Tuesday, 12 January 2016


John Keats is one of the greatest Romantic poets and this very assertion, is the last two lines of one of his poems: ‘’Ode on a Grecian Urn’’. William Wordsworth says, ‘Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion recollected in Tranquility…’ and Keats concludes that ‘If Poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.’ Keats’s great odes reveal his view of the relationship between the soul, eternity, nature, and art.
The Romantic father, Jean Jaques Rosseau established the cult of the individual and championed the freedom of the human spirit; his famous quote was, ‘’ I felt before I Thought.’’ Sensibility has remained a core feature of the romantic era.
‘’I never can feel certain of any truth but from a clear perception of its Beauty’’ this is an excerpt of the letter Keats wrote to George and Georgiana Keats, he believes the only certainty of Truth is based and conditioned on his mind perceiving it as beautiful, he buttresses his point in another letter written to Benjamin Baily; ‘’I am certain of nothing 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-for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential beauty.’’ It is evident that the Keats’ conception of Beauty and Truth is rooted in the power of imagination which is a major tenet preached and held with optimum sacredness during the romantic period; the era privileges imagination over reasoning, the quest for wonder, the supernatural, the law of the exotic, the rustic life and it is believed that truth must be felt. The power of Imagination is the bedrock on which Individualism (which the modern democratic world has its root from) is built upon; Freedom: unchaining the imagination from the dungeon of received doctrines and giving it expression. To the romantics, Imagination is supreme and it is the best tool to escape from the unpleasant and ugly realities of the world. Walter Pater, a late 19th century critic asserted that the addition of strangeness to beauty is the essence of Romanticism. In Keats great Odes, he combined intellectual and emotional sensibility merge in language of great power and beauty. From the above discussed points, it is thus apt to say that Literary writings are reflections of the eras or ages in which they are written and a protest against the preceding age or era.
The preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800), by English poets, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge was also of prime importance as a Manifesto of Literary Romanticism. The two poets affirmed the importance of feeling and imagination to poetic creation and disclaimed conventional literary forms and Subjects. Imagination was praised over Reason, emotions over logic, and Intuition over science; a pathway for literary works of great sensibility and passion. Keats’ idea of Truth and Beauty cannot be verified and he himself said he is not concerned about empiricism; ‘’I have never yet been able to perceive how everything be known for Truth by Consecutive reasoning, O! For a life of sensation than of thought’’
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing…’

(The opening lines of the poem; Endymion)
The above lines support the claim that the Beauty of Art is imperishable: eternal. Art is a perfect representation of that which cannot be altered. Aristotle in his poetics asserts that Art is superior to history; the Truth of history is not eternal but limited by time, the truth of fiction is unverifiable and the pain of fiction is painless, Keats asserts that: ‘the poetry of earth is never dead…from hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead’. A critical view of Keats’ ‘’Ode on a Grecian Urn’’ will explicate and justify these claims. Keats is of the opinion that the classical Greek art is idealistic and captures Greek virtues; this establishes the basis of the poem. Keats sees beauty in the Ancient Urn; he uses it to depict the nature of artistic creativity. The various scenes on the Urn are as old as the Greek empire, yet, it has not lost it values; the passage of time has not affected it. The Urn is a depiction of the various aspirations and endeavours of humanity: the unfulfilled dreams, unending worries, the joyless hours of weariness, the exotic, gilts, the ugly and the ecstatic facet of life, the great unsolved puzzles and riddles in the world, the esoteric, zany and the lucid glimpses on earth. The Urn is made a living art work by the brilliance of poetry rooted in the power of Imagination.

     It is well-known that in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats makes the urn say to man: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  As Cleanth Brooks has pointed out, “we ordinarily do not expect an urn to speak at all” (155).  So it is only in the poet’s imagination that the urn is personified and claimed to be able to say anything to man.  In fact, when the urn says “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” it is “telling,” not so much in words as in what it shows, a generalization which is exemplified by the urn itself.  The urn, as described in the poem, represents the eternal, for “when old age shall this generation waste,/Thou shall remain” (46-47).  When it remains, it will continue to tell its “flowery tale” and “tease us out of thought/As doth eternity” (4, 44-45), and its “leaf-fringed legend” will forever haunt about its shape with boughs that cannot shed leaves, with figures “for ever piping songs for ever new,” and with lovers “for ever panting, and for ever young” (5, 24, 27), while the streets of the little town in another picture on the urn “for evermore/Will silent be” (38-39).  If the urn with its pictures and figures represents the eternal, it is like truth or it is a truth.  But while the urn represents truth on the one hand, it nonetheless represents beauty on the other hand, for it is called not only “still unravished bride of quietness” and “foster-child of silence and slow time” but also “Attic shape” and “Fair attitude” with “brede/Of marble men and maidens overwrought,/With forest branches and the trodden weed” (1-2, 41-42).  The well-wrought urn, in other words, typifies both beauty and truth, and so it is qualified to tell man that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”: a beautiful piece of art like the urn will forever remain, as truth does, to show us its beauty as well as the truth it contains, though what it contains, just as the urn does, may be some plain, guessable facts along with some mysterious details beyond our surmise.
     Keats’s Grecian urn does contain for him truth and beauty (Brooks 21).  Truth and beauty are in fact the two values Keats lived for.  As we know, all romantics feel keenly the inevitability of change, the unreliability of phenomena, and the ephemerality of all things.  That is why Shelley says, “Naught may endure but Mutability” (“Mutability,” 16).  But Keats felt even more keenly the romantic agony brought about by change.  His own anticipated short life naturally accounts largely for this agony.  And his poems, such as “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles,” “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be,” and “Why Did I Laugh Tonight? No Voice Will Tell,” largely express that agony.  Facing the ephemeral, ever-changing world, romantics naturally aspire after what is eternal, unchangeable, and immortal.  This aspiration is uttered most impressively in Keats’s “Bright Star, Would I Were Steadfast as Thou Art.”  And the “still steadfast, still unchangeable” bright star is naturally linkable to the Platonic idea of Truth as the unchanging Form.
     Keats, of course, did not actually reach for the bright star, nor did he seek blindly for the abstract and invisible Platonic truth.  For him, “what the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth” and for him “the Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth.”  So, for Keats, beauty is indeed truth, and beauty is “seized” by imagination.  Now, what Keats’s imagination seizes as beauty (“the truth of imagination” as he called it) is naturally the poet’s vision, which can be rendered into poetry.  It follows, then, that poetry is Keats’s lifelong goal; it is his embodiment of beauty and truth.  He tells us his goal in Sleep and Poetry:

          O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
          Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
          That my own soul has to itself decreed. (96-98)

He even tells us that he has his regimen of poetic training: following Virgil, he will first “pass the realm of Flora and old Pan” and then deal with “the agonies, the strife/Of human hearts” (101, 124-5). 
     In Keats’s poetic career, there were times of course when he felt that “death is intenser than verse, fame, and beauty” (“Why Did I Laugh Tonight?” 13-14), that poesy is not “so sweet as drowsy noon,/And evenings steeped in honeyed indolence” (“Ode on Indolence,” 36-37), and that “the fancy (i.e., imagination or ‘the viewless wings of Poesy’) cannot cheat so well/As she is famed to do” (“Ode to a Nightingale,” 33, 73-74).  Nevertheless, Keats is for sure the most purely devoted poet to poetry and the purest aesthete among the English romantic poets.  He seems to be the most wholly immersed in the dead of truth and beauty.
     Compared with Keats, Shelley is not so pure an aesthete, for he never seems to be content with the dead of truth and beauty: he yearns more for goodness.  Keats, to be sure, also concerns himself with ethics, with the realm of goodness.  After claiming “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” at the very beginning of Endymion, he does not merely profess that

            Its loveliness increases; it will never
            Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
            A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
            Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Keats has in fact gone on to tell us a theory of the “pleasure thermometer,” a theory on how immortal delight may derive from “a fellowship with essence,” that is, from purging away mutability from the things of beauty by fusing ourselves “first sensuously, with the lovely objects of nature and art, then on a higher level, with other human beings through ‘love and friendship’ and, ultimately, sexual love.”7  This content has indeed combined truth (immortality) with beauty and goodness (love and friendship).  However, Keats’s chief concern here is with beauty, not with goodness: the poetic romance of Endymion is told for pleasure, not for morality.  That is why Keats says in the Preface, “I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece, and dulled its brightness.”
     When Keats touched Greek mythology again in Hyperion (1818) or The Fall of Hyperion (1819), he had at first meant to be ethical.  He proposed to solve the problem of “unde malum?” (whence and why evil?) in Hyperion.  But the answer offered by Oceanus is: “... ‘tis the eternal law/That first in beauty should be first in might” (Hyperion, II, 228-9).  In Oceanus’ view, Saturn was dethroned not by blank unreason and injustice, but by a higher excellence in the natural progressing of things or the stage-by-stage development of time.  Oceanus’ “first in beauty” (instead of “first in goodness”) is a phrase picked by Keats, and it betrays Keats’s propensity for replacing ethical terms with aesthetic ones.
     In The Fall of Hyperion, the story has grown into a dream vision, and it contains an induction somewhat like Wordsworth’s The Prelude, involving the theme of “the growth of a poet’s mind.”  In the induction, Moneta admonishes the poet to ascend steps and usurp the height of poetry by becoming one of “those to whom the miseries of the world/Are misery, and will not let them rest” (148-9), that is, by becoming “a sage;/A humanist, physician to all men” (189-90).  But this moral tone cannot be sustained by the story of how Hyperion fell in the course of time.  Keats’s ethical concern (with the poet’s social or moral function) somehow fails to go well with his beautiful mythology, which is primarily aesthetic rather than ethic in nature.  This may be part of the reason why the epic stays unfinished.
     Keats’s preoccupation with beauty, rather than goodness, is repeatedly revealed in his letters.  We have mentioned that he told Benjamin Bailey (in a letter of November 22, 1817) that “what the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth” (Bush 257).  We may recall, too, that to George and Thomas Keats (in a letter of December 21, 1817) he says, “... with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration” (Bush 261).  It is his preoccupation with beauty, of course, that makes him “hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us” (letter to John Hamilton Reynolds, February 3, 1818, in Bush 263).  And it is his preoccupation with beauty, too, that makes him advise Shelley impolitely: “you might curb your magnanimity and be more of an artist, and ‘load every rift’ of your subject with ore” (letter to Shelley, August 16, 1820, in Bush 298).
     Shelley showed his magnanimity not only in inviting Keats (who was ill) to come and stay with the Shelleys in Pisa for the winter, but also in his lifelong fighting for the benefit of mankind.  Anyone who reads Shelley’s biography is sure to have the impression that Shelley was indeed a revolutionary before a poet.  Since his Eton days when from his own experience “he saw the petty tyranny of schoolmasters and schoolmates as representative of man’s general inhumanity to man,” he has “dedicated his life to a war against injustice and oppression” (Abrams et al, 661).  In 1812, he visited Ireland to engage in radical pamphleteering and was seen at several political rallies, in his support for freedom of the press and the extension of equal rights to Catholics and in his hostility to the coercions of church and state.  In other years, no matter whether he was in England or elsewhere on the Continent, Shelley never ceased to speak for the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  When he drowned in 1822, he was collaborating with Leigh Hunt and Byron on the journal The Liberal, which, needless to say, was a radical organ free from prosecution by the British authorities but good to publish their revolutionary ideas for the good of society.
     Very little of Keats’s work is manifestly linkable to his contemporary political or religious status quo.  In contrast, very much of Shelley’s work is all too easily connected with his reactions to the contemporary affairs of church or state.  According to Kenneth Neill Cameron, Shelley has left us a picture of his social philosophy not in his poetry alone, but also in his prose.  In his A Philosophical View of Reform, Shelley has expressed his theory of historical evolution: “history is essentially a struggle between two sets of forces, the forces of liberty and the forces of despotism” (Cameron 512).  In regard to the continent of Europe Shelley “felt that the existing despotic governments could be overthrown only by revolution, and his letters and work show a constant attention to the development of such movements—in Spain, in Naples, in Paris, in Greece, as well as in Mexico, South America and Ireland” (Cameron 514).  Shelley’s poetry also plainly shows the same social philosophy:
            John Keats is a highly respected poet who is well known for his poetry written during the Romantic period. Keats poetry shows his love for beauty and perfection. He epitomizes the ideals and passion exhibited in Romantic writers. Even his untimely death at only age 21 can be deemed romantic in that he never reached his full potential and left the world full of mystery. His works include many themes, the main one being that of immortality. Keats often related objects and animals to human emotions, such as immortality and melancholy. This can be seen in two of his most famous works, Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale.
            Ode on a Grecian Urn is a poem about multiple scenes reflected on an urn. The first stanza speaks of as scene including a virgin bride who is exceptionally beautiful and emits such radiance that the viewer of the urn is in rapture just looking upon her. The second stanza describes another scene on the urn which depicts a pair of lovers listening to sweet music, however he states that melodies unheard are sweeter. This is because once a melody is played aloud it can only disappoint and not compare to what the imagination can dream up. He goes on to tell his lover that even though they may never kiss he shall not grieve because her beauty is unaffected by time and will never fade. The third stanza goes on to discuss the
surrounding trees that will never shed their leaves and continue to live on and blossom year after year. He compares this to a piper who forever learns and passes on beautiful songs and melodic material. He feels happy that the man and wife with feel the joy of eternal love and not suffer the pain of mortal love that is bound to end tragically either by superficial means or separation by death. The fourth stanza of Ode on a Grecian Urn illustrates yet another scene. This however emits a vibe of melancholy in comparison to the previous three stanzas by referring to a cavalcade of people attending a sacrifice. He goes on to say the streets of the town of which they left will forevermore be empty. The final stanza of the poem has the speaker reflecting on the urn as a vessel for a message of eternal greatness.
The timeless meaning the urn portrays is that Beauty is truth, truth beauty. According to the speaker this is all one needs to know. Keats sees art as superior to human life or existence. He uses the power of the pen to connect the spiritual world with the physicality of the urn. Each stanza relates its scene to immorality in different ways. The first and second stanzas refer to women who are exceptionally beautiful and will never be affected by time. Their attractiveness transcends time and can always be looked upon as such. In the third stanza the speaker reflects on the everlasting love the two lovers on the urn share and is reminded that he, sadly, will never be able to experience that. The fourth stanza brings upon the issue that the urn is indeed a piece of artwork and not living testimony. He cannot speak to the figures on the urn to figure out where they are going or where they came from. This presents the aspect that immortality is subject to static objects or intangible ideas. The urn is viewed as
an immortal basin of knowledge since the images upon the urn are permanent and will be there forever. It, being a piece of artwork, surpasses the disposable nature of humans and cannot age or die therefore it continues to transfer the same message to each generation that studies it.
            Another one of Keats poems that thoroughly exhibits the theme of immortality is Ode to a Nightingale. The poem starts with the speaker talking about being stricken with grief after listening to the nightingales harmonious song. He feels as though he has taken a poison to subdue his pain, not from being jealous of the bird but for being entirely too happy. The speaker is so overwhelmed by the birds song that his initial joy and happiness turns to irrational sadness. He continues this feel in the second and third stanzas. He yearns for alcohol to drown out the intense feelings of sorrow. Thought and reason is presented as the reason that humans dwell on sadness and death. The speaker cannot separate the blissful happiness he feels from hearing the song from the rationality that he will not be able to hear the song forever, which is what he desperately desires. The third stanza has the speaker longing to fly away into the forest with the nightingale. The nightingale is immune to human consciousness and is therefore unaware of the mortality and eventual death human beings are subject to face. In the fourth stanza the speaker asks the bird to fly away into the forest, and declares that he shall follow it wherever it goes. He will do this through the form of poetry. The fifth stanza has the speaker imagining the world that the nightingale sees. The flowers, trees, and grass are all darkness to him which further emphasizes the differences between himself and the bird. In the sixth stanza the speaker describes many occasions when he thought death would be greater
than living his life full of depression. He goes on to say that now that he has heard the nightingales song he would be perfectly fine with succumbing to death at that exact moment. However, since he has ears in vain he would not be able to ear the birds song any longer and that would be a fate worse than death. The speaker goes as far as referring to the nightingale as the immortal bird. The bird itself is not immortal; the beautiful song it sings is considered to everlasting because it will never die. Emperors and clowns alike have been honored to listen to the song. The song has been passed down through generations of nightingales and will continue to do so forevermore. The eighth stanza brings the speaker out of his trance and back to himself and reality. The bird flies farther and farther away from him taking with it the beauty of the melodic tune. With the absence of the bird he cannot determine whether he has been dreaming or was indeed awake to feel the magnificence of the nightingales song.
            In the poem Keats uses the birds song to express his feelings of wanting to live forever. He translates that the song is equivalent to his poetry in that art transcends life. It can live forever so long as people continue to hear or read and enjoy it. Art, poetry, and song are portals to escape reality and entertain thoughts that otherwise would be impossible. Both Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale express the idea that art is endlessly renewable and can change with time, inspiring every person who has the ability to appreciate it. The urn is a physical representation of immortality while the gales song is a mental manifestation of the concept of forever.
Keats was impressed by Spenser and was, similar to Spenser, an enthusiastic lover of beauty in all its structures and manifestations. The energy of beauty constitutes his aestheticism in nature, in woman and in art.
 ‘A  thing  of beauty is a joy forever’.
When we consider Keats, “Beauty” strikes our mind. Keats and Beauty have ended up very nearly synonymous. We can’t consider Keats without considering Beauty. Beauty is a reflection, it doesn’t give out its importance effectively.  He sees Beauty all around. Keats made Beauty his object of miracle and appreciation and he turned into the best writer of Beauty. All the Romantic artists had an energy for one thing or the other. Wordsworth was the admirer of Nature and Coleridge was an artist of the heavenly. Shelley remained for standards and Byron loved freedom. With Keats the energy for Beauty was the best, rather the main thought.
He composes and distinguishes beauty with truth. Of all the contemporary writers Keats is a standout amongst the most inexorably connected with the love of beauty. He was the most energetic lover of the world as the vocation of delightful pictures and of numerous inventive relationship of an object or word with an elevated enthusiastic claim. Verse, as per Keats, ought to be the incarnation of beauty, not a medium for the declaration of religious or social philosophy. Keats loved ‘the compelling conceptual thought of Beauty in all things’. He could see Beauty all over the place and in every object. Beauty seemed to him in different structures and shapes—in the blossoms and in the mists, in the slopes and rills, in the tune of a feathered creature and even with a lady, in an incredible book and in the legends of old. Beauty was there in the bits of stone with carvings consequently.
For Keats the universe of beauty was a departure from the dismal and excruciating life or experience. He got away from the political and social issues of the world into the domain of imagination. Not at all like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelley, he stayed untouched by progressive hypotheses for the relapse of humankind. His later lyrics, for example, “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Hyperion” demonstrate an expanding enthusiasm toward human issues and humankind and on the off chance that he had existed he would have created a closer contact with reality. He might by and large be termed as a writer of departure. With him verse existed not as an instrument of social rebellion nor of philosophical convention however for the articulation of beauty. He went for communicating beauty for it purpose. Keats did not like just those things that are excellent as indicated by the perceived measures. He had profound knowledge to see beauty even in those things are unfriendly to beauty for normal individuals. He said:
“I have loved the principle of beauty in all things.”
Keats perceives Beauty through his characteristic and spontaneous application of faculties. He has a phenomenal sense-observation. He could see objects more seriously than other individuals. He inferred incredible tasteful joy at the sight of objects of Nature, of a reasonable face, of the showstoppers, legends old and new. Every minute uncovered to him a vibe of miracle and pleasure.He determined tasteful pleasure through his faculties.
“Where are the tune of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music as well”
Keats was the last as well as the absolute best of the Romantics while Scott was just telling stories, and Wordsworth changing verse or maintaining the ethical law, and Shelley pushing the outlandish changes and Byron voicing his own particular vanity and the political measure. Revering beauty like an enthusiast, consummately substance to compose what was in his own particular heart or to reflect some wonder of the characteristic world as he saw or imagined it to be, he had the honorable thought that verse exists for it purpose and endures misfortune by being dedicated to philosophy or governmental issues. Unengaged love of beauty is one of the qualities that made Keats extraordinary and that recognized him from his incredible counterparts. He got a handle on the fundamental unity of beauty and truth. His ideology did not mean beauty of structure alone. His perfect was the Greek perfect of beauty internal and outward, the ideal soul of verse and the ideal structure. Accurately in light of the fact that he held this perfect, he was free from the wish to lecture. Keats’ initial pieces are to a great extent concerned with writers, pictures, models or the rustic isolation in which an artist may nurture his extravagant. His extraordinary tributes have for their subjects a storied Grecian Urn; a songbird; and the season of pre-winter, to which he turns from the melodies of spring. The valuation for Beauty in Keats is through brain or soul.
As he didn’t live long enough, he was not equipped to completely outline the incomprehensible scope of his origination of beauty. Destiny did not provide for him time enough to completely open the ‘secrets of the heart’ and to light up and put in fitting viewpoint the incredible battles and issues of human life.
John Keats is one of the most dominant romantic poets in English literature. His poetry is full of sinuousness, imagination, love and beauty which are the essence of romanticism. But his invocation to love, beauty and art surpass all other romantic poets. Still now his poetry attracts the readers for its various themes. But the question is that which is the core theme of his romanticism? Which is the ultimate truth of his art? This article will try to find out the answer of these questions.

No doubt the essence of romanticism is found in all literature and the complete expression of the individual is expressed in all romantic poetry .According to critics art is the creation of beauty and romantic art gives us the kind of beauty which is uncommon and mysterious. Romantic poets invoke this beauty and that is why their poetry is highly subjective, imaginative, exciting, curious, aspiring and restless. It represents the world of dream and the romantic poets like to escape from the harsh realities of life to a world of romance and beauty. The famous poet, John Keats, is considered to be the most romantic of all the romantic poets as he is the most escapist of all them. He wishes to

“Fade far away, dissolve and quite forget

The weariness, the fever and the fret”

of real life. Keats’s poetry is the purest poetry in the sense that it is neither political nor expressing any social significance.

Keats, like other romantics, tries to find an escape in the past. The ancient Greeks and the glory of the middle age attract Keats’s imagination immensely. He is inspired by the past and rarely writes about the present. The theme of Endymion, Lamia and Hyperion is classical while the style is romantic. La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Isabella and the Eve of

St Agnes are medieval in origin. So, Keats escapes from the realities of the present to the past. The themes which we find in Keats’s poetry are highly romantic and most of his poetry is busy in the quest of beauty. Love, adventure, chivalry, pathos are also some of his themes. The fear of death runs through some of his poetry and disappointment in love is still another theme found in his poetry. He loves nature and his touch transforms everything into beauty. He has a great devotion to beauty and he finds truth in anything which is beautiful. Beauty is his religion and this beauty makes him forget everything. To Keats, beauty is everywhere. So, beauty is the dominant theme and one of the major hallmarks of Keats’s poetry. Therefore, this paper focuses on Keats’s romanticism which conveys us the message through his poem

“Ode to Grecian Urn” where he says

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty. (49)

But if we study his poetry with great attention we see that the essence of truth and beauty lie not in an imaginary world rather in real life. So it is the reevaluation of his poetry to eliminate the pessimistic approach which leads us to total darkness and the same time it is not the way of escaping from the realities of life but find pleasure among the pains of the world with the said target.

In the ‘Ode to Grecian Urn’, the urn is depicted as a beautiful piece of art and according to Keats it seems as if a legend which is carved on its sides. Keats asks what legend is meant by the extra ordinary forms of the figures on the urn which has been the same for centuries. This poem presents the Urn in its mystery and shows what questions it poses to the poet. The main subject consists of the scenes on the Urn, not as a casual observer might notice them, but as Keats sees them with the full force of his imaginative insight into the metaphysical problems which they raise and their hint of another life different from that which we ordinarily know. It also relates the experience gained from the Urn to its special order of reality and answers the questions which the poem has raised.” (Bowra 135-136)

The urn is a mystery and Keats shows imagination as superior to reality. As Keats writes:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; (11-12).

These lines assert that the unheard music is far sweeter than the music heard. Anything beautiful must be true which in Keats’s words is

“What the imagination creates on Beautiful must be true whether it existed before or not.”

But it is universal that art is permanent while human life is temporary. The urn will be as it is forever. The leaves of the trees will remain evergreen, neither shedding the old leaves nor having new leaves. The music will be there forever which we can never hear-still it is more melodious. The musician creates music unceasingly without the fear of dying one day. The young lover will always crave for the love of his maiden. The maiden will always run away and remain beautiful forever. The lover’s love is unique in the sense that his love is ever fresh and will never perish. And the maiden will be young throughout her life not to think of growing old. But the earthly love usually leads to sorrow and darkness. The love and beauty depicted on the urn is somewhat different from reality; love in real life gains everything, loses interest, fades and dies; and beauty is transitory, it leaves the body of a maiden transforming her into an old woman. Then we find that the poet’s imagination creates a small town which is empty and silent as all the people are out of town with a priest for the purpose of sacrificing or for a pious deed. As Brian Stone says, “The absence of life in the town emph asizes the absence of real life in the urn itself. The town is doubly dead; it is not pictured on the urn, and its inhabitants have all left it. If art, as represented by the urn and its pictures, is the ultimate consolation, it is also death, because it promises no movement.”(83)

It seems as if the poem ends here with the touch of death but there is still the fifth and last stanza of the poem with a new light. The urn will remain as it is generation after generation and comfort them with its beauty like a friend. The only real thing is beautiful

The urn invites mankind to seek shelter in the eternity of art which lacks the essence of life, though the soul may take it as its friend to hide from the pain of life. But, according to Keats, we need to know what truth is and what beautiful is, nothing more is needed to know. Truth is simple to understand but it is quite tough to define. Keats’s aphorism is that no truth can be ugly; every truth is beautiful or pleasant. To Keats it is a great discovery which the urn will teach the mankind forever. This ode takes us far away from the real world to the world of eternity and conveys the message that art is superior to nature in the sense that art is permanent while nature or human life is transitory. The joy of art is forever while the joy of real life is limited. So an urn, a Grecian urn greatly inspired Keats to produce such a beautiful poem which definitely contains the warmth of truth. Bowra says, “The mean ing of this message is beyond dispute. Mr. Garrod rightly paraphrases it, ‘there is nothing real but the beautiful and nothing beautiful but the real.’[. ..] Truth is another name for ultimate reality, and is discovered not by the reasoning mind but by the imagination.”

To Keats, beauty is the touchstone of truth. He is a worshipper of beauty like the Greeks. The final message of the urn is beauty is truth and truth is beauty which is all we need to know.

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret.( 21-23)

The poet doesn’t want beauty to fade away, so he decides to leave the real world and enter the beautiful and romantic world of the bird through imagination. He flew to the world of tranquility on the viewless wings of poetry rather than drinking wine. He even welcomes death in the charming world of the bird which would be sweeter than ever. The poet will die but the bird will keep on singing and distribute the sweetness of its song among those who are alive. One of the greatest features of romantic poetry is to pass from the world of time to the world of eternity. And here in this ode, Keats flies to the world of infinity through the immortal song of the bird but the poem doesn’t deny the sorrows of life rather it is transmuted into beauty which is a truth. According to Middleton Murry, “it is a poem of midnight, and sorrow and beauty”.

Keats wished to fade far away with the enchanting music but we see that the music itself fades away and suddenly

it is:

buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

So we have to be in this world of reality with all the worries and sufferings and search beauty in everything which is true. We can’t enter the past and even can’t tou ch the future.

Keats in his “Ode to Autumn” describes the season a utumn with a new light, which has its own beauty, its own music too:

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, - (23-24)

Here the poet looks back to spring; the sweetness of the season for a moment but immediately comes back to the present and enjoys the beauty of autumn. His love of nature is fully exposed in this ode. The search of joy in the present, the isolated beauty of the hour gives the ode a unique charm. Autumn is not the beginning of winter rather it is a season of fruitfulness and fulfillment. The critic, Sidney Colvin says: “In words so transparent and direct we a lmost forget they are words at all, and nature herself and season seem speaking to us.”

“Ode on Melancholy” reveals the truth that melancho ly and all that is beautiful, delightful and joyful live together. If somebody deeply understands beauty, joy or delight, he’ll be able to grasp the intensity of melancholy. According to Keats, melancholy is an essential part of beauty because it is from beauty that melancholy is born. Too deep thought of melancholy destroys the true essence of it. Brain Stone says,

This poem is a concentrated expression of Keats’s familiar belief about the necessary conjunction, for himself as poet, of pleasure and pain, of joy and sorrow, using analysis of the mood of melancholy as the means. (The Poetry of Keats.85)

The first stanza warns us against a deep thought of melancholy which may give rise to a dead soul. As the poet


“Do not drown your senses in total forgetfulness, i f you want to feel the full force of melancholy. By doing so, your soul will become dead and you will not feel any kind of anguish or pain.”

The poet asks not to go with those who try to seek death. We should not invite such any thing which with its gloomy and melancholic touch will drown our melancholy too deep destroying the true sense of melancholy:

For shade to shade will come too drowsily,

And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul. (9-10)

The second stanza tells us how to enjoy sadness with deep fulfillment. Melancholy is like a thin layer in front of our happiness which does not create any darkness. When we are sad, we should deeply enjoy our sadness by watching the beauty of a morning rose, the rainbow colors, and flowers, beloved’s angry look, etc. In the third and the last stanza the poet gives us the real picture of melancholy. Here “She” is Melancholy itself, which Keats personifies as female. The goddess of Melancholy and the goddess of Beauty dwell in the same temple:

She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die; (21)

We know that beauty is transitory and this feeling makes us sad. Again the goddess of Melancholy and the god of Joy are dwellers in the same temple. Joy is also short-lived and while we are experiencing the pleasures of joy, we have the fear of this joy to be vanished in a short period of time. That’s why the poet rightly wrote the famous lines:

Ay, in the very temple of Delight

Veil’d Melancholy has her Sovran shrine, (25-26)

One who has tasted delight; he and he can only enjoy and praise melancholy. The ode is so enriched by imaginative and intellectual perception that Swinburne (Fraser, 48) considered it ‘the subtlest in sweetness of thought and feeling’ of all the odes.

Through above discussion of Keats’s famous odes, we can say that whatever is beautiful must be true; and whatever is true must also be beautiful. Thus beauty and truth are inseparable. Beauty and truth are two sides of one and the same thing. Because beauty is a kind of lens or window that gives us a glimpse of a greater dimension of reality which is true and very much closer to God or the source of being or meaning where there is no place of escapism rather beauty lies in the real world of men, not merely in art or in the fairyland of fancy. Here truth stands for the real and actual world as distinguished from the world of imagination. Avoidance of reality can’t be the source of beauty. It is not a way out of all pains. It’s a momentary. It is not the permanent solution of life. That is why Keats also frequently came back to the real world from that of imagination. His Nightingale came back to the earth time to time. Short lived pleasure could not give it ultimate peace and happiness and it can not be the way of ultimate truth and permanent beauty. Because ultimate truth and beauty don’t lei in the state of escapism but in the state of reality that he finally exhibited in his poetry. His aim was at the creation and revelation of beauty but of beauty wherever its elements existed. And we see these elements are existed in this world which is full of well and woe and if we want to ignore it through escaping we will fall upon the thorn of life and it will bleed us. So it is better to accept the reality of life. So the core of Keats poetry advocates us not to escape and seek short lived pleasure rather find the deep truth in the real life which is the core of ultimate beauty and that is the truth beauty. The hardships of our lives carry the essence of truth where people should seek the beauty and take everything as beautiful so that we may find the meaning of truth which will lead us to our death — the ultimate truth.

However it can be said that the word Beauty envisages the lovely things that can be trendy and cherished by all of us which would give gratification instead of momentary happiness. Further the truth refers to the plain facts of life which may be pleasant or unpleasant. But we should have courage to accept them with equability which is rather difficult. This makes our life beautiful. So if we closely study his poetry we see that he advocated to beauty and truth in one side, on the other side he sometimes tried to find out this beauty and truth in the world of imagination. So beauty, truth, imagination, reality have become the dominant theme of his poetry. But finally “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” supersedes all other themes of Keats poetry and according to Keats – “that is all /Ye know on earth, and all ye n need to know”.

       Sensuousness of Keats

The term ‘sensuous’ usually refers to the enjoyment and delights borrowed from the senses. Sensuousness is that quality which is derived from five senses- sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. It is a way of perception through five senses. A sensuous poet uses those word pictures that help the reader to understand the sights and sounds expressed or suggested in a poem .John Keats is best known for his use of such images that appeal to human senses. For this reason, he is often called a sensuous poet.
                         Sensuousness is the unparallel quality of Keats poetic genius. He is the poet of Sense and their delight, He gratified that the five human senses- touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. He is also a great lover of beauty. His mingling of love with beauty is become universal with this line:

                     “A thing of Beauty is joy forever.”
                                     He shows his strikingness in his entire poetry. ‘The eve of st.Agnes'', the description of the Gothic window is famous for its strong sensuous appeal. Our sense of sight and smellare also gratified when the3 poet describe the wintry moon throwing its lights on Madeline’s fair breast and the rose-bloom falling on her hands. The short masterpiece, a Bella Dame Sans Meric, has its own sensuous appeal.

                                The Odes, which represent the great poetic achievement of Keats. The Ode to Psyche contains a lovely picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrance in the deep grass, in the midst of flowers of various colours.

                                The odes, which represent the great sensuous picture like in Ode on Melancholy, Ode on Grecian Urn, Ode to Nightingale, Ode to Fancy, Ode to autumn also contain sensuous picture.

                             Sensuousness is the paramount quality of Keats’s poetical genius. Keats is pre-eminently the poet of the senses and their delights. No one has catered to and gratified the five human senses to the same extent as Keats. He is a great lover of beauty in the concrete. His religion is the adoration of the beautiful. In this respect he is a follower of Spenser. “I have loved the principle of Beauty in all things”, he said. His Endymion begins with the famous line:

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

                        The ode to psyche contains replete with sensuous pictures of lover cupid and psyche

“Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers, fragment-eyed.”

                            “Every beauty that flowers have scant form stillness, coolness the next colouring is summed up in the next” the lovers lie with lips that touch not but which have not at the same time bidden forever. We have more sensuous imagery when Keats describes the superior beauty of psyche as compared with Venus and Vesper. A little later in the poem we are given pictures of a forest, mountains, streams, birds, breezes and dryads lulled to sleep on the moss.
                             One of the most exquisitely sensuous pictures comes exquisitely sensuous picture comes at the end where we see a bright torch burning in the casement to make it possible for cupid to enter the temple in order to make love to psyche. 

A bright torch and a casement ope at night,          
                to let the warm Love in!

               In the Ode on Melancholy, again, we have several sensuous pictures. There is the rain failing from a cloud above and reviving the drooping flowers below and covering the green hill in an “April shroud”. There is the morning rose; there are the colours produced by the sunlight playing on wet sand; and there is the wealth of “globed peonies”. And then there is another exquisitely sensuous picture.
 Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
The Ode on a Grecian Urn contains a series of sensuous pictures—passionate men and gods chasing reluctant maidens, the flute-players playing their ecstatic music, the fair youth trying to kiss his beloved, the happy branches of the tree enjoying an everlasting spring, etc. The ecstasy of the passion of love and of youth is beautifully depicted in the following lines:

More happy love! more happy happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed,      
For ever panting, and for ever young.

The Ode to a Nightingale is one of the finest examples of Keats’s rich sensuousness. The lines in which the poet expresses of passionate desire for some Provencal wine or the red wine from the fountain of the Muses appeal to both our senses of smell and taste:

        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…….

These lines bring before us a delightful picture of Provence with its fun and frolic, merry-making, drinking and dancing. Similarly the beaker full of the sparkling, blushful Hippocrene is highly pleasing. Then there is the magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky and surrounded by stars. The rich feast of flowers described in the stanza that follows is one of the outstanding beauties of the poem. Flowers, soft incense, the fruit trees, the white hawthorn, the eglantine, the fast-fading violets, the coming musk-rose—all this is a delight for our senses.

In the Ode to Autumn, the charm of the season has been described with all its sensuous appeal. The whole landscape is made to appear fresh and scented. There is great concentration in each line of the opening stanza. There is a rich texture of sensuous awareness in the poem and the poet surrenders himself to the mood of the sense.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom friend of the maturing sun.

 Each line is like the branch of a fruit tree laden with fruit to the breaking point. The scenery, the fruits and flowers and the honey all these appeal to our senses of seeing and the gourds. The hazels with their kernel, the bees suggesting honey all these appeal for our sense of taste and smell.

Sensuality Rather Than Sensuousness in Some of the Poems

              Thus, Keats always selects the objects of his description and imagery with a keen eye on their sensuous appeal. This sensuousness is the principal charm of his poetry. Sometimes this sensuousness deteriorates into sensuality. In other words, Keats often shows a tendency to dwell too much upon the charms of the feminine body and refers to the lips, checks, and breasts a little more than is necessary. In Ode to Autumn, the traditional form of address is maintained and the whole ode celebrates the beauty of nature through excellent images. ‘The pictorial quality of the ode is unequalled stop ford. Its beauty and its the consolation of the beauty is of the soul
Keats’ conception of beauty was not merely abstract but beauty personified its the objects of nature. He compares a eulogy of the season autumn with all its peculiar colour, smells, sounds and the tastes. The sensuousness of the poem depends on the minuteness of detail. Keats compares autumn to a gleaner and says,

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dust keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook.

It is his sense impressions that kindled his imagination which makes him realize the great principle that

‘Beauty is truth, truth is beauty.’
Keats is more poet of sensuousness than a poet of contemplation. It is his senses which revealed him the beauty of things, the beauty of universe from the stars of the sky to the flowers of the wood. Keats’ pictorial senses are not vague or suggestive but made definite with the wealth of artistic details. Every stanza, Every line is full with sensuous beauty. No other poet except Shakespeare could show such a mastery of language and felicity of sensuousness .
It is this love of beauty which introduces the element of sensuousness in his poetry. His poetry is richly, abundantly, and enchantingly sensuous. This is true especially of his early poetry till the time of the writing of Hyperion and the great odes, but even the odes contain ample sensuous imagery. However, it will be wrong to say that Keats is merely sensuous and nothing more. It would be incorrect to say that he luxuriates in the expression of sensations only and has no thoughts to express. It would be unfair to say that his passion for beauty is purely sensuous or sentimental, without an intellectual or spiritual basis.
Sensuous Imagery in “The Eve of St. Agnes”
Let us first take stock of the sensuous element in some of his major poems. The Eve of St. Agnes is replete with sensuous pictures. The description of the feast spread by Porphyro by the side of his sleeping mistress is richly sensuous. Candied apple quince, plum, jelly, manna, dates, appeal to our senses of taste, smell, and Sight not only by their own natural richness but the associations of the distant countries from which they come. The picture of the windowpane with its splendid colours is perfect in its beauty of visual appeal. Even more sensuous are the pictures of the moonlight falling on Madeline’s fair breast and on other parts of her glorious body. As Madeline removes the pearls from her hair, “unclasps the jewels” one by one, and “loosens her bodice”, she looks like “a mermaid in seaweed”. The stanza in which the poet describes the passionate love-making of Porphyro and Madeline in the bed-chamber has a richly sensuous appeal. Here sensuousness takes the form of sensuality which we find in certain other poems also (for instance, in Endymion, and in the sonnet Bright Star). It is passages like these that gave rise to the notion of Keats as a poet of sensuous luxury and as a voluptuary of sensation.
Sensuousness in the “Ode to Psyche”
In the Ode to Psyche, we have the picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrace in deep grass in the midst of flowers of varied colours. Besides this touch of sensuality, we get one of the most exquisite pictures in the following two lines with their admirable felicity of word and phrase:
Mid hush’d, cool-rooted flowers fragrant-eyed,          
Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian         
Sensuous Pictures in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
The sensuous appeal of this ode is one of its principal charms. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, we have the sensuous pictures of passionate men and gods chasing maidens, flute-players playing ecstatic music, a handsome young man advancing to kiss his beloved, and so on. The ecstasy of the sensations of youthful love is depicted in the following lines:
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoyed          
For ever panting and for ever young.
Sensuous Pictures in the Other Odes
The Ode to a Nightingale contains lines expressing an intense desire for a red wine, lines containing a magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky with the stars around her, and lines offering a rich feast of flowers:
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;             
Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;     
And mid-May’s eldest child,           
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine.
In the Ode on Melancholy, we have a delightfully sensuous picture of the mistress showing “some rich anger” and raving, while the lover holds her hand in his tight grip and feeds deep upon her peerless eyes. The Ode to Autumn, makes our mouths water with its delicious fruits in the first stanza.
The Intellectual Side of Keats’s Aestheticism
Critics and readers have, however, not been slow to recognise the substantiality and the depth of the major poems of Keats. Cazamian has pointed out mat the aestheticism of Keats has also an intellectual side. No one has ever reaped such a rich harvest of thoughts out of the suggestions which life had to offer. Through reading and a thirst for knowledge, Keats became acquinted with Greece, paganism, and ancient art. He read the writers of the Renaissance, loved and cultivated Spenser, Chapman, Fletcher, and Milton. His letters show how closely the cult of Shakespeare was interwoven with his thinking. From all these element Keats built for himself a personal store of reflections and ideas. Keats’s love of beauty is sensuous but it is also idealistic and spiritual. Even in Endymion, there is a nc4e of mysticism, a sustained allegory; some of its passages have an obvious symbolic meaning. Endymion’s union with Cynthia represents the poet’s attainment of the goal of ideal beauty. Furthermore, Keats did not try to create a paradise of art and beauty divorced from the cares and interests of the world. His conception of poetry covered the whole range of life and imagination.
The Human Appeal of “The Eve of St Agnes”
The Eve of St. Agnes, famous chiefly for its aesthetic qualities, is not without its human appeal. The figure of the ancient Beadsman is finely touched. The old nurse Angela, a “poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing”, is still more successfully drawn. Her debate with Porphyro in her little room is admirably conveyed to us. Madeline, too, is realistically, though briefly, drawn whether in her meeting with the nurse on the staircase or when she closes her chamber-door, “panting” with the candle gone out, or when she wakes up to find her lover beside her.
The Intellectual Aspect of “Hyperion”
Hyperion was intended to be a poem of evolution. It aimed at expressing the valuable and incontrovertible idea that lower forms of life are superseded by higher ones. The subject of this poem is the dethronement of an older and ruder worship by one more advanced and humane, in which ideas of ethics and of arts hold a larger place beside ideas of Nature and her brute powers. In the revised version of this poem, there are lines which show Keats’s realisation that poetry must have a realistic and social context:
“None can usurp this height”, returned that shade,  
“But those to whom the miseries of the world           
Are misery, and will not let them rest.”
Almost from the beginning, Keats had looked beyond the mere sweets of poetry towards
a nobler life         
Where I may find the agonies, the strife      
Of human hearts.
The Kernel of Keats’s Thinking in the Great Odes of Keats
The great odes contain the kernel of Keats’s thinking. These odes clearly show that if there is in his work a pre-occupation with sensuous beauty, there is also a preoccupation with stark reality. In fact, the greatest of these odes represent the conflict that was, always going on in Keats between the world of beauty and the world of realty. If he tries to escape into the world of beauty and reality, it is only to realise that the claims of real life are so strong, as to hinder the escape. In the Ode to a Nightingale, the poet is keenly aware of “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” or real life where youth, hearty, and love are short-lived. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, the poet cannot ignore the warmth, passion, vigour, and the turbulence of real life as compared with the artistic carvings on the urn. The superiority of art over real life is therefore questionable. The conclusion of the poet is that “beauty is truth, truth beauty”. In other words, beauty lies in the real world of men, not merely in art or in the fairyland of fancy. (Of course there are also other interpretations of this famous line.) In the Ode on Melancholy, the theme of transiency and permanence and the poet’s conflicting attitudes are open and central. True melancholy, says the poet, can be tasted only by him who has a capacity for experiencing the keenest pleasures. Like the rest of Keats’s odes, this poem is tragic: ‘True melancholy is the ache at the heart of felicity”. In the Ode to Autumn, Keats again accepts impermanence, but here he does so without any sadness. Death is recognised in the final stanza of this poem as something inherent in the course of things, the condition and price of all fulfilment.
A Combination of the Aesthetic and the Intellectual Sides
A critic has neatly summed up Keats’s poetic achievement. This summing up takes note of both the aesthetic and the intellectual aspects of his poetry. Says this critic: “Keats’s Shakespearean or, humanitarian ambitions, his critical and self-critical insights, his acute awareness of the conditions enveloping the modern poet, his struggles toward a vision that would comprehend all experience, joy and suffering, the natural and the ideal, the transient and the eternal—all this made him capable of greater poetry than he actually wrote, and makes him, more than his fellow romantics, our contemporary. Though his poetry in general was is some measure limited and even weakened by the romantic preoccupation with beauty, his finest writing is not merely beautiful, because he had seen the boredom and the horror as well as the glory.”


1.       Bowra, Maurice. The Romantic Imagination. Oxford University Press: London, 1966.

2.       Stone, Brian. The Poetry of Keats. Penguin critical studies: Penguin Books, 1992.

3.       Byron, Glennis. John Keats Selected Poems. York Press: London, 2001.

4.       Murry, J.M. Keats, 4th ed. New York: Noonday Press, 1995.

5.       O’Neill, Judith. Reading in literary criticism, 2 nd ed. Universal Book Stall: New Delhi, 1990.

1 comment:

  1. Discuss F.R. Leavis as a critic???? I want to this question. Please..