Keats Question

Keats Question Marilee
In what ways are the Romantic ideals & values related to the imagination developed throughout
‘Ode On A Grecian Urn’ & Keats’ other poems set for study?
Make specific references to imagery & the Romantic context.
Keats’ Ode On A Grecian Urn, La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Fancy, Bright Star and Ode To A Nightingale
all encompass three main aspects of the Romantic ideals relating to the imagination. Throughout the
poem Keats creates an idealism past while reflecting on the everlastingness of art compared to the
often fleeting nature. Surrounding these two concepts is the idea that the contemplation of nature
and beauty 9such as a beautifully crafter urn) could act as a trigger for the imagination and
introspective analysis.
Firstly Keats often created an idealistic past in his poetry as something to strive toward or to mourn
the loss of. In Ode On A Grecian Urn (hereafter Ode) Keats quickly establishes a perfect moment in
time “Ah happy, happy boughs! That cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu” “For
ever warm and still to be enjoyed / For ever panting and for ever young”. Here through the use of
tactile imagery as well as the symbolism of leaves and spring Keats captures the sense of being ‘for
ever young’. This along with his use of emotive language effectively creates a scene which is to be
envied. Keats also displays his appreciation of the past in his use of archaic expressions and
symbolism in La Belle Dame Sans Merci (hereafter La Belle) “”O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms” “I
met a lady in the meads / Full beautiful – a fairy’s child” “And honey wild, and mamma dew”. Keats’
portrayal of the past as almost utopian is furthered by his references to magical creatures “feary’s
child” and heavenly goods “manna dew”. Again he is able to create a glimpse at a time that was
perfect and so wonderful as to be magical. The theme continues onto Fancy in which Keats is much
more explicit about the impact of time on the beauties of the world “O sweet Fancy! let her loose; /
Every thing is spoilt by use”. Here Keats instructs that familiarity and ‘use’ remove our appreciation
of our world. He uses exaggeration “everything”, along with the strong imagery of something being
“spoilt” to enhance the impact of the image. As in La Belle Keats uses references to mythological
beings in order to capture a sense of lost beauties and magical wonders that reside only in the past
“Dulcet-eyed as Ceres' daughter,/Ere the God of Torment taught her /how to frown and how to
chide;/With a waist and with a side /White as Hebe's, when her zone /Slipt its golden clasp, and
down /Fell her kirtle to her feet,”. It is evident that Keats valued the past as something greater than
his own time and something that society should look upon as a prise. Keats is writing in a time just
after great scientific movement which has removed much of the magic and mystery of life. Thus is
can be seen that his high regard for the past is the result of a need to return to a much simpler and
joyous time without the weight of knowledge.
As a lead on from this is Keats’ contemplation of what it is in our world that is everlasting in the face
of change. Ode opens quite bluntly with “Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, / Thou foster-child
of silence and slow time” which immediately introduces the theme of time and change. The images
of the “unravish’d bride” and “foster-child” are both harsh though they are contrasted with the
softness of “quietness” and “silence”. Thus the reader gets a sense of confusion between a love for
the beauty and consistency of the urn and a hatred of wildly changing world in which it resides.
Keats continues on to describe the perfectly still scene on the urn “nor ever can those trees be bare
/ Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve; / She
cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair”. Keats’ tension
between emotions is mirrored in the tension of the image on the urn, in the almost kiss between the
lovers. There is a loss that they will never be satisfied yet at the same time they will never be
disappointed. Keats’ use of contrasting images “bare” and “bold” “grieve” and “bliss” “wilt” and
“fair” enhance the effect of being captured in time, somewhere between two states. Later on
follows a grim prediction of the world “When old age shall this generation waste, / Thou shalt
remain, in midst of other woe”. Full of dark imagery and emotive language “old age” “waste” “woe”
this line remains optimistic that the urn will still “remain” consistent. Again a contrast is drawn
between Keats’ world and the endurance of the urn; although His will change and ultimately decay
the urn will still remain trapped in the same perfect moment. Keats clearly feels that his is a world
which destroys true beauty and that little will survive. His loss can be seen as a result of the ever
expanding knowledge and technology of the time, less and less of the world still remained outside
the grasp of reason and explanation. Much of the natural world was being lost to society and
industry. Yet Keats still gained hope from the parts of nature that manage to withstand the forces of
change. In Bright Star Keats proclaims “Bright star! Would I as steadfast as thou art”. Here the
symbolism of the star creates a sense of not only the everlasting or “steadfast” but also of a beauty
that stands out amongst the dark. This symbolism is evident of his feeling that nature can survive its
oppressor and what little remains are truly wonderful. Similarly in Ode To A Nightingale (hereafter
Nightingale) Keats states “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! / No hungry generations
tread thee down”. Here the imagery of death and immortality are contrasted right next to each
other, thus implying the strength of the nightingale’s endurance. The bird itself represents a type of
freedom which is enhanced by the idea that it cannot be tread down. Thus it is clear that Keats has
little hope for his society in its time of great change, yet he feels secure in knowing that remnants of
culture (such as the urn) and nature will remain.
Lastly Keats addresses the idea that it is the contemplation of art/beauty that triggers the
imagination. In Ode Keats considers that “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / are
sweeter”. Here we are brought to understand that although the beauties of this world are wonderful
what we can conjure in our imagination exceeds the real world. Yet he encourages “therefore, ye
soft pipes, play on” indicating that although the imagination will take the listener far, beyond the
‘music’, it is the ‘music’ that triggers the imagination. Furthermore Keats states “Thou, silent form,
dost tease us out of thought”. Here the combination of ‘silent’ and ‘tease’ create a sense of
gentleness that takes us away from ‘thought’. It is the soft beauty of the urn that lulls us into a state
of deep imagination. Lastly Keats closes with “a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, / "Beauty is
truth, truth beauty," - that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” The use of the word
friend creates a familiarity and kindness, that the urn is delivering soft advice. This being “Beauty is
truth, truth beauty” here the repletion and inversion of the words creates an image of the cyclical
nature of the two. This enhances the message that these two are all encompassing and endless.
Again the repletion of “all ye know” yet on different scales (i.e. “on earth” and need know in
everything) indicating that truth and beauty goes beyond our planet or society to become part of the
balance of the cosmos. This all encompassing advice ‘uttered’ by the urn indicates that from the urn
one will stumble upon illumination if one were to allow you to be lulled into imagination. Similarly in
Nightingale Keats proclaims “Away! Away! For I will fly with thee/ … on the viewless wings of Poesy,
/ Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: / Already with thee!” here is the beauty of the bird
and its song that triggers the imagination. The use of exclamation marks creates a sense of urgency
and excitement as Keats sends the bird away for him to follow. He flies on the “viewless wings of
Poesy” here viewless meaning both what cannot be seen and the hidden aspect of poetry. That is
the imagination. Keats’s excitement is contrasted with the ‘dull’ ‘perplexed’ and ‘retarded’ mind. It is
the reason and the logic of his mind which slows the imagination; however, with the aid of the
nightingale he is “already with thee” and flying with his creativity. Thus we are brought to an
understanding that it is through the contemplation of “beauty” – be it an ancient urn or a songbird –
that allows us to free our immaginations and approach a greater illumination.
Therefore as seen in Ode On A Grecian Urn, with the support of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Fancy,
Bright Star and Ode To A Nightingale that Keats has encompasses three of the major ideas of
Romanticism pertaining the imagination. Keats has recreated the past as idealistic and that we must
look back upon it with imagination if we are ever to return to such a perfect time. Furthermore he
questioned the future of our world though he is comforted in that enough of the beauties of nature
will survive to continue to inspire future generations, despite the destruction of the current
generation. Lastly he has considered that it is through the contemplation of beauty that we are lead
onto an imaginative journey, through which we may reach a greater truth as he has with the two
previous points.