To Fanny: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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Introduction

      This ode is regarded as one of the ‘fugitive poems’ of Keats, and it was not published till 1848. It is addressed to Fanny Brawne with whom Keats was madly in love and with whom he got himself engaged also at a time when he was suffering from consumption, which intensified his passion for her as it does in the case of all patients suffering from pulmonary trouble. Keats became more passionate, not only on account of his lung disease, but also because he suffered from a jealousy which was due to Fanny’s neglect of him and also due to her free mixing with the military officers with whom she danced. How childish Keats was, we can conclude from his Advice to Fanny to be chaste, i.e. not to mix with other persons in order to satisfy her sexual desire.

Summary

      Keats appeals to Nature to grant him a theme so that he can write a poem on it. He addresses Fanny and calls her the home of his hopes, joys, fears and miseries. He imagines Fanny to be the prettiest thing in the world at least for one night; but he warns her not to allow anybody to touch her so that he may get the best of her. He wants her not to be tempted by the momentary pleasure of dancing but to exercise restraint upon such a temptation so that he may get her all pure and fresh. He asks her to tell him if she is really true to him. But then, he cannot believe her because every woman is like Fanny—just like a feather in the ocean tossed by any wind in any direction. And because he knows all this, therefore, he is so jealous. Last, of all, he again appeals to her to remain pure, untouched just like a fresh budding flower; and if she cannot do so, it is better that he should die immediately.

Critical Analysis

      There are a few ideas which are noticeable in this Ode, and these ideas which probably inspired Keats to compose the Ode, First, we find that Keats is tired of composing poetry; and yet because he believes (poetry is the best means of expressing one’s feelings, he wants to compose a poem for the last time in order to express his pent-up feelings, which have been torturing him for a long time. It is, of course, Keats's passionate feeling of love for Fanny.

      That Keats loves Fanny most passionately, there is no doubt about it; and because he is a true lover, so he is also extremely jealous. Of course, his jealousy develops out of his own conscious, ness, of his physical disability, namely, the disease of tuberculosis from which he has been suffering and which has sapped practically all his energy and which has made him also perfectly incapable of satisfying Fanny’s legitimate desire to have all sorts of love-play from kissing to sex-communion. Keats’s jealousy develops also out of Fanny’s frivolous nature, namely, to roam about with too many persons, to dance and sing, to accept advances from any and every person, probaly she had been fascinated by Keats’s personal charms and by his poetry which she thought might be able to immortalize her as it has actually done so by linking her name with his. Anyhow, the tragedy of Keats’s life is due to Fanny’s neglect, her open frivolity, which nobody with any moral sense can connive at; and that is why we cannot appreciate the attitude of Fanny towards Keats, particularly, when we know that Keats is a sincere lover while Fanny is not so.

      It is jealousy which makes Keats suspect Fanny’s fidelity, and it is this suspicion which makes him say so sweepingly against all womanhood. Mark how he says in the fifth stanza of the Ode that the whole race of womanhood is a race of faithlessness—that women, all are weak and hence are very easily liable to the temptations of sex as Fanny has been the victim of such temptations. Keats says openly and clearly that all women are just like a feather in the sea or like the thistle down, both of which are at the mercy of the wind and the tide; and hence, all women are most liable to temptations, and hence to corruptions of sex.

      But the main significance of this Ode is Keats's abnormal sex desire due to his pulmonary trouble, and also his prophetic feeling about his coming death, which he has reflected not only in this Ode but also in many other poems which he had composed shortly before his death. All medical authorities agree that those who suffer from tuberculosis invariably develop an abnormal sex desire, which is again due to the fatal character of the disease which aggravates the sex desire in order to hasten the death of the patient. Keats’s death was actually hastened by the sexual desire. Of course, most of the poets and particularly, the romantic poets, are sexually more sensitive or keen than other persons; and therfore, it is not very unusual that Keats should have grown so madly fond of Fanny knowing fully his own physical disability.

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