Introduction: Ode on a Grecian Urn is undoubtedly the most renowned ode in the history of English literature. This is a perfectly written, an irregular ode
so though the rhyme been has used throughout, but not in a strict way as in other is done in other forms of ode. John Keats has tried to praise the features of classical Greek art through his ode. Consequently, there cannot be another poetic form is as appropriate as this ode which is a true illustration of classical Greek art itself.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
Summary of Ode on a Grecian Urn
John Keats is one of the greatest poets. His poems are monuments of meticulous craftsmanship and supreme aestheticism. A victim of frustrated love, he is concerned with themes of love in much of his poetry. So he’s known as the love poet. Some of his poems demonstrate his capacity to create an imaginary world out of the common experience. Ode On a Grecian Urn is a good example of this.
In this Keat’s was influenced by the experience of the Greek sculpture. He was a fantastic Greek art admirer. The poem is a philosophical reflection on the connection between art and life, immortality and human death, and the Platonic concept of Truth and Beauty. To the poet, art is the product of intellect, which is inspired by nature. It produces an ideal world far above than common world of life where people are suffering from illness, sadness, pain, starvation, poverty, and death.
The sight of the sculptured images on the Grecian Urn inspires a sense of wonder in the poet. He calls the Urn as a bride wedded to quietness and remaining a virgin. She is the foster child of Time and Silence. Time, the great destroyer has preserved its beauty. It is a timeless thing. Since it represents life, it is a product of time. At the same time, it is immortal. The Urn is a ‘silver historian’ because it gives us a history of the pastoral life of the ancient world. The beautiful woodland scene engraved on it tells us a story far more sweetly than any poem. The poet wonder if the figures are humans or gods. It could be both. He sees the maidens being pursued by their lovers and musicians playing pipes and timbrels. Their ecstasy becomes his.
The poet is inspired and feels a sense of wonder by the sight of marvelous images sculptured on the Urn. He addresses the Urn as a bride wedded to quietness and remaining a virgin. She’s a foster kid of Time and Silence Time the great destroyer has maintained its beauty. It’s something timeless. It is a product of time because it constitutes life. It’s immortal at the same time. The Urn is a ‘silver historian’ as it provides us a history of the ancient world’s pastoral life. The lovely woodland scene engraved on it informs us a tale much sweeter than any poem. The poet wonders if people or gods are the figures. It might be both. He sees the maidens being pursued by their lovers and musicians playing pipes and timbrels. Their ecstasy becomes his.
Keats takes up the themes engraved on Urn one by ine. Firstly, he sees a musician playing his pipe under a tree. The poet is unable to hear the “unheard melodies.” So he imagines that “unheard melodies” are much sweeter than melodies that have been heard. The musical instruments on the Urn are not playing to the “sensual ear,” but they are playing to the soul in us. The tree is immortal as well. It is never going to shed its leaves. Therefore, nature and human beings in the Urn are glad and happy.
A courageous lover attempting to kiss his beloved is another scene. In fact, he never kisses her, but he doesn’t have to worry about it because his sweetheart will never grow old and his love for her will never die. They love one another forever, and they are young and lovely forever. The images like. tree, piper, and lover depict nature, art, and life. All these pictures in the marble urn inform us about the nature-life relationship. In Art, the imperfections of life are dissolved.
Then the poet defines an engraved scene of pagan sacrifice on the urn. A priest is seen leading a heifer to a decorated altar and a big crowd following the priest to attend the ritual. The small town by the sea or river is eternally emptied because the people have gone to attend the sacrifice. These roads are forever going to stay silent. In contrast to the previous scenes, this scene is solemn and severe, which are happier than others. Keats utilizes this image to suggest the concept that even when dealing with tragic and solemn stuff, art provides pleasure.
Addressing the Grecian Urn once again, the poet recognizes the importance of his message to mankind. The images engraved on Grecian Urn quietly laugh at mankind because we are mortals and suffer from disease, pain, and sadness. Our life is even shorter than the lightening life itself. The Grecian urn images are immortal, telling us that “Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth. Beauty and truth are the same. Keats pays glorious homage to art’s immortality in this poem. Beauty is about to die, but Arts make it immortal.
Art is fantastic because it is not affected by the sorrow and wretchedness of the world of reality. Keats demonstrates us in this poem that art can capture and immortalize from real-life one fleeting moment of beauty. Human life and happiness are short, but art enshrines them with a perfect beauty that bestows them eternity Any beauty that is not truthful and any reality that is not lovely is irrelevant to mankind.
citadel – fortress dales – vales timbrels – small hand drums pious – devout brede –embroidery
Questions and Answers
1. The poem opens with a series of comparisons between the urn and random types of people. The comparison between the non-living urn and the very much alive people is known as what?
Ans. The comparisons come in the form of metaphors, but the attribution of living qualities to the urn is known as personification.
2. What is the first picture that the speaker sees on the urn?
Ans. The speaker sees a picture of men chasing women and asks what the reason could be.
3. Why are the melodies played by the piper in the urn’s second picture superior to those played by actual, living pipers?
Ans. The melodies played in the picture, though silent, are unaffected by time and are unconstrained in meaning.
4. Why, according to the speaker, will the town of the fourth stanza be silent “evermore”?
Ans. The town will be silent because its citizens, as depicted in the picture on the urn, have fled it and are frozen in time in the picture.
5. How does the speaker engage, interact, or react to each picture on the urn? Do his responses change? Why?
Ans. The speaker tries to ask questions of the urn with the first picture, but seeing how the urn cannot answer him, he abandons the line of questioning. With the second picture, the speaker tries to imagine what the experience of the characters on the urn must be like, trying hard to identify with them. His attempts, though, remind him of his own life and how he is tied to his experiences, so he abandons this line of interaction. Finally, with the third picture, the speaker tries to think about the characters as though they are experiencing time. His theory gives the picture an origin and destination; but then, unable to know if the journey is completed, he becomes captivated by the static nature of the urn. His responses show a progression in his identification with art.
6. Who speaks the poem’s final line, “that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”?
Answers may vary. This question has been debated by critics since the poem’s first publication. If the speaker is the speaker of the poem, the line signifies that he understands the limits of art. If the speaker is the urn, then perhaps art shows that there is no limitation to life. The speaker may also be directly addressing the urn itself or the reader.
7. What is the meaning of “unravished bride”?
Ans. “Unravished bride” implies a bride not spoiled by man’s hand. Her chastity is still maintained. The sentence not only stresses the untouched beauty of the urn but also takes us to the point that the urn is spiritually lovely. No one can comprehend the secret of its marvelous beauty.
Introduction: When you look at an old photograph it brings back memories of past events, experiences, joys, sorrows, etc. People become older with the passage of time, they might become unrecognisable due to wrinkles, posture or greying hair. You may laugh at the photograph nostalgically, remembering the past events. You may remember the smile on the loved person’s face and may laugh with a tinge of sadness that past cannot be re-lived. The memories may produce great sadness in you. You may have an acute sense of loss. But the reality is that time is a great healer. Although the sense of loss (on the death of one’s near and dear, ages ago) may never go away completely but with time one has to accept the eventuality, mortality and lack of permanence of human life. You have to come to terms with the loss of your dear departed ones, and you have to accept the inevitable. The past memories can leave you silent, dazed as the silence in the photograph. But nature will always be there and remain unaltered with the passage of time. Nature is immortal and eternal. The sea will be there where it is, the mountain will be there where it is. Nature symbolises permanence, immortality and eternity. Human life will be ephemeral in nature and temporary and nothing can erase this naked fact.
Summary of A Photograph
The poem, “A Photograph” is written in free verse. The title photograph is very much appropriate as it reminds the poet of her mother. A photograph is something that captures a certain snapshot of someone’s life. The person may change in course of time however the recollections connected with the photograph are endless. In this poem, the poet’s mother is no more but the photograph brings back her memories of her.
The mother’s sweet face or her cousins vigorously dressed up for the beach have all changed with time but the minutes captured in the photograph still offers satisfaction to the poet’s mother when she sees it thirty to forty years after later.
The poet looks at cardboard on which there is a photographic of three girls. The bigger and oldest one in the middle and two younger and shorter ones at each side of her. The girl in the middle is the mother of the poet, and the poet speculates that when the picture was taken, her mother must have been about twelve years old. The other two girls are two cousins from her mother.
All three of them stood still shoulder to shoulder to smile at the camera through their long wet hair, the picture of which was taken by the uncle holding it. The mother had a sweet and pleasant smile before her child(the poet) was born into this world. The sea in which they were paddling; which did not seem to have changed; washed their terribly transient wet feet.
After twenty to thirty years later, the mother took out the photograph and laughed nostalgically at the snapshot. Betty and Dolly were the two cousin sisters. She found it so hilarious that they had dressed up heavily for the beach. The sea holiday was her past for the mother while it was a laughter for the speaker.
Both mother and daughter wry; created by a distortion or lopsidedness of facial characteristics: bitterly or disdainfully ironic or funny; in the laborious ease of loss. But now, for the past few years, the mother has been dead just as one of those cousin sisters’ lives. There’s nothing else remaining to say about all these conditions. The matter is closed and its fate has been sealed by silence.
The poet reminisces that the sea holiday was the past of her mother and for her, the laughter of her mother is past now. Both the moments of life have been permanently etched in the poet’s mind with a feeling of eternal loss.
Death now has overpowered the innocence of these moments and the pleasure they treasured. The poet concludes the poem on a melancholy note with the comment that there is nothing to say or comment upon this sad event. The silence seems to silence all the other thoughts.
UNDERSTANDING THE LESSON THROUGH KEY SENTENCES
Lines 1 – 4:
The cardboard shows me how it was
When the two girl cousins went paddling
Each one holding one of my mother’s hands, And she the big girl – some twelve years or so.
The poet describes looking through a photo album in these lines, the pages of which appear to be made of cardboard. She looks at a specific photo. It is a picture of three girls the tallest and oldest one in the middle and two younger and shorter ones at each side of her. The girl in the middle is the mother of the poet, and the poet speculates that when the picture was taken, her mother must have been about twelve years old. The other two girls are two cousins from her mother. Each of the cousins holds on to one of the hands for support from the older girl. The photo was drawn on a beach on the day when the three girls had visited there for paddling.
Lines 5 – 9:
All three stood still to smile through their hair
At the uncle with the camera, A sweet face
My mother’s, that was before I was born and the sea, which appears to have changed less Washed their terribly transient feet.
The poet further discusses in these lines the circumstances under which her mother and her mother’s cousins were photographed. The poet claims the uncle of her mother was the one who took the photo. He had asked the three girls, and so they had, to pose for him. They had left their moist hair open and a portion of their faces were darkened by their hair. One could see that they were smiling into the camera through the hair film covering their mouths. One face in the picture, however, draws the attention of the poet to a greater extent than the other two faces. She’s focusing on the face of her mother, and she says the face was a sweet one.
The poet also claims the photo was taken long before she was born. Naturally, since the time the photograph was taken, the face of her mother had changed since then. By comparison, the ocean on the beach where the photo was taken had altered to a lower degree. That very ocean washed the poet’s mother’s feet and her two younger cousins the day the photo was taken. The poet calls those feet “terribly transient” as all the girls in that photograph stopped being so young and since then have grown up. Their childhood did not last long.
Lines 10 – 13:
Some twenty-thirty- years later
She’d laugh at the snapshot. “See Betty
And Dolly,” she’d say, “and look how they
Dressed us for the beach.” The sea holiday
The poet stops looking at the photo in these lines and recalls what her mother said about the photograph. Whether it was twenty years after the photograph was taken or thirty years after it, the poet is not sure, but she recalls her mother telling her to look at how the cousins, called Betty and Dolly, looked at that young age. The mother of the poet also told her to see how her parents dressed them up for a beach trip. Maybe there was the plan to take the photo all along.
was her past, mine is her laughter. Both wry With the laboured ease of loss.
The poet claims in these lines that her mother used to see the photograph as an inroad to the past she left behind. The poet herself, on the other side, saw her mother’s memory laughing as a relic of the past that she missed every day. The memories of the past made the two females contemplating them feel disappointed in both instances as they tried hard to come up with what they had lost.
Lines 16 – 19:
Now she has been dead nearly as many years
As that girl lived. And of this circumstance There is nothing to say at all, Its silence silences.
In these lines, the poet says that for the past twelve years her mother has been dead, that is, the same number of years that her mother’s age was in the photograph she had been looking at. The poet can believe in the death of her mother, but she has no words to explain how she has been influenced by death. She was also left speechless by the fact that death silenced her mother.
USE OF OXYMORON IN THE POEM ‘A PHOTOGRAPH’
An oxymoron is a figure of speech that contradicts or appears to contradict itself. Examples often given are “gigantic shrimp” or “controlled chaos.” Some are literary effects intended to produce a paradox, while others are made for humor. The poem “A Photograph” contains the oxymoron “laboured ease,” which in the context of loss may mean avoiding the public display of grief.
QUESTION AND ANSWER
1. Comment on the tone of the poem.
Ans. The tone of the poem is that of sorrow. The whole poem passes through the lament of the loss of something close and dear. Shirley Toulson looks at her mother’s old photograph and is reminded of her mother who is no longer. She recalls the time when her mother was twelve years old and looked nice and happy.
2. What is the significance of the ‘cardboard frame?’
Ans. The cardboard frame or picture shows the transience of human life. Although the sense of loss (on the death of one’s near and dear, ages ago) may never go away completely but with time one has to accept the eventuality, mortality and lack of permanence of human life. You have to come to terms with the loss of your dear departed ones, and you have to accept the inevitable. The past memories can leave you silent, dazed as the silence in the photograph. Hence, human life is ephemeral in nature and temporary and nothing can erase this naked fact.
3. What emotions does the poet’s mother have when she looks at the photograph?
Ans. The mother feels nostalgic looking at her bygone years. She laughs out loud and tells her daughter how her cousins had heavily dressed up for the beach. She recollects those days when she was innocent, youthful and playful.
4. What is silence and how has it silenced the poet?
Ans. There is nothing to say because the poet has lost her mother and her lovely smile forever. She is left without words. The poet’s mother’s death has silenced the poet.
5. ‘Each photograph is a memory.’ Justify the statement in light of the poem.
Ans. Photographs are memories for lifetime purposes that are captured and retained. “A Photograph” by Shirley Toulson captures one such time when her mother was young and she and her cousins had went on a beach holiday. Mother and her cousins are gone these days, but even after thirty years later the photograph succeeds in bringing those memories back. The mother’s laughter as she watched the photograph became a past incident. But the photograph enables the poet, through the picture captured thirty years ago, to recall and revive the laughter. Photographs are therefore memories of bygone days.
6. What does the word ‘cardboard’ denote in the poem? Why has this word been used?
Ans. The cardboard is a very hard and stuff paper. It is a part of a photo frame that keeps the picture intact. In her poem,’ The Photograph,’ the poet has ironically used it. This cardboard helps to keep the photograph of the 12-year-old girl safely intact who herself was of temporary nature.
7. What has the camera captured?
Ans. The camera had captured a phonograph of the three young ladies. One of them was the pretty face of the poet’s mother who was a young lady of twelve around that time. The other two were the smiling faces of the two cousins- Betty and Dolly. They hold the hands of the mother of the poet.
8. What has not changed over the years? Does this suggest something to you?
Ans. Nature has not changed over the years.It symbolizes eternity, immortality and permanence. Human life is temporary and ephemeral in nature, and nothing can erase this bare reality. In the poem we see only the sea has not changed. The pretty faces and the feet of the three young girls have greatly changed with time.
9. The poet’s mother laughed at the snapshot. What did this laugh indicate?
Ans. The poet’s mother laughed at the photo taken years earlier. She and her two little cousins stood holding each other’s hand in the photograph. She laughed at them all because she found it so hilarious that they had dressed up heavily for the beach. They might have looked funny to her. Their laughter showed the spirit of youth.
10. What is the meaning of the line “Both wry with the laboured ease of loss”
Ans. Both the mother and the poet experienced a great feeling of loss. The mother lost the innocence of her childhood and the youthful spirit captured by the photograph a few years ago. The poet, on the other side, has lost her mother’s smile, which has become a thing of the past. She also lost her mother later.
11. What does “this circumstance” refer to?
Ans. The’ circumstance’ here relates to the death of the poet’s mother. Her deceased mother’s photograph makes the poet nostalgic and brings sad emotions from the past. But the poet has nothing to say about the circumstance because death is inescapable.
12. The three stanzas depict three different phases. What are they?
Ans. The first stanza demonstrates the mother of the poet as a woman of twelve with a beautiful smiling face. Then she paddles on a beach with her two cousins girls. All of them have a happy youthful laugh. This is before the birth of the poet. The second phase depicts the middle-aged mother laughing at her own long-recorded snapshot. The third phase portrays her mother’s death silence on the poet’s face.
STANZA – 1
The cardboard shows me how it was
When the two girl cousins went paddling,
Each one holding one of my mother’s hands, And she the big girl- some twelve years or so.
a. What does the ‘cardboard’ show the poet?
Ans: The’ cardboard’ displays the scene with three women on the sea beach to the poet. b. Why did the two girl cousins hold one of the poet’s mother’s hands?
Ans: As the poet’s mother was ‘the big girl,’ that is, the eldest of the three girls so the brothers of the two girls hold one of her hands. c. How old was the oldest girl among the three cousins?
Ans: Among the three cousins, the oldest girl was some twelve years old. d. How did the girls go to the sea beach?
Ans: The girls went to the sea beach ‘paddling’. It means walked barefooted in the shallow water.
STANZA – 2
Now she’s been dead nearly as many years As that girl lived. And of this circumstance T here is nothing to say at all. Its silence silences.
a. How long has the poet’s mother been dead?
Ans: The poet’s mother has been dead for about twelve years.
b. What is the meaning of the word ‘circumstance’ in the poem?
Ans: The word ‘circumstance’ in the poem means the death of the poet’s mother. c. Why is there nothing to say at all?
Ans: The poet has lost her mother and her beautiful smile forever.Therefore there is nothing to say at all. d. What silences the silence?
Ans: The silence of the death silences the silence. Q. Write answers of the following questions in about 40 words each: (2 marks each)
a. Describe the three girls as they pose for the photograph?
Ans: The three girls came to the sea beach to be photographed by their uncle. The older cousins held the elder cousin’s hands. They smiled through their hair as they stood still for a photograph.
b. Why would the poet’s mother laugh at the snapshot?
Ans: The poet’s mother would laugh at the snapshot because she found it so hilarious that they had dressed up heavily for the beach. It revived her memories of bygone happy days on the sea beach and the amusing way in which they were dressed for the beach.
c. What are the losses of the poet’s mother and the poet?
Ans: The poet’s mother’s loss is of her old happy days on the sea beach while the loss of the poet is the beautiful smile of her mother as she is now dead.
d. The entire poem runs through the lament of loss of something near and dear. Which feeling is presented prominently here?
Ans: The nostalgic feeling is presented prominently the poem.
To The Night is a remarkable lyric by Shelley. It is full of the passion and the yearning so typical of much of Shelley’s poetry. The poem expresses Shelley’ intense desire for Night, which he has personified. The poem is a wonderful illustration of Shelley’s power of making his own myths. Not only has night been personified and made to live before us, but Day, Sleep, and Death are also treated in the same manner. Furthermore, relationships have been established between Night, Sleep and Death.
This poem expresses the writer’s intense love of Night and contains an invitation to her to come soon. The poem is a sort of address of welcome to Night. The poet asks Night to spread herself rapidly over the sky. The whole day, Night has been weaving dreams of joy and fear in her cave. These dreams are to be seen by human beings in their sleep. Those who see joyous dreams love Night, while those who see fearful dreams regard Night as terrible. The poet wants Night to come without delay. Let Night establish her supremacy over the world. Let her wrap herself in a gray cloak decorated with stars, and let her wipe out the light of the day with her darkness. Let her sleepy influence be felt over city, sea, and land. The poet then gives expression to his passionate delight in Night. When he arose and saw the dawn, he felt unhappy at the departure of Night. At all hours of the day he felt miserable because of the absence for Night and sighed for her coming. Death and Sleep offered to come to the poet but he rejected their offers because he did not feel attracted by them. Let Sleep and Death come to him when there is no more Night for him. But at present he is fascinated only by Night and appeals to her to come soon :
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon !
‘Hymn to the Spirit of Nature’s is a delightful lyric taken from Shelley’s poetic drama Prometheus Unbound (Act II, scene v). It is a song sung by a voice in the air and addressed to Asia who, in the play, represents Intellectual Beauty, or the Soul of the world, or as the title above indicates, the Spirit of Nature. Prometheus is the spirit of love in mankind, while Asia is the spirit of love in Nature. The union of Prometheus and Asia in Shelley’s play is the union of the spirit of love in man with the spirit of love in Nature. Their union marks the regeneration or redemption of the world of man and the world of Nature, and signifies the end of evil in the universe.
This song in praise of Asia is sung by an unknown voice in the air. Perhaps it is the voice of Prometheus who loves Asia. In any case, it is a glowing tribute to Asia. Asia is the Life (that is, the essence of life, or the source of life in Nature). Her lips brighten with their love, the breath passing between them. Her smiles, before they disappear, warm up the cold air. She ought to hide her smiles in her eyes which are so deep and so labyrinthine (that is, bewildering) that whoever looks into them will faint with intoxication. Asia is the child of light (that is, made of light or brightness). Her body seems to burn through her clothes in the same way as the brightness of the morning appears through the clouds. Wherever she may be, she is surrounded by a heavenly atmosphere. It is not possible to look at Asia because her beauty is dazzling and unbearable. Her voice is sweet and soft. It is like liquid splendour, and it screens her from view so that everybody can feel her presence but none can actually see her. Asia is the Lamp of Earth (because of her brightness). Wherever she goes, she sheds light and illumines the dark shapes of earth. The souls of those whom Asia loves can walk upon the winds till they fail as Prometheus is now failing and although he is feeling confused by Asia’s overwhelming beauty and although he seems lost because of his love for her, yet he does not complain or feel any regret.
Explanatory Notes of To The Night
Swiftly walk over the western wave.. thy flight ! (Stanza I).
The poet here makes an appeal to Night which has been personified. Night seems to the poet to be a living being, capable of acting in accordance with its own will and capable of listening to the poet. Shelley has, therefore, created a myth here. He appeals to Night to spread itself over the western sky where the sun sets. He imagines that Night spends the hours of daylight in some misty eastern cave, all alone, and that it keeps busy during that time, manufacturing or weaving dreams of joys and fear for human beings. These dreams are seen by human beings during their sleep. Sweet dreams, which human beings see, make Night dear to them; but the frightening dreams, which they see, make Night terrible to them. Thus human beings are in love with Night and yet, at the same time, they are afraid of Night. The poet is in love with Night without being afraid of it. He wants Night to come swiftly and without delay.
Wrap thy form in a mantle gray, star-inwrought. The poet calls upon Night to wrap itself in a gray coloured cloak which has stars woven in its texture. The dark sky is regarded here as the mantle of Night, and the stars that shine in the sky are supposed to be woven in the texture of that mantle.
Blind with thine hair … wearied out.
(Lines 10-11). Here Day is also personified. The poet asks Night to come and spread its black hair over the eyes of Day, so that Day may no longer be able to see. Then the poet asks Night to overwhelm Day with kisses. Let Day be kissed so vehemently and repeatedly that Day feels tired of these kisses and flees from the world. This is poetic fancy. What the poet means is that, with the coming of Night, Day withdraws from this world.
Touching all with thine opiate wand. We are to imagine that Night carries in its hand a magic staff which as the power of sending everyone, who is touched with it, to sleep. When Night comes, all creatures fall asleep.
And the wearied Day……. an unloved quest
(Lines 19-20). When Day was tired of its stay on the earth, it felt like resting. And yet Day stayed on for some time more, just as a guest might prolong his stay in a house where he is no longer welcome. (The simile is very appropriate).
Thy brother Death came……. No, not thee!
(Lines 22-28). The poet is interested neither in Death nor in Sleep. He looks upon Death as the brother of Night, and he calls Sleep a child of Night. Death is the brother of Night because Night stands for darkness, and Death takes human beings into the unknown dark regions. Sleep is the child of Night because it is during night that human beings are overcome by Sleep. Both Death and Sleep offer to come to him. Death is prepared to take him away from this world in case he is sick of life. Sleep, which makes the eyelids close, speaks to the poet very sweetly and softly like the murmuring of a bee at noon-time. Sleep offer to creep close to the poet and to send him into a state of temporary forgetfulness. But the poet rejects both these offers, because he is attracted only by Night.
(Sleep, the filmy-eyed – Sleep is called filmy-eyed because the eyes of person whe feels sleepy look dim or filmy).
Death will come when thou art dead – Death would come to the poet in its own time.
Soon, to soon – Death would not take long in coming to the poet. (Here is an unconscious prophecy of Shelley’s premature death. It was at the age of thirty that he was drowned in the sea).
Sleep will come when thou art fled – The poet does not accept the offer of Sleep, because Sleep can come to him when Night is gone. He would not like to waste his time in sleeping. He can sleep permanently after death.
Critical Appreciation of To The Night
In this poem Shelley expresses his deep love of Night. Night is personified here and regarded as a living entity, conscious of its own existence and of the existence of others. Night has a strange fascination for the poet who is attracted neither by dawn nor by day. Neither sleep nor death has any charm for the poet. He wants his beloved Night. He expresses his love for Night in such lines as the following : Swift be thy flight !” “Come, long-sought!” “Come soon, soon”.
There are a number of exquisite nature-pictures in the poem. Night is imagined as living in some lonely and misty eastern cave where, throughout the day, she weaves as wearing a gray cloak studded with stars. When Night appears, she blinds with her dark hair the eyes of Day and kisses Day till Day is exhausted and retires from the scene. The idea of Day giving place to Night has been conveyed to us through a beautiful picture : Wrap the form in a mantle gray,
Star – inwrought !
Blind with thine hair the eyes of Day;
Kiss her until she be wearied out, …..
Night is then depicted as wandering over city, sea and land, and producing a sleepy effect upon all living beings. More pictures follow in the poem. There is the picture of the sun riding high and the dew vanishing, and there is the picture of flowers and trees oppressed by the heavy weight of noon. The weary Day is depicted as lingering like an unloved guest, a most appropriate simile.
There is an atmosphere of melancholy in the poem which is also characterized by a note of longing. The poet yearns for Night. Several times in the course of the poem he says that he is sighing for Night, and several times he appeals to her to come soon. The music and melody of the poem lend a great charm to it. Here is a specimen of the poem’ss music :
Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon –
Sleep will come when thou art fled ;
Of neither would I ask the boon I ask of thee, beloved Night – Swift be thine approaching flight,
In short, this poem has all the qualities of Shelley’s lyricism. The poem is remarkable also for the simplicity of its language and ideas. There is nothing abstract or obscure, either, about language or about the theme. Most of us do not have Shelley’s love for Night, and yet somehow we are made to share the writer’s sentiments in this poem, which only means that, as we read through the poem, we fall under its spell. The music of the poem has certainly something to do with this spell.
(vi) What is the main idea of the poem To Night?
A. It tells us about Shelley’s intense love of Night and is an invitation to her to come soon.
(vii) How is the Day depicted in To Night?
A. The weary Day is depicted as lingering like an unloved guest.
(viii) What does the Night do to the Day?
A. The Night blinds with her dark hair the eyes of Day and kisses till day is exhausted and retires from the scene.
(b) Answer the following questions in 500 words each:–
Ode on Indolence is one of the important odes of John Keats. This ode is the depiction of a transient mood and maybe the description of a half-wakeful vision.
In the first stanza, the speaker explains a dream he had one morning. Three figures wearing white robes and sandals passed by him– looking like figures depicted on the surface of a marble urn. As the last figure passed by, the initial figures disappeared, just as if a vase was turned round.
In the second stanza, the speaker addresses the figures and asks how he didn’t recognize them and for what good reason they managed to appear so discreetly thus unnoticed. He says that he associates them with a plot to steal away his ‘idle days’. He proceeds by describing how he spent the morning before they arrived – by sleepily enjoying a summer’s day, numb to the more agonizing aspects of life. In the last two lines, he asks the figures for why they have not disappeared to leave him to his condition of ‘nothingness’.
The third stanza sees the figures passing through for the third time and the speaker feels an urge to stand up and follow them as he now knows who they are: love, ambition, and poetry.
In the fourth stanza, the figures vanish and once again the speaker yearns to follow them. In any case, he also realizes that to do as such would be ‘folly’ since none of the figures offers a perpetual answer to life’s difficulties. Love does not last; Ambition’s existence is considerably briefer and Poesy can’t compete with the delights of languid days untroubled by ‘occupied common sense’.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker is upset that the figures have returned and describes again how he had gone through the morning before they arrived. At that moment his spirit appeared as though a green garden made delightful with blooms, shadows, and sunbeams. There was no shower and bird song flooded in through an open window. He tells the figures that they were all in all correct to leave him as they had failed to rouse his passions.
In the last stanza, the speaker says goodbye to them and once again proclaims that neither Love nor Ambition nor Posey is sufficient to make him raise his slothful head had bedded with the ‘flowery grass’. He discloses to them that he as of now has a lot of dreams. His separating shot is to direct them to disappear and stay away forever.
Detailed explanation of Ode on Indolence
The theme of the poem is that in this transient mood of indolence the poet imagines himself lying on a lawn. Three figures appear before his eyes which pass and repass and it seems as if they are carved on the sides of an urn which is slowly moving. Twice they move by him but he is sunk in a quiet indolent mood and fails to recognize them. The third time when they appear, he recognizes them to be Love, Ambition, and Poesy. Their sight wakes him up from a dreamy state and he wants to pursue them but checks himself. When they return the fourth time, he bids them farewell because in this mood of lethargy he loves indolence better than Love, Ambition, and Poesy. The poet is reluctant to face the hard labour and strife to which they call him.
In the summer of 1819 Keats wrote to his friend:
“You will judge of my 1819 temper when I tell you that the thing I have most enjoyed this year has been writing an Ode on Indolence.” In the same letter he says:
“I have been very idle lately, very averse to writing; both from the overpowering idea of our dead poets and from abatement of my love of fame. I hope I am a little more of a philosopher than I was, consequently a little less of a versifying pet-lamb”.
In the same year Keats wrote in another letter to a friend about his temper and his indolent careless mood:
“This morning I am in a sort of temper, indolent and supremely careless… in this state of effeminacy, the fibers of the brain are relaxed in common with the rest of the body, and to such a happy degree that pleasure has no show of enticement and pain no unbearable power. Neither poetry, nor Ambition, nor Love has any alertness of countenance as they pass by me; they seem rather like figures on a Greek vase – a man and two women whom no one but myself could distinguish in their disguisement. This is the only happiness, and is a rare instance of the advantage of the body overpowering the mind.”
These passages are very significant in explaining the mood of the poet and the ode. In the opening lines, the poet imagines himself lying on a lawn half asleep. Three figures appear before his dreamy eyes, they pass and repass like figures on an urn which is slowly turned around. The figures depicted on vases move by him twice with their heads bent making it difficult for him to recognize them. Even a skilled artist of Greek sculpture cannot recognize them at one sight.
In the next stanza, the poet is sunk deep in a mood of quiet indolence and the figures appear to be ‘Shadows’ who come quietly disguised in a mask. They poet suspects that the shadowy figures had deliberately disguised themselves so as to join in a secret plot to shatter the visions so dear to him in his mood of indolence. It is noon, the poet feels drowsy in summer, the sensibility of his eyes is deadened, the pulse rate is slow and he is in a state when he feels no sharpness in suffering and no real delight in the pursuit of pleasure. His mind is blank and he is conscious of nothing but its own vacuity and asks the figures:
“O, why did ye not melt, and leave my sense
Unhaunted quite of all but – nothingness?” (19-20)
When the figures pass the third time he knows them to be Love, Ambition, and Poesy. Since he recognizes them, he is filled with a burning desire to have wings and to chase them.
The first figure is that of a beautiful lady called Love, the second is Ambition with pale cheeks because, in order to realize ambition, one has to scorn delights and work hard. The poet says that the third figure, “ whom I love more” is poesy. The creative energy of poesy is irrepressible that is why she is “maiden most unmeek.” In this stanza, a reference is also made to bitter reviews of Keats’ Endymion in these lines;
“The last, whom I love more, the more of blame
Is heap’d upon her, maiden most unmeek, -”
He loves Poesy all the more for the unreasoned attacks as he writes in one of his letters:
“Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a serve critic of his own works … and also when I feel I am right, no external praise can give me such a glow as my own solitary repercussion and ratification of what is fine.” The poet is a drowsy watcher and the sight of these figures wake him up. Soon they fade and he is filled with a momentary desire to pursue them:
“They faded, and forsooth! I wanted wings:
O folly! What is love? and where is it?” (31-32)
In a moment he realizes the foolishness and the futility of it all. The poet is haunted by such questions as: “What is love?” “Where is it?” He knows it well that ambition which springs from the desires of the heart can be fulfilled by “short fever-fit.” In Ode to a Nightingale, it is described as:
“The weariness, the fever, and the fret” (I. 23)
These questions make him restless momentarily. He realizes that neither Poesy nor Ambition nor Love seems to bring him any joy because his mind and body are under the influence of indolence. He is no more willing to face the labor and strife to which these figures call him. He wants to sink deep into an indolent mood and forget how time passes.
In the fifth stanza, the figures appear again for the fourth time but he loves indolence better and is not moved by them. He imagines his sleep as a dress which is embroidered by soft beautiful dreams and his soul as a lawn over which sweet-scented flowers are scattered. “Stirring Shades” of light and shade add to the sensuous dreamy atmosphere of the garden. A lovely metaphorical painting of soft cloudy days of spring and early summer is drawn in these lines:
“The morn was clouded, but no shower fell,
Tho’ in her lids hung the sweet tears of May;”
The poet wishes that the shadowy figures of Love, Ambition, and Poesy should leave him while he was still indulged in dreamy indolence. It is time to say goodbye to them without any feeling of regret.
In the concluding stanza, he bids them farewell and relapses into dreams as he has ample store of them. He asks these “masque – like” figures to vanish into the clouds and never return again. He knows very well that he does not wish to be petted by the public praise and fed with flattery:
“For I would not be dieted with praise,
A pet-lamb in a sentimental farce!” (53-54)
An important aspect of Keats’ genius his sensuous, dreamy, pleasure element is reflected in this ode especially in the description of spring and early summer. The metaphorical description of the morning with clouds hanging on her lids and the air smelling of the approaching vernal shower which has not yet burst forth from the clouds as “Tears of May” – stands out as a painting.
The poem has some forceful images and felicitous phrases such as “ye muffled in hush a mask”, “the blissful cloud of summer indolence,” “drowsy noons”, sleep “embroider’d with dim dreams”, soul imagined as a lawn “be sprinkled over with flowers” and “the sweet tears of May” hanging in the lids of the morn.
Love, Ambition, and Poesy are personified and human characteristics are attributed to them.
This ode is composed of six stanzas of ten lines each. The iambic pentameter lines are divisible into a quatrain of alternate rhymes and a sestet introducing two more rhymes.
Iambic: The iambic (from Iambus) in which the unaccented syllable precedes the accented
Quatrain: poem or verse of a poem consisting of four lines.
Sestet: Six line stanza esp. the last 6 lines of an Italian Sonnet.
1. In what mood did the poet write this poem?
Answer: The poem was written in a pleasant mood of dreamful indolence.
2. Whom did he see one morning?
Answer: One morning he saw three figures with bent heads, joined hands and side faced, one following the other calmly.
3. How did these figures appear before him?
Answer: These figures appeared before him dressed up in white robes and appeared to be carved on the sides of an urn.
4. Why did these appear figures strange to him?
Answer: The figures passed and repassed and twice they moved by him when the urn was shifted around but the poet did not recognize them that is why they appeared strange to him.
5. What is ‘Phidian lore?’ Why does the poet refer to it?
Answer: ‘Phidian lore’ is the sculptor’s art. Phidias was a famous Athenian sculptor of the fifth century B.C. Keats refers to it because the figures depicted on the urn are so various that even a skilled artist cannot recognize them at one sight.
6. How did the ‘Shadows’ come?
Answer: The shadows came disguised in a quiet mask.
7. What does the poet suspect about?
Answer: The poet suspects a silent secret plot and imagines that the shadowy figures had deliberately disguised themselves to join in a secret plot to disturb his vision and his mood of indolence.
8. Why was the drowsy hour ‘ripe’?
Answer: The drowsy hour was ripe because it was noon when one feels most drowsy in summer.
9. What is the physical state of the poet?
Answer: The poet is in a mood of indolence in summer, the sensibility of his eyes is deadened and his pulse is slow. The poet feels that there is no sting in pain and pleasure has no attraction for him.
10. What happened when the figures appeared a third time?
Answer: When the figures passed by him a third time, each of them turned their face to him for a moment, then they disappeared.
11. Why did the poet want to have wings?
Answer: The poet had recognized the three figures so he had a burning desire to have wings to pursue them.
12. Who were the three figures?
Answer: When the figures pass the third time, he recognizes them to be Love, Ambition, and Poesy.
13. Who was the first figure?
Answer: The name of the first figure is Love. She is described as a beautiful woman.
14. Who was the second figure and why was she was pale of cheek?
Answer: The second figure was Ambition. She was pale of cheek because to realize ambition one has to scorn delight and be perpetually vigilant. Continuous hard work and fatigued eyes are other attributes of Ambition which make her cheek look pale.
15. Why does the poet love poesy more?
Answer: The poet loves Poesy more because she is “maiden most unmeek”. Keats means that the creative poetic energy of a poet is irrepressible.
16. What does this line “the last … the more of blame” refer to?
Answer: In this line, there is an allusion to the bitter, unreasoned reviews of Keats’ Endymion which had appeared in Black Wood’s Magazine or The Quarterly.
17. From where does Ambition spring up?
Answer: Ambition springs up from a brief turmoil caused by the passions and desires of the heart to achieve something in life.
18. Why does the poet want to remain in the mood of indolence?
Answer: The poet wants to remain in the mood of indolence in drowsy summer because he wants to be free from the petty annoyances of life so that he does not even know how time passes.
19. Why does the poet want to bid farewell to the Shadows?
Answer: The poet wants to bid farewell to the shadows as he is still plunged in an indolent mood and wants that shadows should leave without pushing him to the activities of mundane life.
20. Explain ‘dieted with praise’.
Answer: This phrase suggests that the food offered is not natural. He does not want to be fed and baited by praise which is not sincere.
Meanings and Explanations
1. morn – morning
2. bowed necks – their heads bent so that it is difficult to recognize them. Side-faced – their profile only could be seen.
3. Serene – calm and peaceful
4. Placid – calm, peaceful and undisturbed. robes graced – dressed in white garments.
5. Urn – tall vase, usually with a stem and base especially one used for holding the ashes of a cremated person.
6. to see – so that one may see
8. Shades – Shadowy figures
10. Phidian lore – Phidias was a famous Athenian sculptor of the fifth century B.C. ‘Phydian lore’ refers to “the sculptor’s art”. Keats means that the figures depicted on a marble urn are various, and even a skilled artist of Greek sculpture can not easily recognize them.
11. Shadows – Shadowy figures Ye – You
12. muffled – disguised So hush a mask – so quiet a disguise
13. Was it … my’ idle days – The poet imagines that the Shadowy figures had intentionally disguised themselves so as to join in a secret plot to shatter the vision of the poet in his mood of indolence.
15. Ripe… It was noon when one fed most drowsy in summer season.
16. Blissful – joyful Blissful … summer indolence – the mood and state of indolence in summer is compared with a joyful cloud
17. Benumb’d – deadened the sensibility of eyes
18. Sting– unbearable pain Pain… Flower – There was no sharpness in pain and suffering no delight and attraction in the pursuit of pleasure.
19. melt – dissolve
20. my sense … nothingness – The poet feels that his mind is blank and it is not conscious of anything but its own vacuity. Unhaunted – not visited repeatedly
22. A moment whiles – for the space of a moment.
24. ached for wings – The poet is filled with a keen desire to chase the three figures whom he recognizes. In a mood of dreamful indolence, the poet feels a strong desire to have wings so that he can fly and follow them.
25. fair maid – the epithet ‘fair’ which means beautiful is used to indicate the infinite charms of Love.
26. Ambition, pale of cheek – Ambition has pale cheeks because to realize ambition one has to give up delights and live laborious days, vigilance and hard work are the befitting attributes of Ambition. Note: A connection can be noted between these lines and the closing lines of Keats’ The Terror of Death: “never have relish in the faery power of unreflecting love …Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.”
27. fatigued – tiredness usu resulting from hard work.
28. the more of blame – A reference is to unreasoned, bitter reviews of Endymion which had appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine or The Quarterly Review.
29. most unmeek – The poets’ creative energy is irrepressible, that is why ‘unmeek’.
30. demon – the word is used in the Greek sense of familiar or guardian spirit. Whom I love more … Poesy – The poet loves Poesy more than Love and Ambition because Poesy fills him with demoniacal energy. He loves her hostile and unsympathetic critics.
31. forsooth – an archaism (old-fashioned use) for indeed. I wanted wings – It refers to the poets momentary craving for pursuing them.
32. Where is it? – Compare with the following lines from Ode to a Nightingale: “Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, Or new Love pine at them beyond tomorrow.” (29-30)
34. Short fever-fit – Ambition springs from a strong desire to achieve something in life, from a brief turmoil caused by petty passions. Compare with Ode to a Nightingale:
“The weariness, the fever, and the fret” (I. 23)
36. drowsy noons – noon time which induces sheep.
38. Sheltered from annoy – free from the annoyances and worries of life.
39. how change the moons – how the seasonal changes take place and how the time passes.
40. busy common – sense – the wisdom of the world.
42. Sleep… embroider’d with dim dreams – Sleep has been imagined as a dress and beautiful delicate embroidery is the dreams.
43. Soul … lawn besprinkled o’er with flowers – Soul has been compared with a lawn.
Flowers are scattered over it.
44. Stirring shades… beams – flickering of light and shade in a garden of flowers is baffling.
45. morn – morning
46. in her lids … tears of May – The poet depicts a lovely metaphorical painting of soft cloudy days of spring and early summer (May). The air smells of coming rain. The vernal shower has not yet burst forth from the clouds floating above. The sweet tears of May are the raindrops.
47. Casement – Window that opens on hinges like a door.
49. O Shadows … bid farewell! – It was a time when the ghostly figures of love, ambition, and poesy should leave him alone and say goodbye.
50. Upon your skirts… tears of mine – He wishes that these figures should leave him while he was still plunged in indolence without rousing him to activities of life which were sure to bring suffering and tears. He would have no regrets for their disappearance.
51. adieu – (archaic) goodbye
52. head cool-bedded – compare with Tennyson’s The Lotus Eaters; “Resting weary limbs at last on beds of asphodel
53. dieted with praise – This expression suggests that the food offered is not natural. The poet refuses to be fed by praise which is either underserved or insincere.
54. A pet-lamb … farce! – Keats does not wish to be petted like a lamb (by the public) and fed with flattery. In summer 1819, he wrote to a friend; “I have been very idle lately, very averse to writing, both from the overpowering idea of dead poets and from abatement of my love of fame. I hope I am a little more of a philosopher and I was, consequently a little less of a versifying pet-lamb.’
54. Farce – funny play for the theatre based on unlikely situations and events.
56. masque – like figures – character is masque were often disguised, refers to the Elizabethan masques or pageants. dreamy urn – urn with shadowy figures sculptured on it.
58. faint visions – the visions that will come during day will come with lessened force than the vision of night.
Introduction: “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” was written in April 1819. Keats took the title La Velle Dame Sans Merci from ‘an early fifteenth-century French poem by Alain Chartier. The phrase belongs to the terminology of the courtly love and describes a beautiful lady without mercy, that is the sort of gracious kindness which prompts a woman to accept a lover’s plea’. (Brian Stone: The Poetry of Keats). The title must have fascinated Keats, for in the “Eve of St. Agnes” that he had just completed, it is the title of the song played on the lute, by the lover to his sleeping lady.
“La Belle” is a ballad. There are two kinds of ballads—traditional and literary. The traditional or true ballad has its roots in the Middle Ages and the literary ballad was the revival of the ballad form in the nineteenth century. Ballads were written in the stanzas of four lines i.e. quatrains (metrical patterns of 4, 3, 4, 3) with 2nd and 4th lines usually rhyming.
The ballad was a dramatic verse tale which moved rapidly. The ballad used little description, it narrated very few incidents and the details of the story were presented in a straight forward manner. The themes of the old ballads were usually love and war, an exciting adventure, a loss, a family disaster, usually they contained supernatural elements.
Ballads gradually died out. But in the later half of the eighteenth century, there was a revival of interest in the ballad form. Consequently, collections of old ballads were brought out. Some poets in the late eighteen and early nineteenth century were inspired by the form and wrote ballads.
Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” are masterful literary ballads. Keats in his ballad has changed the quatrain, making the fourth line shorter—this slows the movement of the poem.
Many legends concerning ‘women’ were current during the dim and shadowy Middle Ages. The beauty of the Fatal woman or Femme Fatale was a curse to mankind. These women were often presented as enchantresses, witches, sirens, mermaids, or serpent women (example, Coleridge’s “Christable” and Keats’s Lamia) who lured men by their strange (`wild’) beauty to their ruin or death.
The lady of Keats’s ballad “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a fatal woman of the medieval romance. The title itself suggests that she is a beautiful lady without any pity who ruins the life of a knight.
Summary of La Belle Dame Sans Merci
La Belle Dame Sans Merci is a wonderful romantic ballad which some have considered one of the best of Keats’ poems. It was composed probably in the spring or summer of 1819.
The title of the poem means ‘The Beautiful Lady without Pity’. The title is taken from a poem of Alain Chartier, a French poet of the 15th Century of the Court of Charles VI. Keats is indebted to Alain Chartier only for the title which had a kind of fascination for him. In the Eve of St. Agnes, the title is mentioned in the following lines:
“He played an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence called, “La belle dame sans merci:”
Chartier’s poem narrates “a prolix conversation” between on obdurate lady and her lover. At the end, the lady goes away indifferent to dance and play while the lover is desperate to tear his hair and die.
Among books which Keats read with devotion and which influenced his poetry considerably should be mentioned Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. The Knight-at-arms of Keats’ La Belle is the same one who is Burton:
“wandered in the woods sad all alone,
Forsaking men’s society, making great moan.’
These lines can be compared with the opening lines of Keat’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
“O what can ail thee, Knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?”
The central idea of the poem is unrequited love, and the pain and suffering of one who loves but is not loved in return. It is said that in writing this ballad, Keats was perhaps expressing his own feelings; for he also loved but his love was not returned.
The poem starts with a question: What can trouble the Knight at arms and make his look pale and sick? To describe the Knight’s condition, epithets like ‘Alone’, ‘palely loitering’ ‘haggard’ and so ‘woe-begone’ are used. His brow is compared with white lily and his pale cheeks with ‘a fading rose’.
In the following stanzas, the knight-at-arms narrates his sad story how he was enchanted by a very beautiful lady in the meadows who appeared to be as beautiful as a fairy and whose wild eyes seemed to be inviting. He expressed his love for her by making a garland for her head and a girdle of sweet-scented flowers. She gave him a loving glance, so he made her sit on his horse.
The beautiful lady reciprocated the knights’ love and sang a fairy song while riding on the horse with him. She brought sweet-tasting roots, honey, and enchanted food and in an unfamiliar language said, “I love thee true!” She took the knight to her fairy cave and sang a lullaby to make the knight go to sleep.
The knight dreamed that there would be trouble in his life. He saw pale kings and warriors who had died for the love of this beautiful lady without mercy. They told him that she had enslaved the knight as she had enslaved them. Their pitiable condition in the evening twilight woke him up from his dream. After giving this simple explanation the knight says:
‘And that is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing?
The knight-at-arms represents that chivalrous and romantic hero who has aspirations of each one of us. It is not only the soul of the poet “in thrall” in love but the soul of every lover and idealist. The knight expresses the infinite agony of frustrated love which is doomed to
“loiter padely and alone.”
The ballad is medieval in subject matter and the medieval element is highlighted by Keats’ power of recapturing the mystical as exemplified in this poem and his other poems Lamia and The Eve of St. Agnes. Herford has rightly commented that Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci is “a masterpiece of horror-stricken reticence and magical suggestion”. The poet intentionally left the story slightly mysterious, that the reader may be left asking questions.
It is a ballad of forty lines arranged in twelve stanzas of four lines each. The diction is very simple, selective and dignified, old spellings of the words such as ‘thee’ ‘hath’ ‘thy’ don’t pose any difficulty in understanding. It may be concluded that the composition of this ballad is full of artistic skills and the epithets and images convey the poets’ ideas successfully.
In this ballad (“La Belle”) with an inimitable magic Keats has depicted a cheated soul. “Flight into visionary experience and back again is expressed by means of well-known motif (which he later used in Lamia) of a mortal’s ruinous love for a supernatural lady.”
What is its story? “La Belle” is a dramatic verse narrative in which the speaker comes across a woebegone knight-at-arms in a desolate winter setting. He asks the knight why he is loitering aimlessly, all alone, in this cold landscape, why he looks so sick, pale and lifeless. The knight narrates his eerie experience. He tells that he met a beauty (“a fairy’s child”) in the “mead” and fell passionately in love with her. He rode with her to her “elfin grot” where the beautiful lady lulled him to sleep. There he had many horrifying dreams. In his latest dream be saw “death-pale kings and princes”, and “pale warriors” who warned him that “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” had enthralled him. When he woke up he found himself on this dreary landscape. He is now wasting away “On the cold hill side.”
( a ) La Belle as a poem of love
Keats’s Isabella, the Eve of St Agnes, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and sonnet on Paolo and Francesca tell love stories and all are “modern” recreations of a medieval source or setting and none of them offers a self-evident “meaning”. All these poems deal with couples possessed by love. They have “strong erotic elements”, and in Isabella and “La Belle” ‘sexual love leads to death’. There are two types of women—either they respond passively to the events beyond their control, or they are dominant and demonic like La Belle. All these women (of the four poems) “are expressions of prevalent attitudes to women’s sexuality” (John Barnard—John Keats). La Belle’s erotic gestures destroy men; Isabelle’s violent love leads to her death, Paolo and Francesca are condemned to hell for their carnal love while passive Medeline is united with her lover.
The Eve of St Agnes is ‘a celebratory dream of love’—it is not merely a poem describing the truth about human love but is also “a metaphor for the prefigurative power of the imagination.” “La Belle” presents a contrasting (contrasted from what is presented in The Eve of St Agnes) picture of love. The knight’s experiences take away his liberty, he finds himself in “thrall”, which separates him from “the natural and human cycles of generation”. To the knight, she is a seductress and destroyer, ‘Taut, eerie, and impersonal the ballad makes no judgments. Although “La Belle Dame Sam Merci” belongs to the Romantic cult of the ballad, evident in Burger, Scott, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, Keats’s intuitive assimilation of his sources, results in a very different kind of poem,” (John Barnard).
Keats’s La Belle is more akin to the fairy goddess (in Celtic tradition) than to the femmes fatales of the Middle Ages. In the Celtic tradition, the goddess is “paradoxically both an evil figure and a protector and nurturer of heroes… La Dame der Lac, the benevolent fay, is, in reality, Morgan La Fee, the malevolent enchantress, in another guise, the two are part of a larger duality. Starting within a tradition of literary imitation, Keats’s truth to the inner forum of his story allows ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci” to recreate its archetype.” (John Barnard).
“Keats makes no judgment on the lady or the knight. Nowhere do we get a clear hint that the lady is wilfully cruel to the knight or the knight is unable to sustain the vision and so he finds himself on the cold hillside.” Some critics consider the lady to be a Circe figure who deliberately leads men to destruction through love.
The fairy world described in the poem is both attractive and ominous. It is a question poem in the sense that we cannot comprehend the meaning of the knight’s experience nor can we accept his version as authentic. The knight’s questioner as well as the reader “is located firmly in the natural world of harvest and fulfillment and is as firmly excluded from the knight’s experience as he is from ours.” (J. Barnard).
The knight’s fairy lover (“the fairy’s child,” “wild” and “full beautiful”) looks at him “as she did love”, and “in a language strange she said—”I love thee true” …Is the knight trying to convince himself that she genuinely loved him? Or is he in a state of confusion? But the following stanzas reveal that the outcome of her love is destructive. Once he enters her `grot’, she ‘wept’ and “sighed” full sore, She lulled him to sleep and there he dreamed—had nightmarish dreams of death and destruction caused by the beautiful woman.
Keats has woven a glimmering web of mystery around the love story. We can’t be certain whether the lady loved the knight genuinely or whether the dream was true. Can’t tell whether he has himself chosen to wander aimlessly in the desolated deserted landscape or he has been punished for loving the lady without mercy. (“whether his dream experience ties him there against his wish”). “Unlike his questioner, who lives in real-time, with a past and future. the knight inhabits a wasteland more psychic than physical and exists in a timeless present progressing towards death…” (J.Barnard).
( b ) As a poem of “dream within dreams”
In “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” Keats has skilfully conjured “diverse elements into a unified impression of spell-bounding mystery”. It is a poem of “dream within dreams”. It has three “concentric dream circles”. The outer frame (Dream I) shows ‘a weird encounter’ between the poem’s first speaker and the woe-begone, haggard knight-at-arms, on whose cheek the rose is fading and whose forehead is lily-like pale and white, with drops of perspiration. The knight’s ride through the meadow with the fairy’s child and the “Kisses four” in the “elfin grot” fo7n the inner frame (Dream 2)
In the “grot” the knight is fed on supernatural delicacies (“manna dew” and “wild, honey”) and is lulled to sleep. In his sleep, he has frightening dreams and in his “latest” dream he saw pale kings, ‘pale princes and pale warriors with parched lips and awesome expressions, who gaped at him to warn him about his enthrallment. This appalling dream-forms the third frame. (Dream 3).
“The aura of a transcendental experience which pervades the meeting with the fairy lady (dream 2) is undermined by the knight’s dream of the death pale kings and warriors (dream 3) with its suggestion of mortality and betrayal. This dream [within the Knight’s dream of the starved lips and horrid warning” (dream 3)] comes true when the Knight awakens on the cold hill side pale and enthralled as the dream prophesied” (John Keats):
Keats has exploited dream-sequence in many poems. The dream-sequence of “La Belle” differs from that of Endymion. The realization of the dream of pallor and starvation (“La Belle”) “moves in the opposite direction from Endymion’s and Madeline’s dreams”. In (Endymion) the dreams of Endymion and Madeline, we observe that the fulfillment signifies “a shift from the actual to some ecstatic transcendental dream”. What do we observe in “La Belle”? Within the dream of the La
Belle the movement from the first speaker’s questioning to the knight’s reply, the transition is from the bleak dreary landscape to the beautiful supernatural world—(the world of fantasy) and within this fairy world the real, horrifying deadly dream occurs. And from this ‘death’ world we move back to the world of the withering sedge. (The movement is from Dream l to Dream 2, to Dream 3 and then back to Dream One). The transition is from the harsh real world to the imaginary world of beauty and love to the world of mutability to the harsh real world. If there is something which thrills and pleases the Knight and makes the poem a fantasy is the second dream, the entry into or journey through and sojourn in the “elfin world itself is a pure dream” (Dream 2) in the ballad.
The second dream, described in six stanzas, is central to the poem. In the beginning, the Knight meets with a fairy’s child in a meadow. The Knight was so much enamoured of her beauty and “wild, wild eyes” that he made “a garland for her head and bracelets too”, and garlands, also for
her “fragrant zone”. He forced her to sit on “his pacing steed” (indicative of the intensity of his passion) and did not see anything else “all day long”. It is apparent that at the outset the Knight is the dominant figure, who plays upon the feelings of the lady. Then there occurs a subtle transfer of the initiative (Stanzas 4 to 7) from the Knight’s / to the lady’s she (Stanzas 7 to 9.) It is noteworthy that the lady’s ‘erotic feelings’ are expressed in ambiguous terms—”as she did love me,” Is the Knight not certain about her feelings or is he attempting to convince himself that she loved him? Do the stanzas seven to nine depict the lady as a seductress?
“For side longwould, she bend and sing.
A faery’s song”
“She found me roots of relish sweet
And honey wild and manna dew.”
“….in a strange language, she said, “I love thee true”. She appears as a caressing mother when she
lulls him “asleep”.
The lady’s side-long bending, unusual food, strange language and sore sighing help to create a supernatural atmosphere, a dream-like vague atmosphere. When the Knight says that in his latest dream he saw death pale kings, warriors and princes and when he woke up, he found himself on the cold hillside, instead of the `groe, we doubt whether he really met a fairy child, the beautiful lady, and entered her `groe; or whether it was a ‘vision’ or ‘a dream’—he had never left “the cold hill side”; when he entered this imaginary world, the birds were still singing and the harvest was not yet done. When he is ‘back’ to the actual world after the horrifying dream, the weather has changed and winter has arrived. Winter is used both figuratively and literally.
In the traditional ballad style, Keats has used question and answer form in “La Belle”. In a traditional ballad, the mystery is resolved in the last stanza. Since “La Belle” is a complex poem, the mystery remains unresolved until the end. The Knight’s explanation “And that is why…” does not satisfy the reader and the speaker’s curiosity. It raises more questions than it answers. Both the reader and the speaker know that the Knight is unable to go ‘home’ in this clement weather because he is in ‘thrall’. But it is not evident whether the Knight knows exactly how, why and what things have happened to him? The dream in the grot holds the key to the riddle and enables the questioner to comprehend what the Knight has experienced.
“In “St. Agnes” Keats skillfully manipulates his reader and carries him from the world of fantasy and romance to the world of reality”. But there is no manipulation in the ballad. The poem begins with the description of the stark cold desolate winter setting where the speaker meets with the woe-begone Knight. Then the questioner is guided by the Knight to the fairy world, where the latter is supposed to have a blissful exotic (erotic) experience. From the fairy world of ‘passion’, pleasure and ‘entertainment’ the speaker enters the nightmarish ‘dream’ of the Knight, moves into the world of sickness, and death—it is a transition from the wonderful fantastic world of ‘sexual’ happiness to ‘the Hades’. The speaker is made to participate both in the blissful and the dreadful experiences of the Knight. The Knight had an encounter with ‘death’ in his dream, and when he wakes out of the frightening dream he finds himself on a lonely landscape.
In the last six lines of the poem the speaker once again returns to the realistic level and finds himself within the dream world of the outer frame. The concentric dream circles make the poem enchanting and mysterious. Here we have the presentation of something “felt on the pulses, of a beauty seized as a truth by the imagination, and expressed in a language of sensation, inaccessible to the consecutive reasoning.”
(c) The use of Negative Capability
The concept of negative capability has been given a new dimension in “La Belle”. The whole story of the Knight, his experiences and dream are presented in a masterful way. The poem can be interpreted in various ways. First, so much of ambiguity surrounds the Knight and the lady that it is not possible to say what they symbolize. Critics interpret the lady, the Knight, the journey of the Knight, and his dream in many ways. In fact “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is the most evasive and mysterious of Keats’s poem.
It raises a variety of questions. Is the fairy’s child a Cynthia who failed to “make Men’s being mortal immortal” (Endymioh I Lines 843-44), a vampire, a Circe “a fairy mistress from hell” or “neutral to good or evil”? Does she stand for poetic imagination? Is the Knight’s lapse from the vision is due to her refusal to keep the deception (the world of beauty and fantasy) or due to his inability to sustain “the transcendental experience”? Or Is his failure, the result of ‘his awareness of his mortality’ (Wasserman) or “his fear of facing death”. (Richard Benevento).
The Lady could be any of the four intensities mentioned in Keats’s “Why Did I Laugh Tonight”. She could be verse, fame, ‘beauty and death. She may even represent ‘the fatality of beauty’ or “a fair maid and love her name” (“Ode on Idleness”).
Keats in the three poems—Isabella, “St Agnes” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” has depicted the perils of love. According to Murry behind the poem “lies the anguish of impossible love” of Fanny Brawne. To
some critics, the Knight’s journey symbolizes the tragedy of Faustian rejection of human limitation. The poem reminds us of Edymion’s lines 646-48 IV.
There never liv’d a mortal man, who bent
His appetite beyond the natural sphere,
But starv’d and died.
The Knight is prey of his supernatural adventure, consequently, he is unable to find his bearings in the natural world of birds, harvest and decay. Perhaps when he was journeying through the fairy land, the birds sang, the squirrel filled their granary, but, now when he is back to the natural world, the harvest is done, no birds sing, and the granary is full. He is left alone on a ‘waste land’ unprovided for.
Observe the pattern of the last two stanzas. The ‘truncated stanzaic close” echoes “the finality of tik loss.” “In his vain attempt to be a part of the supernatural world, the Knight has alienated himself from the natural world and thus he loses both the worlds, he is a double loser. We can interpret his predicament in a different way. The fairyland is merely a figment of his imagination or fancy or is a daydream. As Keats says in his ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ fancy is a deceiving elf, here imagination can not cheat him forever. The visionary world of passionate love and beauty disappears. The impact of the fanciful experience and the nightmarish dream is extremely powerful, so he is unable to reconcile to the reality. He has been cheated of both the wonders of the elfin world and of nature. His is now ‘a kind of life-in-death experience.’ In Endymion and St Agnes, the `romantic journey is a worthwhile risk, it proves disastrous in “La Belle”‘.
A critical appreciation of the poem
According to Brian Stone (The Poetry of Keats) “with its haunting medieval resonances, the poem (-La Belle”) is the last of those for which Keats drew on the literature and folk love of the
Middle Ages. Like Blake’s “The Sick Rose” the poem raises by powerful images the ideas of love, corruption, and death…The verification and the process of narration by dialogue show Keats to be deeply imbued with the spirit and techniques of the medieval ballad”.
The story moves in a circular manner. The speaker meets a Knight in a winter landscape from which the birds have departed, the sedge has withered and where no birds sing. The squirrel’s granary is full and the harvest is done. All these details point to the season—it is the end of autumn and winter has arrived. Winter is a season of ‘lifelessness’ or inactivity.’ The Knight’s physical appearance synchronizes with the winters desolation.’ The speaker is eager to know why the woe-begone pale-looking Knight-at-arms is loitering aimlessly in this bleak landscape. From this desolate setting, the speaker is transported to a ‘dream’ world of sexual bliss—to the supernatural world. The Knight describes his blissful experience in detail. The lady whom he meets in the mead is a fairy’s child with wild, wild eves. He is enamoured of her, offers her gifts, rides with her on his ‘pacing steed’ she sings fairy songs in strange language and seems to convince him about her genuine love. The lady is presented as eerie being. He rides to her elfin grot, is fed on heavenly delicacies. On ‘such choice natural products’ as “honey wild and manna dew”. ‘It is apparent then the plenty is a part of the enchantment’, it ‘lures him to acts of love and to the ensuing sleep in her arms’. ‘With a sudden chill of nightmare,’ he sees pale kings, princes and pale warriors—”death pale were they all”. With starved lips and parched tongues, they gazed at him as if they warned him that he was “in thrall” of La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The horrifying description of the kings, princes, and warriors is significant in the poem. The Knight after the erotic bliss finds himself in the realm of death. “The starved lips” has a Shakespearean connotation implying starved to death. Incidentally, the speaker had already observed the signs of sickness and decay in the Knight’s appearance. Perhaps he can now, after listening to the Knight’s tale, easily surmise that the Knight himself is responsible for his own plight because he ‘was active and willing in his own seduction’.
The five fold repetition of pale links the ballad with “As Hermes Once” in considering the act of love in connection with death. The Knight’s nightmare can be interpreted in an other way. ‘It is as if the Knight was taken beyond life, saw in the hereafter others, who like himself had been seduced by the enchantress and was returned to this world weakened and corrupted, past cure, by his experience.’ (Brian Stone).
The poet has used assonances and alliterations. The poem’s movement is slow and deliberate since Keats intends the reader to ‘experience’ and share the experiences of the Knight and the speaker.
The bleak wintry setting suits the temperament and appearance of the Knight, whose existence is meaningless, he is completely cut off from natural and supernatural world, he is ‘unprovided’ for and is under the spell of the beautiful lady without mercy. The Knight who is supposed to be an adventurer, a protector of law and of people has lost all his powers. He is still the Knight-at-arms, but with a difference, he is aimlessly wandering, he is in ‘thrall’, a captive.
Some of the images (in the poem) including those of rose and lily are taken from Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (Refer to the Section on Love—Melancholy). The poem ‘haunts the mind of the reader with the music of its particular tragic themes.’ “The Knight-at-arms of “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” inhabits his own memorable limbo: possessing neither the joys of the girl nor the finality of death, existing neither in the dream nor in the active life, he is “alone and palely loitering” a haggard figure in a desolate landscape.
1. Is the title of the Poem a good one? Why?
A. Yes, the title is a good one. It is appropriate because the knight-at-arms is enchanted by the beautiful lady and expresses his love for her but she instead of returning his love enslaves him and has no mercy for him.
2. Who is alone and palely loitering?
A. The Knight-at-arms is along and lingering with a pale face on the cold hillside.
3. What ails the knight?
A. The knight looks pale, sad and worried because the beautiful lady without pity has enslaved him and his fate will be like that of other pale kings and warriors.
4. Why did the lady charm the knight?
A. The enchantingly beautiful lady charmed the knight because she wanted to enslave him though she had no mercy for him.
5. What happened to the knight in the end?
A. The knight saw the pitiable condition of pale kings and warriors in the dream with their starved lips in the evening twilight. They cried that the beautiful lady “Hath thee in thrall!” He woke up as they warned him about his tragic fate. That is why the Knight is staying on the cold hill side alone looking pale and sad. Keats intentionally leaves the story at slightly mysterious note so that we may be left asking questions.
6. What is the theme of the poem?
A. The theme of the poem is unrequited love, and the pain and suffering of one who loves but is not loved in return. It is said that in writing this poem Keats was expressing his own feelings. He too loved but was not loved by Fanny Brawne.
7. What point of view is the poem written in? Who is its speaker(s)?
A. The poem is written in the first-person point of view. The poem is written as a dialogue between a knight and another man.
8. In the second stanza, what does the speaker say are reasons for the knight-at-arms to not “ail”?
A. The speaker says the “squirrel’s granary is full,” meaning it has been a slow fall, allowing much time for preparation. This concept is repeated in the second reason he gives, which is “the harvest’s done.”
9. Why does the lady weep and sigh in the poem’s eighth stanza?
A. Answers may vary. Example: The lady weeps because she knows that while she loves the knight, they cannot be together since they are too different.
10. How does the French title translate into English?
A. The title translates into “The Beautiful Woman with No Mercy.”
11. What does the speaker’s dream suggest about the woman whom he has fallen in love with?
A. The pale people of the speaker’s dreams warn him that he has fallen for a woman without pity, suggesting that she has left him for good, without consideration of his feelings.
12. Why do you believe the knight-at-arms is so sad?
A. Answers may vary. Example: One reason might be that when he awoke from his dream, the beautiful woman he had found and kissed was gone. Another reason might be his realization that the woman he had seen did not truly love him.
13. Explain the significance in the speaker’s choice of words in the final stanza, especially “sojourn” and “palely.”
A. The choice of “sojourn” suggests that the speaker is waiting for something, most likely his love. The choice of “palely” parallels the description he has given of the kings and princes in his dreams. This may infer that he has also fallen for la belle dame sans merci.
Belle – a beautiful woman
Dame – woman
Sans – without
Merci – mercy
Line 1 Ail – cause problem and make sickThee – YouKnight –in-arms – a man who saves a woman from a dangerous situation.
Line 2 Palely loitering – lingering with a pale face
Line 3 Sedge – a plant-like grass that grows in wet ground or near water. Withered – dried up
Line 6 Haggard – looking very tired because of illness Woebegone – looking very sad
Line 7 The squirrel’s granary is full – The squirrel has gathered his food for the winter.
Line 8 Harvest is done – the cutting and gathering of crops on a farm is done.
Line 9 Lily – a large white or brightly coloured flower
Line 10 Anguish – pain and unhappiness
Line 11 Thy cheek a fading rose – your cheeks have become paler as if all colour has faded from them.
Line 12 Fast – moving or happening quickly Withereth – Witness
Line 13 Meads – Meadows
Line 14 Full – Very
Line 18 Fragrant Zone – a girdle of sweet-scented flowers.
Line 20 Moan – make a long deep sound
Line 21 Packing – walking up and down Steed – (literary) horse to ride on
Line 25 Relish sweet – Sweet taste
Line 26 manna dew – enchanted food
Line 29 elfin grot – fairy cave
Line 30 Sigh’d – took a long deep breath expressing sadness
Sore – painfully
Line 33 lulled – Soothed my nerved by singing
Line 34 Woe betide – there will be trouble for………
Line 37 I saw pale kings… These men with pale faces had died for love of the Beautiful Lady without pity.
Line 38 death – pale – as pale as death.
Line 40 Hath – hasin thrall – enslaved
Line 41 Starv’d lips – Lips showed that they were feeling very hungry. gloam – evening twilight
Line 42 horrid – terrible, horrible gaped wide – staring with open mouth in surprise
Line 45 Sajourn – Stay here for a time
1. Write a critical appreciation of Keats ‘Ode on Melancholy.’
2. Bring out the narrative acumen of Keats by citing examples from the prescribed poems
About the Author: John Keat was an English Romantic poet (31 October 1795– 23 February 1821). He was one of the leading figures of the second generation of Romantic poets along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, although his work was only published four years before his death. Keats ‘ poetry is characterized by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes.
Main Idea: Ode to a Nightingale is one of the finest Odes of John Keats. Listening to the nightingale’s song, the poet is oppressed by its beauty and joy. He wishes to escape to the world of the forest so that he may be free from the worries and sorrows of daily human life. The sensuous quality of Keats’ poetry is highlighted when he describes the natural beauty of early summer is St. 4. It this moment of ecstasy, when the nightingale is singing he longs for “easeful death”. In the concluding stanzas as the song of the nightingale fades away, the poet returns to the real world with a jolt.
About the Poem
“Ode to a Nightingale” is a poem written in May 1819 by John Keats either in the garden of the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead, London or, according to Keats ‘ friend Charles Armitage Brown, in the garden of Keats House, also in Hampstead, under a plum tree. A nightingale had constructed his nest close his home in the spring of 1819, according to Brown. Keats composed the poem in one day, inspired by the song of the bird. It quickly became one of his odes in 1819 and was first released the following July in Annals of the Fine Arts. “Ode to a Nightingale” is a private poem describing the voyage of Keats into the state of Negative Capability.
The poem presents Keats’s ‘unappeased craving for permanence, his failure to escape the mutable world and die into a higher life.’ The speaker (the poet) is overpowered by the spontaneous melodious song of a nightingale, he hopes to follow it into the forest dim, leaving behind the spectacle of human death, suffering, fret, and fever, and die so as to perpetuate the ecstatic moment. The poet on the viewless wings of poesy moves into ‘the eternal realm of song’ and is able to feel the charm of the embalmed beauty of nature and experience and visualise the magical effect of the song of this immortal bird not only on himself but also in remote times on Ruth, Kings, Clowns and the maidens imprisoned in the castles located on the shores of perilous seas. The poet is transported to a world of eternal joy and immortality, his return to actuality is very shattering. The nightingale impresses upon him the consciousness of his own mortality and sharpens the contrast between sensation and thought. The poem also highlights the contrast between the raptures of the bird’s song and consecutive reasoning of the perplexing and retarding “dull brain.” Like the “Ode to Psyche” this ”Ode on a Nightingale” extols the autonomous power of imagination which can create ‘beauty as a compensation of the life’s losses’. The bird’s song also reveals how beauty consists of ‘the ecstasy’ (158) of fulfillment as well as the “plaintive note” of disillusion. If Keats suspects the power of visionary experience in the “Ode to Psyche”, in this Ode he is unable to sustain the ecstasy of that experience till the end of the poem and he is forced to return to the actual world, from the realm of fancy. The ending of the poem—Do I wake or sleep—undermines the poet’s song-inspired visionary flight and casts doubt on the whole nightingale episode. Critics call the Ode ‘a reverie, in spite of the fact that Keats had actually heard a nightingale’s song from ‘their Hamstead home and the bird’s song, had inspired him to write this Ode.’ (Brown’s letter in Keats’s Circle II, 65).”
Summary of ‘ Ode to Nightingale ‘
Keats listens to the song of the nightingale. He feels extremely happy at its singing. He experiences an aching pleasure, a pleasure felt as pain. He seems to have forgotten his surroundings. The poet longs for a cup of wine to escape into the happy world of the nightingale. He is then acutely reminded of the tragedy of human for the fever and fret of life. Keats then seeks the help of poetic imagination. With Poesy, he finds himself transported into the world of the nightingale which has all the beauty of early summer. His happiness is intense and he is completely lost in that happy world.
Ode to Nightingale
The pleasure that he feels is so rich and true that he wants to make this luxurious moment a permanent one. So he yearns for death. ‘It is rich to die’ in that temporary heaven. It would be a luxurious experience for him because the nightingale is singing in ecstasy and he would die listening to it. Thus death would become a boon, a positive, healthy experience for Keats now. Soon he realizes the impossibility of the fulfillment of his desire. The idea of death reminds him strikingly of the immortality of the bird (its song), nature’s music as contrasted with human mortality (change and decay). The nightingale is immortal in the sense that its song knows no death. The beauty and joy of the nightingale’s song do not change with the passage of time. Its song is the same today as it was heard ages back, by kings and peasants, by Ruth, the Moabite woman in the days of the Old Testament and by princesses in forlorn fairy land in the middle ages of magic and romance. So the song of the nightingale knows no historical or geographical limits. The closing of the 7th stanza with the word lorlon’ wakes him up from the world of poetry. He realises that he cannot escape from the realities of the world as easily as he had desired and pretended to. He bids the bird good-bye and imagines the bird fading away into distant lands. The poet returns to the realities of life, somewhat dazed. He is uncertain what is real—the little happiness that he was lulled into or this dull life he was living. (M. Samuel)
Study Notes | Explanation of Poem
Keats describes here the effect of the song of the nightingale upon his mind. As the poet listens to the song of the nightingale, his heartaches.
It is a feeling experienced due to excessive joy at the bird’s song. That is so to say, the happiness that he shares is so intense that it becomes an aching pleasure, a pleasure felt as pain.
The poet feels that a numbness creeps over him—that his senses have been paralyzed as if he had taken some sleep-inducing drink (narcotic) like hemlock or some sedative drink made from opium. This again is due to excessive happiness at the bird’s song, the joy that he feels overpowers his senses. In a minute the poet seems to forget his surroundings and is rapt in the song of the nightingale. He feels as if he had sunk into Lethe (the river of forgetfulness in Greek and Roman mythology, one of the rivers of the underworld or Hades).
The souls of the dead, according to ancient Greek belief, had to drink from Lethe before they entered the Hades, the home of the dead.
The aching pleasure that the poet feels is not because he is envious of the bird singing so joyously but because he feels too happy in the happiness of the nightingale. The result is that he is completely lost in it.
The poet loves the bird as it sings like a Dryad (wood nymph) who is supposed to be the presiding deity of the forest in Greek mythology. The poet regards the bird as the spirit of joy that is found in the woodland world. The poet imagines the nightingale to be a spirit of the wood-land singing of the glories of summer so spontaneously in some “far off scene, of woodland mystery and beauty”.
Melodious green: a green plot of ground, overgrown with beech trees and resounding with the melody or music of the bird’s song.
Shadows numberless: light and shade falling upon the grassy plot as the light of the sun filters through the foliage of trees.
Singest of summer: Probably it was due to the drugging effect that the poet felt so as the poem was written in the spring season.
Full throated ease: a.rich and condensed expression. Like an expert musician, the nightingale is straining her throat to the fullest, yet the song is not strained but natural and spontaneous.
The Poet shows an intense desire to escape or pass into the delightful world of the nightingale, leaving the miserable world of the Man. He seeks the help of wine to effect this escape.
Keats longs for a draught of the richest wine, rare old wine cooled in the deep cellars of the earth for long years. It should be rich with the romantic spirit of the spring-season when festivities are held in honour of Flora, the goddess of spring, by the grape gatherers in the warmer regions of Southern France (Provence).
In other words, the wine that the poet would like to drink should be rich with its associations of the rustic and merry-making activities like song and dance held in honour of Flora in the country green (the village common) by the sunburnt Italian and French grape gatherers. Italy and Provence being in South of Europe are comparatively warm hence the natives of these regions are ‘sunburnt’ as we Indians are. People in South regions of Europe are more cheerful and romantic because the climate itself is inspiring these qualities.
Warm South: wine prepared in the warm regions of Italy and Provence. The poet does not want ordinary wine, but one rich in contents and distilling all the romantic associations and spirit of the warm southern regions especially of France and Italy. The greenness of the happy earth, the sweetness of the flowers, the mirth, and mystic of the sunburnt children of Provence. All things should combine to add to its flavour, taste, and delicacy.
Blushful: red. Note that good wines are generally colourless. But the poet, to indulge his taste for rich colours, must have it red.
Hippocrene: Greek word for the fountain, of Horse. A fountain on Mt. Helicon in Greece, is said to have arisen, where Pegasus kicked Helicon. Its was sacred to the Muses who preside overall arts and poetry. Its waters were said to be capable of imparting poetic inspiration. Here it means stimulant of
fancy or poetic inspiration.
Beaded bubbles: bead-like bubbles.
Winking…brim: it is a graphic description of the idea of effervescence. As old, well-fermented wine is poured into a glass or beaker, bead-like bubbles rise to the brim of the glass and then burst and disappear.
Purple stained mouth: the mouth of the glass or its brim is stained purple with the frothy wine.
The poet desires for a beaker full of the wine of the fountain of Hippocrene with the bubbles I shining at the surface and even the mouth of the beaker may be stained with the purple or red colour of the wine.
Note: “The poet desired wine as a means of escape from the pain of his own thoughts and of the world”. By drinking the wine Keats hopes to be absorbed wholly in the nightingale’s song and thus be happy with the bird in the shady wood.
These lines bring out clearly one of the characteristics of Keats as a romantic poet—his sensuousness.
We have an abundance of sensuous imagery in this stanza where the poet expresses a passionate desire for some Provencal wine or wine from the fountain of muses. The original and highly expressive phrases like “blushful Hippocrene, `beaded bubbles Winking at the brim’, ’embalmed darkness’, ” are highly pleasing to the sense of sight and sense of taste. Matthew Arnold says, “Keats as a poet is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous”.
Pain and misery of life is depicted. The stanza starts with the poet’s intense longing to escape from the world of pain and misery and to become one with the bird and its happy woodland life. In the very effort to forget his own misery or melancholy, Keats remembers only too acutely, the universal tragedy of human destiny, the ills that assail life from all quarters sparing neither age nor sex nor beauty. Man suffers from boredom, disgust, and despair, from irritation and feverish excitement. Misery is widespread.
People helplessly hear each other groan. All those things which we value most—youth, beauty, and love are subject to disease and decay. A thinking person is subject to grief and trouble. Keats feels bitter that Love and Beauty,-the two things that he desired most are short-lived. The thought of it fills him with sadness.
Gloomy thoughts about human destiny are soon dismissed together with the possibility of wine as an escape from them. Soon, the vehicle of flight is no longer wine but poetic fancy or imagination. He is already with the nightingale among the branches of trees in a summer garden hidden from the light of the moon who like a fairy queen holds her court in the sky surrounded by her courtiers i.e. the stars. [Poetic imagination helps the poet to pass from the real world to the ideal world.] Although the moon is shining in majestic glory in the sky, it is only when the night breezes sway the branches and part the leaves that the gleams of moonlight somewhat lessen the darkness under the trees full of green foliage and along the zigzag moss-covered paths between them.
verdurous glooms — the green shadows of the forest.
heaven — the (moonlit) sky.
Note: Poetic fancy is a state of mental exaltation.
The poet is already with the bird in the forest in imagination. The place is dark but filled with the perfume from the flowers growing on the bushes around his feet. Though he cannot see, from the scent emanating from the flowers he can guess what flowers are at his feet or what blossoms are above his head. He can feel more than the sensory eye can see. The atmosphere is filled with the sweet fragrance of flowers. From the sweet smell, he can name several flowers and plants that bloom there. He calls the darkness ’embalmed darkness.’ He guesses that the white hawthorn, the eglantine, the violet, the wild fruit trees, the first flower of mid-summer (middle of May) the musk rose which is soon to blossom and which is full of dew and honey to which the buzzing bees are attracted by its fragrance, are around the place.
Soft incense: a delicate, soothing perfume (A reference to the sense of smell).
The seasonable month: the month which is favourable to the growth of season’s flowers (Spring).
Pastoral eglantine: a kind of wild rose which grows in country places.
Fast fading violets: short-lived violets.
musk: a substance with a very strong smell, obtained from the male musk deer and used for making perfumes.
Mid-May’s eldest child: the first flower to bloom in the middle of May.
The coming musk rose: the musk rose with the fragrance of musk which is about to bloom.
This was most probably written in early May.
Dewy wine: full of dew and honey (dewdrops in the cup of the flower are referred to as wine by the poet).
Murmurous haunt: haunted by flies or bees with a murmuring or buzzing sound.
embalmed darkness: The whole darkness of the garden has been made fragrant by the flowers of the season (darkness filled with a balmy fragrance). Embalmed is also associated with death.
Stanza V shows the delighted response to the sensuous beauty of the physical world. The poet is not describing what he actually sees around him. He tells us explicitly that there is no light for him to distinguish the flowers growing on the ground and the blossoms on the trees and hedges. He can only guess what they are from their scents.
Notice that ‘soft incense’, ’embalmed darkness’, ‘dewy wine’, ‘seasonable month’, are word pictures. Only Keats who is abundantly and enchantingly sensuous can convert incense and perfume into something virtually solid. In this stanza, we can say he has woven round scent, warmth, colour, taste, and sound into a texture of unforgettable beauty.
While listening to the song of the nightingale in the dark, the poet. feels that it would be ‘a luxurious experience’ to die at such a moment, to fade away from existence without suffering any pain at the mystic hour of midnight while listening to the rapturous and ecstatic song of the nightingale. In fact, the poet wants to perpetuate this moment of enchantment, and ecstasy. It is rich to die now for the nightingale’s song will be a funeral prayer for Keats and he will die listening to it. The nightingale would go on singing even when he is dead and can no longer hear it.
Note: By the end of this stanza human and nightingale’s worlds have been entirely separated.
Call’d…names: have addressed him by many endearing epithets.
The idea of death gradually brings him back to reality. The process starts in stanza 7 and ends in stanza 8.
The poet calls the nightingale an immortal bird. The nightingale has now been transformed into a symbol of its race and the song of the nightingale heard by countless generations over centuries is symbolised by its permanence. The poet here means that the song or voice of the nightingale carries the same freshness and music as it did in the past and it will continue to do so in future (though this particular bird will die).
Generations of nightingales follow one another, and they remain immortal in their songs, their song is as sweet and charming today as it was in ancient days, in the Bible-history or even in .fairy romance.
Immortal Bird: The epithet is justified if the nightingale is taken as the type and symbol of its race.
No hungry…down the bird is not crushed to death in a savage struggle for existence such as is waged in human society.
The song of the nightingale that the poet now hears is exactly the same song that was heard in ancient times. It is this characteristic that makes the poet give the title of immortality to the nightingale.
The bird’s song opens. the flood-gates of the poet’s memory and takes him into the far-off age of legendary romance. It is the same song that the nightingale has been pouring out since the beginning of the world, the same song which in ancient days must have been heard by king and peasant alike; the same song which Ruth heard when she stood sad and lonely in the cornfield of a strange land; the same song to hear which maidens dwelling in magic castles, must have opened their casement windows in desolate fairy lands. The magical effect of the song has been highlighted.
These castles are built on rocks of stormy seas in forlorn fairy land. The song of the nightingale must have cheered the heart of a disconsolate princess held in duress by her demon lover. this passing night: to-night.
emperor and clown: the greatest and the humblest. Clown here means common person.
the sad heart of Ruth: A reference to the story of Ruth in the Old Testament.
Ruth, a woman of Moab, was married to a Jew in Moab whose father had come from Bathelehem of Judea. After her husband died, she migrated with her mother-in-law Naomi to the distant ancestral land of Judea i.e., Bethlehem. There she began to glean corns of barley left by the reapers in the field of Boaz, a distant relation of her father-in-law. He treated her kindly and afterward married her.
The Bible story does not say that Ruth was homesick or sad, but this would be natural even if the sense of duty to her mother-in-law had led her to leave her home.
sick: pining, longing.
alien corn: foreign fields as she migrated from Moab.
The poet explains why he considers the nightingale immortal. In Romantic stories like Arabian Nights, we hear of enchanted castles in which princesses are imprisoned in magic castles and their magic windows open on the stormy waves of a wild sea; opening and shutting automatically by magic. As the nightingale passes over the enchanted castle singing its magic song, windows open of themselves to allow some imprisoned princess to hear its song.
fairylands forlorn: some far off deserted uninhabited lands of the fairies or legendary countries of romance as in the Arabian Nights.
forlorn: solitary or deserted.
“These two lines condense the whole world of romantic imagination and conjure up by their suggestion, the very world of romance. In all poetry, there is no better expression of the spirit of romance than these lines”.
We see the voice of the nightingale is made immune first to history than to geography; it can establish a rapport with dead generations of fairylands.
The mood of exaltation is over. The use or thought of the word `forlorn’ acts like a rude reminder to the poet of his own forlorn or solitary condition (Mention of the word ‘forlorn’ has broken the spell of imagination). The word has brought him back to reality. It is just like the tolling of a bell that reminds him of some forgotten work. It reminds the poet of the realities of life which he had forgotten on account of the nightingale’s song.
The poet finds that after all the powers of fancy are exaggerated. Man cannot ignore the sad realities of life even with the help of fancy or imagination. As the spell of imagination breaks, the poet feels that the bird has flown away and he bids good-bye to the nightingale. He is disappointed in man’s imaginative faculty, which is commonly believed to have great powers of making people forget themselves and their surroundings. In his case, the spell of imagination has been short-lived, he is already awake to the sad realities of life.
The poet is not sure whether he had been seeing a vision in sleep or dreaming while awake.
“Was it a vision of a waking dream? Fled is that music. Do I wake or sleep?” There is at least one clear change in the situation. He has ceased to hear the nightingale’s song. How is he to explain this?
plaintive anthem: song full of complaint. It refers to the legendary story of the nightingale. Her human name was Philomel. They were two sisters. Her elder sister married and went off with her husband. But she loved her so much that she sent back her husband to fetch Philomel. On the way, he raped her and to conceal his secret, he cut off her tongue. The gods turned her into a nightingale, and she goes about pouring out her complaint against that injustice.
Ode to a Nightingale contains the spirit of romance and it is extremely passionate and sensuous in its descriptions and expressions. The sensuousness of Keats should not be misunderstood for delight in cheap sensual pleasures. Keats’s sensuousness is, in fact, a higher conception of beauty. He presents the details with such expressions that the reader’s eyes, ears, and other senses perceive and appreciate and feel what he describes.
The descriptions of the poet’s desire for a cup of cool Provencal wine tasting of flowers, dance and sunburnt mirth and his longing for a beaker of the warm southern wine which would inspire him like the water from the fountain sacred to the muses (Hippocrene) are highly sensuous and appeal to the reader’s sense of sight, and smell. Equally pleasing to the senses is the description of the flowers and plants in the embalmed darkness of the forest and of the white hawthorn, fast fading violets, mask rose, mid-may’s eldest child, etc. These are concrete pictures which the reader can see easily with his inward eye and derive an aesthetic satisfaction.
Allied to his sensuousness is the love of nature, again an aspect of romanticism revealed in this poem. Nightingale’s song is dear to the poet. Nothing can surpass the delicate beauty of the heavenly light that falls when blown by the breezes, on the ‘verdurous glooms’ and ‘winding mossy ways’. In this ode as in several others, we find a note of sadness, in the background of the music of Nature and Art.
Melancholy is again a romantic quality. Stanza III depicts the pain and misery of life and transitoriness of the things we value most—youth, beauty, and love. Keats sees this in contrast to the happiness of the nightingale’s world.
The last three lines of the Stanza VII, “The same that oft-times hath/Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam/Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” breathe the spirit of romance. Keats’s love of the sensuous luxury of the medieval atmosphere is also visible here. It may also be noted that the poem is highly self-revealing which is again a romantic quality. With all these qualities, the poem finds a responsive echo in the hearts of the reader.
The poem is an expression of an intense personal mood of the poet, a sense of pity for himself (presented obliquely) and sympathy for humanity, and as such it possesses much human interest. It expresses a familiar mood, a desire for death, for release from this worldly life of sorrow and struggle, from fever and fret of this life into the world of the nightingale which to the poet is a world of lasting peace and happiness, of music, joy, and beauty. Thus we get a painful contrast between the world of Man and the world of the Nightingale. The world of the Nightingale appeals to the poet for it is a world of richness and beauty, of deep sensuousness and of natural loveliness.
The nightingale’s song becomes merely a peg on which to hang the varied wealth of the poet’s mind, his sense of beauty, his sense of music and his sense of sadness arising out of the transitories of human happiness and struggle of human life.
A critic says, ‘His mind is lifted out of the thought of pain by the song of the nightingale which his imagination transmutes into the immortal voice of romance vibrating with all the remembered melodies of the past. When the music is fled, his spirit turns for lonely back to earth and seems to say to us, “Life with all its contradictions, pain and pleasure, beauty and ugliness is still beautiful. It must be accepted or faced bravely.” (Mary Samuel)
The tone of the poem denies the optimistic pursuit of pleasure discovered in previous poems by Keats and investigates the themes of nature, transience, and death, the latter being Keats’s most personal.
The nightingale depicted in the poem is experiencing a kind of death but is not actually dying. Instead, the songbird is capable of living through its song, a fate that can not be expected by humans. The poem ends with an acceptance that pleasure can not last and that death is a component of life that is inevitable. Keats imagines the physical world’s defeat in the poem and considers himself dead — as a “sod” that the nightingale sings about. The contrast between the immortal nightingale and mortal man sitting in his garden is created even more intense by the imagination’s attempt. The existence of weather in the poem is visible, as spring arrived early in 1819, bringing nightingales all over the heath.
When it came to vowel forms, Keats incorporated in his ode a pattern of alternating historically “short” and “long” vowel sounds. In specific, line 18 (“And purple-stained mouth”) has a historical pattern of “short” followed by “long” followed by “short” followed by “long.” This change is continued in longer lines, including line 31 (“Away! away! for I will fly to thee”) which contains five pairs of alternations.
Other lines, however, such as row 3 (“Or emptied some dull opiate into the drains”) depend on a pattern of five “brief” vowels followed by “long” and “short” vowel pairings until a “long” vowel ends. These are not the only combination patterns present, and the patterns of two “short” vowels followed by a “long” vowel in other rows, including 12, 22, and 59, are repeated twice, followed by two “short” and “long” vowel pairs.
“Ode to a Nightingale” depicts a sequence of disputes between reality and nature-uniting romantic ideals. In Richard Fogle’s words, “The principal stress of the poem is a struggle between ideal and actual: inclusive terms which, however, contain more particular antitheses of pleasure and pain, of imagination and common sense reason, of fullness and privation, of permanence and change, of nature and the human, of art and life, freedom and bondage, waking and dream.” The nightingale within the poem is also the object of empathy and praise. The nightingale and debate of the nightingale, however, is not just about the bird or the song, but about human experience in general. This is not to say that the song is a simple metaphor, but it is a complicated picture that is created through the interaction of voices of praise and questioning in conflict.
The poem suddenly starts with the use of heavy sounding syllables (“My heart aches” line 1), as it introduces a hidden bird’s song. The narrator is immediately overcome with such a sensation that he thinks that a drug has either poisoned him or affected him. It is quickly disclosed that this feeling’s origin is the song of a nightingale. The narrator empathizes with it and discovers that his mind has been paralyzed.
The imagination world is not a place in which a person could ever reside. As the imaginary world is destroyed, this understanding causes the narrator to become disheartened. Can’t have the imaginary land for the narrator. Not only is he separated from the bird, he is generally separated from poetry and fantasy. In the final lines of the poem, the narrator mourns as he realizes that his art has left him.
Questions of Ode to Nightingale
1. To who or what is the speaker addressing in the poem?
Answer: The speaker is addressing his poem to a nightingale he hears singing in a forest.
2. In the third stanza, the speaker announces, “Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies.” What other poet presented in this anthology shares the speaker’s idea that youth and innocence dies with age and experience?
Answer: The theme of innocence and experience is most evident in the poetry of William Blake.
3. How will the poet follow the nightingale, according to the fourth stanza?
Answer: The speaker will follow the nightingale through his poetry, not through alcohol.
4. In Stanza VII, find and record an example of an allusion.
Answer: The allusion in this stanza is to the book of Ruth in the Bible.
5. How does the speaker react to the bird’s flight at the end of the poem?
Answer: The speaker, upon losing hearing of the bird’s song, questions whether he is awake or asleep.
6. How does the tone of this poem differ from the tone found in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “To A Skylark?”
Answer: Shelley’s “To A Skylark” has a positive tone that praises the beauty and power of the bird. It is filled with longing; the speaker wishes he could know what inspires the skylark to sing so wonderfully so he could be inspired also. It ends with the speaker’s request to be taught how to sing, so that he may share the song with the world.
This poem of Keats’ has a darker tone. The poem begins with the speaker describing his heartache, and a frustrated, forlorn tone continues through most stanzas. This poem ends with the speaker wishing the bird away, and then wondering whether seeing it was a dream.
A Critical Analysis of the “Ode”.
The poem consists of eight stanzas. In the first stanza, we find the speaker ‘benumbed, drained, as it were of all sensation through listening to the nightingale’s song’. Yet paradoxically he experiences pain and heartache. Then he claims to share in the bird’s song. The joy pain paradox, which he in his “Ode to Melancholy” asserts to be an essential characteristic of human existence, has a deeper meaning in the context of the “Ode to a Nightingale”. The poet’s (speaker’s) happiness in empathy with the bird is so intense and profound that it verges on pain. Their painful happiness crosses all limits so he feels exhausted and overcome by “drowsy numbness”. He is not envious of the bird’s ‘happy lot’, he can imaginatively participate in it. He also realises that his desire to join the nightingale may be eventually thwarted; he cannot avoid ‘envy’ as he longs for ‘the unearthly felicity enjoyed by the “Dryad of the trees”. The happiness is caused by ‘the momentarily shared ecstasy’, the pain is due to ‘the fore-knowledge of the ultimate frustration. Similarly, conscious cuts with pain across the drugged numbness of the opening lines before it temporarily recedes to make room for the empathetic identification with the bird’s “full-throated ease”.”
E.C. Pettet has demonstrated how the dull-half rhyming nasals of the opening quatrain, interrupted by assonance of the a in aches and pains and modulating into clean ringing long e and o sounds of trees, melodious beechen green and ‘full-throated ease” at the end of the stanza, reflect the speaker’s pain and numbness in contrast with the bird’s happiness. The Oxymoron of painful numbness and implied paradox of drugged happiness convey a peculiar state completely cut off from reality, with the poet poised for the visionary flight.
The speaker in the next stanza explicitly mentions his. the impulse to journey into the happy realm of the ‘nightingale and wine will be the vehicle. The poet’s throat wisher for a draught of vintage”, which brings into play all the five senses. First, we have ‘the complex synaesthetic imagery which conjures up the warm mirthful song and dance of Provencal in the cool taste and bubbling sound of the wine and the seductive, sensual blushing of Hippocrene. The imagery suggests that only through the life of senses one could journey into transcendence. Note the blushful Hippocrene is the fountain of the everlasting Muses and symbol of poetic inspiration. The speaker with the help of wine would like to journey the realm of the immortals—the home of the Nightingale, away from the actual world.’
In the third stanza, the speaker presents ‘the ode’s dialectic pattern by contrasting the imagined ideal world with our temporal world of human wretchedness.’ Here in this world a fatally ill youth like Torn Keats “with an exquisite love of life” falls into “a lingering state”. (Keats’s Letters I, 293) and “grows pale and spectre thin and dies”. Some critics have disparaged this stanza as “bad rhetoric” or attributed “weakness” to Keats for referring to his brother’s death. But there is. nothing ‘wrong in depicting an incident for the object Of the Ode is to present a symbolic conflict between the worlds of time and timelessness. In fact the diction, imagery, symbolism, rhyme and “the prosaic matter of fact tone” of this “completely disintoxicated and disenchanted stanza” (F.R. Leavis) dramatise the contrast between the bird’s unself-conscious harmony with the natural surrounding (“among the leaves”) and man’s awareness of transitoriness,disappointment, disease and death, which leads to his alienation from his surroundings.
The rhythmic flow of the line “what though amongst the leaves hast never known” is disrupted with the cataloging of human ills. “The weariness, the fever, the fret” (Line reminds us of Wordsworth’s “Tintern
Abbey” Lines 39-40, 52-53). Here the word obstructs the fluent flow of the rhythm and diverts our attention to the human transitoriness (“few sad, last grey hairs,” “pale and spectre thin and dies”). Why does the poet desire to fade away, to dissolve, to forget? The poet would like to fade away into the nightingale’s forest to overcome his “leaden eyed despair” his visionary flight would carry him away from suffering mankind towards Dryad’s forest dim (1-20), the magic kingdom of Queen Moon and starry fays (36-37) or easeful Death (50). All these wishes are paradoxical and futile quest for permanence and unconsciousness.
Keats from the very beginning of the Ode prepares the reader for his equivocal death-wish. We have numbness, hemlock, Letheward movement in stanza one, then the desire “to dissolve and quite forget”(line 21) and “the embalmed darkness” (43) leaf-buried “fast-fading violets” of a landscape not seen but felt a half-supernatural bower. (Stanza 5). In this stanza, the poet penetrates into the essence of things with his imaginative power and gives us a picture of transcendence as if the “happiness on Earth” experienced in the first stanza were here “repeated in a finer tone” (Keats’s letters I 185).
The poet dreams of an easeful painless transition to a higher mode of existence—the presentation of the easeful death differs from the description of the frightening palsy ridden old age, or spectre thin youth or consumptive patients in the second stanza. Death would “take into the air” the poet’s “quiet breath” while “the nightingale is pouring forth (its) soul abroad/In such an ecstasy”. Death seems ‘rich’
for the poet would die into the eternal music. Note death only seems ‘rich’. Although in line 35 the poet claims “Already with thee”, but he had never left the earth, he has perhaps been entrancingly gazing at the direction of the song for here his dull consecutively reasoning brain in a brutal truncating monosyllable tells him that in death he would “become a sod”.
The recollection of the search bound condition ending in the silence of death once again stirs the speaker to contemplate on the music of the bird, which he is still hearing and he describes the nightingale as ‘Immortal’. “Thou was not born for death, Immortal Bird”. Critics have been debating why Keats has addressed the nightingale as Immortal bird Is the nightingale immortal because “of its imperishable song” (Colvin), because it stands for its species (Lowell) because it is a Dryad (Garrod), because it symbolizes poetry (Muir) or art (Hough) or because it lacks “man’s self-consciousness” and is “in harmony with its world” (Brooks and Warren). Andrew J. Kappel finds its immortality in its “native naturalness” and its “obliviousness to transience”.
Ruth’s homesickness is not mentioned in the Bible. Many critics agree with Garrod who suggests that the idea of a homesick gleaner is derived from Wordsworth’s The Solitary Reaper. Victor J. Lams finds the influence of Milton’s nightingale on the lines. Ruth’s homesickness and alienation underline the natural feeling of estrangement one experiences in an ‘alien’ land. “Just as the nightingale’s immortality fills the void left by Keats’s recognition of his own mortality, so Ruth sick for home standing ‘in tears amid the alien corn’ mirrors the poet’s need for perfect union with the ideal other, his yearning for the nightingale’s harmony with its environment, and his estrangement from the natural world in which the unconsciousness grain achieves fulfillment by being harvested.”
By presenting fancy as “a deceiving elf’ the speaker prepares himself to accept nature’s cyclical process of death (fading violets) and birth (the coming musk rose) depicted in stanza five. The recognition of the inevitability of change, of death, does not stop his yearning for immortality. He ends the Ode with a question—was he dreaming or sleeping. In the “Ode to A Nightingale” the speaker remains baffled by the burden of the mystery and the painful gulf between eternity (immortality) and an impermanent realm in which old age wastes generations hungry for permanence and perfection. Both in “La Belle” and “the Nightingale” the protagonist is driven back from a transcendental world to sordid actuality. (adapted).
Introduction: The poem was written in the year 1798 at Stowey and printed with other poem Fear in Solitude and France: An Ode. The poem is written in a contemplative mood. The writer’s thoughts wander back to his own past or are projected forward ‘to the future of his little son, Hartley Coleridge. The stillness of the night is maintained throughout the poem and nowhere does any violence of thought disturb the quiet of the night or the harmony of the poet’s mind. The poem reflects Wordsworthian influence in the sense that it reveals his belief in Pantheism.
Frost at Midnight
Explanation and Critical Notes
Ministry– function, to do or accomplish one’s work
Presageful– Expectant or anticipation.
Stranger-The word is used for that film.
There was a superstition that whoever saw this film at night would receive a visit from a friend or a relative in the course of the next day.
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music ………………all the hot Fair day—The bells of the church used to ring throughout the day when there was a fair in the village. The sound of the bells was the only music which the poor villagers could enjoy.
Haunted-echoed in his ears.
Articulate-distinct; full of meaning.
Vexes– troubles, disturbs.
Populous– densely populated
Tufts– bunches; clusters of snowflakes
In a great city-London
Cloister dim-The dim and dark walks of school or college.
Nought– nothing; clothe-cover. Tufts-bunches; clusters of snowflakes
Sun thaw-snow melting in the sun; eves- drop-drop of rainwater;
Icicles– frozen drops of water
Falling on mine ears most like articulate sounds of things to come—The music of the bells was not without meaning. As it fell in the poet’s ears, it seemed to give him an intimation of future events. In other words, the music of church bells used to stir in him a vague sense of coming events.
But! how oft …………….. most like articulate sounds of things to come! (Lines 24-33)—When the poet was still a student at Christ’s Hospital’, he often used to look at the bars of the grate to catch sight-of that film. He had been given to understand that the sight of a fluttering film on the grate was an omen indicating the arrival of some friend or relative in the course of the following day. Therefore he used to be anxious to catch sight of the film because that would mean that some relative would come to see him at school on the following day. Whenever he gazed at the fire, he was reminded of his native place from where a relative could be expected to come. The thought of his native place brought to his mind the village church, which in its turn, reminded him of the church bells which used to ring all the day long on the occasion of a fair and the sounds of which were the only music which the poor villagers could afford to enjoy. The music of the church bells was, indeed, very sweet and thrilling to him in his childhood and it used to stir in him vague intimations of coming events.
Christ’s Hospital was the name of a charity school in London. It was also known as the Bluecoat School because its pupils wore blue coats. This school was founded by Edward VI. In this school were educated Coleridge, Charles Lamb, and Leight Hunt.
(Lines 35-44)—So gazed I, till the soothing things……………… prolonged my dreams !—The poet used to keep gazing at the grate. He would, on these occasions, think of sweet things connected with his native village. The pleasing memories of his village used to send him to sleep, and in his sleep, he would see dreams of his native place. In other words, the memories of his native place continued to visit his mind during his sleep in the form of dreams.
And so I brooded all the following morn ………………..swimming Book—throughout the next morning at school, he continued thinking of his native place and waited for the visitor and guests from there.
Interspersed– in between, intervals
Lines 1-7. The frost is performing its function invisibly. No wind is blowing to help the frost. The loud cry of the owlet is being heard at intervals. All the inmates of my cottage are asleep. I am quite awake except that my little child is sleeping peacefully in a cradle by my side. This solitude is favourable to philosophical thinking.
Lines 8-15. There is perfect silence all around. Indeed, this silence is so complete as to disturb one’s thinking. ‘Sea, hill, wood, this village with its all inhabitants and its numerous activities and occupations—these are all silent like dreams. The thin blue flame of the fire, which has burnt itself low, is quite motionless. The only active thing here is that film which has been quivering on the grate and which is still quivering there.
Lines 16-23. The movement of that film, in the midst of the complete silence all around, connects with me because I, too, am awake. There is a vague bond between me and the film because both of us are active or awake. ‘Thus the film is a sort of companion for me. In this mood of idle thinking, I interpret the irregular movements or fluttering of the film according to my own moods or whims. Thus my mind seeks everywhere a reflection of itself and. plays with ideas as one plays with a toy.
Lines 24-35. When I was a student I, often used to look at the bars of the grate because I believed that if I could see the fluttering film there, it would indicate the arrival of some friend or relative the next morning. Every time at the thought or sight of that film I used to see in my imagination my sweet native-place with its old church-tower whose bells rang from morning to evening on the hot fair-day. These church bells provided to the poor villagers the only music that they could ever hear. As for me, the sweet music of the church bells aroused a passionate joy in me and seemed to be a prophecy of future events. Thus, as a boy at schoo1, used to look fixedly at the film and imagine sweet things until I fell asleep, and in my sleep, I saw equally sweet dreams.
Lines 36-43. The next morning, on waking up, my mind would still be occupied with thoughts of home and some relative who might come to see me. Being afraid of the stern teacher, I used to keep looking at the book as I sat in the classroom, pretending to read; but my ‘mind used to be elsewhere. The words in the book used to be only dimly visible to me through my tears. Every time somebody half-opened the door of the classroom, I looked hastily, and wit1 a hopeful heart, for some visitor—a townsman, an aunt or a beloved sister, a play-mate of my younger days, when both she and I were clothed in similar garments. ‘
Lines 44-53. My dear child, sleeping in the cradle by my side! the sound of your gentle breathing is clearly audible to me in this deep silence, and it fills up the short intervals between the various thoughts that are coming into my mind. You are a lovely little child and as I look at you, my heart is filled with deep love and joy. Your education and your bringing will be of a different kind from mine. I was brought up in the great city of London in the midst of congested houses and buildings where I could see nothing beautiful except the sky and stars.
Lines 54-64. But you, my little son, will wander freely like the wind along lakes and sandy sea-shores, under the immemorial rocks and mountains, and below the clouds which in their immensity represent or symbolize the vast lakes, oceans, and mountains. In this way, you will see the beautiful objects of Nature and hear the meaningful sounds of the everlasting language of God who from the beginning of the universe has always revealed himself in all objects of Nature. Nature is the supreme teacher of mankind and will give the right shape to your character and personality, and you will be so influenced by Nature as to seek her company still more.-
Lines 65-74. (As a result of your constant contact with Nature) you will love all seasons. You will love the summer when the earth is all covered with green verdure. And you will love the winter when the red-breast sits and sings among the snow-flakes on the leafless branches of an apple-tree all overgrown with moss, while vapours are seen rising from the roof of’ a nearby cottage when the snow on it is melting in the heat of the sun; You all also love the time when rain-drops fall from the eaves and their sound is heard only in the silent intervals and pauses of the storm, and when, as a result of frost invisibly forming itself, the water-drops become frozen and are seen shining silently in the light of the silent moon.
The poem is a picture of an evening spent by the poet by his fireside on a frosty night. The first stanza builds up the atmosphere of the night when complete silence prevails, broken only by the occasional cries of the owlet. The frost is settling invisibly and there is no breeze. The poet sits alone by the side of his little son sleeping peacefully in a cradle. As he was sitting beside the fire, at the low-burnt fire, he sees a fluttering film on the ‘grill’. He feels that there is a bond of sympathy between him and that film. He interprets the movements and fluttering of the film according to his own changing thoughts and fancies. The poet is here indirectly expressing the belief that outward objects merely reflect or mirror our own thoughts and moods.
The sight of the fluttering film reminds the poet of his school-days and he becomes reminiscent. He recalls that whenever at school he saw that film on the grate, he superstitiously believed that a friend or a relative would come to see him from his native place. The thought of his native village with the bells ringing all the hot fair-day was sweet to him. He also remembers that, when he sat in the classroom pretending to study his book, he was all the time expecting some dear relative or friend to arrive. There is an element of autobiographical sense which gives us a glimpse into the school-life of Coleridge at Christ’s Hospital where he had been a student.
In the next passage, the poet addresses his son, Hartley Coleridge. He makes a plan for his baby’s future. While he was himself brought up in the suffocating atmosphere of London, he would put this baby into close contact with Nature. The baby will wander like a breeze in natural surroundings and will see the lovely objects, as well as hear the sweet sounds, of Nature. The boy will grow up under the benevolent and educative influence of Nature. He will learn a lot in the company of Nature. His believes that God reveals himself through Nature and thus God will mould the character of the baby through the medium of Nature. These lines contain the belief that is called pantheism, namely the belief that the Divine Spirit pervades all objects of Nature and that God reveals himself through Nature. These lines were written under the influence of Wordsworth.
The poem ends with striking pictures of summer and winter. The child will grow to love all seasons—whether summer covers the whole earth with green grass and green plants, or the redbreast sits on an apple-tree singing its wintry song in the midst of snow-flakes, or the drops of water falling from the roofs of cottages freeze into icicles shining quietly in the light of the quiet moon.
1. How did the poet Coleridge find the atmosphere of the poem Frost at Midnight in consonance to his mood?
Answer: 1. The contemplative mood of the poet is throughout in perfect harmony with the surroundings in which the poet is sitting. The complete silence of the atmosphere is in consonance to his contemplative mood. He interprets the movements and fluttering of
the film according to his own changing thoughts and fancies. The poet is here indirectly expressing the belief that outward objects merely reflect or mirror our own thoughts and moods.
2. What does the fluttering of the film on the grate remind the poet of?
Answer: The fluttering of the grate foretells the arrival of certain visitors.
3. Why does the poet want to up bring up his son in the company of nature? What is the name of his son?
Answer: The poet wants to bring up his son in the company of nature because of its educative and moral influence. He will learn a lot in the company of Nature. His believes that God reveals himself through Nature and thus God will mould the character of the baby through the medium of Nature. The boy will grow up under the benevolent and educative influence of Nature.
4. Discuss the mood of the poem.
Answer: The poem Frost at Midnight was written in the year 1798 at Stowey and printed with other poem Fear in Solitude and France: An Ode. The poem is written in a contemplative mood. The writer’s thoughts wander back to his own past or are projected forward ‘to the future of his little son, Hartley Coleridge. The stillness of the night is maintained throughout the poem and nowhere does any violence of thought disturb the quiet of the night or the harmony of the poet’s mind.
4. Write a critical appreciation of the poem, “Frost at Midnight”.
Answer: Please refer to the critical analysis of the poem above.
1. Discuss Frost at Midnight as an autobiographical poem.
2. What qualities of Coleridge’s poetry are to be found in Frost at Midnight?
‘Taale ta Karam’… a Kashmiri poem in free verse by Mash’al Sultanpoori… Translated from Kashmiri by Shabir Magami…
Lines/ Some straight/ Some crooked/ And some twisted/ I kept drawing on a sheet of paper/ Straight and Bent and Spiral/ Right to left and Left to right/ Horizontal and Vertical/ Here, there and everywhere/ Poorly drawn lines/ Some unfinished and some complete/ Some big and some small/ Some thin, thread-like/ Some thick like twined ropes/ Which lines mean what?/ And how many of them have meaning?/ Which mean the best and which mean the worst?/ And which are meaningless?/ Which to keep and which to erase?/ Head feels like bursting/ If I keep the straight line/ It has a crooked line entwined with it/ Lost and confused/ And thinking what to do/ Nails on the paper/ Scratching/ Applying the eraser/ Pruning and chiselling/ Erasing one and keeping another/ The sheet of paper is torn and shredded/ But the lines/ Straight and crooked/ Remain the same and are still there/
The sonnet God’s Grandeur was written by Hopkins in February 1877. This sonnet is a protest against the crass materialism of the age. Yet the poet says that everything is not lost. Till the time God continues to brood over it, there is hope for the world. God’s glory is going to burst out like the shine of the gold tinsel.
The world is full of the glory of God. This glory will burst out like the foil of gold. It gathers greatness like the oil crushed from olives. It achieves magnificent proportions after the human ego has been crushed under religious discipline. Just as oil becomes useful only when crushed out of seeds, likewise man partakes of God’s glory only after religious devotion. Then, why do people not pay attention to God’s glory? Generations of men have trodden the same path without recognizing God’s power to punish them. Everything in this world has been made ugly by crass materialism, by commercial activity, and by human toil for monetary ends. The world bears man’s smudge and smells of man’s ugliness. The fragrance of nature has been drowned in the foul smell of machinery.
Despite man’s activities leading to the destruction of the beauties of nature, it remains fresh and undestroyed. Although the sun moves to the western horizon and the earth is plunged into darkness, yet the sun will be rising again the next day. Likewise, there will be a renewal of nature. From darkness would come light; from winter, spring. In nature, there is a never drying source of freshness, which envelopes the world in spring. The Holy Ghost broods over the “bent” world and this brings forth renewed life. The Holy Ghost looks after mankind with the same protective care as a dove looks after its little ones.
Annotations of God’s Grandeur
Line 1. The world is full of the grandeur of God. Charged – filled with energy.
Line 2. This grandeur of God will shine forth like the foil made of gold. Shook foil – metal foil which is beaten to make thin foil.
Lines 3-4. the ooze of oil crushed – When olives are crushed they give oil. Likewise, the poet suggests that human ego improves under religious crushing (discipline).
Line 4. reck his rod – pay attention to the punishing power of God.
Line 5. The repetitions are effective. The poet says that unmindful of divinity, people have followed the same way.
Line 6. seared with trade – withered because of the application of the heat of trade. bleared – blinded. Smeared – covered with dust, etc.
Line 7. And wears man’s smudge – The nature wears the marks of man’s corruption and pollution. shares man’s smell – Man-dade machinery and its foul smell have corrupted nature.
Line 8. The soil is bare now – The growth of nature has been arrested. Nor can foot feel, being shod – Because man is wearing shoes he is unable to feel the softness of the soil.
Line 9. Despite everything, nature can never be exhausted. Nature will reassert itself.
Line 10. Deep down the earth the same freshness still persists.
Lines 11-12. The poet says that the sun goes down through the western horizon and the world is plunged into darkness, yet the next day also dawns. Likewise, nature also refreshes itself.
Line 13-14. The nature is renewed because of the presence of the Holy Ghost. Here Hopkins compares the Holy Ghost to a dove. Just as the dove broods over her young ones, in the like manner the Holy Ghost gives a protective covering to the earth. So the world is full of the grandeur of God.
The world is charged …. Feel, being shod.
These lines have been taken from Hopkins’ immortal poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’. This poem was composed by Hopkins in February 1877. This poem is a protest against the crass materialism of the age; yet despite man’s wantonness and greed and wastefulness, there is hope for the world, as God continues to brood over it. The poems of Hopkins written in 1877 breath with a simple rapture at the loveliness of the world as a manifestation of God, and by a confident, even triumphant mastery of rhythm, diction, and imagery.
In these lines, the poet says that the world is full of the glory and grandeur of God. And this grandeur of God bursts out like shining from a hammered foil- “like shining from shook foil”. This gathers greatness just as the oil gathers after it has been crushed out from olives. So the poet suggests that God’s grandeur gets its totality after a fruitful but painful crushing of human ego under religious discipline. Just as oil becomes useful only after it has been taken out of olives, in the like manner human ego partakes of God’s glory and grandeur only after a great deal of religious perspiration and devotion. This leads the poet to lament the fact that still, people do not pay attention to God’s power and glory. Generation after generation of men has followed the same path without minding the power of God to punish them. In this world, everything has been seared and corrupted by the dirty materialism in which man has taken part. Everything has been smeared and corrupted by commercial activity and the toil which brings worldly success or monetary gains. The nature around bears the marks of this smearing – man’s foul odour can be seen in the midst of nature. In other words, we can say that all the beauty and graces of Nature have been blurred by man’s worldly activities. The sweet fragrance of nature has been drowned in the foul smell of machinery. These ideas are reminiscent of Wordsworth who also spoke against the crass materialism of his age. In a word, Hopkins suggests that the beauty of nature has been spoiled and marred by man’s industrial activities.
Because of man’s activities, nature is becoming shorn of vegetation.
Hopkins says that man has been despoiling nature unmindful of the punishments which God can inflict on humankind. Man’s toiling feet have worn away vegetation from the surface of the earth. In term of imagery also these lines deserve special mention. The similes introduced by the poet, in the beginning, are unique. He mentions “shook foil” and “ooze of oil crushed.” These similes, to say the least, are highly suggestive. The repetition of the phrase “have trod” is very effective. It brings to our mind the poet’s opposition to the industrial civilization which is taking root everywhere.
Critical Appreciation of God’s Grandeur
‘God’s Grandeur’ was written by Hopkins in February 1877. The poem is permeated with the glory and grandeur of God. The poet begins by saying that nature has been made ugly by the industrialization of the age. Everything has become seared and corrupted :
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod ;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot fell, being shod.
Here the protest of the poet against crass materialism of the age can well be compared with the complaint of Wordsworth, who was also dissatisfied with industrialization. In the poem ‘The World is Too Much With Us’ he says :
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers :
Little we see in nature that is ours ;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
Both the poets lament the indifference of people to the beauties of nature that lies around. But while Wordsworth satisfies himself with lament only, being a Jesuit, Hopkins goes further and having full faith in the greatness and goodness of God feels certain that the grandeur of God will still shine forth, Man has tried to kill nature but it will rejuvenate itself because the spirit of the Holy Ghost lies over it :
And for all this nature is never spent :
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things :
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The poem states its meaning with severe precision and hence the development of the thought becomes slightly difficult. There is great compression in the thought elements, perhaps because the sonnet form demanded great economy. The sentence-structure demands close attention to be understood properly. For ceaseless, untiring efforts the poet uses the structure “have trod” and repeats it thrice in the same line. The Holy Ghost bending over the world and thus proving God’s grandeur connects it with the opening statement – “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”.
In many poems of Hopkins, we find a streak of pessimism lurking through the texture. But in this case, there is no pessimism. The pessimism is short-lived. The poet, being confident of the grandeur of God, is sure that “nature is never spent”. He sees natural beauty being seared, blurred and smudged by the footfall of man, but the poet never becomes despondent. He is aware of the wings of the Holy Spirit spreading over the earth so that the “dearest freshness” of nature will be revived.
The theological element of the poem is insignificant. The conviction of the poem transcends any particular doctrinal belief. And everything is bound in typical Hopkinsian language. It is very sinewy, strong, personal, and inventive. The internal rhymes in “seared” and “bleared” and “smeared” are very happy indeed. The rhymes suggest richness and plentitude. The poem comprises some very individual and very personal poetry
This poem belongs to Hopkins’ year of renewed inspiration when he wrote copiously. After the composition of ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland,’ there was an inordinate silence. But in 1877 there was a spurt of renewed inspiration and he wrote some wonderful poems expressing ecstatic wonder at the beauty of nature. And among these poems about nature, ‘God’s Grandeur’ stands supreme.
Questions and Answers
1. When was the poem ‘God’s Grandeur’ written?
Answer: February 1877
2. What kind of protest does the sonnet ‘God’s Grandeur’ express?
Answer: The poem is the protest of the poet against crass materialism.
3. Which poem of Wordsworth can be compared with Hopkins’ ‘God’s Grandeur’?
Answer: ‘The World is Too Much With Us’.
4. Why does Hopkins compare the Holy Ghost to a dove?
Answer: The Holy Ghost looks after mankind with the same protective care as a dove looks after its little one.
5. How, according to Hopkins, does human ego improve?
Answer: Through religious discipline.
6. Critically analyze Hopkins’ poem ‘God’s Grandeur’?
Answer: See the critical appreciation of the poem.
Pied Beauty is a ‘catalogue’ poem. The poet catalogues the things which change from moment to moment, from season to season; things whose function, appearance, characteristics mark them out separately and individually – the changing patterns of the sky, like the ‘brinded’ (dappled) hide of a cow; the small pink or red moles which lie like stippled (dotted) paint on a trout’s back : the contrast between the red-brown nut of the fallen chestnut and the green husk which encloses it, a contrast which he likens to the glowing flame which is revealed by breaking open a lit coal, the varied browns, and yellows of finches’ wings; the patchwork of landscapes, changing according to time and space from the green of the fold where animals are pastured, to dull fawn-brown of land left fallow, and the rich deep brown of fields newly ploughed; all the ‘gear, tackle and trim’ of man’s different jobs-the fisherman’s nets, floats and lines, the mechanic’s spanner, wrench and grease-gun and so on.
Then, moving from particulars, the poet lists the contrasts and antithesis of life which create instress and inscape- all things set in opposition, all things which strike one with a shock of newness, all things whose function is individual and economical. All these things whose nature is ‘freckled’ with opposites in union are products of God. Yet God himself is ‘past’ (or ‘above’) change; He who creates is not the same as His creations; they are the ‘signs’ of his powers of invention, of individuation. These things ‘praise him’, but the final words are really an imperative, addressed to man – ‘Praise Him; it is your duty and should be your delight to do so’. The poem is denotative in its method, indicating specific examples of God’s variousness.
As is evidenced in ‘Pied Beauty’, Hopkins’s nature poetry is descriptive but one finds no long passages of pure descriptions. His effort is to inscape objects with the art of concentration, activity and individuating. Needless to say, the result is ‘instress’ both by the poet and the reader. In his painting of nature, there is the Keatsian sensuousness evident everywhere. He prefers the concentrated thrust of compounds like ‘fresh-fire coal-chestnut-falls’ and dispenses with prepositions and articles which as elsewhere, show his violence to syntax. Excessive use of alliteration coupled with this concentration results in verbal inscape. On the whole, the poem itself becomes an ‘inscape’ of delicate variety and pattern.
The deep sympathy of Hopkins with the thirteenth-century Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus was responsible for the lovely, carefree poems of praise such as ‘Pied Beauty’, ‘God’s Grandeur’, ‘The Windhover’ and ‘Hurrahing in Harvest’. The influence of the teachings of Ignatius Loyola and the two phases – his Keatsian sensuousness and Hellenic intellectualism – before he became a Jesuit priest, resulting in his sacramental view of nature, all go to make the poem characteristically Hopkinsian in form, theme and poetic art. The priest who was a poet demonstrated through the poem that as a poet he was deeply convinced of God’s presence and being in everything, while the poet, as man was also aware of sensuous beauty in everything.
Pied Beauty Meanings
Pied: parti-coloured or multi-coloured.
Lines 1-2. Both the cow and the sky, one animate and the other inanimate, bear witness to God’s artistic power.
Dappled – brinded – marked with spots or streaks,
Couple-colour- two colour combination.
Brinded – early form of ‘brindled’; streaked.
Line 3. Stipple – dots of paint. The poet touches upon God’s handiwork in sky, land and in the water. Trout – a kind of fish.
Line 4. Fresh-fire coal etc – coloured husks that fall from the chestnut tree. Finch – a kind of bird – multi – coloured wings of these birds.
Gear tackle and trim – occupational implements which reveal the glory of God.
Line 7. Counter – opposite. Line 8. Freckled – coloured with.
Line 9. Things counter to each other.
Line 10. Fathers-forth – Hopkinsian word. God creates and puts it forth. God is a repository of beauty which does not change.
Whose beauty is past change – God’s beauty is not subject to change; it has neither past nor future; it does not pass or change; it is eternal in comparison to the transient beauty of nature.
Glory be to God…. Tackle and trim.
These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was a Victorian poet but his fame was posthumous. He was almost unknown to all except a few friends, especially Robert Bridges. It was Bridges who put him before the reading public. Today he is considered to be the greatest influence on modern poetry. ‘Pied Beauty’ is a curtal sonnet, that is, a sonnet which has less than fourteen lines. It has ten and a half lines in all. Hopkins wrote only two curtal sonnets, the other being ‘Peace’.
Here the main qualities of a sonnet are retained but in a circumscribed manner.
The theme of the poem is the praise and glorification of God for creating various multicoloured, multi-shaped and multi-natured things in this world. He begins the poem by this praise. He says “Glory be to God for dappled things”. The poet catalogues the various things which change from moment to moment, from season to season. He praises the sky which is many-coloured and compares it with a “brinded” cow. He also praises God for creating the fish with black-spots on their rose-coloured skin. And he also praises God for the fallen chestnuts and the green core which encloses it. Hopkins is all praise for God for the patchwork of landscapes, changing according to time and space.
The poet praises God for creating all fish and fowl, men and animals. It is from God that all animate and inanimate objects take life. Hopkins gives a catalogue of all the things created by God for which praise be His. Beginning with praise, the poem builds up through a description of a variety of beautiful things which either are pied or contain opposites of various kinds – colour, taste, speed, brightness- to an assertion of the Creator of them, whose ability to comprehend the paradoxes within his unity aptly demand praise.
Critical Appreciation of Pied Beauty
‘Pied Beauty’ is a dazzling creation of Hopkins. It is a ‘curtal sonnet’ a sonnet curtailed in length. Instead of having the traditional fourteen lines, it consists of ten and a half lines. Hopkins used this curtal form only in two of his poems, in the present poem and in ‘Peace’. The curtal form was an original invention of Hopkins. Still, the poet is able to retain all the essential character- ristics of a sonnet- it has an octave and a sestet. The Octave consists of the first six lines while the last four and a half lines form the sestet. The metre of this poem is ‘sprung paeonic.’ A paeonic foot has one stressed and three unstressed syllables.
The religious fervour of the poems is extremely remarkable. According to Norman H. Mackenzie, “Hopkins praises God for brindled cows and the blacksmith’s anvil as well as for the so-called poetic objects around him. He whose beauty is past change is recognized as fathering forth the slow and the sour, the shade as well as the light, pleasant little echoes ripple and lap through the poem – dappled, couple, stipple, tackle, fickle, freckled, adazzle.
Even though it is unwise and hard to categorize a poet’s works, the poems of Hopkins can be divided into two categories: the poems written between 1876 and 1879 as nature poems expressing joy, positive faith and mystical perception and those written between 1879 and 1885 as poems on man trying to adjust himself to a difficult world. But whether a poet of nature or of man God was always supreme in the mind of Hopkins.
Hopkins had great admiration for Wordsworth. But Wordsworth was a pantheist; Hopkins, a true Catholic. So God is apart from Nature to Hopkins God is an artist, the Master-creator of beauty, for Hopkins. And the beauty of created things is a message from God, that behind ‘Pied Beauty’, varied and shifting, is the creator, changeless, eternal, One. The poem expresses the poets’ joyous wonder at the beauty of the work, of joy enhanced because creation is seen sacramentally and because he himself is using beauty to praise his Maker. The beauty of created things, including the beauty of Nature, is not permanent, but only by knowing transient beauty in the many, can the heart grasp the ‘Immutable Beauty’ of God. God is Beauty is itself. So praise Him; let it be your duty and your delight.
Hopkins uses the technique of enumeration in the poem. He is a poet of particulars, here. He catalogues things which change form moment to moment, from season to season : the changing patterns of the sky, the contrast between the rich, red-brown nut of the fallen chestnut and the green husk or case which encloses it ; the patchwork of landscape changing according to time and place; the green pasture-land, the dull fawn-brown fallow lands, the deep brown ploughed lands ; the different implements of artisans and workmen; he catalogues them all. Then he generalizes, contrasting the antithesis of life, things set in opposition. All these things are products of God. Yet, God, Himself is ‘past’ or above change. He creates, but He is not the same as His creations. These things praise Him; are meant to praise Him.
In his Nature poetry, Hopkins betrayed as complete and unashamed a sensuousness as Keates himself. He fuses a Keatsian immediacy of sense perception with the spiritual tranquility of Wordsworth and his sublime healing power. ‘Pied Beauty’ shows how alert and alive, his sensuous faculties were. The poet is ‘adazzled ‘ by different colours in Nature; his physical feelings are stirred by thought of earthly occupation: he is aware of the sweet-sour tastes of life. As for the power of concentration shown by the poet the original poem has to be placed by the side of a paraphrase to understand the poet’s ‘nutty’ style. The compound words, like ‘Fresh fire coal, Chestnut-falls, are full of force and meaning. At the same time, the poem is a good example of the violence to syntax and grammar.
To understand what ‘Inscape’ was to Hopkins, one need read-only ‘Pied Beauty’. The poem is full of image to give an idea of the variety and ‘dapple’ of the world, giving experiences of inscape in nature. For ‘Cynghanedd’, the Welsh art of making intricated and beautiful patterns of speech sound which Hopkins turned to good use in his poems, lines like with swift, slow, sweet sour addazle, dim are good examples. This is the art of alliteration by which language inescaped.
Like Milton who rose to greatness by writing poetry to vindicate the ways of God to men’, Hopkins, by nature a dreamer and a sensualist, only raises himself to greatness by writing poetry for ‘great causes as liberty and religion’. In doing this, he had to sublimate his poetic power. In a poem like ‘Pied Beauty,’ we see how he did it. There is sensualism in the poem; there is no asceticism. It is a tribute to God’s glory, as all poetry must be; but they are tributes of the senses.
(a) Answer the following questions in about 20 words each:-
1. What is a curtal sonnet?
Answer: A curtal sonnet is a sonnet curtailed in length. It contains ten and a half lines.
2. Who is the English poet associated with the curtal sonnet?
Answer: Hopkins is associated with the curtal sonnet.
3. What, according to Hopkins, is our duty?
Answer:: Our duty is to praise the Master – the creator who created the things of variegated beauty for us.
4. Name the ‘catalogue’ poem prescribed for your study?
Answer: ‘Pied Beauty’
5. Why is the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ called a catalogue poem?
Answer: Hopkins uses the technique of enumeration in ‘Pied Beauty’ and catalogue things which change from moment to moment, from season to season.
6. Name the Franciscan philosopher who had a great influence on Hopkins?
Answer: Duns Scotus.
(b) Answer the following questions in about 500 words each.
The poet is not at all afraid of the physical troubles that come at the time of death. Though he may feel suffocation (fog) in his throat, a heaviness in his vision and a cold numbness creeping over his body, all showing that death is very near, yet he is not at all afraid of death. These symptoms of death cannot unnerve him. He may find it difficult to breathe and hard to see because of his blurred vision, yet it is his duty as a strong man to go forward and face with fortitude and courage the severities and pains at the time of death.
During the course of our lives, we engaged in various kinds of activities and have achieved various kinds of honours and distinctions. We choose difficult adventures and take pleasure in overcoming them. There we prove the unconquerable nature of our spirit. But all the honours and glories which we acquire in life are only an introduction to our last fight with death. Like competitors in a race who are awarded prizes at the end of the struggle, the rewards that await, come to us only after death has been overcome.
The poet says that death cannot treat him as a coward. He does not want any mercy at the hands of death. He will face death like a bold man and not like a coward.
The poet says that throughout his life he has struggled with the numerous odds and difficulties of life. He has been a fighter in his life. He will gladly fight the last battle of his life with death. This battle against death would be the final battle of his life. It will also be the best battle because soon after death he will reach the kingdom of God and meet his beloved wife.
Earthly life is completed by our going to Heaven where all the “broken arcs” are made into ‘perfect rounds’ The same idea is conveyed here in these lines in a somewhat different way. Browning says that even the heroes of antiquity had to face death and fight it bravely. We ordinary people should derive inspiration from them and be prepared to meet death bravely and cheerfully like them. If we do so, we can overcome it in one minute. It is like our first plunge into the cold of death water which is painful. Thereafter it is pleasant to be in the water.
Also, death squares up all human accounts.
Death appears to be frightening only when we are afraid of it. As a matter of fact, even the worst moment of death becomes enjoyable and appears to be the best for those who have got courage in them. After all, through death, we pass into another life and pass into Heaven if we are brave. Shortly before death, one feels as if a storm were blowing, it were raining and in the mind of the man about to die it appears as if demons were standing ready to take him to hell. But all this disturbance of the mind and heart gradually decreases. One feels a peace pervading through his entire personality. This peace then gives place to the feelings of joy. Then the dying man sees a light, the light of God and ultimately with the help of this light he is united with the one he loves.
Critical Analysis of Prospice
The poem ‘Prospice’ first appeared in Dramatist Personace in 1864. His wife had died in 1861. The poem is a tribute to her memory. It has been regarded as one of the most inspiring and original poems on the subject of death.
‘Prospice is a Latin word. It means ‘to look forward’. It is an apt title for the poem. In this poem, it is confident that he will conquer death. He ‘looks forward’ joyfully to his reunion with his wife.
The poet compares the experience of climbing up a lofty mountain. A mountain climber has to face fog, mist snowstorms, etc. during his ascent. Like the climber, a man in this world has also to face physical and spiritual sufferings when he approaches death. To face death is the final battle of a man’s life in this world. And the man who puts up a heroic fight is fully rewarded for his bravery.
Throughout his life, the poet has been a fighter. Therefore he is determined to fight Death also bravely. He does not want any mercy or leniency from Death. He does not want to die in a state of unconsciousness like some persons who die in a state of coma during their illness. These people fear Death. In a state of coma, they are sweetly unaware of what is happening to them. The poet would like to be in a state of perfect awareness when death comes to him. He wants to taste all the pain and suffering which Death brings with it. He is ready to meet in Death all the pain and suffering which he has escaped in life through some happy chance. In other words, he is ready to face any amount of suffering at the time of his death. He thinks that in this way he will be able to pay off all his arrears of life.
The poet is a brave man. He is an optimist. He knows that the worst will soon be over. All the pain, all the agony, all the torture will come to an end in no time. Within a very short time, he will find all his suffering vanished. He will be reunited with his beloved wife who is waiting for him in heaven.
Theme of Prospice
The poet looks forward to a battle with death. He expresses a heroic attitude towards death which is man’s arch-enemy, and he flings a challenge at it. This is justly regarded as one of the most original poems in English on the subject of death. The poem is perfectly characteristic of Browning’s philosophy. He is not in the least afraid of death. He would like to experience all the pain and suffering of death. He does not wish to die in a state of coma or unconsciousness because that would mean creeping past death in a cowardly manner.
On the contrary, he wants to taste all the grim horror of death. He would hear the raving of the fiend-voices and be in the very thick of fight. In all references to death in his poetry, Browning shows the same confident faith in the future. Death does not mean for him the close of life; it means the beginning of a new life. He believes in God and in heaven. He has a Christian philosophy of life which finds a brief but unambiguous expression in the lines in which he says that he will be reunited with his wife who is waiting for him in heaven. According to Robert Browning, death is only one stage in the unbroken, immoral life of the soul. Browning was a firm believer in God, in the immortality of the soul and in heaven.
In this poem, we find Browning’s philosophy that love endures even after death and that we must be hoping to meet our loved ones after death in the Kingdom of God. Browning’s poems on death possess the same note of confidence and love for the person concerned and the creator of this world. It is the love and faith in the immortality of love, which enables the poet to believe in life after death and reunion with his dead wife in the Kingdom of God.
In Browning’s other poems related to God and death, even his knaves and rogues have faith in God and rely upon His perfection and mercy. They are in direct contact and are sure of the ultimate union with the Absolute. Sympathetic communion between Man and God is possible because in addition to His attributes of power and knowledge he has the highest attribute of love. It is love which kindles and exacts both knowledge and power and as love is common both to God and man. It is love which harmonizes and unites all living beings.
The language of the poem is very simple, while the sentiments contained are universal and appeal to all. He reasserts his faith in God and not only forgets his sorrows but looks forward to meeting his wife in Heaven.
Questions and Answers
Answer the following questions in your own words. (Word limit 200-250 words)
(i) Comment on imagery in Browning’s poetry.
Answer: The poem titled Prospice is organized around the image of a journey undertaken by a knight in search of a guerdon-a reward-who has met many opponents on the way and is now about to meet the last one the Arch Enemy. But this enemy may choose not to fight. The end may be painless. He may be allowed to pass without a battle. That would be a disappointment. Therefore the next line begins with ‘No, let me.’
(ii) Write a note on the pictorial quality of Browning. Answer: Browning’s pictorial quality is clearly indicated in Prospice. He compares the experience of meeting death with the experience of climbing up a high mountain with all the dangers and hazards of the upward journey. The hardships of the ascent are vividly pictured in the following lines :
“to feel the fog in my throat,”
“The mist in my face,”
“When the snows begin and the blasts denote”
“I am nearing the place,”
“The power of the night, the press of the storm”
(iii) Write about the poet’s faith in God’s love and mercy.
Answer: Robert Browning was the poet of soul and in his poems, he has attempted to see the soul of man as created by God. He has firm faith in God, and immortality of the soul. The body may die but the soul lives on in the infinite. It has an afterlife or lives. It has experienced not only in the world and this life but also in countless lives to come. The world is beautiful for God created it out of the fullness of His Love. Life in this world is worth living. For both life and the world are the expressions of Divine Love.
(iv) Describe Browning’s optimism.
Answer: Browning is a cheerful optimist. Optimism is at the very core of his teaching and his view of human life. Contrary to the views of some critics, his optimism is not blind. He does not shut his eyes to the suffering and evil that is prevalent in life. His optimism is founded on the Mercy of God and the realities of life.
(v) Write a note on Browning’s style. Answer: In form, the poem is a monologue in which the poet is speaking in his own person. The style of the poem is simple. It does not suffer from Browning’s usual defects of style. There is no obscurity about it and it is easily comprehensible. It also shows Browning’s genius for consideration. He says, many of the words in the first few lines have an explosive or a near-explosive sound (technically beginning with letters classified as Plosives, Fricatives, and Affricates): power, press, place, post, death, blast, fear, fog, etc. The effect is a noticeable difficulty in reading corresponding to the sense which too speaks of the difficulty of breathing experienced by a man climbing a mountain or by a man gasping for breath in the last hours It also expresses the determination to face the difficulty with courage. The last lines are similarly noticeable for the frequency of the liquid l, m, n and the soft ‘s’ sounds : ‘dwindle’, ‘blend’, ‘elements’, ‘minutes’, ‘end’, ‘breast’, ‘soul’, ‘clasp’, ‘rest’, ‘peace’, the repeated ‘shall’ etc. and as a result the lines flow smoothly to the ecstasy. ‘Thou soul of my soul I shall clasp thee again whispered with the repeated ‘s’ sound.
Let Us Sum Up
In this unit, you have acquired knowledge about the poet and his poetry. Now you practice to:
understand trends and main features of the Victorian Age, know about life and works of Robert Browning, understand the poetry of Browning, know and understand various literary techniques used by Browning, critically analyse the poems of Browning, and answer the questions based on your text.
1. Comment on the style and Optimism of Browning’s poetry with suitable examples.
2. What philosophy of Browning is expressed in the poem ‘Prospice’? Explain in detail.
Fear death: the poet asks this question which implies a negative answer
Feel the fog in my throat: feeling of suffocation in the throat at the time of death
mist in my face: the blurred vision at the time of death
snows begin: when the winter season begins; when the body begins to become cold as death approaches
blasts: stormy weather; to face difficulty in breathing at the time of death
denotes : informs
the place: refers to death
power of the night: increase of invisibility
press of the storm: increase of difficulty in breathing
the post: the place where death is waiting
foe: the death, the enemy of life
he : the death
Arch fear: the fear of death
visible form: death becomes visible in the shape of the dying man
strong man: a healthy man
must go: must die
journey: the life span
done : completed
summit attained: the final point of life is reached
barriers: difficulties of life
fall: come to an end
battle: the struggle of life
ere : before
guerdon: reward, place in the kingdom of God
ever a fighter: a brave person in life
one fight more: the final fight with death
hate : dislike
bandaged my eyes: closed his eyes
forbore: prevented from moving about
bade : ordered
creep past: go away
taste: to bear sufferings
heroes: great men
bear: to sustain
brunt: fury of death
in a minute pay: life ends suddenly
arrears: miseries of life
element’s rage: difficulties faced by a person
worst turns the best: a strong person dies
friend voices: voices of devils of death
rare : cry
blend: loose intensity of life
light: the light of Heaven
breast : wife
soul of my soul: refers to his wife, E.B. Browning