Professor Peter Cassidy
LIT 222 C00
21 February 2015
Though the life of John Keats, 1795-1821, was short-lived, he made an everlasting impact on poetry that survived the test of time. He was especially fond of sonnets and odes, and wrote phrases such as “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever” that will be forever implanted in the minds of generations to come (Damrosch et al. 973). Keats truly embraced the concept of Romanticism through exceeding boundaries, giving up everything for his art, and dying a young but memorable death at the age of twenty-five.
One characteristic of Keats’s work was his use of vivid imagery, specifically reminiscent of places other than England, his homeland. The climates and places cited are often desirable, described with comforting imagery such as “cooling trees…grassy hills,” (On the Grasshopper and Cricket) and filled with sweet fruits and vegetation “through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon” (Sleep and Poetry). (Damrosch et al. 979-980). Keats also paid close attention to form when writing poetry, with a favorite tool of his being the sonnet. Many of his works utilized this, and a noted example is On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, which consists of the required fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter. He was also fond of odes, and one of his most renowned works, To Autumn, consists of a more free writing style addressing the for-mentioned specific subject of Autumn. Finally, Keats wrote all of his poetry with a tone of spontaneity. Since his young life was cut short of delving into other pursuits, Keats was able to focus on poetry alone, void of any other profession. This allowed his writing to be unhindered of any other bias, and gave him opportunity to express his life and feelings with pure intensity. Ode to a Nightingale is a wonderful example of his ability to recall and paint a scene pulled directly from his life’s story. He went beyond the physical world though, and turned the song of the bird into an everlasting expression: “thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.” (Damrosch et al. 1006). Keats’s youthful and instinctive tone is a characteristic that set him apart from the other great poets of his time.
Keats grew up during the Romantic period, and could be referred to as its poster child. One theme that he often adhered to was imagination. This is beautifully depicted in Ode to a Nightingale, where the speaker desires to “fade far away” to “cease upon the midnight with no pain.” By spinning it in an alternative light through imagination, Keats is able to deal with death which had recently taken a beloved family member, and would soon enough engulf him (Damrosch et al. 1006). Nature was also a great source of inspiration for Keats, and it is scattered throughout practically all his poetry. Sleep and Poetry is an exceptional example, as he uses nature to keep a common theme by perfectly weaving it in and out of an extraordinarily long poem. Nature is a tool for Keats as he attempts to explore the beauty of poetry and all its facets, and he constantly uses it as a simile for less expressible concepts: “the blue bared its eternal blossom, and the dew of summer nights collected still to make the morning precious: beauty was awake!” (Damrosch et al. 981). Perhaps the most glorified of all the Romanticism themes, the sublime found its way into many of Keats’s poems. Ode on a Grecian Urn exemplifies the concept of the sublime, which is rooted in the idea of a thrilling and emotional experience that often leaves one awe-inspired. He managed to take something seemingly ordinary-an urn-and turn it into a sublime and beautiful love story. The closing line is one of the most powerful expressions of this theme, and perhaps in all of all Keats’s works: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty– that is all Ye know on earth, and ye need to know.” (Damrosch et al. 1010).
It is important to note that not only did the works of Keats endure long after his death, they also survived after only four years of publication. Keats himself foresaw his permanent place in literary history, saying “I think I shall be among the English Poets after my death.” (Damrosch et al. 975). Keats was one of the truest writers to the Romantic Period, focusing on sensual imagery, the beauty of nature, and the power of the sublime. His works influenced many writers after his death, and are still critically acclaimed today. He perfectly captured life in all its glory, with a raw and spontaneous approach that only a young and pure soul could provide.
Damrosch, David, Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Susan J. Wolfson, and Peter J. Manning. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Boston: Longman, 2012. Print.