The Eve of St. Agnes

by John Keats
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What is the significance of the language used to describe Madeline's dream in "The Eve of St. Agnes"? What do you notice about how Porphyro and the room around Madeline are described as she is dreaming?

The language describing Madeline's dream is filled with references to light, the senses, and magic. Madeline’s deep sleep is caused by a spell. While she dreams, Porphyro fills the room with luscious foods from far off lands. These tangible items offer a contrast to the gold and silver light and to the cool and quiet in the room.

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In “The Eve of St. Agnes,” Porphyro is guided to Madeline’s room, where he has promised the elderly Angela that he will not harm her. As Porphyro initially remains hidden and watches her sleep, the atmosphere is supernatural. The language emphasizes the play of light over her form, including colored lights that come through the stained-glass windows. Through varied imagery, the speaker invokes multiple senses. The magical atmosphere is enhanced through Porphyro’s actions as well, while he first watches his beloved sleep and then deliberately awakens her.

Madeline’s sleep is said to be caused by “pale enchantment,” against which the vivid colors are contrasted. Keats uses a simile comparing the stained glass to a moth’s wings. The windows are

Diamonded with panes of quaint device,

Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,

As are the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings.

The visual intensity of these colors, illuminated by moonlight, also contrasts to the lack of sound in the room, where Porphyro as well is “noiseless” and “silent.”

Other natural items are mentioned, as Porphyro brings forth an array of foods connected to locales in the Middle East and Asia. These foods evoke the sense of taste:

Manna and dates, in argosy transferr'd

From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,

From silken Samarcand to cedar'd Lebanon.

Not merely sound but music is suggested as the necessary sensory device to break the “stedfast spell” that holds Madeline. Porphyro finally resolves to awaken her, taking up her lute and “close to her ear touching the melody.” As she awakens, Madeline’s confusion over which images are real includes her impression of Porphyro, whose “pallid, chill, and drear” appearance upsets her. To make his lover happy, Porphyro himself melts into her dream. This motion is connected with floral imagery to both vision and smell.

Into her dream he melted, as the rose

Blendeth its odour with the violet.

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