Context: A Dream of Fair Women, in its imagery, shows a certain affinity with Keats. In it the poet tells us he has been reading Chaucer's Legend of Good Women; "for a while, the knowledge of his art/ Held me above the subject, as strong gales/ Hold swollen clouds from raining, tho' my heart,/ Brimful of those wild tales,/ Charged both mine eyes with tears. In every land/ I saw, wherever light illumineth,/ Beauty and anguish walking hand in hand/ The downward slope to death." Through his mind there passes a phantasmagoria of scenes occurring throughout the ages in which women have suffered and men have fought over them and for them. There are glimpses of duels and wars, insults, pillage, ruined shrines, dungeons and seraglios. Then the poet falls asleep and finds himself in an ancient forest, where he presently meets a group of beautiful women. These are the famed beauties of legend and history; he sees, among others, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and Joan of Arc. Some tell him their stories. The poet is dazzled by these creatures, for some of whom whole armies died; he finds that at least a few wish they had not been born beautiful and that they had not altered the course of empire or of history. Their punishment seems to be that they are forever set aside from men; as Cleopatra expresses it, "I govern'd men by change, and so I sway'd/ All moods . . ./ I have no men to govern in this wood:/ That makes my only woe." The poet, waking, finds himself plunged in melancholy. "With what dull pain/ Compass'd, how eagerly I sought to strike/ Into that wondrous track of dreams again!/ But no two dreams are like." The passage in which the poet finds himself in the forest is remarkable for its evocation of stillness and heavy foliage:
At last methought that I had wander'd farIn an old wood: fresh-washed in coolest dew,The maiden splendours of the morning starShook in the steadfast blue.Enormous elm-tree-boles did stoop and leanUpon the dusky brushwood underneathTheir broad curved branches, fledged with clearest green,New from its silken sheath.. . .I knew the flowers, I knew the leaves, I knewThe tearful glimmer of the languid dawnOn those long, rank, dark wood-walks drench'd in dew,Leading from lawn to lawn.. . .The smell of violets, hidden in the green,Pour'd back into my empty soul and frameThe times when I remember to have beenJoyful and free from blame.. . .At length I saw a lady within call,Stiller than chisell'd marble, standing there;A daughter of the gods, divinely tall,And most divinely fair.