John Keats’s Appeal to the Reader of Modern Times

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Introduction

      More than one hundred and fifty years have gone by but going through the poetry of Keats fills the gap of generations. We read his poetry and never feel that it was written in so distant and so remote a past. Much of what his poetry has to offer bears a semblance of our times. What happens in the world of Keats’s poetry, can also be seen happening around us in the world of today. It is as a result of this sense of oneness with Keats’s world, a sense imposed upon us by his poetry, that Keats continues to have a tremendous appeal to the readers of late twentieth century. At this point it becomes obligatory upon us to make a study of Keats’s poetry in the light of what we have stated above.

Keats’s concern for Man

      The world of Keats’s poetry is a world of beauty of nature, beauty of woman and above all beauty of art. But beauty is not the only preoccupation of Keats. He is an enthusiastic admirer of beauty but he does not admire for the sake of admiration. Admiration of beauty is not an end in itself rather it is a means toward the unfolding of the deeper mysteries of the world of Man, the world of nature and the world of art.

      For Keats’s beauty does not carry the weight of meaning and importance if it is divorced from reality. The Grecian Urn is a beautiful piece of art. Keats is all praise for its beauty but what is more important for Keats is the philosophy for which the Urn stands and the fact that the Urn will continue to remain,

“a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.

      It is this concern for Man and truth, rather than for the sheer artistic beauty of the Urn, that makes us feel as to how much Keats bothers for us. Keats the man, is dead but Keats the poet is alive, and he still continues to bother for us. So his poetry is always interesting. We feel like reading it because we are its concern. Thus we have seen that Keats's treatment of beauty is not merely sensuous or sensual. It is spiritual intellectual and moral also. So his poetry tias in store, a huge amount of appeal to the highly refined and sophisticated readers of our times.

Balance between imagination and reality

      The other predominant feature of Keats’s poetry that holds our attention is its masterly handling of the world of reality and the world of escape. He does not remain uninfluenced by the delights of the world of the Nightingale. He relishes in the carefree life of the bird. At the same time he enjoys the pleasant and beautiful. natural surroundings in which the Nightingale has her abode. The sweet fragrance of the white hawthorn, the fast fading violets and the musk-rose fascinate his sense of smell. So he makes an escape into the Nightingale’s world. He fades far away flying “on the viewless wings of Poesy”. But right after a very brief escape, the anti-climax follows. The very sound of the word ‘Forlorn’ falls heavily upon Keats’s ears. It is really terrible for Keats to stand the sound and he cannot afford to remain in the world of escape any longer though the world continues to remain as beautiful as ever. He is tossed back into the world of naked truth.

“Where but to think is to be full of sorrow”.

      Again, he is with his fellow human beings to sit with them and hear their groans. He always has a warm corner in his heart for those suffering from “the fever, and the fret” and palsy. He has in him Wordsworth’s fundamental goodness of humans. heart and it is this basic goodness of heart that generates in us a sense of oneness with Keats. He feels for us and in return we feel for him and this accounts for his ever-continuing appeal to his readers His poetry shows a deep concern for Man, the problems of Man and his pains and joys. We find much of the same thing in the poets of our times. Keats’s concern for Man simultaneously brings in mind what T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats have got to say about the chaotic state of affairs in the world around us, in their famous poems The Waste Land and Sailing to Byzantium respectively. Unfolding deeper mysteries of life, finding the truth of being and the meaning of existence are as much a theme of Keats’s poetry as recurrently we see them finding place in the poetry of modem poets. Another feature of Keats’s poetry which has also been employed to a much greater degree by modern poets is Symbolism. Keats has made use of the Nightingale as a symbol of permanence and immortality and the Grecian Urn as a symbol of artistic perfection.

Keats’s perfect style

      The style and structural frame-work of Keats’s poetry give it an additional advantage of being ever popular with its readers. Not a word or phrase has been wasted. No word is out of place. Just remove one word from any of his poems and you do massacre to its beauty. Where the language is decorative, it is so for the sake of the artistic worth of the poem. Every poem is a compact and concrete whole in itself. Same is true of his poetry put together as a whole. One poem is a commentary on the other.

      Once we start reading his poetry, we feel like going through the whole of it. It is this unity of impression which convinces the modern reader most. Thus we have seen that there is not just one thing in Keats's poetry that attracts our attention, rather there are so many of them. We believe that with so much in its store, the poetry of Keats will always continue to have its appeal to the posterity of poetry-lovers, howsoever, diverse their tastes and likings may be.

University Question

1. What are the qualities of Keats's poetry that account for its continued appeal to the modern reader?

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