of the world:

Where men sit and hear each other groan

      and “where but to think is to be full of sorrow.” Just one word, “Forlorn!” is enough to call him back from the world of the Nightingale to the world of those who are suffering from palsy, growing pale, specter-thin and then dying. This shows how deep is Keats’s involvement in the problems and equations of men and women to whom he feels irresistibly drawn after every brief escape into the world of art, nature and imagination. Same is true in the case of the urn. He knows the value of the urn as a beautiful piece of art but at the same time he realizes that beauty is not the only thing of importance. The urn, though immortal is speechless silent “cold Pastoral.” It lacks the warmth and vigor of life. It is dead like machine whereas life, though short in span has an organism of its own. This makes Keats feel that reality is more important than sheer beauty of art. Perhaps the urn would have been meaningless for Keats had its beauty not been apart of truth.

      The study brings home the paint that with all his preoccupation with seriousness, primarily and basically Keats is a poet of the realities of life. He is always alive to the stark realities of life. His feet are firmly rooted on the hard crust of earth He relishes the sensuous joys but at the same time his mind is wide open to Man and the pains and worries of Man. This makes Keats’s poetry a very interesting study in the sensuous, the intellectual and the spiritual put together so brilliantly.

University Questions

The truth is that Keats’s yearning passion for the beautiful is not a passion of the sensuous or sentimental poet. It is an intellectual and spiritual passion. Discuss.
Or
“Keats as a poet is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous. The question with some people will be whether he is anything else” Discuss.
Or
“O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts” wrote Keats; show to what extent he expresses thoughts, and to what extent he expresses sensations in his major work, especially the Odes.
Or
Consider with reference to Keats's Odes that Keats’s Aestheticism has also an intellectual side.

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