Imagery of Warmth and Cold That Symbolize Imagination and Reality in Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes”

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Throughout the history of literature imagery and symbolism has played an important part of how literary works are interpreted, and the way those interpretations have changed over time. Not only is imagery and symbolism important in novels and short stories, but they are the basis of poetry and how poetry relates to the reader. Symbolism and imagery are most important in poetry because poems are generally longer than novels and short stories; therefore it is more challenging to create a poem that can have various meanings while still being fairly short. What is especially important is the time period in which poems were written and the way diction was used and what certain words meant in that time as opposed to today’s meanings.

One such instance is from the Romantic era and is the poem “The Eve of St. Agnes,” by John Keats. In “The Eve of St. Agnes,” the imagery, diction, and symbolism all combine to externally represent the climax of the poem—that is when Porphyro and Madeline come together and copulate. This also extends to the authors vision of reality and imagination, the climax is also a point of imagination versus reality in the context of Porphyro and Madeline. Building up to the climax of the poem are key words, phrases and of course images that symbolize what is to come, the uniting of the two adolescents—coldness and warmth which reflect the way youth and adulthood is viewed. The use of imagination versus reality is most acutely made aware in the stanzas before and after the climax of the poem in the way that it causes the reader to question whether or not the story is not the dream of Madeline or if it is indeed real.

The opening stanzas of “The Eve of St. Agnes,” have a bitter cold imagery which causes the reader t...

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... reality. The Beadsman and Angela succumb to death and reality because they lost sight of what it meant to dream and imagine, as is found in the second stanza; “He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.”

Works Cited

Fogle, Richard Harter. The Imagery of Keats and Shelley; A Comparative Study.. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1949. Print.

Gradman, Barry. "The Eve of St. Agnes: The Honey'd Middle of the Night." Metamorphosis in Keats . New York: New York University Press, 1980. 64-79. Print.

Wasserman, Earl R., and John Keats. "The Eve of St. Agnes." The Finer Tone: Keats' Major Poems . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1953. 84-137. Print.

Wigod, Jacob. The Darkening Chamber: The Growth of Tragic Consciousness in Keats.. Salzburg: Inst. f. Engl. Sprache u. Literatur, Univ. Salzburg, 1972. Print.

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