John Keats (1795 – 1821)
Introduction: Among the English Romantic poets, Keats was the least education but in many ways the most skillful, both technically and thematically. His themes are far ranging but deeply analyzed; his poems are musical and intricate, especially in applying the classical form of the ode, the ballad of folklore, and the Renaissance sonnet to contemporary life. In a life severely shortened by tuberculosis (which also killed his mother and brother), he produced a remarkable set of poems that have endured well beyond the Romantic period.
“La Belle Dame Sans Merci”: This poem utilizes a medieval setting and a ballad-like form to tell the story of a knight who has been deceived and betrayed by a heartless but beautiful young woman who represents evil.
The poem begins with a narrator’s discovery of a knight who appears to be dying. It is autumn and preparations are complete for winter, except that this knight appears to be defenseless.
The knight then tells his story of encountering “a fairy’s child”—a beautiful but mysterious girl who agrees to travel with him. So here we have typical elements in the Romantic mythos: a Romantic hero, an interlude in an unspecified quest, and a mysterious creature who can be either good or evil, but when judged only by her appearance seems good.
She is a manifestation of what the English poet and literary critic Robert Graves called the White Goddess—a recurring mythical figure who appears throughout history sometimes as a maiden in the image of Proserpine, sometimes as an Amazon warrior like Hippolyta, sometimes as the loving mother like Ceres, sometimes the harping wife like Hera, and sometimes as an aged hag or ...
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...nd the wasteland “where men sit and hear each other groan.”
In stanza IV he considers poetry as a cure. But since it is nighttime he is unable to see enough of the natural setting to inspire him. Only the song of the bird remains to help.
In stanza VI he considers suicide as a cure, but the nightingale’s example pulls him back: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!” And the poet thinks of the timelessness of the bird’s song and its inspiration to others. But all too soon the bird flies off and can no longer be heard, just as the imagination flames for only a short time, unless caught in art. At the poem’s close the poet is left wondering whether the episode really happened or was only a dream. The confusion of reality and dream, the external and the internal, macrocosm and heterocosm, will become an increasingly important element in literature.
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- The Poetry of John Keats John Keats (1795 – 1821) Introduction: Among the English Romantic poets, Keats was the least education but in many ways the most skillful, both technically and thematically. His themes are far ranging but deeply analyzed; his poems are musical and intricate, especially in applying the classical form of the ode, the ballad of folklore, and the Renaissance sonnet to contemporary life. In a life severely shortened by tuberculosis (which also killed his mother and brother), he produced a remarkable set of poems that have endured well beyond the Romantic period.... [tags: Romanticism, Poetry, John Keats]
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