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can anyone help me understand the poem '' this living hand''

PostPosted: Thu Apr 29, 2004 5:30 am
by hudson
If you have any information about the poem ''this living hand'' could you please post it..thankyou

'This living hand...' query.

PostPosted: Fri Apr 30, 2004 1:56 pm
by Saturn
The poem 'This living hand...' is one of Keats very last (either this, 'In after time...', or 'To Fanny'), and naturally for Keatsians has its own special poignancy. Written roughly in late 1819 while his fatal illness was gradually taking hold. It was probably written at the same time as his unfinished satirical faery tale 'The Cap and Bells: or, The Jealousies'. The poem was written or at least copied on a page of the Ms of 'The Cap and Bells'.

Also written in this period was the few scenes of his abandoned historical drama 'King Stephen', which he laid aside in his dejected state partly because of the flamboyant actor Edmund Kean's threat to go on a tour of America.

There are two theories about the meaning of the poem. One theory is that it was a fragment of a speech written for the drama 'King Stephen'. The other theory is that in it's bitter, suspicious, and accusatory tone, it relates closely to his poem 'To Fanny', in which Keats accuses Fanny Brawne of being unfaithful to him while he lies prostate on his deathbed.

The deathly spectre of the hand of a dying man reaching out and 'earnest grasping' is a terrifying one, which is designed to frighten the reader (possibly Fanny herself) that his ghost will haunt the reader, like Banquo, or the ghost in Hamlet, they will be malignant, restless and unappeased spirits.

Keats also may be referring to his own illness when he writes about the 'heart dry of blood' and 'in my veins red life might stream again'. Keats' consumption or tuberculosis was at this time fully developed and increasingly making his life and his work unbareable. He first was certain that he had developed it when, after a horendous coach ride in early February 1919, to save expense, he rode on the outside, and returned home fevered, and coughing blood, he realised it was arterial blood and that he was certain to die. He also may be referring to the profuse bleeding he was treated with (a universal treatment at this time), which may have left him feeling drained of blood.

The reader will be 'conscience-calmed' perhaps to a confession of guilt - see Hamlet's soliloquy 'O what a rogue and peasant slave...' for a similar evocation of the power of conscience.

I hope this in any way helps you, it is only a personal interpretation and must be regarded as such.