Thoughts on Keats

Of all the authors we have read thus far in the course, I believe Keats’ poems have take me the longest to work through. Both “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “On the Eve of St. Agnes” were poems that took me quite a while to work through and had me constantly on the lookout for figures and symbols. I am not sure why, but I find myself reading Keats more vigilantly that I have read other poets in the course. Keats’ work provides the sense that it has been carefully and diligently put together, and that any line has the ability to change the meaning of a piece.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the contrast between the pieces we read. “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” “On the Eve of St. Agnes,” and “Bright Star,” tell dramatic stories of love and adventure, yet the style, tone, and form in each poem is shockingly different. “Bright Star,” to me, was the easiest piece to understand, as it is a simple comparison of the consistency of the stars to the consistency of his love for his partner. “La Belle Dame” and “On the Eve of St. Agnes,” however, tell more complex stories of lust and heartbreak through many different characters. In “La Belle Dame,” a knight meets a lady who treats him with love he could never imagined before. This lady puts the knight to sleep, but when he awakes, the lady is gone. In “St. Agnes,” a legend states that unmarried women will be greeted by their true love if they follow a special ritual on the eve of St. Agnes. A man named Porphyro attempts to fulfill this ritual on a woman he loves named Madeline, and in the end they run off together into the night. Despite the similar themes in these three poems, Keats tells each story in a very unique way. For example, “St. Agnes” is a very long poem with many vivid descriptions and characters, while “La Belle Dame,” despite covering similar material, only has 12 stanzas and moves relatively quickly, compared to “St. Agnes’s” 42. Last night’s reading has influenced me to think about Keats’ decisions to tell certain stories in very careful detail, and others in more general brush strokes. The way each of these stories is told has a profound effect on the meanings of each poem, and in my eyes, Keats is the poet thus far who has most profoundly utilized juxtaposing styles, tones, and forms in his work.

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