Presentation on theme: "Lecture 14 John Keats (2 hours). I. Life: John Keats was born in 1795 in London. His father was a stable keeper. Before John was fifteen, both his parents."— Presentation transcript:
I. Life: John Keats was born in 1795 in London. His father was a stable keeper. Before John was fifteen, both his parents died and his guardian, a merchant, took him from school and bound him as an apprentice to a surgeon. For five years he served his apprenticeship and for two years more he was surgeon's helper in the hospitals. But he early contracted a love of poetry under the influence of his young teacher Charles Cowden Clarke (1787-1877), who gave him a copy of ' The Fairy Queen'. He made friends with Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt and Shelley in London and published some poems in Hunt's magazine "Examiner".
His second book " Endymion appeared in 1818. Then he gave up medicine for poetry. In the summer of 1818 Keats left London and started on a walking tour through England and Scotland. During his travels he became acquainted with the life of small towns and villages and witnessed the poverty and privations of the people. In Scotland he visited the home and the grave of Burns. He left some letters and poems written during the tour, which show his interest in the political life of his country and his concern for the miserable condition of the common people.
Points of view (1) Keats was a moderate radical in comparison with Byron and Shelley. Naturally he was against political oppression (more consciously so when he was under the influence of Leigh Hunt). He was horrified by the savage poverty and the human degradation he saw among the Scottish and Irish peasants. As a poet he was too possessed by the tragic view of man; as a man his life was riven with too many tragedies. (2) Keats believed that poetry is a release from misery, a vehicle to paradise. The lofty mission of his poetry is to work for the welfare of the people. The dominant thoughts and feelings in his poetry can be summarized like this: the world of nature is beautiful; the realms of art, poetry and imagination fire wonderful; but the existing human society contains inescapable and irremediable misery. At the heart of his major poems lies Keats's concern with how the ideal can be joined with the real, and the imagined with the actual. And the message carried in his poetry is the lasting power of beamy and its union with truth.
Major works (1) Endymion (1818) This is a poem based on the Greek myth of Endymion and the moon goddess. In this poem, Keats described his imagination in an enchanted atmosphere--a lovely moon-lit world where human love and ideal beauty were merged into one. It marked a transitional phase in Keats's poetry. (2) Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820). This is the third and best of Keats's volumes of poetry. The three title poems all deal with mythical and legendary themes of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance times. At the heart of these poems lies Keats's concern with how the ideal can be joined with the real, the imagined with the actual, and man with woman. The volume also contains his four great odes: "Ode on Melancholy", "Ode on a Grecian Urn", "Ode to a Nightingale", "Ode to Psyche"; his lyric masterpiece "To Autumn" and the unfinished poem "Hyperion".
(3) Odes The odes are generally regarded as Keats's most important and mature works. Their subject matter is the poet's abiding preoccupation with the imagination as it reaches out to union with the beautiful. In the greatest of these works, he also suggests the undercurrent of disillusion that accompanies such ecstasy, the human suffering which forever questions the visionary transcendence achieved by art. (4) Sonnets Keats wrote 64 sonnets altogether. His earlier sonnets are mainly in the Italian form, though he often introduces variations of the strict rhyme scheme. He also wrote a few sonnets of the Shakespearean type. The most important sonnets by Keats would be: "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer", "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again", "On the Grasshopper and Cricket", and "When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be“.
3. Special features (1) Keats's poetry is always sensuous, colorful and rich in imagery, which expresses the acuteness of his senses. Sight, sound, scent, taste and feeling are all taken in to give an entire understanding of an experience. (2) Keats has the power of entering the feelings of others—either human or animal. He declared once that when he saw a bird on the lawn, he entered imaginatively into the life of the bird. (3) Keats delights to dwell on beautiful words and phrases, which sound musical. He draws diction, style and imagery from works of Shakespeare, Milton and Dante. With vivid and rich images, he paints poetic pictures full of wonderful color.
Endymion: A Poetical Romance" (1818) is a poem of 4,000 lines, ' inscribed to the memory of' Thomas Chatterton', the young forerunner of the Romantic Movement. The story is taken from Greek mythology but much developed by the poet's own invention. Endymion is a beautiful shepherd of Mt, Latmos, with whom the moon goddess Cynthia falls in love. After luring him through "coudy phantasmsys, she bears him away to eternal life with her. With this story are mingled other legends, e.g, that of Venus and Adonis. So the effect of the poem is not unlike a sort of fairy voyage after beamy, with the gathering of wayside flowers.
The story of ' Isabella, or the Pot of Basil' is based on Boccaccio's "Decameron". Isabella, a young girl of a rich family in Florence, is in love with a poor servant Lorenzo. Her two brothers, having discovered the love affair, trick Lorenzo away, murder him treacherously and bury his body in a forest. Isabella beside herself with grief, finds the body of her beloved, buries the head in a flower-pot, sets a plant of basil over it and brings it home. Her wicked brothers, observing how she cherishes the basil, steal the pot and discover the head. Isabella, deprived of her last consolation, dies heart-broken.
."The Eve of St. Agnes'(1819) is a narrative poem written in Spenserian stanzas. St. Agnes is the patron saint of virgins. The young maiden Madeline and her lover Porphyro are from two hostile families. She has been told the legend that a virtuous maiden may dream of her future husband on the evening before St. Agnes' Day (January 21). After the proper ritual, she first dreams of “hyena foemen, and hot-blooded lords", i.e. the feuding kinsmen of the two families: But Porphyro steals into her chamber on this night. When Madeline wakes from her dreams, she finds him by her bedside. Then they escape together from the castle.
"Lamia' (1819): takes its story from Barton's "Anatomy of Melancholy". Lamia, a serpent- maiden, loves young Lycius, and he, attracted by her beauty, marries her. Not content with his happiness, he makes a bridal feast. Among the guests comes the sophist Apollonius who sees through Lamia’s disguise. Lamia weeps and asks Apollonius to be silent. But he will not be moved and calls her by her name. Thereupon she, house and all vanish in an instant. This sounds very much like our "Tale of the White Serpent" with the difference that the theme of the old Chinese drama is a praise of faithful love while the emphasis in Keats's poem is laid on the appreciation of sensuous beauty.
"Hyperion" has been regarded as Keats’s greatest achievement in poetry. It includes two fragments, "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion", which Keats wrote in 1818-1819, modeling on Milton’s "Paradise Lost" and on Dante's "Purgatorio' in "The Divine Comedy" separately. Its theme is the conflict between the old and the new, and the story is derived from Greek mythology. The poem describes the struggle for power in heaven, the displacement of the old Titans headed by Saturn by the new generation of gods, the Olympians headed by Zeus. The Titans are even-tempered and gracious as gods, but all of them, except the sun-god Hyperion, have been dethroned from heaven. Saturn raises the question whether there is blank unreason and injustice at the heart of the universe. Oceanus, the sea-god, gives the answer, the gods, though themselves blameless, have fallen in the natural course of things, according to which each stage of development is fated to give place to a higher excellence.
The poem carries the theme further in a contrast between Hyperion, the sun-god of the old order, and Apollo, the sun-god of the new. Apollo, a youth living on earth in "aching ignorance", is destined to displace Hyperion. Apollo is aware of his ignorance but avid for knowledge. To him appears Mnemosyne, a female Titan who has deserted her fellow-gods. Suddenly Apollo reads in her face the silent record of the defeat of the Titans and at once soars to the knowledge that he seeks: the deep understanding that life involves process, and process entails change and suffering, and that there can be no creative progress except by the defeat and destruction of the preceding stage.
The one artistic aim in his poetry was always to create a beautiful world of imagination as opposed to the sordid reality of his day. His exquisite sensibility as a poet enabled him to perceive readily the beauty of the world at large and his brilliant fancy turned the impressions thus obtained into images of beauty, which he described through verbal music and word- painting. His leading principle is: "Beauty in truth, truth in beauty.' ' I am certain of nothing' he wrote, "but the holiness of the heart's affections, and the Truth of Imagination. What the Imagination seizes as beauty must be Truth, whether it existed before or not.
ON FIRST LOOKING INTO CHAPMAN'S HOMER by John Keats Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold, And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; Round many western islands have I been Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. Oft of one wide expanse had I been told That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne; Yet did I never breathe its pure serene Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: Then felt I like some watcher of the skies When a new planet swims into his ken; Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes He star'd at the Pacific- and all his men Look'd at each other with a wild surmise- Silent, upon a peak in Darien.