Brief Examination of John Keats

Written by Marjorie Montenegro

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A Brief Examination Of John Keats 

John Keats lived a transient existence surrounded by death.  Although he ascribed to the ideal of negative capability, his poetry is rife with examples of how Keats' experiences are contributors to his work.  Negative capability would require Keats to remove himself from his poetry; however, Keats' work proves to be a reflection of his concerns about the brevity of life.  Each narrator expresses a desire to capture time and keep it still.  It is that forlorn wish that permeates Keats' poetry and defies negative capability.  Because the subject of life's quick passage is so much of a heartfelt subject, Keats writes of life and death from a well of such depth that upon its resounding echoes we can all be taken to the place of where the writing is born.

In Ode to a Nightingale the speaker yearns to connect with the Nightingale.  His first thought is to, "drink, and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.  But why does the speaker harbor the desire?"  The speaker wishes to "Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget . . . Where the youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; Where but to think is to be full of sorrow; And leaden-eyed despairs, where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes."  Although the speaker does not turn to drink, he does become lost within his poetry joining the Nightingale through the power of imagination.  But the speaker's reason for his fervid desire is still unknown as we are given a travelogue through the woods from the imagined perspective of the Nightingale.

With beautiful imagery the speaker "soars above the glade where, soft incense hangs upon the boughs . . . White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; fast fading violets coverd up in leaves."  These imagined beauties, imagined as here there is no light.  So captivate the speaker that he declares, "Now more than ever seems it rich to die."

But what about the Bird so enthralls the speaker?  The Bird, wast not born for death, immortal Bird!  Only the speaker's emotional connection to the word forlorn brings him back from his revelry.  This sad awakening from the vision, or a waking dream, indicates the end of freedom, life and music.

This poem, in its picturesque and tender language takes the reader, as well as the speaker through life.  From the first joyous acknowledgment of the song of nature, through the journey of an all-too-brief flight across time, to the moment when we look back wondering, was there ever really music at all.  Keats the poet wrote as he lived.  He touched upon the beauty of the observed nature rather than the neo-classical nature while interjecting that the moment is all-too-brief.  Keats' all too brief but beautiful life left this shining example of Romanticism for us to reflect on.  Although he was limited in time and experience, his poetry allows us an opportunity to reflect before forlorn we ask, "Do I wake or sleep?"

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