In John Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes," what is the job of the beadsman?

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The Beadsman serves to frame the poem’s action by establishing a somber, pious mood to which the festive atmosphere and the lovers’ story offer a striking contrast. A beadsman, also called a supplicant, was a person whom others contracted to say prayers on their behalf. This usually consisted, as it...

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The Beadsman serves to frame the poem’s action by establishing a somber, pious mood to which the festive atmosphere and the lovers’ story offer a striking contrast. A beadsman, also called a supplicant, was a person whom others contracted to say prayers on their behalf. This usually consisted, as it does for this character, of saying the rosary—by fingering the beads—a certain number of times per day. As this poem opens, the Beadsman is saying the rosary in a stone chapel that is so cold his fingers have gone numb. This “patient holy man” is elderly, poor, and barefoot. John Keats tells us that the old man has heard his “deathbell” ring, so, along with prayers for others, he will sit up all night serving penance “for his soul’s reprieve.”

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