What are specific references to John Keats' Romanticism (e.g. poems) in The Great Gatsby?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Romantic lyricist himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, under the pseudonym of Thomas Parke D'Invilliers writes an epigraph:

Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her;
If you can bounce high, bounce for her too,
Till she cry "Lover, gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover,
I must have you!"

Fitzgerald's lines here are certainly in the rhythm and Romantic theme of some of Keats's works; however, more specifically, he borrows from Keats in other passages.

1. For instance, much like the poet Keats, whose mind has turbulent moments and engages in fantasies, Jay Gatsby's reveries provide him

a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy's wing

This line of the power of the "fairy's wing" evokes a line of Keats in "When I Have Fear That I May Cease to Be": "Never have relish in the fairy power...."

2. In another instance of the influence of Keats upon Fitzgerald, in Chapter Five, Gatsby

... lit Daisy’s cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her on a couch far across the room, where there was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.

In "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats writes,

But there is no light,
Save from what heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous gloom and winding mossy way

These lines also recall the billowing curtains and the breezes that blow through the rooms when Nick first arrives at the Buchanan mansion in Chapter One:

A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags....

3. In Chapter Five as Jay Gatsby flings his extensive array of English shirts onto the bed where Daisy sits, she buries her head in them:

Suddenly with a strained sound Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

Daisy's actions educe those of Madeline in Keats's long poem, "The Eve of St. Agnes":

At which fair Madeline began to weep
And moan forth witless words with many a sigh

4. Throughout Fitzgerald's narrative, Jay Gatsby is haunted by time. In Chapter Five when he reunites with Daisy, after having looked with worry at his watch, Gatsby juggles a clock, catching it "with trembling fingers." Later, when Nick tells him that he cannot repeat the past, Gatsby retorts, "Can't repeat the past? Why, of course you can!"

Certainly, John Keats was rather preoccupied with the concept of time as he contemplates his own death, and as he meditates upon a Grecian urn. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," perhaps Jay Gatsby resembles the "Bold Lover" who need not grieve because 

She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

pamelaknows | Student

Fitzgerald echoes ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ when Daisy and Nick visit
Gatsby’s house. While Keats listens to the bird’s song, he is lying under
trees. The moon is out ‘But here there is no light,/Save what from
heaven is with the breezes blown’. Nick observes that Daisy and Gatsby
sit in a dark corner of the room ‘where there was no light save what the
gleaming floor bounced in from the hall’ (p. 92). Instead of moonlight
coming down from ‘heaven’, the light from an electric bulb in the hall
is reflected upwards. Instead of the light being ‘blown’ naturally on
the breezes, it is ‘bounced’ like a solid man-made object. As well as
creating an urban Romantic moment, the echo helps Fitzgerald evoke the
significance of the moment for the two lovers as they are alone for the
first time for five years.

Read the study guide:
The Great Gatsby

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