Essay Questions On John Keats

  • 1

    In "Ode to Psyche", what does Keats offer to build for Psyche? What is special about his construction, and how does it reflect his worldview?

    Keats, or the poet-protagonist, comes across Psyche and Cupid embracing in a forest. Keats is sympathetic to Psyche because, as a Greek goddess who was once mortal, she does not enjoy any temples or direct worship. To correct this, Keats offers to "be thy [her] priest," and build a temple for her himself. He will build this temple and all its accoutrements in his mind, where the temple will be permanent, unsullied, and idyllic. This goal reflects Keats' fixation on the Romantic "ideal," which often surpasses its worldly counterpart.

  • 2

    How does "Ode on Melancholy" reflect a paradox?

    "Ode on Melancholy" is about the intertwined relationship of pleasure and pain. Joy cannot be experienced without the experience of its opposite, and the beauty of mortality lies in the fleeting nature of life itself. Keats saw joy in this paradoxical relationship, and encouraged readers to accept the reality of such apparent contradictions.

  • 3

    What does the lady in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" represent?

    The lady could represent the danger of falling in love: one loses track of one's emotional whereabouts and, upon "waking up" from love, experiences the pain of a lost connection with another person. (This is an especially likely outcome when, as the knight-at-arms of the poem does, one falls in love with a stranger). This lost connection can render one "ill" and depressed. It is unclear whether the lady is a malicious figure or not, but Keats also seems to be suggesting that one should stay clear of people who are cunningly deceptive, or skilled in manipulation.

  • 4

    What devices does Keats use to describe the season in "To Autumn"?

    Keats uses metaphor and personification to describe autumn. In the first stanza, autumn is represented by the ripe fruit, full honeycomb, swollen gourds, and plump, sweet corn. In the second stanza, Keats personifies the season autumn -- sometimes likened to a goddess in this poem -- through the figures of the people working in the harvest. Lastly, in the final stanza, autumn is represented by "songs" -- the songs of gnats, lambs, crickets, and birds. These songs could be interpreted as melancholy, but Keats urges his readers to recognize the beauty of such forms of expression.

  • 5

    What are some types of struggle exemplified in "The Eve of St. Agnes"? What are the opposing forces in this poem?

    "The Eve of St. Agnes" begins by depicting a devoutly religious, ascetic man in a church. He is compared to the wealthy people who mass together and enjoy festivities. This contrast exemplifies the struggle between religious observance/self-denial and the pleasures of food, wine, and wealth. When Porphyro enters the chamber of the young virgin Madeline, she is a little disappointed to see him "pallid, chill, and drear" (311) in reality, rather unlike the ideal lover of her dreams. At the end of the poem, Madeline and Porphyro, having stolen away, signify the satisfaction of earthly desires, while Angela (the elderly woman) and the Beadsman are either dead or continuing on in cold religiosity, representing the disappointments of asceticism.

  • 6

    What does the urn represent for Keats in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

    For Keats, the images depicted on the surface of a Grecian urn -- lively, engaging, intriguing -- represent a kind of ideal world. It is ideal primarily because of its inability to be altered; Keats envies this immortal reality. Love cannot fade; the young cannot age; even the ideal music played in this scene -- the music of "unheard melodies" -- is somehow superior to what is experienced in reality. This poem, like many of Keats' others, represents the struggle between the ideal world of the imagination and the necessarily imperfect world of actuality.

  • 7

    What does the nightingale represent in "Ode to a Nightingale"?

    The nightingale represents "the ideal," immortality, and perfection. Keats is overwhelmed because he is "too happy in thy [the nightingale's] happiness" (6). In the mortal world, "but to think is to be full of sorrow" (27) because of the inevitable passage of time and the arrival of death. The nightingale, in contrast, "was not born for death, immortal Bird!" (61); it has sung the same song across millennia.

  • 8

    What themes in "Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art" are typical of Keats?

    Two major themes of this poem are the immortal versus the physical world and the nature of romantic love. The world of the star represents immortality and the absence of change, while the world of mortality -- exemplified in the "ripening breast" of the narrator's love -- is constantly in flux. The narrator's time spent lying with his lover is necessarily transient, and as a state of "sweet unrest" -- a paradox -- is typically Keatsian.

  • 9

    What type of cultural/religious figures does Keats repeatedly cite in his poetry? What might his motivation be for doing so?

    Keats makes frequent references to ancient Greek mythological figures and places in his poetry. He likely does so in order to anchor his work in an ancient tradition, and to work within the classicizing poetic traditions of his own day.

  • 10

    How does dreaminess play a role in Keats's poems, and what concept of his does such dreaminess reflect?

    Dreaminess -- a state that opens "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on Indolence", among others -- facilitates the creative impulse. Negative capability, the pursuit of the beautiful and mysterious in the absence of logical explanation, is also made possible by moods that are dreamy and nonjudgmental.

  • Here’s a look at how to handle a Keats poetry exam question. You can see a model introduction and then some broad tips on how to plan the essay. A plan is just the bones – some flesh will be added in the next day or two.

    LC HL 2009

    Keats presents abstract ideas in a style that is clear and direct. Do you agree….

    From my study of the poetry of John Keats, I am not surprised that many call him the finest English poet of the Romantic period. In many ways, his work is typical of his era. His themes reflect his deepest beliefs about what was important to him in life. Imagination, nature, strong emotions, love, death, transience, immortality are among the many abstract ideas with which his poetry is concerned. The manner in which Keats writes is often clear and direct as he creates verbal music in his sound effects, sensuous imagery that is tactile and aural. However, there are often times when his style can be challenging such as his use of paradoxes and antithesis to explore his themes. Therefore, I agree with this view of Keats’ work to a large but not full extent.

    Now, you can approach this essay in one of two ways:

    1. Poem by poem:

    Go through 4/5 of the six studied poems – one par or two paragraphs for each poem. As you discuss each poem – refer to one or two of the different abstract ideas mentioned in the intro and show how the style is clear / direct or not. If you are discussing one poem in each paragraph, make sure you link to another poem (perhaps the 6th poem, not being assigned its own paragraph) by way of a quote that shows a similar or different view/use of the theme/style being discussed. As always use words that show your personal response eg I was impressed with, I was challenged by, I enjoyed, I have often/never felt the same way about… I was pushed out of my comfort zone when studying… Keats’ use of x is striking… and so on.

    1. Theme by theme (or aspect of style by aspect of style):

    Choose a different abstract idea according to the ones listed in the intro for each different paragraph. As you discuss each theme, refer to two or more poems that deal with it. Also show how Keats explores the idea – his style and comment on its clarity and directness (as the question requires). Again, include a personal element. As always keep the focus on the exact terms (or synonyms) of the question.

    What is ultimately expected is that you show you know and understand Keats’ poetry thoroughly; and that you have thought about it and formed an opinion that you can justify and defend. Furthermore, you are being tested on how well you can interpret a question and apply your knowledge and understanding and opinion to what the question asks of you. (RTFQ and ATFQ J)

    Now for two outlines – one following each approach:

    1. Poem by poem outline:

    As always have a think about putting your paragraphs in a logical order that will create a flow to your thinking – and try to create smooth transitions between paragraphs.

    Intro: (similar to above)

    MB 1: Ode to a Nightingale

    (Ask yourself: What abstract themes does this poem deal with and are those themes expressed in a clear and direct style?)

    Abstract ideas – the imagination, transience, poetry, nature, mortality, death

    Style – synaesthesia, sensuous imagery esp smell, allusion, contrast, changing tone

    (Now ask yourself: How will I shape these points to suit my paragraph? OR: Which of these points will I use for my paragraph? OR: What will my paragraph topic be in relation to the question asked?)

    MB 2: Ode to a Nightingale

    Continue with points not used in MB 1.

    Contrast this poem’s treatment of nature with its treatment in ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’

    MB 3: To Autumn

    Abstract ideas – beauty of nature v the harsh reality of death (transience, mortality)

    Style – rich imagery – tactile, visual, aural; personification of Autumn, contrast, onomatopoeia + alliteration

    MB 4: Ode on a Grecian Urn

    Abstract ideas – immortality through art, permanence, transience, imagination, love (brief ref to LBDSM’s contrasting treatment of love)

    Style – paradoxes + antithesis + ambiguities, contrast, assonance + sibilance

    MB 5: To one who has been long in city pent

    Abstract ideas – beauty of nature + its restorative powers, appreciation of literature (brief ref to ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer), transience

    Style: Changing tone, personification, allusion, alliteration + onomatopoeia

    Conc – a crucial paragraph – shorter than main bodies – sum up – recap the main thrust of your essay and if possible leave the reader with a final thought-provoking comment on Keats and your opinion of his work in relation to this question.

    1. Theme by theme outline:

    WARNING: Be careful not to repeat aspects of (or the same quotes from) the same poem in different paragraphs.

    As always have a think about putting your paragraphs in a logical order that will create a flow to your thinking – and try to create smooth transitions between paragraphs.

    Intro: (similar to above)

    MB 1: Imagination; style – clear and direct or not

    Think about which poems will help you with this – you can use one poem in this par and one poem in the next paragraph but comment on whether they have a similar or different approach.

    Ode to a Nightingale

    MB 2: Imagination; style – clear and direct or not

    A second poem on this theme – Ode on a Grecian Urn

    MB 3: Nature; style – clear and direct or not

    To Autumn + To one who has been long in city pent + brief link to LBDSM as poem which treats nature differently

    MB 4: Immortality / Death + Transience; style – clear and direct or not

    Ode to a Nightingale + Ode on a Grecian Urn and To Autumn

    MB 5: Love; style – clear and direct or not

    LBDSM + Ode on a Grecian Urn

    Conc – a crucial paragraph – shorter than main bodies – sum up – recap the main thrust of your essay and if possible leave the reader with a final thought-provoking comment on Keats and your opinion of his work in relation to this question.

    More flesh will be added to these over the next day or two – but these pointers should be a good guideline in how to start looking at a Keats question. Happy studying!

    KeatsLC PoetryPoetry
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