How can one support the thesis that John Keats is a pure poet who does not memorize or preach, but enjoys life as it comes his way and lets others enjoy it, as well? Please give references from his...

How can one support the thesis that John Keats is a pure poet who does not memorize or preach, but enjoys life as it comes his way and lets others enjoy it, as well? Please give references from his poems Hyperion, The Eve of St. Agnes, Ode to a Nightingale, When I Have fear, On the Sonnet, and Bright Star.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his poetry, the Romantic John Keats strongly exhibits a preponderance of feeling and imagination as opposed to intellect and reason. Along with greatly emotive figures of speech, sensual images and a certain pictorial quality to his poetry, Keats opens to others the world and the timeless themes of Love, Death, Time, and Loneliness.

  • "Ode to a Nightingale"

Certainly, this intensity of feeling, the transcendence to the sublime, and rich imagery that evokes emotion in the reader is present in "Ode to a Nightingale."  In a paradoxical situation, the poet is happy to hear the lovely song of the night bird, but at the same time, his "heart aches" and hearing this song serves only to create melancholy in him. And, yet, Keats will become a wild bird in his imagination and share the birds' view of the world.  Thus, he takes the reader on an imaginative journey "Tasting of Flora" and hearing "Provencal song and sunburnt mirth" along the way as the "Immortal Bird's" anthem "fades."  This notion represents what is intrinsic to the Romantic spirit: the attempt to achieve the sublime. 

  • "Bright Star"

Interestingly the poet's wish to resolve opposites is reflected in the structure of this sonnet as Keats cleverly combines the English and Italian sonnet forms. This, like his "On the Sonnet" breaks with tradition, affording the reader with new sensations. For, the speaker of the poem discovers that his wish is not to be like the star after all; instead, he wishes "to transpose the potentiality of the star for eternal awareness into the realm of human life and feeling, and that of the most intense variety":

No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillowed upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

The uniqueness of the form as well as the content of this poem certainly opens to the readers a world unknown.

  • "When I Have Fears"

This poem addresses the existential condition as the poet worries about untimely death which kills the imagination and lessens one's importance,

When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance
he looks to Nature, the stars and the clouds, as a source of inspiration, "high romance."
Then, in his more formal poems such as "Hyperion," "On the Sonnet," and "The Eve of St. Agnes," Keats imitates classic forms while at the same time he presents original ideas.
  • "On the Sonnet"

This sonnet examines the demands that the structure of sonnets places upon the poem and its themes, protesting against the restrictive form, the "dull rhymes" of the sonnet. Thus, Keats begins with a sestet, rather than two open quatrains as in the Elizabethan sonnet, or an eight-line octave as in the Petrarchan sonnet, Keats opens with a sestet.

  • "The Eve of St. Agnes"

A spiritual quest in verse, this poem mirrors Edmund Spenser's legendary romances.  In this adventurous work, Keats achieves the sublime with highly charged sensual imagery as the two lovers, Porphyro and Madeline, energized by the warm passion of their feelings, flee the animosity of their families.

And they are gone: aye, ages long ago

These lovers fled away into the storm.
With these classical themes and forms, then, Keats achieves a real world that has the ideal realm of the spirit as inspiration.