John Keats as a Romantic Poet

Also Read

      John Keats is in many ways the most romantic of all romantic poets. Romantic poetry aims at the complete expression of the individual as compared to classical poetry, which aims at the expression of social experience. Other romantic poets have some political or social comment in their poetry. But the poetry of Keats is not a vehicle of any prophecy—any message. It is poetry for its own sake. It has no moral, no political or social significance. It is, therefore, the purest poetry.

Poetry of Escape

      All romantic poetry is more or less escapist. Romantic poetry presents not the world of reality, but the world of dreams. The romantic poet seeks an escape from the hard realities of life in a world of romance and beauty. Keats is the most romantic of all the poets in the sense that he is most escapist of them all. He wants “to fade far away, dissolve and quite forget the weariness, the fever and the fret” of real life. He sees how men sit and hear each other groan. “How” youth grows pale, and specter—thin, and dies”. But this does not give rise to a desire to overthrow the tyrants, as it does in Shelley—nor does he think of a better world.

Love of the Past

      Like all romantic poets, Keats seeks an escape from the past. His imagination is attracted by the ancient Greeks as well as the glory and splendor of the Middle Ages. Most of his poetry is inspired by the past. It is rare that he devotes himself to the pressing problems of the present. Endymion, Hyperion and Lamia are all classical in theme, though romantic in style. The Eve of St Agnes, Isabella and La Belle Dame ans Merci are medieval in origin. Keats thus finds an escape into the past from the oppressive realities of the present,

Romantic Themes

      The themes of Keats’s poetry are romantic in their nature. Most of his poetry is devoted to the quest of beauty Love, chivalry, adventure, pathos—these are some of the themes of his poems. Another strain that runs through his poetry is the fear of death that haunts him constantly and which finds beautiful expression in his sonnet, When I have fears. Another favorite theme of his poems is disappointment in love and its desolation as we find in Let Belle Dame Sans Merci. Again, the rich and sensuous descriptions scattered all over his poetry are romantic in tone.

Love of Nature

      Like all romantics, Keats loves nature and its varied charms He has a vivid sense of color, and he transfigures everything into beauty that he touches with “the magic hand of chance”

Cult of Beauty

      In nothing else is Keats as romantic as in his frank pursuit of beauty. Beauty is Deity. Beauty for him is synonymous with Truth. A thing of beauty is for him a joy forever. Beauty is his religion. It is in this pursuit of beauty that he completely forgets himself and the world around him.

Supernatural Element

      One of the most striking notes of romantic poetry is that of supernaturalism. Just as the romantic poet looks backward from the present to the distant past, so he looks beyond the seen to the unseen. His imagination is lured by the remote, shadowy and mysterious. Among the romantic poets, Coleridge felt the spell of the supernatural the most, and his Ancient Mariner and Christabel are two of his important poems which dealt with supernatural. Keats dealt with the supernatural in his La Belle Dame Sans Marci, and in that little poem, he has condensed a whole world of supernatural mystery.

Addition of Strangeness to Beauty

      The romantic quality in literature has been defined by Peter as “the addition of strangeness to beauty”. All poetry, if it is genuine poetry, reflects, represents and deals with beauty, but romantic poetry goes a step ahead and imparts strangeness to beauty. When Wordsworth reads the message of eternity in the simplest flower, he reveals something strange and wonderful; this revelation of the strange and the mysterious, imparls the essential romantic quality of the poetry of Wordsworth. Keats sees beauty in the ordinary things of nature. The earth to him is a place where beauty renews itself everyday; the sky is full of huge cloudy symbols of a high romance. Keats loved beauty in the flower, in the stream and the cloud, but he loved it in each thing as a part of the Universal Beauty which is one an infinite—“the mighty abstract idea of Beauty”.

      The song of the nightingale is sweet and he is enraptured by the song and there comes the touch of romance. Keats, while hearing the sweet song, passes from the world of time to the world of eternity.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.

      The romantic imagination of the poet reveals in a flash a world beyond this world—the world of eternity where the nightingale sings forever and forever. The song of the nightingale becomes a symbol of the universal spirit of Beauty. Pursuit of the unknown, the invisible and the infinite inspires the creation of all the romantic poetry of the world. It is born out of the craving for the unknown; it is born out of the desire, not for a limited happiness, but for the boundless joy and loveliness. The nightingale is, for Keats, the symbol of unlimited joy, infinite happiness.

Keats’s Poetic Style 

      Last but not least, both in terms of diction and meters Keats’s poetic style is romantic. Though it has classical finish, it possesses that romantic touch of suggestiveness by which “more is meant than meets the ear.” His poetry is full of such unique suggestive expressions:

Then green-robed senators of mighty woods.
How tip-top Night holds back her dark-grey hood.
My sleep had been embroidered with dreams.
Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu,
The silver snarling trumpet ‘gan to chide.
Thou foster-child of Silence and Slow Time.

      Keats has employed various kinds of meters and stanza forms in his poetic works. He is one of the great sonneteers in the English language and his Odes, with their musical flow in long stanzas, stand as unique specimens of romantic poetry.

Keats is a True Romantic

      But true romanticism, though it sometimes flings our imagination far into the remote and the unseen, is essentially based on truth—the truth of emotion and the truth of imagination. Keats was a true romantic—not a romantic in the hackneyed sense of dealing with the unrealities of life. He loved not merely beauty but truth as well, and not merely the world of imagination but that of reality, and he saw beauty in truth and truth in beauty. He never escaped from the realities of life in pursuit of the beautiful visions of his imagination; in fact, the visions of his imagination are based on reality. He persistently endeavored to reconcile the world of imagination with the world of reality. Therefore, Middle ton Murry calls Keats “a true romantic.”


      The brief span of Keats’s life fell within, what is known as the age of Romantic' Revival in English Literature, and Keats fully imbibed the spirit of his age. His poetry is a fine example of highly romantic poetry; in fact, it touched almost all the aspects of romantic poetry—love of beauty, love of nature, love of the past, supernaturalism, glow of emotion, and last but not the least in importance, the revealing power of imagination.

University Questions

1. Differentiate the two generations of the Romantic poets of the early nineteenth century, with special reference to Shelley and Keats.

2. Indicate the place of Keats in the Romantic Movement.

Previous Post Next Post