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Keats's Understanding of the Character and the Role of the P

PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2009 1:46 pm
by Meursault
I am curious: what was Keats's understanding of the character and the role of the poet?

Re: Keats's Understanding of the Character and the Role of the P

PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2009 3:47 pm
by Meursault
Right, I suppose I'll get the ball rolling. This is my answer to the same question which my English teacher originally asked me a little while ago. He never took it in; he was probably too busy teaching us about the music of the spheres and Jan Palach and so I would be interested to hear what you think about it.

Keats believes that, as a poet, he is in a privileged position: he can see things others cannot; he can reach places that are unreachable; he can be neither conscious nor unconscious and yet more alive and elevated above everyone else. He is a dreamer, but to dream he does not sleep; he writes poetry. Through poetry and the imagination he believes that a poet is able to reach the elusive world of the Nightingale, see behind the screen of “Veil’d Melancholy” and “build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind”.

He sees himself as a prisoner in the world of “the weariness, the fever and the fret” and he is able to escape this world, not through alcohol, which is what other men have to do, but through poetry: “I will fly to the not charioted by Bacchus and his pards but on the viewless wings of Poesy”. Through poetry Keats is free and reach things fairer than anything in the real world and yet, at times Keats seems to be frustrated by poetry and in “Ode on Indolence” he finds apathy much more appealing, because through poetry, the world seems full of “drowsy numbness” and “palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs”. He can only see this because of his “demon Poesy” and so relaxing in a beautiful garden is more attractive than looking through the eyes of a poet.

Keats also believes that a poet is and should be a teacher. Many of his poems contain commands of what not to do: “No, no, go not to Lethe”, “Away, away”, “No – yet still stedfast”. These commands are followed by him telling us what we should do: “Glut thy sorrow on a morning rose”. Whilst he often tells us truths about the world and educates us, equally as often, he adopts a tone which can be seen as condescending “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”.

The poet is able to confront unmentionable topics like sex and love and poems such as “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” contain a strong sexual frisson, as Keats enters the Belle Dame’s “fragrant zone” and “And made sweet moan - I set her on my pacing steed and nothing else saw all day long for sidelong would she bend and sing”.

One of the main traits of Keats’s poetry is the idea of eternity and something being remembered or immortalised. The Nightingale “wast not born for death” and the Grecian urn is also timeless. Strangely, Keats did not think that he had immortalised himself and he believed that he had written nothing for which he would be remembered. In one of his letters he wrote, “If I should die, I have left no immortal work behind me - nothing to make my friends proud of my memory - but I have loved the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remembered”. His grave stone has a similar idea engraved on it “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water”.

Keats considers the poet to be a worshipper not physically or in the real world but in the mind. In “Ode to Psyche” Keats worships the Goddess and personification of the mind. He “will be thy priest and build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind” and become a “pale-mouth’d prophet dreaming”. He says he shall worship Melancholy in the “very temple of Delight” and will eventually be taken by her and “be among her cloudy trophies hung”.

Keats believed that the poet was greater than the rest of society. He could extract joy from melancholy, and melancholy from joy. He was free to reach the imaginary world of the Nightingale and yet was more of a prisoner than anyone else. He was a teacher, a worshipper and he wanted to be immortalised as the characters on the urn and then the urn itself were. He occupied what he believed to be a superior state of consciousness but he was never conscious or unconscious, “Was it a vision or a waking dream?”.