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Keats
by Ehsan Ehsan
10/05/08
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Chief characteristics of Keats as a Romantic Poet

John Keats (1795-1820) belonged to the second generations of Romantic poets. The poets who belonged to the first generation were Wordsworth, Coleridge and Scott. The prominent poets belonging to the second generation were Byron and Shelley and Keats. Yet their poetry, while having some common characteristics, was marked with their distinctive qualities. Before we come to discuss Keats main qualities as a Romantic poet, let us have a general idea about the English Romantic Movement itself. English Romantic movement can be roughly dated from 1780 to 1830. Romanticism is not a homogenous(of same kind)group of tendencies, nor do all the Romantic poets form a homogenous group. Politically, the earlier group (Wordsworth, Coleridge and Scott) were opponents of the French Revolution; while the second group of Romantics (Byron and Shelley) breathed a spirit of moral revolt; they refused to recognize any tradition, and severely criticized a society based on conventional privileges. They are inspired by revolutionary ideals, and in their passion for liberty, rebel against all tradition; their poetry glows with passion, and they preach the cult (a system of religious or spiritual beliefs) of revolution. Keats stands apart rather aloof from these revolutionary or antirevolutionary ideas being a pure poet. He has his own characteristics as a Romantic poet.

Romanticism is a tendency found in all literatures and in all countries. Walter Pater, the great critic, thinks that the romantic element in literature consists in the addition of quality of strangeness to the quality of beauty, which is present in all works of art. Romantic art tries to create the kind of beauty which is strange, mysterious and uncommon. It can be taken as contrary to the Classical art which tries to create the kind of beauty which is orderly familiar and significant. Romantic poetry is marked by an excess of imagination while classical poetry is marked by a sense of balance and proportion; Romantic poetry is highly subjective i.e., the poets like to express their own feelings and experiences in their work and do their best work in the lyric form, classical poetry is objective, i.e. the poets think more of the world around them than of themselves, and their best work can be found in the epic and dramatic forms. The art of the romantic lies in indefiniteness; whereas the ideal of Classic is calmness; that of the Romantic is excitement. Thus in brief, we may say that classical art is distinguished by the qualities of cleanliness, sense of proportion, restraint, calmness and grace of form and romantic art is distinguished by curiosity, excitement, enthusiasm, aspiration, freedom and restlessness.

Keats as a Romantic Poet has his own characteristics for which he stands distinct from all the other Romantics and which make him, in many ways, the most romantic of all romantic poets. Like other romantic poets, he does not make his poetry a vehicle of any prophecy – or a message. It is the poetry for its own sake. It has no moral, no political or social significance. It is, therefore the purest poetry. His poetry is the poetry of escape, love of the past, dealing with romantic themes, love of Nature, having an unending pursuit of beauty, having supernatural element, adding the strangeness to beauty, and a distinct poetic style. His poetry has the Spontaneity and concentration of thought and feeling, submission to the truth of life and experience, pursuit of truth, having Negative capability, no moral teaching or didacticism (instructional quality or tendency), full of imaginative flights and realistic thuds (dull heavy blows), having a serenity of mood, full of instinctive, sensuous and intuitional perception of feelings and the blending of romantic passion and classical restraint.
Like all other Romantic poets, Keats is also an escapist but he does not forget the realities of life. He goes into his imaginative flight for some time then gradually come back to this earth and makes himself realize that that the escape provided by his imaginative flights is not so durable. He can refresh himself to face the miseries for which he and the other human beings are destined. 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 young grows pale, and specter – thin, and dies.’ But this does not give rise to a desire to bring a revolution like Byron or Shelley. He accepts the realities of life and represents them very beautifully, realistically and artistically. His sole aim was to pursue Beauty, which was also Truth, he cannot be called an escapist, for in pursuing Beauty, he pursues Truth.

Love of the past

Like Coleridge, Keats has also the love of the past and seeks an escape in it. His imagination is attracted by the ancient Greeks as well as the glory and splendour of the Middle Ages. Most of his poetry is inspired by the past. It is rarely that he devotes himself to the pressing problems of the present. His poems ‘Endymion, Hyperion and Lamia are all classical in theme, though romantic in style. ‘The Eve of St. Agnes,’ ‘Isabella’ and ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ are medieval in origin. Keats thus finds an escape into the past from the oppressive realities of the present yet he keeps his feet stuck on the earth. He reaches the acme (peak) of his imaginative flights and when that ecstatic fit is over, he comes back and starts living like the ordinary human beings in all the miseries, sorrows and joys of life. That is why he says to the Nightingale,
‘Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fame’d to do, deceiving elf (fairy).

Keats’s next characteristic as a Romantic poet is that he has included in his poetry the romantic themes. 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 strains 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 fear…’Another romantic theme is the disappointment in love and its desolation which he has amicably dealt with. Again, the rich and sensuous descriptions scattered all over his poetry are romantic in tone.

Love of Nature
Like all other Romantic poets, he had a strong passion of Nature but he restricted himself to be fascinated by the external beauties of Nature instead of finding a spirit within Nature like Wordsworth.

Cult of Beauty
Keats had a craze for beauty but his concept of beauty was not limited to physical or external beauty. Beauty for him was a Deity and synonymous with ‘Truth.” He thinks that a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. Beauty is his religion. It is in this pursuit of beauty that he completely forgets himself and the world around him.

Supernatural Element
Like Coleridge he has included the element of supernaturalism in his poetry and he looks beyond the seen to the unseen. Keats has 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.

Strangeness added to beauty
The romantic quality in literature has been defined by Pater as ‘the addition of strangeness to beauty’. Keats is ahead of all to add the element of strangeness to beauty. He sees beauty in the ordinary things of nature. The earth to him is a place where beauty renews itself every day; the sky is full of huge cloudy symbols of a high romance. Keats loved beauty in the flower, in the stream and in the cloud, but he loved it in each thing as a part of the Universal Beauty which is one and infinite – ‘the mighty abstract idea of Beauty. That is why he says to the Nightingale,
‘Thou was not born for death, immortal bird.”

Keats’s poetic style

Both in terms of diction and metres 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;
‘The silver snarling trumpet ‘gan to chide
Thou foster-child of Silence and Slow Time.

Keats as a true romantic

Romanticism, though it sometimes flings (throw violently) our imagination far into the remote and 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 (stale by overuse) sense of dealing with the unrealities of life. He never escaped from the realities of life in pursuit of the beautiful visions of his imagination; in fact, the vision of his imagination is based on reality. He persistently endeavoured (tried) to reconcile the world of imagination with the world of reality. Therefore, Middleton Murry calls Keats ‘a true romantic.’ Keats fully imbibed (take in) 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.

Unending pursuit of Beauty is one of the chief characteristics of Keats poetry. He always cried, ‘O for a life of sensation rather than of thought.’ All his poetry is full of the sensuous appeal of beautiful things. His poem ‘Ode to Autumn’, directly brings us into his 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

Another characteristic of Keats poetry is its 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. Poetry came naturally to him, as leaves come to a tree. It was the spontaneous utterance of his powerful feeling. What he felt he wrote. Keats genuinely felt the thought that a beautiful thing leads to truth and also pleases for ever, and so he wrote,
‘A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.’

Submission to the truth of life and experience
Keats 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 (unhesitating) to life’ and had ‘the capacity to see and to see what life is.’ A pure poet feels and expresses his joy in beauty, but when he feels this joy, he realizes 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.

He arrived at this truth through ‘negative capability’ and through realization of the necessity of pain and sorrow.

Negative capability

Negative capability means that a poet should negate his personality in his poetry. He should make an objective analysis of what he observes, studies or experiences. Amalgamate and absorb every thing he has felt, observed, studied and experienced and then bring it out from his inside in such a manner that it gets the status of Universality. Keats is distinguished with this negative capability. He says that a poet has no identity. He is continually in, for and feeling some other body. He says, ‘If a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the gravel (small stones). 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.

Pursuit of truth
Keats’s aestheticism was not only sensuous – it had an intellectual element. He was constantly endeavouring 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 thought and reasoning, which do not also satisfy imagination and give a truth which is also beauty’ the beauty which is also truth. Because of this pursuit of truth, his poems have an objective beauty. The underlying principle of all Keats’s poetic thought is this; ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty’ 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.

Keats’s Hellenism
The world ‘Hellenism’ is derived from the word ‘Hellene’ which means Greek. ‘Hellenism’ therefore stands for Greek culture and Greek spirit. Keats was Greek in temper and spirit. He had the inborn temperamental Greekness of his mind and when he got knowledge of the Greeks through various sources, he was fascinated by its beauty and spirit. He is a Helleniist because he loves beauty like the Greeks. The Greeks were lovers of beauty, and so is Keats. To him, as to the Greeks, the expression of beauty is the aim of all art, and beauty for Keats and Greeks is not exclusively physical or intellectual or spiritual but represents the fullest development of all that makes for human perfection. It was the perfection of loveliness in Greek art that fascinated Keats, and it was the beauty and shapeliness of the figures of the Grecian Urn that started the imaginative impulse which created the great Ode.
The instinctive Greekness of Keats’s mind lies in his passionate pursuit of beauty, which is the very soul of his poetry. It is a temper of unruffled (calm and poised) pleasure, of keen sensuous joy in beauty. To him a thing of beauty is a joy for ever. His passion for beauty finds a concrete expression in his ‘Ode to Psyche’:

Yes, I will be thy priest and build a fane (temple)
In some untrodden region of my mind,
Where branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.
Far, far around shall these dark-clustered trees
Fledge the wild – ridged mountains steep by steep,
And there by Zephyrs, screams and birds and bees
The moss-lain Dryads shall be lulled to sleep.

The Greeks did not burden their poetry with philosophy or spiritual message. Their poetry was incarnation of ‘beauty, and existed for itself. Similarly Keats was a pure poet. He enjoyed unalloyed pleasure in nature, which for him did not carry any philosophical or spiritual message. For Keats the sense of beauty overcame every other consideration.

Blending of Hellenic or Classical restraints with Romantic freedom

Keats blended Hellenism or Classical restraints with Romantic freedom. That is why that his poems have romantic ardour, with classical severity. It is in the Odes that we find a fusion of romantic impulse with classical severity. Here we notice Keats’s sense of form, unity, and orderliness. The Odes show an amazing sense of proportion in the Greek manner and present a well-designed evolution of thought. In his Ode to a Nightingale, the luxuriance of his fancy carries him far away from the fever and fret of the world to a faery land, where the song of the nightingale can be heard through ‘charmed magic casements opening on the seas’. He is carried away by his imaginative impulse, but his artistic sense soon prevails. The exuberance of his fancy does not blind him to his classical sense of form and order. He realizes that ‘fancy cannot cheat so well as she is famed to do.; and he comes back to the world of realities,

Forlorn, the very word is like a bell
That tolls me back from thee to my sole self.

Thus we find here a happy blending of the romantic ardour, with Greek restraint – of romantic freedom with classical severity. There is also Greek manner of personifying power of Nature. What the Greeks felt, Keats also felt. The rising sun for Keats is not a ball of fire, but Apollo riding his chariot. In fact, the world of Greek paganism lives again in a poetry of Keats, with all its sensuousness and joy of life and with all the wonder and mysticism of the natural world. Autumn to Keats is not only a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but a divinity in human shape. Autumn sometimes appears as a thresher;

Sitting careless on granary floor
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind.

Sometimes, as a reaper, sound asleep on a half reaped furrow, or as a gleaner, steadying the laden head across a brook. This is the typical attitude of the Greeks, who attributed human qualities and shapes to gods and demi-gods.

The qualities and characteristics of Keat’s Hellenism or Greekness; may be thus summarized.
His love of beauty – his spontaneous response to it in all forms.
His pagan delight in Nature and in the physical side of life.
His manner of personifying the phenomena of Nature
His interest in the subject-matter of the old Greek writers, and in the Greek mythology.
His feeling for form, and clearness and directness of expression.
His Concrete imagery instead of abstract ideas.

Keats was one of the finest flowers of the Romantic Movement. His genius blossomed under the romantic breeze, and matured under the sunshine of classicism. By classicism - the genuine classicism of ancient Greece. There is a harmonious blending of romantic ardour with classical restraint. We can say that he was a Greek in temper and spirit. He looked with a pagan delight like the ancient Greeks at the beauties and glories of nature. Just as Keats drew inspiration from medieval legends so he found inexhaustible source of poetic inspiration in Greek mythology. That is the reason that Keats’s style is the blending of romantic passion and classical restraint.

Keats’s Sensuousness

Sensuousness is that quality which is derived from or affects the sense – of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. By the term ‘sensuous poetry; is meant poetry which is devoted, not to an idea or philosophical thought, but mainly to the task of giving delight to the senses. Sensuous poetry would have an appeal to our eyes by presenting beautiful and colourful word-pictures, to our ear by its metrical music and musical sounds, to our nose by arousing our sense of smell, and so on. Thus sensuousness means appeal to our senses-eye, ear, nose, taste and smell, and sense of hot and cold. Keats’s sensuousness has a magical effect. He does not sense the objects only himself but also imparts it to the readers in such a manner that he also is fascinated by the same sense which the poet has experienced. Let us see some of the examples of his sensuousness.

Picture of the eye
Keats is a painter in words. With the help of a mere few words, he presents a solid, concrete picture;

‘Her hair was long, her foot was light
And her eyes were wild.
I saw their starved lips in the gloom
With horrid warning gaped wide.

These pictures are statuesque (like a stone statue). They remain firmly fixed in our memory.

Sense of hearing
The music of nightingale produces pangs of pain in poet’s heart

Forlorn; The very word is like a bell
To toll thee back from thee to my sole self.

The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days, by emperor and clown.

Sense of touch

The opening lines of La Belle Dame Sans Merci describe extreme cold

The sedge is withered from the lake
And no birds sing
Calvin called the line ‘and no birds sing’, as the best line in English literature.

Sense of taste

In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats describes many wines. The idea of their taste is intoxicating:
O for a beaker full of warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene.

In La Bella Dame San Merci

She found me roots of relish sweet
Of honey wild and manna dew.

Pictures of smell

The poet can’t see the flowers in the darkness. There is mingled perfume of many flowers:

Fast fading violets covered up in leaves
And mid May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy, wine.

Apart from giving the sensuous presentations relating to a particular sense, he has also presented technicolour pictures such as

Full of true, the blushful Hippocrene
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim
And purple stained mouth.

Keats poems are a remarkable example of his sensuousness. Keats had the capability of making poetry only out of what he felt upon his pulses. It was his sense impressions that kindled his imagination which made him realize the principle that ‘Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty. But his poetry is not a mere record of sense-impression. It goes beyond that. It is a spontaneous overflow of his imagination kindled by the senses. He hears the song of nightingale and is filled with deep joy which at once kindles his imagination. He has been hearing the actual song of a nightingale, but when his imagination is excited, he hears the eternal voice of the nightingale singing from the beginning of time. He sees the beauty of the Grecian Urn and of the figures carved upon it. His imagination is stirred, and he hears in his imagination the music of the piper:

Heard melodies are sweet, those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on
Not to the sensual ear, but more endeared,
Pipe to the spirit, ditties of no tone.

Keats as the writer of Odes

Keats Odes are the best representative poems of his creative art. In these poems he is at the height of his poetic spirit. He has masterly mingled the Greek and Classical themes with the romantic imagination and ardour. These poems are the best examples of his sensuousness. If he had not created some other poetic works, these poems were enough to win him the honour of being the pure poet and poet of beauty. The Odes of Keats reveal almost all his poetic qualities and the essential aspects and modes of his thought. They are free from didactic element and express his sensuousness, pictorial quality, medievalism, Hellenism, lyrical power, melancholy, negative capability, his conception of beauty and nature, a romantic touch and a reflective cast, his felicity of phrasing and his mastery over and apt use of language and imagery. They possess a dramatic quality which is seen especially in the odes ‘To a Nightingale’, and ‘On a Grecian Urn’ in the act of escape from the world of process and the final return to it. The poet seeks to escape, into the world of art signified by the urn and the world of imagination signified by the Nightingale’s song, but the escape proves illusory (having an illusion) and he has to come back dramatically to the world he had sought to escape from. The element of drama is also found in the love-making of Cupid and Psyche in the ‘Ode to Psyche’ and in the description of Autumn as person performing different activities in ‘To Autumn’. Moreover, his Odes are free from ‘palpable design’. They do not seek to propagate any ideas, nor do they provide any solution of the various social, political or moral problems of the world – a function which Keats did not like poetry to perform.


Keats as the writer of Odes
Or
A critical appreciation of Keats major Odes

In the context of English poetry, ode can be defined as a lyrical poem which expresses exalted or enthusiastic emotion in respect of a theme which is dignified, and it does so in a metrical form which is as a rule complex or irregular. An ode has the following six characteristics;
It is an address to an abstract object which means that it is written to and not written about.
It is a natural and spontaneous overflow of the feelings of its writer. So it carries with it a degree of emotional depth and lyrical zeal
It is highly serious in character by virtue of its exalted and dignified theme.
Its language and style perfectly corresponds to the dignified and elevated character of the theme.
It exhibits a very clear logic in the development of the thought of its writer.
It can be in any complex form of metre, regular or irregular.

Keats Odes are the true representatives of his poetic art

The Keats’s six great odes, Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, Ode on Melancholy and Ode on Indolence reveal almost all his poetic qualities and the essential aspects and modes of his thought. They are free from didactic (instructive) element and express his sensuousness, pictorial quality, medievalism, Hellenism, lyrical power, melancholy, negative capability, his conception of beauty and nature, a romantic touch and a reflective cast, his felicity (happiness) of phrasing and his mastery over and apt (proper) use of language and imagery. They possess a dramatic quality which is seen especially in the odes ‘To a Nightingale’, and ‘On a Grecian Urn’ in the act of escape from the world of process and the final return to it. The poet seeks to escape, into the world of art signified by the Urn and the world of imagination signified by the Nightingale’s song, but the escape proves illusory (based on illusion) and he has to come back dramatically to the world he had sought to escape from. The element of drama is also found in the love-making of Cupid and Psyche in the ‘Ode to Psyche’ and in the description of Autumn as person performing different activities in ‘To Autumn’. Moreover, his Odes are free from ‘palpable (intense) design’. They do not seek to propagate any ideas, nor do they provide any solution of the various social, political or moral problems of the world – a function which Keats did not like poetry to perform.
Free from didactic element.

Keats’s poetry including Odes is free from didactic element. He did not try to present any philosophy of life. He did not try to teach or to preach any particular kind of idea. His main focus was to present life as it is. He appreciated beauty in whatever shape he found and his mission was to write poetry for the sake of poetry. He did not try to present any morality and avoided to make his poetry subservient (subordinate) to any particular label.

His sensuousness and pictorial quality

The odes are the best examples of Keats’s sensuousness and pictorial qualities. He was gifted to feel things through all his five senses and presented them to his readers in such a manner that the readers also sense whatever he experienced. He has the mastery of drawing pictures, the forceful and most effective through his words. The readers feel that they are with the poet when he is experiencing and sensing the objects that the poet comes across. For this representation of the objects sensed and picked by him he has used the most suitable and proper language which fully reflects his feelings.

Medievalism and Hellenism

The Odes are also representatives of his capability of using the themes of Medievalism and Hellenism. He has selected the themes of Medievalism and Hellenism as he was fascinated by the old stories of English Middle Ages as well as the Greek themes. He rose these themes of middle ages and the Greek mythology to the apex (high) level by adding to them the romantic imagination and ardour (passion). His odes, Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nitingale, Ode to Autums are the best examples in this respect.

His conception of Beauty and Nature

These Odes are a fine example to elaborate Keats’s conception of Beauty and Nature. Beauty for him was closely connected with Truth and he thinks that these two objects were indivisible from each other. He saw beauty in every object and cherished it perfectly. But the apparent beauty was only a stir for his imaginative flight. When he made his imaginative flights, he transcended (went beyond) the time and also revived the past in such a way that the object got an ever lasting quality. That ever lasting quality is Truth and that is why he says,
Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty, that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

Similarly Keats’s is fascinated by Nature and the objects of Nature. But he does not try to philosophies Nature in the same manner that Wordsworth did. He appreciated the beauty in Nature but again he made use of the beautiful objects of Nature to take an imaginary flight where the ordinary gets the quality of the everlasting. He presents this permanence of the world of imagination in his Ode to a Nightingale and the permanence of art in his Ode to a Grecian Urn.



His Lyrical Power

All his Odes have a lyrical power. They have a musical quality and can be enjoyed by singing or reading aloud. Their diction and language is so musical and rhythmic that apart from their subject matter they are alluring and magical.

Melancholic Strain

Keats’s Odes have a pervasive (ever present) melancholic (of sadness) strain in them. The poet comes across the beauties of nature and art, makes an imaginative flight where the past the present and the future are mingled together in which he has the vision of Truth. Then after a short imaginative flight, when the heaviness of this earth makes itself realized, he comes back to this earth where the bitter realities of life are ready to welcome him again.
In all this experience, a constant strain of melancholy runs and keeps him aware of the miseries of experience by human beings making them to realize about the fickleness of life.

Above all, these Odes fully reflect his negative capability. Negative capability means that a writer should negate his personality in his creation. He should make an objective analysis of what he observes, studies or experiences. Amalgamate and absorb every thing he has felt, observed, studied and experienced and then bring it out from his inside in such a manner that it gets the status of Universality. Keats is distinguished with this negative capability. He says that a poet has no identity. He is continually in, for and feeling some other body. He says, ‘If a sparrow comes before my window, I take part in its existence and pick about the grave. 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 and the poet of Odes.

Element of drama

When we study the Odes of Keats, the very first thing that comes on the forefront is their dramatic quality. By drama we essentially mean tension and conflict. The Odes are a running commentary on Keats poetic state of mind that always suffered from the pulls of reality from one end and those of imagination from the other. He hanged on the balance between the bitter realities of this world ‘where but to think is to be full of sorrow’ and the happy world of the Nightingale which has remained absolutely untainted (unaffected) by the fret and fever of the world of Man. This, in brief, constitutes the fundamental problem of the Odes of Keats and the same lends to them the dramatic value that is characteristically their own.

Here are a few lines from Keats different Odes that reflect the main characteristics of his poetic art.

Forlorn, the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self (Blending of Hellenism or Classical restraints with Romantic freedom)
Her hair was long, her foot was light
And her eyes were wild

The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days, by emperor and clown.

The sedge is withered from the lake
And no birds sing.

O for a beaker full of the warm South
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene.

Fast fading violets covered up in leaves
And mid May’s eldes child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dew, wine
The murmurous haunts of flies on summer eves.

Full of true, the blushful Hipocrene
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim
And purple stained mouth.
(Keats sensuousness)
A thing of beauty is a joy for every
(Sensuous beauty)
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas and faery lands forlorn.
(Medievalism)
The carved angels, ever eager eyes
Star’d where upon their heads the cornice rests
(Pictorial quality)
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter.
(Dramatic quality)
Where men sit and hear each other groan
Where palsy shakes a few, sad last gray hairs
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.
(Negative capability)
Conclusion

Keats is without a rival as the poet of the richly meditative odes. As swinburne has said, ‘Greater lyrical poetry the world may have seen, nor ever can it possible see.’ The great Odes of Keats stand alone in literature, new in form and spirit and owing nothing to any predecessor. In his Odes Keats comes nearest to the best of Shakespeare, and in them he has achieved Shakespearean universality. It is this universal quality in the Odes, the sense of pure creation conveys itself most strongly to the reader. They are the signature and handwriting of a great spirit; and as we watch his hand physically trace them, we have share to some degree in that spiritual triumph. The insights they contain and the truths they convey hold an appeal for all people in all climates and climes. These Odes are a class by themselves. Robert Bridges, referring to the Odes of Keats, has aptly remarked, “Had Keats left us only his Odes, his rank among the poets would not be lower than it is. We can round off this discussion by asserting that in his Odes Keats has no master, and their indefinable beauty is so direct and distinctive and effluence of his soul that he can have no disciple.

Critical Appreciation of ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’

In the context of English poetry, ode can be defined as a lyrical poem which expresses exalted or enthusiastic emotion in respect of a theme which is dignified, and it does so in a metrical form which is as a rule complex or irregular. An ode has the following six characteristics;
It is an address to an abstract object which means that it is written to and not written about.
It is a natural and spontaneous overflow of the feelings of its writer. So it carries with it a degree of emotional depth and lyrical zeal
It is highly serious in character by virtue of its exalted and dignified theme.
Its language and style perfectly corresponds to the dignified and elevated character of the theme.
It exhibits a very clear logic in the development of the thought of its writer.
It can be in any complex form of metre, regular or irregular.

Keats Odes are the true representatives of his poetic art

The Keats’s six great odes, Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, Ode on Melancholy and Ode on Indolence reveal almost all his poetic qualities and the essential aspects and modes of his thought. They are free from didactic element and express his sensuousness, pictorial quality, medievalism, Hellenism, lyrical power, melancholy, negative capability, his conception of beauty and nature, a romantic touch and a reflective cast, his felicity of phrasing and his mastery over and apt use of language and imagery. They possess a dramatic quality which is seen especially in the odes ‘To a Nightingale’, and ‘On a Grecian Urn’ in the act of escape from the world of process and the final return to it. The poet seeks to escape, into the world of art signified by the urn and the world of imagination signified by the Nightingale’s song, but the escape proves illusory and he has to come back dramatically to the world he had sought to escape from. The element of drama is also found in the love-making of Cupid and Psyche in the ‘Ode to Psyche’ and in the description of Autumn as person performing different activities in ‘To Autumn’. Moreover, his Odes are free from ‘palpable design’. They do not seek to propagate any ideas, nor do they provide any solution of the various social, political or moral problems of the world – a function which Keats did not like poetry to perform.

The Ode on a Grecian Urn describes the poet’s experience of seeing an urn with different carvings on it. The poet sees these carvings and is fascinating by them. He contemplates on them and presents every painting in such a manner that each picture presents a background with it. The poem reflects Keat’s poetic art and is a living proof how he could change his sensed experiences into a permanent art. In this poem, we come to know about his concept of beauty and the connection between Beauty and Truth. He says,
Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty, that is all
Ye Know on earth and all ye need to know.

But Beauty, for Keats is a means to reach Truth.
Keats’s aestheticism was not only sensuous – it had an intellectual element. He was constantly endeavouring 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 thought and reasoning, which do not also satisfy imagination and give a truth which is also beauty’ the beauty which is also truth. Because of this pursuit of truth, his poems have an objective beauty. The underlying principle of all Keats’s poetic thought is this; ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty’ 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.

This poem also represents Keats sensuousness and his pictorial quality. It also tells how Keats is able to present the whole picture of the object seen by him in a single phrase and sentences and then how he goes on gradually to complete that picture that the reader begins to feel and sense whatever was observed and experienced by the poet. Just have a look how masterly he presents his objects and experience and then invites the reader to share his feelings;
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstacy?

This poem also represents Keats concept of Art and Nature. He thinks that the life of art is more permanent that the life of Nature and the life of human beings. He says,

Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity; Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in minds of other woe
Than ours, 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.

The pastoral legends represented in cold marble shall outlive future generations amidst their various moods, and shall remain for ever a source of consolation to the world. They proclaim the noble message: Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. This is the noblest ideal man can have, because it provides to man a shelter from the mutability and transitoriness of life.

The poem also brings to like Keats Greek temperament. It represents his interest in Hellenism and Classical restraints. It also tells us how Keats could mingle the elements of Hellenism and Romanticism. The Greciean Urn reflects Greek’s deep interest in art which Keats uses as his theme for the poem. But he is not satisfied with the representation of the carvings on the Urn but adds to it the Romantic imagination, the strangeness, zeal and ardour and gives it a quite refreshing and new vision. The poem tells us how Keats could change the Hellenistic into Romantic. The following lines are the guide to tell us how Keats could use his poetic skill to bring it to a universal level.

A happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs, for ever new!
More happy love; more happy, happy love
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed
For every painting and for every young.

The actual men and women represented on the urn are gone, but art has conferred upon them a permanence which age cannot wither.

The mood of the poem is not sad like the Ode to a Nightingale. It is not a dream of unutterable beauty, nor is the urn itself the sign of an impossible bliss beyond mortality. It has a precious message to mankind, not as a thing of beauty which gives exquisite delight to the senses, but as a symbol and prophecy of a comprehension of human life to which mankind can attain. It also reflects the dramatic quality of Keats poetic art,
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter.
(Dramatic quality)

Like all his other Odes it has a lyrical power. It has a musical quality and can be enjoyed by singing or reading aloud. Its diction and language is so musical and rhythmic that apart from its subject matter it is alluring and magical.



Keats is without a rival as the poet of the richly meditative odes. As Swinburne has said, ‘Greater lyrical poetry the world may have see, nor ever can it possible see.’ The great Odes of Keats stand alone in literature, new in form and spirit and owing nothing to any predecessor. In his Odes Keats comes nearest to the best of Shakespeare, and in them he has achieved Shakespearean universality. It is this universal quality in the Odes, the sense of pure creation that conveys itself most strongly to the reader. They are the signature and handwriting of a great spirit; and as we watch his hand physically trace them, we have share to some degree in that spiritual triumph. The insights they contain and the truths they convey hold an appeal for all people in all climates and climes. These Odes are a class by themselves. Robert Bridges, referring to the Odes of Keats, has aptly remarked, “Had Keats left us only his Odes, his rank among the poets would not be lower that it is. We can round off this discussion by asserting that in his Odes Keats has no master, and their indefinable beauty is so direct and distinctive an effluence of his soul that he can have no disciple.


Critical Appreciation of “Ode to a Nightingale”.

In the context of English poetry, ode can be defined as a lyrical poem which expresses exalted or enthusiastic emotion in respect of a theme which is dignified, and it does so in a metrical form which is as a rule complex or irregular. An ode has the following six characteristics;
It is an address to an abstract object which means that it is written to and not written about.
It is a natural and spontaneous overflow of the feelings of its writer. So it carries with it a degree of emotional depth and lyrical zeal
It is highly serious in character by virtue of its exalted and dignified theme.
Its language and style perfectly corresponds to the dignified and elevated character of the theme.
It exhibits a very clear logic in the development of the thought of its writer.
It can be in any complex form of metre, regular or irregular.

Keats Odes are the true representatives of his poetic art

The Keats’s six great odes, Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, Ode on Melancholy and Ode on Indolence reveal almost all his poetic qualities and the essential aspects and modes of his thought. They are free from didactic element and express his sensuousness, pictorial quality, medievalism, Hellenism, lyrical power, melancholy, negative capability, his conception of beauty and nature, a romantic touch and a reflective cast, his felicity of phrasing and his mastery over and apt use of language and imagery. They possess a dramatic quality which is seen especially in the odes ‘To a Nightingale’, and ‘On a Grecian Urn’ in the act of escape from the world of process and the final return to it. The poet seeks to escape, into the world of art signified by the urn and the world of imagination signified by the Nightingale’s song, but the escape proves illusory and he has to come back dramatically to the world he had sought to escape from. The element of drama is also found in the love-making of Cupid and Psyche in the ‘Ode to Psyche’ and in the description of Autumn as person performing different activities in ‘To Autumn’. Moreover, his Odes are free from ‘palpable design’. They do not seek to propagate any ideas, nor do they provide any solution of the various social, political or moral problems of the world – a function which Keats did not like poetry to perform.

Ode to the Nightingale is one of the representative poems of Keats poetic art. This poem brings to light Keats concept of beauty, immortality, the importance of imaginative life, the fickleness of human life, the comparison between the imaginative world and the world of realities, his sensuousness, his pictorial quality, his negative capability and his romantic imagination, zeal, ferver and ardour, along with the miseries that human beings have to face in this world. Above all this is one of the greatest lyrics in the English language. “I could not name,” says Bridges, ‘an English poem of the same length which contains so much beauty as this Ode. Middleton Murry says, ‘For sheer loveliness this poem is unsurpassed in the English language’. It reaches the peak of romantic poetry in the lines:

The same that oft times hath
Charmed magic casements, etc.

In his imaginative experience the poet feel the world of time merged into the world of eternity. This poem also shows Keats as an escapist who soon realizes that the imagination cannot deceive human mind for a longer time and man has ultimately to come back from his high and fascinating imaginative flights to the world of realities. The song of the bird represents beauty _ ideal beauty that never fades. It is the eternal spirit of beauty; it is the voice of eternity that transcends the bounds of space and time.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.
To the poet in that moment of imaginative ecstasy the nightingale is not a solitary bird singing from its hiding place in the tree; the bird is turned into song; the bird and the song are one – therefore the bird is immortal, ‘not born for death. This poem shows his imaginative swerving (turn away) from the finite to the infinite; from the world of the time to the world of eternity is a marked feature of the greatest romantic poetry. The poetic style of Keats reaches its peak of glory in this poem. It shows a perfect blending of classical balance and romantic inspiration.

The ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ is a great poem in many respects. It is the high watermark in romantic poetry even in that age of romanticism in which it was produced. Both in point of high imaginative conception, and of noble, almost perfect execution, the ode is one of the very greatest that has ever been written by any poet. “The key to the whole poem is to be found in the fine sensuous nature of the poet. According to Rossetti, ‘The passage about magic casements shows a reach of expression which can almost be called the pillars of Hercules of human language”.

Here are some lines from the poem that reflect many of the characteristics of Keats poetic art:

Where men sit and hear each other groan
Where palsy shakes a few, sad last gray hairs
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.
….
Not through envy of the happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness.
(Keats Negative Capability)

The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas and faery lands forlorn.
(Medievalism)

Forlorn; The very word is like a bell
To toll thee back from thee to my sole self.
…….
O for a beaker full of the warm South:
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocreene.
…..
Fast fading violets covered up in leaves
And mid May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy, wine
The murmurous haunts of flies on summer eves.
(Sensuousness)

Full of true, the blushful Hippocrene
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim
And purple stained mouth.
(His sensuousness and pictorial quality)

The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days, by emperor and clown.
(His Medievalism)

Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fame’d to do, deceiving elf (fairy).
(His acceptance of the realities of life)

Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird,
No hungry generations tread thee down.
(His mystic experience)

Where to think is to be full of sorrow.
(Balance between imagination and reality)

Now more that ever seems it rich to die.
(His wish for eternal existence)

Keats is without a rival as the poet of the richly meditative odes. As Swinburne has said, ‘Greater lyrical poetry the world may have see, nor ever can it possible see.’ The great Odes of Keats stand alone in literature, new in form and spirit and owing nothing to any predecessor. In his Odes Keats comes nearest to the best of Shakespeare, and in them he has achieved Shakespearean universality. It is this universal quality in the Odes, the sense of pure creation that conveys itself most strongly to the reader. They are the signature and handwriting of a great spirit; and as we watch his hand physically trace them, we have share to some degree in that spiritual triumph. The insights they contain and the truths they convey hold an appeal for all people in all climates and climes. These Odes are a class by themselves. Robert Bridges, referring to the Odes of Keats, has aptly remarked, “Had Keats left us only his Odes, his rank among the the poets would not be lower that it is. We can round off this discussion by asserting that in his Odes Keats has no master, and their indefinable beauty is so direct and distinctive and effluence of his soul that he can have no disciple.


Critical Appreciation of ‘Ode to Autumn”

In the context of English poetry, ode can be defined as a lyrical poem which expresses exalted or enthusiastic emotion in respect of a theme which is dignified, and it does so in a metrical form which is as a rule complex or irregular. An ode has the following six characteristics;
It is an address to an abstract object which means that it is written to and not written about.
It is a natural and spontaneous overflow of the feelings of its writer. So it carries with it a degree of emotional depth and lyrical zeal
It is highly serious in character by virtue of its exalted and dignified theme.
Its language and style perfectly corresponds to the dignified and elevated character of the theme.
It exhibits a very clear logic in the development of the thought of its writer.
It can be in any complex form of metre, regular or irregular.

Keats Odes are the true representatives of his poetic art

The Keats’s six great odes, Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, Ode on Melancholy and Ode on Indolence reveal almost all his poetic qualities and the essential aspects and modes of his thought. They are free from didactic element and express his sensuousness, pictorial quality, medievalism, Hellenism, lyrical power, melancholy, negative capability, his conception of beauty and nature, a romantic touch and a reflective cast, his felicity of phrasing and his mastery over and apt use of language and imagery. They possess a dramatic quality which is seen especially in the odes ‘To a Nightingale’, and ‘On a Grecian Urn’ in the act of escape from the world of process and the final return to it. The poet seeks to escape, into the world of art signified by the urn and the world of imagination signified by the Nightingale’s song, but the escape proves illusory and he has to come back dramatically to the world he had sought to escape from. The element of drama is also found in the love-making of Cupid and Psyche in the ‘Ode to Psyche’ and in the description of Autumn as person performing different activities in ‘To Autumn’. Moreover, his Odes are free from ‘palpable design’. They do not seek to propagate any ideas, nor do they provide any solution of the various social, political or moral problems of the world – a function which Keats did not like poetry to perform.

The ‘Ode to Autumn is faultless in its art and workmanship. It shows at shows as its best all the qualities of Keats as poetic artist – his pictorial power, his economy of expression, his classical restraint, his sense of proportion, and his grave and solemn music. In no other poem, again, does his simple and direct love of nature find a better and full expression. In the first stanza the poet gives us a description of the prolific bounties of Autumn. In the second stanza, we have a splendid personification of Autumn. Autumn is personified under four pictures typical of the sean. The poet then questions – Where are the songs of Spring/ The poet feels that though the beauties of Spring are absent in Autumn, yet Autumn has a beauty of its own.

The ‘Ode to Autumn, shows Greek spirit and Greek way of writing more than any other poem in the English language. It is classical in the true sense of the word. There is here no romantic strangeness or mystery, no emotional agitation. The poem is pervaded througfht by a mood of seren tranquility. Moreover, the living personification of autumn are exactly in the myth-making mode of the ancient Greeks. The ‘Ode to Autumn is unique in its rounded perfection and felicity of loveliness.It has an exquisite sense of unity and proportion leaving a single are impression. It has rich and subdued melody of the long lines, perfectly adapted to the mood of brooding and mellow contentment, the wonderful description of Natue for the sake of Nature, tinged with that sweet sensuousness which is a trait in the poet’s nature, the charming and vivid jpersonification of Autumn in the Greek manner, the absence of subjectivity and melancholy - all these fully deserve praises of the critics. The presentation of Nature and seson have been made so lively that Nature herself and the season are seen speaking to us. The middle stanza touches has the exquisite congruity and lightness of Greek personification. The details of the rich store of Autumn – its fruit, flower, etc, of the happy scene of ripe harves, of the songs of birds are charming both by their appropriateness and their clarity. The vines run round the thatch eaves, apples hang on the mossed cotta-trees; lambs bleat from the hilly bourne, gnats mourn and swallows twitter in the skies. In this poem there are the fine examples of Keats poetic art as is clear from the following lines:

Sitting careless on granary floor,
Thy hair sort-lifted by the winnowing wind
(Personification)

Who hath not seen three oft amid thy store/
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind
Or on a half-reped furrow sound asleep
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spare the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook
Or by a cider-press, with patient look
Thou watchest the lost oozings hours by hours

(Sensuousness, personification, presentation of Nature,and blending of the Classical and the Romanticism)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

Until they think warm days will never cease.
For summer has o’brimmed their clammy cells.

The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
(Sensuousness)

Where are the songs of spring/
Ay, where are they?
(Keats love of Nature)
(sensuousness)

Keats is without a rival as the poet of the richly meditative odes. As swinburne has said, ‘Greater lyrical poetry the world may have see, nor ever can it possible see.’ The great Odes of Keats stand alone in literature, new in form and spirit and owing nothing to any predecessor. In his Odes Keats comes nearest to the best of Shakespeare, and in them he has achieved Shakespearean universalityu. It is this universal quality in the Odes, the sense of pure creation, that conveys itself most strongly to the reader. They are the signature and handwriting of a great spirit; and as we watch his hand physically trace them, we have share to some degree in that spiritual triumph. The insights they contain and the truths they convey hold an appeal for all people in all climates and climes. These Odes fare a class by themselves. Robert Bridges, referring to the Odes of Keats, has aptly remarked, “Had Keats left us only his Odes, his rank among the poets would not be lower that it is. We can round off this discussion by asserting that in his Odes Keats has no master, and their indefinable beauty is so direct and distinctive an effluence of his soul that he can have no disciple.

Contexts of Keats’s three Odes

Ode on Grecian Urn
The poem brings to light Keats Greek temperament. It represents his interest in Hellenism and Classical restraints. It also tells us how Keats could mingle the elements of Hellenism and Romanticism. The Grecian Urn reflects Greek’s deep interest in art which Keats uses as his theme for the poem.


Ode to a Nightingale

Ode to the Nightingale is one of the representative poems of Keats poetic art. This poem brings to light Keats concept of beauty, immortality, the importance of imaginative life, the fickleness of human life, the comparison between the imaginative world and the world of realities, his sensuousness, his pictorial quality, his negative capability and his romantic imagination, zeal, ferver and ardour, along with the miseries that human beings have to face in this world.

The ‘Ode to Autumn, shows Greek spirit and Greek way of writing more than any other poem in the English language. It is classical in the true sense of the word. There is here no romantic strangeness or mystery, no emotional agitation. The poem is pervaded throughout by a mood of serene tranquility. Moreover, the living personification of autumn are exactly in the myth-making mode of the ancient Greeks. The ‘Ode to Autumn is unique in its rounded perfection and felicity of loveliness.

Literary terms used in Keats and his poetry

Ode, Beauty, Truth, Hellenism, Medievalism, Classical restraints, Romanticism, Sensuousness, Pictorial qualities, Negative capability, Romantic, Imagination, Romantic Movement, Escapism, Cult, Strangeness, Spontaneity, Didacticism, Melancholy, Greekness, Personification, Mystic experience, Imagery, Lyricism, Musicality, Apex, Unity of impression, Juxtaposition of the objective and subjective, Personal and Impersonal, Art versus life, Transience versus permanence, Temporal and eternal.















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