Poetic Depth (1)
Melancholy is not just a mood associated with sad objects; in this poem, it is the half-hidden cruel logic of human desire and fulfillment. In our temporal condition the most intense pleasure shades off into emptiness and the pain of loss, fulfillment even appearing more intense as it is more ephemeral.
His maturing irony had developed into a re-evaluation and meditative probing of his earlier concerns, the relation of art and the work of imagination to concrete experience. But the odes also show supreme formal mastery: Keats considered giving poetry a last try, but returned all the books he had borrowed and thought of becoming a surgeon, perhaps on a ship.
Keats was ill this summer with a sore throat, and it is likely that the early stages of tuberculosis were beginning. His letters to Fanny Brawne became jealous, even tormented. But throughout the summer he wrote with furious concentration, working on his rather bad verse tragedy Otho the Great , which Brown had concocted as a scheme to earn money, and completing Lamia , his last full-length poem.
A young man, Lycius, falls in love with a beautiful witch, Lamia, who is presented with real sympathy. She leads Lycius away from his public duties into an enchanted castle of love. But at their marriage banquet Lamia withers and dies under the cold stare of the rationalist philosopher Apollonius, who sees through her illusion, and Lycius, too, dies as his dream is shattered.
The issues, of course, recall The Eve of St. To many readers, it has seemed that these unresolvable ironies imply a bitterness about love and desire. It is clear, though, that Keats sought to present his story without sentimentality or the lush beauty of romance. Yet Keats was striving for some sense of resolution in these months, as autumn approached. He turned back to Hyperion with the thought of justifying the life of the poet as both self-conscious and imaginative, committed to the real, public sphere even while his imagination soothes the world with its dreams.
This strange, troubling, visionary fragment, The Fall of Hyperion unpublished until , is his most ambitious attempt to understand the meaning of imaginative aspiration. It is a broad Dantesque vision, in which the poet himself is led by Moneta, goddess of knowledge, to the painful birth into awareness of suffering that had deified the poet-god Apollo in the earlier version.
Written 19 September , at Winchester, where he and Brown had moved in August, it was inspired by a walk in the chill, crisp countryside: Notably, the speaker here never appears as a subject, except implicitly as a calming presence, asking questions but allowing the sights, sounds, and activities of the season itself to answer them. The richness of sound creates an intensity of ripeness: But the intensity here, unlike that of Ode to Melancholy , does not end in extinction and painful memory.
Such subjectivity is avoided; the season is mythologized and imagined as herself a part of the rhythms of the year. The final stanza momentarily recalls the feeling of loss: Ay, where are they? In the last lines, the present-tense verbs give a sense of an intense present that gathers up the past and is impelled toward the future: He lived to see his new volume, which included the odes, published as Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St.
Agnes, and Other Poems in early July The praise from Hunt, Shelley, Lamb, and their circle was enthusiastic. In August, Frances Jeffrey, influential editor of the Edinburgh Review , wrote a serious and thoughtful review, praising not just the new poems but also Endymion. The volume sold slowly but steadily and increasingly in the next months.
His odes were republished in literary magazines. But by summer , Keats was too ill to be much encouraged. In the winter of he nearly decided to give up poetry and write for some London review. He was often confused and depressed, worried about money, often desperate with the pain of being unable to marry Fanny Brawne, to whom he became openly engaged about October. Dilke, Brown, and visitors to Wentworth Place became concerned for his health and his state of mind: But Keats continued to prepare his poems for publication, and to work on The Fall of Hyperion and a new satiric drama, The Jealousies first published as The Cap and Bells , never completed.
Then, in February , came the lung hemorrhage that convinced him he was dying. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible. Despite some remissions in the spring, he continued to hemorrhage in June and July. His friends were shaken, but in those days there was no certain way to diagnose tuberculosis or to gauge its severity, and there were hopes for his recovery. In the early summer he lived alone in Kentish Town Brown had rented out Wentworth Place , where the Hunts, nearby, could look in on him. But living alone, fearful and restless, trying to separate himself from Fanny Brawne because of the pain thoughts of her caused him, he became more ill and agitated.
The Hunts took him in, as they had years before at the beginning. But he was taken in, desperately ill, by Fanny and Mrs. Brawne, and he spent his last month in England being nursed in their home. He was advised to spend the winter in Italy. He declined, but hoped to meet Shelley after a stay in Rome. Keats left for Rome in November , accompanied by Joseph Severn, the devoted young painter who, alone in a strange country, nursed Keats and managed his affairs daily until his death.
They took pleasant rooms on the Piazza di Spagna, and for a while Keats took walks and rode out on a small horse. In his last weeks he suffered terribly and hoped for the peace of death. He was in too much pain to look at letters, especially from Fanny Brawne, believing that frustrated love contributed to his ill health. He asked Severn to bury her letters with him it is not clear he did. Yet he thought always of his friends and brothers. I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow.
His last words were to comfort Severn: Brown, Severn, Clarke, Reynolds, and others all contributed to his Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats , which, whatever its flaws as a reliable scholarly biography, was widely read and respected. Keats brought out the warmest feelings in those who knew him, and that included people with a remarkable range of characters, beliefs, and tastes. One can say without sentimentality or exaggeration that no one who ever met Keats did not admire him, and none ever said a bad—or even unkind—word of him.
His close friends, such as Brown, Clarke, and Severn, remained passionately devoted to his memory all their lives. The urgency of this poetry has always appeared greater to his readers for his intense love of beauty and his tragically short life. Keats approached the relations among experience, imagination, art, and illusion with penetrating thoughtfulness, with neither sentimentality nor cynicism but with a delight in the ways in which beauty, in its own subtle and often surprising ways, reveals the truth.
The greatest collection of Keats letters, manuscripts, and related papers is in the Houghton Library, Harvard. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton. Poems by John Keats. More About this Poet. The Eve of St. La Belle Dame sans Merci: Lines on the Mermaid Tavern.
Ode on a Grecian Urn. Ode to a Nightingale. On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. On Seeing the Elgin Marbles. On the Grasshopper and Cricket. Poems to read as the leaves change and the weather gets colder. Poems to integrate into your English Language Arts classroom. Thanksgiving poems for family and friends. Spooky, scary, and fun poems that will make your hair curl. Classic and contemporary love poems to share. Stephanie Burt on girlhood, Twitter, and the pleasure of proper nouns. From Poetry Off the Shelf August Did the young poetic genius know his history?
Who cares if he didn't? Keats and King Lear. For the poet, Sundays were not for church, but for Shakespeare. The Romantics fused poetry and science. Is there any hope for a revival?
The Study of Poetry by Matthew Arnold | Poetry Foundation
Adept across genres, Johnson made a lasting contribution to poetry. From Poem of the Day September A poet uses a punctuation mark to plot a crime. From Poem of the Day April John Keats read by Michael Stuhlbarg. It is old school custom to pretend to be sad. The species-truth of the matter is we are glad. Mixed Feelings in the January Poetry.
From Poem of the Day June A Poetic Romance London: Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems London: Moxon, ; Philadelphia, Putnam, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Harvard University Press, Letters of John Keats: Oxford University Press, A Bibliography and Reference Guide Toronto: University of Toronto Press, A Bibliography, July 1, June 30, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, A Bibliography, July 1, December 31, Lincoln: David Erdman, The Romantic Movement: Sidney Colvin, John Keats: His Life and Poetry Aileen Ward, John Keats: The Making of a Poet New York: Harvard University Press, ; revised edition, New York: Oxford University Press, ; revised again, Cambridge, Mass.: Here also we overrate the object of our interest, and apply to it a language of praise which is quite exaggerated.
And thus we get the source of a second fallacy in our poetic judgments—the fallacy caused by an estimate which we may call personal. Both fallacies are natural. It is evident how naturally the study of the history and development of poetry may incline a man to pause over reputations and works once conspicuous but now obscure, and to quarrel with a careless public for skipping, in obedience to mere tradition and habit, from one famous name or work in its national poetry to another, ignorant of what it misses, and of the reason for keeping what it keeps, and of the whole process of growth in its poetry.
The dissatisfaction is natural; yet a lively and accomplished critic, M. It substitutes a halo for a physiognomy, it puts a statue where there was once a man, and hiding from us all trace of the labour, the attempts, the weaknesses, the failures, it claims not study but veneration; it does not show us how the thing is done, it imposes upon us a model.
Above all, for the historian this creation of classic personages is inadmissible; for it withdraws the poet from his time, from his proper life, it breaks historical relationships, it blinds criticism by conventional admiration, and renders the investigation of literary origins unacceptable. It gives us a human personage no longer but a God seated immovable amidst His perfect work, like Jupiter on Olympus; and hardly will it be possible for the young student to whom such work is exhibited at such a distance from him, to believe that it did not issue ready—made from that divine head.
All this is brilliantly and tellingly said, but we must plead for a distinction. If he is a dubious classic, let us sift him; if he is a false classic, let us explode him. But if he is a real classic, if his work belongs to the class of the very best for this is the true and right meaning of the word classic, classical , then the great thing for us is to feel and enjoy his work as deeply as ever we can, and to appreciate the wide difference between it and all work which has not the same high character.
This is what is salutary, this is what is formative; this is the great benefit to be got from the study of poetry.
Everything which interferes with it, which hinders it, is injurious. True, we must read our classic with open eyes, and not with eyes blinded with superstition; we must perceive when his work comes short, when it drops out of the class of the very best, and we must rate it, in such cases, at its proper value. But the use of this negative criticism is not in itself, it is entirely in its enabling us to have a clearer sense and a deeper enjoyment of what is truly excellent.
To trace the labour, the attempts, the weaknesses, the failures of a genuine classic, to acquaint oneself with his time and his life and his historical relationships, is mere literary dilettantism unless it has that clear sense and deeper enjoyment for its end. It may be said that the more we know about a classic the better we shall enjoy him; and, if we lived as long as Methuselah and had all of us heads of perfect clearness and wills of perfect steadfastness, this might be true in fact as it is plausible in theory. But the case here is much the same as the case with the Greek and Latin studies of our schoolboys.
The elaborate philological groundwork which we require them to lay is in theory an admirable preparation for appreciating the Greek and Latin authors worthily. The more thoroughly we lay the groundwork, the better we shall be able, it may be said, to enjoy the authors. True, if time were not so short, and schoolboys wits not so soon tired and their power of attention exhausted; only, as it is, the elaborate philological preparation goes on, but the authors are little known and less enjoyed.
He ought to enjoy the true classic all the better for his investigations; he often is distracted from the enjoyment of the best, and with the less good he overbusies himself, and is prone to over-rate it in proportion to the trouble which it has cost him. The idea of tracing historic origins and historical relationships cannot be absent from a compilation like the present.
And naturally the poets to be exhibited in it will be assigned to those persons for exhibition who are known to prize them highly, rather than to those who have no special inclination towards them. Moreover, the very occupation with an author, and the business of exhibiting him, disposes us to affirm and amplify his importance. In the present work, therefore, we are sure of frequent temptation to adopt the historic estimate, or the personal estimate, and to forget the real estimate; which latter, nevertheless, we must employ if we are to make poetry yield us its full benefit. So high is that benefit, the benefit of clearly feeling and of deeply enjoying the really excellent, the truly classic in poetry, that we do well, I say, to set it fixedly before our minds as our object in studying poets and poetry, and to make the desire of attaining it the one principle to which, as the Imitation says, whatever we may read or come to know, we always return.
The historic estimate is likely in especial to affect our judgment and our language when we are dealing with ancient poets; the personal estimate when we are dealing with poets our contemporaries, or at any rate modern. The exaggerations due to the historic estimate are not in themselves, perhaps, of very much gravity. Their report hardly enters the general ear; probably they do not always impose even on the literary men who adopt them.
But they lead to a dangerous abuse of language. Vitet, comments upon that famous document of the early poetry of his nation, the Chanson de Roland. It is indeed a most interesting document. The poem has vigour and freshness; it is not without pathos. Vitet is not satisfied with seeing in it a document of some poetic value, and of very high historic and linguistic value; he sees in it a grand and beautiful work, a monument of epic genius. In its general design he finds the grandiose conception, in its details he finds the constant union of simplicity with greatness, which are the marks, he truly says, of the genuine epic, and distinguish it from the artificial epic of literary ages.
One thinks of Homer; this is the sort of praise which is given to Homer, and justly given. Higher praise there cannot well be, and it is the praise due to epic poetry of the highest order only, and to no other. Let us try, then, the Chanson de Roland at its best. Roland, mortally wounded, lay himself down under a pine-tree, with his face turned towards Spain and the enemy—. That is primitive work, I repeat, with an undeniable poetic quality of its own.
It deserves such praise, and such praise is sufficient for it. But now turn to Homer—. We are here in another world, another order of poetry altogether; here is rightly due such supreme praise as that which M. Vitet gives to the Chanson de Roland. If our words are to have any meaning, if our judgments are to have any solidity, we must not heap that supreme praise upon poetry of an order immeasurably inferior.
Of course we are not to require this other poetry to resemble them; it may be very dissimilar. But if we have any tact we shall find them, when we have lodged them well in our minds, infallible touchstone for detecting the presence or absence of high poetic quality, and also the degree of this quality, in all other poetry which we may place beside them.
Short passages, even single lines, will serve our turn quite sufficiently.
Was it that with men born to misery ye might have sorrow? If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story. These few lines, if we have tact and can use them, are enough even of themselves to keep clear and sound our judgments about poetry, to save us from fallacious estimates of it, to conduct us to a real estimate.
The specimens I have quoted differ widely from one another, but they have in common this: If we are thoroughly penetrated by their power, we shall find that we have acquired a sense enabling us, whatever poetry may be laid before us, to feel the degree in which a high poetical quality is present or wanting there. Critics give themselves great labour to draw out what in the abstract constitutes the characters of a high quality of poetry.
It is much better simply to have recourse to concrete examples;—to take specimens of poetry of the high, the very highest quality, and to say: The characters of a high quality of poetry are what is expressed there. They are far better recognised by being felt in the verse of the master, than by being perused in the prose of the critic. Nevertheless if we are urgently pressed to give some critical account of them, we may safely, perhaps, venture on laying down, not indeed how and why the characters arise, but where and in what they arise. They are in the matter and substance of the poetry, and they are in its manner and style.
Both of these, the substance and matter on the one hand, the style and manner on the other, have a mark, an accent, of high beauty, worth, and power. But if we are asked to define this mark and accent in the abstract, our answer must be: No, for we should thereby be darkening the question, not clearing it. The mark and accent are as given by the substance and matter of that poetry, by the style and manner of that poetry, and of all other poetry which is akin to it in quality.
Let us add, therefore, to what we have said, this: We may add yet further, what is in itself evident, that to the style and manner of the best poetry their special character, their accent, is given by their diction, and, even yet more, by their movement. And though we distinguish between the two characters, the two accents, of superiority, yet they are nevertheless vitally connected one with the other.
The superior character of truth and seriousness, in the matter and substance of the best poetry, is inseparable from the superiority of diction and movement marking its style and manner. The two superiorities are closely related, and are in steadfast proportion one to the other.
So stated, these are but dry generalities; their whole force lies in their application. And I could wish every student of poetry to make the application of them for himself.
- The Poem: In Depth.
- Navigation menu;
Made by himself, the application would impress itself upon his mind far more deeply than made by me. Neither will my limits allow me to make any full application of the generalities above propounded; but in the hope of bringing out, at any rate, some significance in them, and of establishing an important principle more firmly by their means, I will, in the space which remains to me, follow rapidly from the commencement the course of our English poetry with them in my view. Once more I return to the early poetry of France, with which our own poetry, in its origins, is indissolubly connected. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, that seedtime of all modern language and literature, the poetry of France had a clear predominance in Europe.
In the twelfth century the bloom of this romance-poetry was earlier and stronger in England, at the court of our Anglo-Norman kings, than in France itself. But it was a bloom of French poetry; and as our native poetry formed itself, it formed itself out of this. This constituted for the French poetry, literature, and language, at the height of the Middle Age, an unchallenged predominance. In the same century, the thirteenth, the French romance-writer, Christian of Troyes, formulates the claims, in chivalry and letters, of France, his native country, as follows: God grant it may be kept there; and that the place may please it so well, that the honour which has come to make stay in France may never depart thence!
Yet it is now all gone, this French romance-poetry of which the weight of substance and the power of style are not unfairly represented by this extract from Christian of Troyes. Only by means of the historic estimate can we persuade ourselves not to think that any of it is of poetical importance. But in the fourteenth century there comes an Englishman nourished on this poetry, taught his trade by this poetry, getting words, rhyme, metre from this poetry; for even of that stanza which the Italians used, and which Chaucer derived immediately from the Italians, the basis and suggestion was probably given in France.
Text – Sources – Links – Background
Chaucer I have already named him fascinated his contemporaries, but so too did Christian of Troyes and Wolfram of Eschenbach. He is a genuine source of joy and strength, which is flowing still for us and will flow always. He will be read, as time goes on, far more generally than he is read now. His language is a cause of difficulty for us; but so also, and I think in quite as great a degree, is the language of Burns. His superiority in substance is given by his large, free, simple, clear yet kindly view of human life,—so unlike the total want, in the romance-poets, of all intelligent command of it.
Chaucer has not their helplessness; he has gained the power to survey the world from a central, a truly human point of view.
We have only to call to mind the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. This process of analyzing a poem's rhythms is called scansion. The poem also rhymes not all poems do , and the rhymes follow a pattern they do not have to. In this case, the rhymes come right next to each other, which emphasizes them, and therefore emphasizes the sound, the physical nature, of the language. The effect of the poem's language derives in part from Byron's choice of an appropriate pattern of rhyme or rhyme scheme: The sound, the physical nature, of the language is also emphasized by alliteration , as in the repetition of s sounds in the third line: Poems can have many forms.
Some forms are strictly defined, with required line counts and rhyming patterns, such as the sonnet or limerick. Such poems exhibit closed form. This appearance, though, is deceptive: A poet writing in closed form follows a specific pattern, a specific design. Some designs have proven so durable and so suited to the English language that they survive for centuries and are renewed with each generation of poets sonnets , sestinas , limericks , and so forth , while others come into being for the expression of one poem and are then set aside Frost's " Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening " is a good example.
Of all closed forms in English prosody, none has demonstrated greater durability and range of expression than blank verse , which is verse that follows a regular meter but does not rhyme. In English, iambic pentameter is by far the most frequently employed meter. Among the many exemplary works of blank verse in English are Milton's Paradise Lost and most of the verse passages from Shakespeare's plays, such as this portion of a famous soliloquy from Hamlet:. Note that Shakespeare does not rigidly follow a pattern of five iambs per line. Rather, most lines have five strong syllables, and most are preceded by a weak syllable.
The meter provides a rhythm that informs the line: Rhymed pairs of iambic pentameter lines form the heroic couplet. Two masters of the form are Alexander Pope and John Dryden. The form has proven especially suited to conveying wit and sardonic humor, as in the opening of Pope's An Essay on Criticism. Fourteen lines of iambic pentameter arranged in a more elaborate rhyme scheme form a sonnet.
There are two major variants. The form originated in Italy , and the word derives from "sonetto", which is Italian for "little song". In each of these, a group of eight lines the octave is followed by a group of six the sextet. Typically, the octave introduces a situation, idea, or problem to which the sestet provides a response or resolution. The octave presents the speaker's experience of the sound of the sea, coming to him from some distance. In the sestet, this experience mutates into a meditation on the nature of inspiration and man's connection to creation and his experience of the numinous.
English has proportionally far fewer rhyming words than Italian. The poet using this, the English sonnet or Shakespearean sonnet form, may use the fourteen lines as single unit of thought as in "The Silken Tent" above , or treat the groups of four rhyming lines the quatrains as organizational units, as in Shakespeare's Sonnet In lines 1—4, the speaker compares his time of life to autumn. In lines 5—8, the comparison is to twilight; in lines 9—12, the comparison is to the last moments of a dying fire.
Each quatrain presents a shorter unit of time, creating a sense of time accelerating toward an inevitable end, the death implied in the final couplet. At the "high end" of closed forms are the sestina and villanelle. At the "low end" are forms such as the limerick , which follows a metrical pattern of two lines of anapestic trimeter three anapests per line , followed by two lines of anapestic dimeter two anapests per line , followed by one line of anapestic trimeter.
The beginning of the metrical foot does not have to coincide with the beginning of the line. Any poem following this metrical pattern would generally be considered a limerick, however most also follow an AABBA rhyme scheme. Most limericks are humorous, and many are ribald, or outright obscene possible rhymes that could follow an opening like " There once was a man from Nantucket " are left as an exercise for the reader. Nonetheless, the form is capable of sophisticated and playful expression:. In contrast, a poet using free verse sometimes called " open form " [ citation needed ] seeks to find fresh and uniquely appropriate forms for each poem, letting the structure grow out of the poem's subject matter or inspiration.
A common perception is that open form is easier and less rigorous than closed form Frost likened it to "playing tennis with the net down"  , but such is not necessarily the case skeptics should try playing tennis without a net: In the best open form poems, the poet achieves something that is inaccessible through closed form. Kennedy has said, "Should the poet succeed, then the discovered arrangement will seem exactly right for what the poem is saying" Walt Whitman was an important innovator of open form, and he demonstrates its merits in " A Noiseless Patient Spider ".
The long, rolling lines—unified, held together like strong cords, by alliteration and assonance —partake of the same nature as the spider's filaments and the soul's threads. Two balanced stanzas, one describing a spider, the other the speaker's soul, perfectly frame the implicit comparison, with neither being privileged over the other.
Just as the spider and the soul quest outward for significance, the two stanzas throw links to each other with subtly paired words: In this poem, Whitman uses synonyms and antonyms to give structural integrity to a poem comprising two yoked stanzas, much like but not exactly like the way poets working within closed forms use meter and rhyme to give structural integrity to their poems. The form works quite well, but there is no established term that describes it. Rather, Whitman created this form so that he could write this poem.
Conceivably, other poets could adopt the form, and repeated examples would give literary analysts the material they would need to specify its defining characteristics and give it a name. But, that hasn't happened. Instead, we have one poem that deploys a structure very well suited to its subject. The poem has form, but the form was not imposed by previous conventions. It has open form. Most poetry can be read on several levels. The surface is not necessarily the essence of the poem although in some cases notably, the works of William McGonagall there is little beyond the immediate.
Allegory , connotation and metaphor are some of the subtler ways in which a poet communicates with the reader.