Keats: Selected Poems

‘O solitude! If I must with thee dwell: key themes
Presentation of nature
The imagination
The individual

‘O solitude! If I must with thee dwell: key points and analysis
Use of address: archaic feature of poetry (particularly Greek and Roman)- personifies solitude; thus solitude is more to Keats (e.g. imagination/state of mind)

Juxtaposition of nature and urban: ‘jumbled heap’ and ‘the steep’- vertical in nature thus ascension and therefore progression/

Use of Enjambment: ‘steep/ Nature’s observatory’- there is a flow created, nature is seamless, similar to the imagination

Lexis of movement and transition: ‘river’s crystal swell’ and ‘deer’s swift leap’- suggests nature can transform and bring into fruition something new (aids the imagination)/ nature is living as opposed to the cold hearted urban environments

Dualism: ‘my soul’s pleasure’ and ‘two kindred spirits flee’- the notion man is more than just the rational being; flourishing and free (‘pleasure’ and ‘flee’); this is man’s true state…

Assonance: ‘bee’, ‘these’ ‘thee’- pleasing to the ear, nature is beauty as well

‘O solitude! If I must with thee dwell: contextual points to link
-The sublime and Romantic art?
-Other Romantics (long walks)?
Rousseau’s emphasis on man as the individual/ state of nature in his social contract

Alexander Pope’s ‘Solitude’ (exemplar of the Augustinian/rationalist view of the self and of nature)

The sublime and beauty of nature- as seen in ‘The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’

Rousseau and other Romantics (Wordsworth and Coleridge in the Lakes for example) took long walks in nature to reflect

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer: Key themes
The power of literature and poetry
The reader and the author
The presentation of the classics
The imagination
The divide between imagination and relaity

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer: Analysis and key points
‘realms of gold’- the ancient and the modern experience (Cortez’s fascination with gold for example); ‘gold’- knowledge and imagination not just literal wealth

Use of simile- (‘like some watcher of the skies’), discovery and adventure; ‘watcher’ actively seeking, fear that what he is doing is not good enough

Classical references: ‘Homer ruled’ and ‘in fealty to Apollo hold.

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’- the authority the Ancient world commands; wisdom, music and poetry associated with this power; the influence of poetry ‘ruled’- a world he has created…

Sublime- ‘Looked at each other with a wild surmise- silent’- use of the hyphen- emphasizes the sense of awe and wonder

‘…his eagle eyes.’- ‘eyes’- visual (discovery and reading)

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer: contextual links
Keats as the ‘Cockney poet’- trying to prove his own education to the audience as he is insecure about this

Chapman vs. Pope- Pope’s translation was more methodical and objective; Chapman’s was far more imaginative

New discoveries- Uranus was first spotted and recorded in 1781

On the Sea: key themes

On the Sea: key points and analysis
Use of personification: ‘eternal whisperings’- use of sibilance in the line as well, connection between man and nature; ‘whisperings’- thoughts and consciousness

‘Gluts twice ten thousand’- flooding, the coming of something new; ‘gluts’- appetite of the sea, again use of personification;

‘Wideness of the sea’- takes up one’s whole vision, allows us to understand and put life into perspective;

‘fed too much with cloying melody’- the idea of appetite is fulfilled here; ‘cloying’ too sweet; ‘melody’ the sensory image used here; the sea can be healing

‘…when the last winds of Heaven were unbound…’- freedom (‘unbound’), chaos, sublime and magnificent

On the Sea: contextual links
Keats had just visited the Isle of Wight

Any links to his illness

In drear-nighted December: key themes
Empathy/ trying to understand
Early use of Ekphrasis
Nature (this poem lacks the sublime which the other poems contained so clearly)

In drear-nighted December: Key points and analysis
Contrast- ‘drear-nighted December’ with ‘Too happy, happy tree’- the contrast between us and nature; how disappointing as creatures we really are I suppose

‘green felicity’- intense and extreme happiness, also use of the color ‘green’ *could indicate some kind of jealousy*

‘sweet forgetting’- cannot know of suffering, the serenity afforded in not being able to think as we can

‘frozen time’ and ‘bubblings’- for man time is permanent, nature has the luxury of transience and circular time

‘numbed sense’- the joy of being inanimate
-the rhyme scheme- the last word of each stanza rhymes- implying nature is cyclical

In drear-nighted December: contextual links
The intense suffering Keats felt: having lost his mother and father at an early age, his brother Tom was dying of Consumption and his other brother left him to go to America

Romanticism and nature- he differs from the standard type

The individual and Romanticism- he explores the pain he alone feels

On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again: key themes
Literature’s power
Power of the imagination
Growth and rebirth

On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again: key points and analysis
Use of the address: ‘O golden-tongued Romance’ (use of personification + addressed in an earlier poem)

‘Shakespearian fruit’- appetite but also we are fulfilled in reading- replenished as happens in Catharsis

‘old oak forest I am gone’- wisdom and fantasy; out of this world and lost

‘new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire.’- rebirth and freedom

‘consumed’- the notion that death is coming soon

‘the bitter-sweet’- catharsis- this is what we gain from tragedy…

‘impassioned clay’- though trapped in stasis there is something trying to get out (mind vs. body but also the immortal locked down to the mortal)

Use of the Shakespearean sonnet

On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again: contextual links
His admiration of Shakespeare- demonstrated in ‘Eve of St Agnes’

Coleridge and Shakespeare- All Romantics heavily influenced by him

The role and importance of the imagination

The ‘Cockney-poet’- Keats is establishing his credentials as educated here again…

When I have fears that I may cease to be: Key themes
Intellectualism and creativity
The imagination

When I have fears that I may cease to be: key points and analysis
‘gleaned my teeming brain’- reaping the harvest- getting everything- brain constantly active- e.g. imagination

‘high-piled books’- like pillars- associations with Parthenon and the Athenians- intellectualism

‘Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain’- fear that he will not get chance to read these- the association between energy (as gained from food) and imagination- connected in life (extended use of imagery)

‘fair creature’ and ‘faery power’- the idealized love he wishes to have- links to the imagination- also links to his real romances that he had

‘…on the shore of the wide world’- an outsider and alone- as though much of what is good in life can be gained without worldly pleasures or he still has a lot to gain

‘…to nothingness do sink’- no idealism, Christian God or duality- he is accepting the world as he sees it

When I have fears that I may cease to be: Contextual links
Keats’s own poor health

His experiences as an apothecary

His status as the ‘Cockney poet’

Romanticist fascination with the imagination

Use of the sublime (‘shore of the wide world’)

Relationship with Fanny Brawne

La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad: Key themes
Love/ desire
The imagination
Masculine vs. Feminine

La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad: key points and analysis
As the title suggests- a ballad structure-archaic and implies some kind of romance lost

‘palely loitering’- no aim, also ill and ghostlike (gothic imagery)

‘a fading rose’- ‘rose’ the sign of masculinity; ‘fading’ suggesting death; use of color as well; ‘rose’- passion and this is also leaving him

‘hair was long’/ ‘eyes were wild’- sexual connotations, freedom but also madness- the difficulties of desire are encapsulated…

‘garland’- he is always active, she passive- suggestive of power and control; elevation and worship- warning about the excesses of love

‘she took me to her elfin grot’- control shifts- the fantasy element kicks in (‘elfin grot’); implies he has become a servant to the mind

‘Pale warriors…. hath thee in thrall’- traditional image of male strength, now weak and pathetic, ghostly- the haunting effect implies that we are haunted by our inner fears

La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad: contextual links
Images of death- link to Keats’s experience both as an apothecary and as somebody with consumption

Fanny Brawne- romance

The imagination/Negative Capability- being lost in the mind; the standard that can never be reached

Romanticism and its Gothic link- e.g. Coleridge in the Rime…

The use of older tale: by Alain Chartier– courtly romance is spun around and turned upside down

To Sleep: Key themes
The power of the imagination
Mind/Soul vs. the body

To Sleep: Key points and analysis
‘…embalmer’- as though this is sending you to death, preparing you (use of personification)

‘…in the midst of thine hymn’- beauty and rest in the arts; ‘midst’ atmosphere- completely caught up in this desire

‘…thy poppy throws’- the relinquishing of pain through laudanum

‘…breeding many woes’- ‘breeding’- new life only creates pain

‘the hushed casket of my soul’

‘save me from curious conscience’- use of alliteration but also the plea, life is too much…needs relief…

To Sleep: contextual links
Keats’s own fear of death and his proximity to it

Use of the poppy- e.g. Kublai Khan by Coleridge

Romanticism’s (sometimes) rejection of Christianity- ‘the Amen’ comes before the ‘poppy’ as though pain relief is better than a belief that life will continue; partially because Keats does not want it to.

Ode to Psyche: key themes
Fantasy vs. reality
The classical world and its presentation
Religion (pantheism in ‘branched thoughts’)

Ode to Psyche: key points and analysis
Use of address- analysis of this done elsewhere
-he has written for her though not a song

‘soft conched ear’- enclosed and secret, though beautiful and aesthetically pleasing

‘I dreamt’- the blurring between reality and imagination

‘…whispering roof/Of leaves.’- nature as personal (through personification and protective)

‘…to make delicious moan’- use of synaesthesia- the desire to worship her, sexual connotations…

‘…no incense sweet’- draws upon current conditions

‘…too late for antique vows’- the sense of transient and the passing

‘…in some untrodden region of my mind’- he worships her through creation and imagination

‘…branched thoughts, new grown with pleasant pain…’

‘a bright torch’- liberty, imagination, the soul — heat- passion

‘…to let the warm love in.’- again thermal imagery….

Ode to Psyche: contextual links
Psyche– immortal love, Neo-Platonism (beauty on the inside as well- spiritual beauty), sacred marriage

Keats’s own appreciation of beauty and desire for immortal love….

Romanticist attitudes towards religion- should be of the mind- ‘my mind is my church'(Thomas Paine)

Keats’s appreciation for the Classics

Coleridge’s poem ‘Psyche’- he uses it to explore the Soul; Keats does a bit…

Nature as bringing out beauty, love, the soul and freedom- could link in the ideas of Rousseau- man must be free in nature…

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil key themes
Material wealth and criticism
The blur between reality and the imagination…

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil: key points and analysis
Originally based on Boccacio’s Decameron

‘their love grew tender/ every eve deeper and tender still;’- the fantastical idealized portrayal of love in society

Use of simile: ‘constant as her vespers’- the religiosity

The association of illness with love — ‘sick longing’

Synaesthesia: ‘The inward fragrance of each other’s heart’

‘Enriched from ancestral merchandise…’
‘For them his ears gushed blood;’

Use of anaphora- ‘Why were they proud?’ — he clearly values art above material wealth

Use of address mid way- speaks to Boccaccio- acknowledges that what is happening is only art; so what does this demonstrate?

‘Each richer by his being a murderer’

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil: key points and analysis (pt. 2)
Personification: ‘Selfishness, Love’s cousin, held not long…’
‘…a miry channel for tears…’- nature runs into the body…

‘I forget the taste of earthly bliss/ That paleness warms my grave…’
‘Thy beauty grows on me…’

‘Her silk played in purple phantasies [sic]…’- royalty and passion

‘Twas love- cold, dead indeed, but not dethroned…’

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil: Contextual links
The Gothic- the head in the pot of the Basil
-the descent from idealized and forbidden love into despair and madness (extreme emotions quite often common in the Gothic genre)

The love between Fanny Brawne and Keats, their relationship was forbidden given that he had little means to provide for himself

The carnal nature of the Gothic

Keats’s own fears about wealth

The social unrest and criticism of the status quo (e.g. Blanketeers and Peter’s Fields)- reflects the criticism he levels against the brothers…

The Eve of St Agnes: key themes
Femininity and Masculinity

The Eve of St Agnes: Key points and analysis
The use of the opening verses with cold and death- associates desire with this; also theme of religion is brought up by these— ‘His was harsh penance on St Agnes’ Eve’

‘…visions of delight.’- almost sounds innocent

‘…honeyed middle of the night’- appetite and desire are included in this; the emphasis on the sweet…

‘…couch supine their beauties, lily white’- the idea of purity and beauty together- the ideal of a woman- they also have to do this, no indication of the preparation of the men…

‘Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire…’- looking up- suggesting that true desire should be focused on the eternal and not the material… Use of religion as well

‘…yearning like a God in pain.’- Madeline is idealized (‘God’) but also the fine line between pleasure and pain- is this something we should desire?

‘…worship all unseen’- use of religious imagery to discuss Madeline; ‘unseen’- doesn’t actually know what he is getting

‘…Yet men will murder upon holy days…’- as though men and women are different, both driven by base desires

‘… full blown rose.’ and ‘purple riot’- images of masculinity and passion

‘…The maiden’s chamber, silken, hushed and chaste;’

The Eve of St Agnes: Key points and analysis (pt.2)
Madeline’s ‘amethyst’- suggests that she is more passionate and savage than previously established in the poem

‘…Loosens her fragrant bodice by degrees/creeps rustling to her knees.’- use of onomatopoeia

‘… painful change…’
‘…Made tuneable with every sweetest vow.’
‘…he melted, as the rose/ Blendeth its odour with the violet…’
‘…they glide like phantoms’

‘…Were long be-nightmared.’ — the sense of trauma in desire

The Eve of St Agnes: Contextual links
Gothic links across
-passion and forbidden love: e.g. Walpole’s ‘Castle of Otranto’
-Death and desire are linked together

Keats’s use of prostitutes as outlined in Motion’s biography

Keats’s constant need to have his love re-affirmed by Fanny Brawne

The idealization of Romanticism- the perfect ideal in the mind
The use of the night in Romanticism…

To Autumn: key themes
The temporal nature of time
Natural world
Death vs. life
Appetite and desire (the images of the harvest)

To Autumn: Key points and analysis
‘bosom-friend’- the personal attachment to nature that Keats feels ( use of personification)

‘swell the gourd’/’plump the hazel shells’- plenty, full of life- ‘swell’- growing- almost too much for him to handle…

‘sweet kernel’- senses pleased, enjoyment

‘Drowsed with the fume of poppies’- drug allusion, the serenity he feels in being in dream like state

‘…last oozing’- euphonic sound created by the elongated vowel- the fact something is coming to an end… the desire for it to last that bit longer

Use of the questions- ‘Where are the songs of Spring?’- breaks up the flow established in the previous stanza, nature brings reflection + the desire for it to keep going… proves other seasons are inferior

Use of alliteration- ‘soft dying day’- distracts from the sense of passing/ alternatively/ it makes the passing sweet and the atmosphere of melancholy is created…

The use of the falling cadence at the end ‘in the skies’- the final acceptance of death coming…

To Autumn: Contextual links
Composed in 1819
-further into illness
-composed after a walk

The harvest season an important part of 19th century England

The natural world and Romanticism… very important!

”Conspiring’ is stripped of all the paranoid, plotting connotations it had for the Elizabethan courtly intrigue poets and the morally upright poets of the Augustan period.’- Daljit Nagra

Ode on Indolence: key themes
The natural world

Transformation of the soul

The imagination….

Ode on Indolence: Key pieces of analysis
Use of allegory
-links into Keats’s reading of Dante…

‘placid sandals… white robes graced…’
-serene portrayal of the figures…
-perfect; as though they are forms…

‘The blissful cloud of summer indolence.’
-lingering, precipitates (no pun intended) something worse happening
-‘benumbed my eyes… my pulse grew less and less.’- growth and death- lack of feeling- the anathema of what the Romantics strived for…

‘and ached for wings…’ – the desire to go beyond the present
-pleasure/pain dichotomy…

‘ambition pale of cheek.’- the idea that this causes destruction…
‘demon Poesy’- hardest to control, the one he desires most, the one he can’t get rid of…’

Rhyme scheme- ‘joy’ and ‘annoy’ +’noons’ and ‘moons’- juxtaposing concepts are linked- much as pleasure and pain- the relaxation feel of indolence contrasted with the pain at missing out on living life…

‘My soul had been a law besprinkled o’er with flowers…’- passivity, manicured- not the rough romantic image of nature and the soul…

‘The morn was clouded.’- he is merely putting off that which is bothersome…

‘…for I would not be dieted with praise, A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!’– ‘pet’- does want idle praise or ‘lamb’- rejects notion of innocence; a reflection on the embarrassment he feels as a poet….

‘Vanish… Into the clouds.’- he is not really serious about vanquishing these feelings, he wants them still- would be just too far to banish these…

Ode on Indolence: Key pieces of context
Written as the other odes were in 1819…. his brother had just left and come back from America…

The exact date in relation to other odes is unknown- could have been composed before or after… either way this does not matter since it either means that his rejection of the figures is a mistake or the culmination of the reflections of the other odes…

Phidias- the architect who built the statue of Athena at the Parthenon

The Elgin Marbles- reignited people’s interest in the Greek mythos and culture…

Ode on Melancholy: Key themes
The presentation of nature (cycles, repetition, sublime)

The soul and its development

Emotion and mood…

Ode on Melancholy: Key analysis
‘…tight-rooted.’-inverted syntax- almost as though it would be harder to pull it out of the ground thus making it a warning against suicide…

‘poisonous wine’- the dichotomy between the sweet and the poison

‘rosary of yew-berries’- compound noun- prayer and death associated- don’t put the faith in death as a release…

‘downy owl’ and ‘death moth’- flying – the release of the soul- ‘owl’- wisdom- progression from day to night- life to death

‘sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud.’- repetition of natural cycles, how it suddenly comes on- no warning… ‘heaven’- the mixture of pain and salvation… required for us to learn and to develop… ‘cloud’- a reference to one of his letters…

‘fosters the droop-headed flowers all… hides the green hill in an April shroud.’- images of death and restoration- growth of the soul…

sublime, natural and transient images in the remedies for melancholy….

Personification of melancholy- ‘Emprison her soft hand’- conquest
‘feed deep deep upon her peerless eyes.’- symmetry, euphonic sound, repetition- appetite

‘bee mouth sips’- sting and pleasure of honey

‘Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue….’ – to know melancholy one must know fully joy…

Ode on Melancholy: Context
Keats as the “Cockney Poet”- Byron could not understand why a poet would make so much of drinking wine; this is in part because Keats had not experienced these things because he was not an elite aristocrat

Ode on a Grecian Urn: key themes
The Ancient world
The passing of time
Eternal Beauty
Fantasy vs. Reality

Ode on a Grecian Urn: key points and analysis?
Ekphrasis- the whole poem is “ekphrasis”

Personification- ‘unravished bride of quietness’- source of pleasure; wanting to be tapped but never will; ‘quietness’- the use of sound

Broken meter/ use of questions- ‘What mad pursuit?’- use of ‘mad’ is important here- consumed in emotion

Synaesthesia- ‘Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’- first of all: recurring imagery of sweetness- nourishing; second of all:’unheard’ – silence is an important part of this (contemplation) but also it is that which we never hear that is good (much as what we never see or taste is better than the reality)

Use of rhyme- ‘grieve’ and ‘leave’ are paired (these have connotations of sadness and the end to something) contrasted with ‘kiss’ and ‘bliss’ which implies sensatory pleasure and eternal feeling- this encapsulates the inherent contradiction in the poem

The use of natural imagery- ‘Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu’

‘Burning’ and ‘parched’- as if being kept in eternity is no good for anyone (‘layers of ekphrasis’ as Dr. Corina Russell refers to it as)

The end chiasmus- a question or this what Keats truly believes?

Ode on Grecian Urn: Context
Pastoral Tradition- celebrates the innocent life of shepherds and shepherdesses in poems, plays and prose
-settings of rustic innocence and idleness
-came from Theocritus’ ‘Bucolics’
-Spenser’s ‘The Shepherde’s Calendar’ (1597)
-Became quite important in the Neo-classical tradition (not before Milton had done ‘Lycidias’ [1697])
-Wordsworth and Clare rejected this by doing more rural realism with ‘Lyrical Ballads’

Is Keats thus challenging the interpretation of the Pastoral Tradition fostered by the Neo-Classicists?

-‘O for a life of sensations rather than thoughts.’

-Negative Capability

-‘What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth…. fondness and yearning for the beautiful.’

-Keats got a private viewing of the Elgin Marbles in 1816 (**see notes on the Massolit Russell lectures for more detail on the Elgin Marbles**)

Ode to a Nightingale: Themes?
Eternal life

Ode to a Nightingale: Key points and analysis
Focus on emotion- ‘My heart aches’

References to the Classical World- e.g. ‘Hemlock’, Socrates

Synaesthesia- ‘some melodious plot’- nature as musical- a source of inspiration and imagination

Thermal Imagery- ‘Cooled a long age in the deep delved earth,’- further we go into nature the more we can gain from it for our own benefit.

‘leave the world unseen’- death or a higher state of being- the two are equivocated (goes back to Plato’s “Apology”)

Animated imagery- ‘viewless wings of poetry.’- idea of ascension and freedom encapsulated in the wings

‘Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird!’ – the idea of the eternal figure of beauty and freedom is encapsulated in the Nightingale…

Biblical imagery/ref.- ‘Through the sad heart of Ruth…’- Keats is own personal sacrifice is mirrored in this; concept of hope is introduced

Eternity- ‘thy plaintive anthem fades.’- the idea that it can never truly die or go away; it can merely be moved away from (much as Keats will now awake)

Ode to a Nightingale: Context?
Liebniz- “Music is a hidden arithmetic of the soul that does not know it is counting.”

Keats’s own death filled life- his brother, Tom dying recently, and his mother’s death in 1810

Romantic conception of the Nightingale- previously alluded to by Coleridge; the idea of the night song (a concept developed in music by Chopin and various others)

Prof. Blanning’s analysis of the night and song in Romanticism: it is either the sign of irrationality or the release and freedom (contradictory in other words)

Bright Star: Themes



Ideal vs. the real

Bright Star: Key analysis
Key feature: ‘Bright star….. steadfast as thou art.’ – distance, removed, navigation, hope

Personification- ‘sleepless Eremite’

Transient images: ‘moving waters…’
‘…soft-fallen mask/ Of snow upon’

The volta- ‘No’- defiant and wishes to establish his own steadfastness

‘Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,’
‘To feel.’- he can get sensations- the star can have no these

Shakespearean sonnet- ends with couplet- contradiction- ‘breath’ and ‘death’

Another contradiction- ‘sweet unrest’

Bright Star: Context
Believed to have been re-written for Fanny Brawne (Gittings believes it was written in April 1818)

Keats would address Fanny as his ‘star’

Transcribed next to Shakespeare’s ‘A Lover’s Complaint’

Severn maintains it was written as his last poem and done in 1821

Cite this page

Keats: Selected Poems. (2017, Nov 28). Retrieved from

Keats: Selected Poems
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