John Keats Questions and Answers

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Evaluate John Keats as a poet of beauty and sensuousness.  

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Eleanore Trupkiewicz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You asked for help evaluating John Keats as a poet of beauty and sensuousness. Keeping in mind that beauty especially is in the eye of the beholder (and that therefore, something one person finds beautiful, another may find just ho-hum or even ugly), I recommend that you consider two of Keats's best-known works.

The first is "Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art," which is a sonnet in the traditional style (fourteen lines, with the appropriate rhyme scheme). Keats is known for his command of formal poetry styles, the sonnet in particular. This particular poem is upheld by many as very beautiful in the sense of evoking the reader's wonder, right alongside the poet-narrator's, at the stunning sight of the night sky in all its starry glory. Even the sonic qualities of the poem when read aloud conjure breathtaking visuals, as of "lone splendour hung aloft the night / and watching, with eternal lids apart" (lines 2–3) and of the "moving waters at their priestlike task / of pure ablution round earth's human shores" (lines 5–6). Pick a line or phrase and try to take it apart; study the diction (word choice) Keats used and the ways he combined words to create pictures for the reader's imagination. Why, for instance, does he use the descriptor "priestlike" to describe a task? What makes something "priestlike"? What qualities do we associate with priests? Why use such a descriptor to refer to "moving waters"? What kinds of visuals do you get, thinking about that line?

The second poem to consider is "To Autumn," one of Keats's several odes. This work is a lovely tribute to the power of sensuousness in Keats's writing. (Sensuousness, by definition, is something that relates to the five senses.) A poem rife with sensuousness, then, is one that the reader experiences very viscerally, almost as though they can touch, taste, smell, see, or hear the same things that the poet-narrator describes. In "To Autumn," the very first stanza alone bursts with such word choices as, for example, "To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, / And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; / To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells / With a sweet kernel" (lines 5–8). The words used paint a vibrant picture for the reader. Keats uses active verbs (bend, fill, swell, plump) to paint word pictures and uses precise nouns for their visual effect (cottage-trees, fruit, apples, gourd, shells, kernel). He even uses words that appeal to the sense of taste (sweet, ripeness). Those are the kinds of things you're looking for in a bid to evaluate Keats's poems as sensuous.

I hope that helps! Good luck!

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