This Living Hand

Discussion on the works of John Keats.

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Postby Malia » Thu Dec 15, 2005 7:33 pm

It is a most awesome poem, to be sure. It is one of my favorites. I read in at least one biography that it *might* have been written as potential dialogue in a future play and that makes sense to me as I believe Keats's biggest ambition for "future years" was to become a great playwrite. Still, I don't think it really matters if it was directed at Fanny or written with Edmund Keen in mind. It stands on its own as a haunting, powerful piece.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Thu Dec 15, 2005 9:52 pm

Ah! One of my favorites as well :) This is the first I've heard of it as possibly lines from a play, though. It's an interesting idea. I personally have always felt that there was something different about it. . . some quality that demands the lines be spoken. But I agree with Malia: it doesn't matter what they are meant for, they have an atmosphere and power all their own that we can appreciate no matter what.

Nonetheless, I'm having fun inventing scenes in my mind for which these lines could be used :)

On a little side note: I've actually had plans for a long time to set this to music (more specifically for soprano voice and chamber orchestra). I've had a vocal line composed for quite a long time, and someday I'll actually get it out of my head and put it on paper!
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The Hand...

Postby Boilio » Sat Dec 17, 2005 3:35 pm

A warm poem, about the potential of humankind [especially for loving] located in this single bodily feature.

I think of the hand as synecdoche for humankind - Keats wrote with his hand after all.
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Postby fleshyniteshade » Tue Dec 20, 2005 11:57 am

Keats did write this close to his death which time he had read much of Shakespeare including his sonnets. Some one said it reminds them of shakespeare and I think it was influenced much by his second sonnet, especially the last line,

"And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold."

That whole poem in essence could be in response to his second sonnet. The opening line, "When forty winters shall beseige thy brow" Could have upsetted Keats which provide's keats mood for the poem for he felt like he knew he would not live long enough to "dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field." (Fanny?)

Just read it all, I'm sure you'll pick up on what I did.

Sonnet II

"When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter'd weed of small worth held:
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold."


for easy comparsion

This Living Hand

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed--see here it is--
I hold it towards you.
"aye, my envious dreams do shyly express thy tenderous lips fairly laced with sensous honey and I like aroused virgins dwell upon such dining"
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Postby Malia » Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:41 pm

Interesting thought about "This Living Hand". I wouldn't doubt that Keats would allude to Shakespeare--considering how much Shakespeare he absorbed in his lifetime. However, I don't think that the sonnet Shakespeare wrote really parallels "This Living Hand" in meaning. I see the main theme of the Shakespeare sonnet as being something to the effect of: "When you become old (when 40 winters shall beseige thy brow) and all your outward beauty is gone and your youth is over, and you think that your youth was wasted (where all the treasure of thy lusty days. . .were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise) remember that your beauty lives on in your offspring--his beauty will prove 'his beauty by succession thine' and even though you may not realize it, this offspring will make you new while you are old--i.e. her beauty will live on in subsequent generations."

I see Keats's poem as a more haunting statement with an overarching tone of possession and perhaps jeallousy. I see the poet here thinking of himself as a kind of victim who feels that the person to whom he speaks would almost *owe* him his life again if he were to die. And that it would take his "haunting" that person in order for him or her to become "concience calm'd" and make the restitution he feels he deserves--to be able to live again.
It is less reassuring than Shakespeare's poem, to say the least. Keats's poem seems to me darker, "greedy for life"--a life that the poet isn't sure he will have for much longer.
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Re: The Hand...

Postby Credo Buffa » Tue Dec 20, 2005 9:35 pm

Boilio wrote:I think of the hand as synecdoche for humankind - Keats wrote with his hand after all.

Interesting idea. I personally don't see him making grand statements about humankind, though. . . humanity perhaps--his own humanity--but this is, to me, a very intimate poem. The "I" in the last line is what distinguishes it. The hand isn't just a hand, it's the speaker's hand. Whether the speaker is Keats or some character in an unwritten play we don't know, but let's assume for a moment that the speaker is in fact Keats.

I agree that the hand itself is very important. Writing is linked inseparably with the hand. Things that are written are said to be "by hand", etc. Keats expressed himself through writing, so it makes a lot of sense that he would describe himself as that same hand which does the writing. At the same time, though, the hand is also inseparably linked with the sense of touch. When you meet someone, you first shake hands; when you love someone, you hold that person's hand. It's sort of a first and last when it comes to physical sensations. The fact that the speaker (say, Keats) is holding out his hand in the end is an indication that he is reaching out for some personal contact. It's almost like the significance of his hand as a tool for writing isn't enough anymore, and I don't think that it's any coincidence that the poem ends with this gesture--a personal "I" reaching out to an equally personal "you".

Malia wrote:I see Keats's poem as a more haunting statement with an overarching tone of possession and perhaps jeallousy. I see the poet here thinking of himself as a kind of victim who feels that the person to whom he speaks would almost *owe* him his life again if he were to die. And that it would take his "haunting" that person in order for him or her to become "concience calm'd" and make the restitution he feels he deserves--to be able to live again.

This is the view that I tend to take as well. You've definitely hit the nail right on the head: the speaker seems to be addressing a specific person, and we can tell by the very particular information we get about their relationship. We can tell that the speaker feels like this person has done something about which he/she should feel guilty, hence the need for this action which will heal his/her conscience. It certainly appears as though the speaker feels that this person should be prepared to give his/her life for him, and that definitely supports your analysis of the possessive tone.

The tone seems to change as we get to the last line. He moves from fervor almost bordering on accusation to an opportunity, both for himself and for the person to whom he is speaking: an opportunity for this person to give his/herself up to him the way he has described, and an opportunity for the speaker to show that he not only expects that help, but needs it. It definitely appears to me, for this reason, that he is speaking with one foot in the grave. . . whether figuratively or more literally is another matter. In any case, I think it really supports the idea that the speaker could in fact be Keats himself, or at least a character with whom he very strongly identifies.
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Jealous little Fanny?

Postby Scrib » Tue Oct 31, 2006 10:32 pm

So given the fact that before Fanny settled down with Keats she was given attention everywhere she looked, could it be possible that she was overly jealous that he spent a whole year writing odes to his dead brother that the begged him for a poem to her? The living hand itself would symbolize Keats' poetic hand, and now that it's over his brother's icy tomb he is capable of being creative on new topics again. Nonetheless, this poem is often thought of as his "unfinished" poem. I believe that Keats did finish this poem, but wrote it to sound unfinished to tell Fanny that his love for her will never end.
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Postby jediace90 » Wed Nov 01, 2006 9:51 pm

Random observation: I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but "Living Hand" does not rhyme at all. This struck me as a little odd. I know that not all poems must rhyme, but all of the Keats works I have read have had some sort of rhyme scheme. Without rhyme, the poem lost some of the...beauty (?) of the other poems. Then again, leaving out rhymes makes the poem much more natural. I mean, most people I know don't normally speak in rhyme...
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Postby Malia » Wed Nov 01, 2006 9:54 pm

jediace90 wrote:Random observation: I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but "Living Hand" does not rhyme at all. This struck me as a little odd. I know that not all poems must rhyme, but all of the Keats works I have read have had some sort of rhyme scheme. Without rhyme, the poem lost some of the...beauty (?) of the other poems. Then again, leaving out rhymes makes the poem much more natural. I mean, most people I know don't normally speak in rhyme...


That's a great observation. I am of the opinion that these haunting lines weren't meant to be a complete poem in-and-of themselves, but were perhaps jotted down to be utilized in a future play (or who knows, maybe he considered using them in Otho the Great or King Stephen). You know how it is, sometimes you're hit with an inspiration and you just have to write it down--and decide where (and if) it fits later on.
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Postby Black Fire » Wed Nov 01, 2006 10:33 pm

My interpertation of this poem was that his "living hand" was his poetry, since you write with your hand, haha, anyways he wants his poetry to always be alive. Line 3, "And in the silence of the tomb," perhaps he is thinking of when he dies. Wishful thinking that his poetry will live on. And in line 6 "So in my veins red life might stream again," I think his veins are the lines of his poems, veins are lines in our skin, and then when he said red life might stream again, when i read that I think of red as a love color or anger color, meaning that his love and/or anger will live on past his grave. Since he wrote a lot of love and anger/sad poems. Line 8, "I hold it towards you." Like he is giving his life (aka poetry) to all, even after his death, or so he wished.
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Postby jediace90 » Wed Nov 01, 2006 11:07 pm

Malia-I can completely see your point. The lack of rhyme does make it sound more speech-worthy unless Keats was planning on writing plays like Shakespeare (with rhyme).

Black Fire- I had that exact same idea when I first read the poem! "So in my veins red life might stream again" made me feel like Keats is trying to say that since his poetry will live forever, Keats will, in a way, be brought back to life. Another random observation: the majority of the work uses the archaic form of you/your when addressing the reader (thy, thou, thine). However, the last line uses "you" the more modern and accepted form. The use of "you" instead of "ye" or "thee" makes it stand out quite a bit to me.
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Postby Kaki » Thu Nov 02, 2006 2:13 am

I don't feel like he ever really finished this poem at all. Sure it seems to end, but it is so unlike keats to write like this. The only problem with my opinion is Keats did not waste paper... Hmmm...
I do agree with the interpretatin of keats living on in his work. I'm not sure about the thou thee you, whatever thing though. Shakespeare used all of the forms archaic and new, and it was very popular to emulate authors such as Shakespeare and Petrach. I don't think I spelled that right... Oh well.
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Postby Scrib » Thu Nov 02, 2006 3:17 am

not to sound redundant...but what if he wrote it to sound unfinished...proving that the beauty of the poem doesn't end...there is no end to beauty, and there is no end to poetry...
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Postby acrosstheuniverse64 » Thu Nov 02, 2006 3:17 am

I was just wondering- to whom does everyone feel this poem is addressed? I have heard various interpretations: Fanny, the readers, poetry in general... Personally, I don't think that the poem was addressed to Fanny because there is such an angry undertone that I can't believe John Keats would have taken up with Fanny Brawne. My interpretation was that the poem was addressing poetry itself- pleading with it to save him from death by achieving immortality through his writing. Any thoughts?
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Postby Scrib » Thu Nov 02, 2006 4:39 am

acrosstheuniverse64 wrote:I don't think that the poem was addressed to Fanny because there is such an angry undertone that I can't believe John Keats would have taken up with Fanny Brawne.


Unless Fanny was pushing for a poem to her...anyone would get agitated enough to write a poem that sounds pretty...but has an angrier underlying tone...
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