John Keats


John Keats's Biography

(1795-1821), was an English poet of the romantic period.Keats's poetry is concerned, in various ways, with joy in the beautyof this world, sorrow over its inevitable passing, and attempts tofind bridges between the perishable world we know and theeternal world we imagine. His verse employs unusually rich andvivid images to express his intense feelings.< dd>Keats was born in London on Oct. 31, 1795, the son of alivery stable keeper. He attended the Clarke school in Enfield,outside London, and his interest in literature was first arousedthere. Keats later studied medicine and passed his medicalexaminations, but he never practiced because he had decided tobecome a poet. The reviews ruined Keats's reputation and evengave rise to the story that the young poet was literally killed by thehostile reception of his works. Adding to Keats's disappointmentin 1818 were the death of his brother from tuberculosis andKeats's premonition that he himself would suffer the same fate.Keats began to develop an increasing feeling that poverty anddisease would prevent his marrying Fanny Brawne, whom hedeeply loved. Yet from the fall of 1818 through the fall of 1819,Keats experienced an intense burst of creativity, and his final andbest volume was published in 1820. But Keats had developedtuberculosis. He traveled to Italy, hoping a warmer climate mightimprove his health. He died in Rome and was buried there.
Keats's early poetry was uneven. It showed the influence ofEdmund Spenser and William Shakespeare, but it lacked theconsistency these poets displayed. In his 1817 volume, perhapsthe only poem of mature stature was the sonnet of excited literary discovery "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." In the poetry of his final volume, Keats achieved the rich beauty and superbcontrol of image, story, and language that has earned him lasting fame. Most of the poems written during Keats's brief maturity display what he called "negative capability." They explore manypossibilities of the subjects with which they are concerned but donot insist upon any one answer to the enduring problems of life.The intense experience of life, and not its perfect understanding,was Keats's main poetic concern.

Keats's "La Belle Dame sans Merci"

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz'd and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes--
So kiss'd to sleep.

And there we slumber'd on the moss,
And there I dream'd, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry'd--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

"La Belle Dame sans Merci" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What does the speaker ask of the knight-at-arms in the first two stanzas? How does the time of year reflect the knight's physical and emotional state?
2. Summarize the story the knight tells in reply. What do the knight's words reveal about him?
3. How do you interpret the knight's dream? In your opinion, why does the knight stay "on the cold hill's side'? Use details from the poem to support your ideas.

Evaluate and Connect
4. Theme Connections In this poem, does beauty seem to be a positive or negative quality? Explain your answer.

Keats's "When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be"

WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact'ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

"When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Summarize the speaker's main fears. What do these fears reveal about the speaker's values and goals?
2. Explain the agricultural metaphors and similes found in lines 1-4 (see pages R14 and R9). What do the comparisons reveal?
3. What happens to the speaker's fears? What tone is established in the last two lines?

Evaluate and Connect
4. According to the ideas expressed in this poem, how would you describe Keats's views on death? How do you cope with your own fears and worries about death?

Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

THOU still unravish'd bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, 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!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, 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.

"Ode on a Grecian Urn" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What metaphors (see page R9) does the speaker use to describe the urn in lines 1-3? What do the metaphors reveal about the speaker's view of the urn?
2. Why might an "unheard melody" be sweeter than a heard melody (see lines 11-12)?
3. What people and things does the speaker address in the second and third stanzas? Why does the speaker envy them? Cite evidence from the poem.
4. Theme Connections: What message does the poem give about truth and beauty?

Evaluate and Connect
5. What can you infer about Keats's opinion of art? Support your inference with evidence from the poem. How has the poem changed your view of art?
6. How do the speaker's strings of questions, exclamations, and repetitions reveal his emotional state and values?
7. How might an urn that is like the one described by the speaker be a "friend to man"? Explain your response.

Keats's "To Autumn"

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

"To Autumn" Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Name four things from stanza 1 that autumn and the sun conspire to do. What are the "clammy cells" summer has "o'er-brimmed" and with what has it "o'er-brimmed" them?
2. Describe the personified images of autumn in the second stanza (see page Rll).ln what ways do these differ from those in the first stanza?
3. According to the speaker, who sings the songs of autumn?
4. At what time of day do the creatures sing? Why might this be an appropriate time for autumn's music?

Evaluate and Connect
5. What are some of the descriptive details that help create a sense of abundance? In which stanzas do most of them appear? Why might Keats have put them there?
6. What examples of imagery-sensory details that appeal to one or more of the five senses-do you find in "To Autumn"? What do these images contribute to your appreciation of the poem?
7. How might you personify one of the three other seasons? Why?

Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale"

MY heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,--
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain--
To thy high requiem become a sod,

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toil me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:--Do I wake or sleep?

"Ode to a Nightingale" Discussion Questions

1) What is the speaker's mood in stanza I?
2) What wish does the speaker express at the end of stanza II and at the beginning of stanza III? According to stanza IV, how will he accomplish this wish?
3) What effect does the word "forlorn" have on the speaker in stanza VIll?
4) What is the "draught of vintage" the speaker craves in stanza II? What would it help him to escape?
5) What differences between the speaker's world and the bird's are described in stanza IV? What is meant in line 38 by "here there is no light"?
6) What does the speaker find tempting in stanza VI? What changes his mind in stanza VII?