John Keats (1795

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John Keats
(1795-1821)
John Keats
– Biographical Information 
“John Keats was an English poet
who became one of the key poets
of the English Romantic
movement during the early
nineteenth century.”
(<www.wikipedia.org> accessed on 02/06/09)

“In his brief creative career,
brought to an end at twenty-five
by his death from tuberculosis,
Keats produced some of the
greatest and most enduring
poems of the English language.”
(York Notes Advanced)
Keats as a Prototype

Keats is considered as the original prototype of
the tragic, idealised artist who lives a short life
and leaves behind a substantial and influential
body of creative work.
ACTIVITY 1:
Pop-culture is full of these tragic geniuses, make a
list of at least five of these figures drawn from
the diverse worlds of music, art and literature.
Central Ideas in Keats's Poetry
INFLUENTIAL EVENTS

“Before he turned fifteen Keats has lost his parents, an
infant brother, an uncle and his grandfather. His
apprenticeship with a surgeon and his training at Guy’s
Hospital exposed him to every kind of human suffering.
He nursed his brother Tom until he died of tuberculosis,
so was well aware of the implications of its symptoms
that he himself experienced in the following four years
which preceded his early death”.
(Byron, p. 67)
Central Ideas in Keats's Poetry
PERMANENCE & MUTABILITY (TIME)

Therefore it is not surprising that Keats was concerned
with the paradox of permanence and mutability*.
(mutability* – subject to change)

At the centre of his vision “is the paradox that an
awareness of mortality increases one’s sense of beauty.
Mortal life becomes more valued the more one
experiences its fragility and transience.” (Byron, p. 67-8)
Central Ideas in Keats's Poetry
IMAGINATION & TRANSCENDENCE
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His concerns with permanence and mutability are also
inter-linked with his vision of the imagination.
Keats sees “[t]he imagination providing a link between
the real and the ideal. It allows us to transcend our
‘mortal bars’, to have a transcendent vision of the joys of
immortal existence.” (Byron, p. 68)
Reading Keats's Sonnets
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled Books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of Chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to Nothingness do sink.
‘Bright Star’
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death -
Reading Keats's Sonnets
ACTIVITY 2:
1.
What key ideas to do
you see as being
shared between
these two sonnets?
Find quotations to
support your point of
view.
2.
Now, carefully
annotate each poem
using the 10 Step
Analysis Grid as a
source of direction.
Have you considered these
techniques as you read
Keats’s sonnets?

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Subject Matter
Key Ideas (purpose)
Tone (emotion/ mood)
Techniques
Structure
Sensory Appeal
Language
Imagery
Rhythm (movement)
Sounds
The Sonnet Form



“A poem of 14 lines. Two earliest forms of the sonnet
are the Petrachan and the Elizabethan (as used by
Shakespeare and Donne)….Many sonnets have a volta
(or turn of thought) at the end of line 8. Some, for
example, the Elizabethans, have a rhyming couplet at
the end”. (Page, p. 334)
Keats’s sonnets are usually structured into 3 quatrains
(of four lines each) followed by rhyming couplet.
The rhyme scheme of such a sonnet is abab, cdcd, efef
for the three quatrains and then gg for the final couplet.
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled Books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of Chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
SUBJECT: The poet
is expressing his
fears that death will
deny him fulfilment.
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
- Quatrain 1 SUBJECT: Keats instantly
announces his concerns with the
transient nature of his own life.
He fears that he may die before
he has written all the poems he
wants too.
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled Books, in charact’ry*,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
IMAGERY: Keats employs the
imagery of farming corn to describe
the act of writing. He is comparing it
to reaping a rich harvest.
charact’ry* - writing
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
- Quatrain 2 REPETITION: Throughout the
poem, the words “When” and
“And” are repeated in the
quatrains linking each section
of the poem and giving the
sonnet a sense of continuity.
SUBJECT: In the second
quatrain, Keats expands upon
these fears with a specific
reference that he may never
trace all the “high romance”
he sees symbolised in the
heavens.
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of Chance;
STRUCTURE: Keats’s use of the sonnet structure is very
traditional in this poem. Each line is clearly end-stopped as it
coincides with the end of an idea or clause.
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
- Quatrain 3 SUBJECT: In the third quatrain he
addresses a woman whom he met in a brief
encounter to consider what he may also be
prevented from ever experiencing love.
TONE: is light.
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! — then on the shore
REPETITION: of “And” clearly links
this quatrain to the one before.
IMAGERY: helps to create the
final central image, and leads into
the couplet.
‘When I have fears that I may cease to be’
Final Rhyming Couplet
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
SUBJECT: “The
poet presents an
image of himself
standing alone on the
shore of the wide
world with a all
personal ambitions
and concerns erased
from his mind by the
immensity of what he
contemplates.”
(Byron, p. 18)
TONE: of these last
two lines is much
heavier then the
lightness suggested by
the “faery creature”
earlier on.
KEY IDEAS: Keats is
questioning the
permanency of his
own existence and
whether his death will
deny him fulfilment.
‘Bright Star’
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This is a less conventional sonnet
then ‘When I have fears that I may
cease to be’
Keats is addressing a star as a
symbol of the permanence he
desires.
This sonnet is traditionally associated
with Fanny Brawne, the great love of
Keats’s life, who he was never able
to marry due to his poor health.
The sonnet is a extended sentence
with a difficult syntax in which Keats
explores the tension between the
cold, permanent star and his
mutable, but warm love.
Fanny Brawne
‘Bright Star’
Octave (set of eight lines)
This technique is called an APOSTROPHE (a
figure of speech) in which a poet addresses an
absent or inanimate sprit or force – in this
case, a star.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors -
STRUCTURE/
IMAGERY: The octave
focuses on the image of
a bright star that is
traditionally a symbol
of permanence. The
poet envies the star and
its “steadfastness”.
However the star is
portrayed as a cold,
remote observer of the
“earth’s human
shores”. The words
highlighted in pink help
create this impression.
STRUCTURE/ SUBJECT: The
beginning of this sestet in the second
half of the sonnet is a classic VOLTA
(turn of thought). Keats signals this
change through the choice of ‘No’.
Keats is rejecting the permanency of the
cold, aloof star for his “fair love”.
‘Bright Star’
Sestet (set of six lines)
REPETITION: of “still” links
the beginning of the sestet with
final rhyming couplet.
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
SOUND/ TONE:
The alliteration
and assonance of
this lines adds to
the tone of
tenderness.
And so live ever—or else swoon to death KEY IDEAS: In this final sestet, the paradox of the
permanent, beautiful star compared to the transient,
living beauty of his fair love is exposed. For the poet to
continue experiencing his love he must be “awake for
ever in sweet unrest…or else swoon to death” and
permanency.
This RHYMING COUPLET
is particularly effective due
to the striking contrast
between “breath” and
“death”.
REFERENCES
Page, Geoff. 80 Great Poems: From Chaucer to
Now. UNSW Press, 2006.
Byron, Glennis. John Keats – Selected Poems.
(York Notes Advanced), CUP, 2006

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