Keats: Themes of Mortality

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  • Mortality
    • When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be
      • Anxiety and Worry
        • "fears"
          • Plural. These fears are multifaceted. Keats' fear of death has more meanings than it first appears.
        • "before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain"
          • Keats is afraid of dying before he has had the chance to say everything and become one of the great poets. "Ceasing to be" could mean death, but could mean being forgotten.
        • "I stand alone and think // til love and fame to nothingness sink"
          • Keats is afraid he will never be loved and will die and disappear into nothingness. His longing for immortality is more that of literary immortality than physical immortality.
      • Natural Imagery
        • "the full ripen'd grain"
          • Fertility lexis reinforces the idea of the artist's creations in his mind as a fertile landscape.
        • "night's starr'd face"
          • Keats views the beauty of the world - link to Bright Star! He chooses to live in the moment.
        • "the wide world"
          • Beauty and life is fleeting. But the world and its natural beauty is expansive and eternal.
      • Love
        • "of a high romance"
          • Love romance or Romantic romance. Keats worries about his life being so short that he never finds the right person. Was with Fanny Brawne at the time.
        • "I may never live to trace their shadows"
          • Afraid he will never be able to fully experience love due to his short life or his preoccupation with poetry.
        • "of unreflecting love!"
          • Great emphasis on love. Keats believes that love is a huge part of being alive and longs for it himself. Whether this is love for a person or love for poetry is ambiguous.
    • The Eve of St. Agnes
      • Juxtaposition: Live Life for Pleasure
        • "the sculptured dead" contrasting with "upon his knees he sank"
          • The cold statues are people who have died and are living in pain, they were praying for forgivness and salvation, but now they are dead. Porphyro prays at an altar of love and passion, and stays alive.
        • The Beadsman outside contrasting with the party inside
          • The coldness of the outdoors contrasted with the imagery of warmth and happiness inside symbolises Keats' ideas of living being truly living, not devoting your entire life to religion. Keats himself wasn't religious.
        • The deaths of the pious contrasting with Madeline and Porphyro running off into the "storm" - final stanza
          • Even though the storm is uncertain, Madeline and Porphyro are the only people who survive the poem. Keats believed it was better to live in uncertainty and the moment than to live your life anticipating something better that might happen in death.
      • Religious Imagery Used for Irony
        • "this patient, holy man"
          • The Beadsman is patient and holy, but this does not save him from his fate. He is destined to die and accepts it after a miserable life. Keats was not patient, he wanted to live his life and get as much out of it as possible.
        • "emprisoned"
          • Even though the statues were likely religious when they were alive, they are stuck in the cold, dark world. The promise of religion has failed them, they are still stuck on Earth, in pain.
        • "with joined hands" - Porphyro worshiping Madeline in beauty instead of religion in coldness
          • Porphyro chooses to worship Madeline instead of religion. Fire and warmth imagery contrasts with the coldness of religion and death. By living life how he wants, Porphyro seems to evade death.
    • Ode to a Nightingale
      • Immortality is a Way to Transcend
        • "singest of summer in full-throated ease"
          • The bird spends its entire life singing the most beautiful things, free of suffering, which is something that Keats has always wanted to do
        • "thou amongst the leaves has never known"
          • The bird does not know the pain that Keats knows and he wants to join it in its ignorance. Ironic as he was an apothecary and knew a lot about a lot of things. Now it is as if he wants to know nothing.
        • "immortal bird"
          • The bird's song is immortal. Keats wanted his song - his poetry - to be immortal. He wants to be with the bird to achieve immortality through transcendence
      • Conflict Between Life and Death
        • "do i wake or sleep?"
          • Could be read that Keats cannot decide to live or die. However, he could see living and dying as creating art or being complicit.
        • "half in love with easeful death"
          • Death would be a relief from all of the pain that Keats has endured and will have to endure in his future. Personifies death, makes it sound like something that is gentle and soft.
        • "rich to die"
          • Keats sees death as a gift and wonders whether he should die in such a wonderful moment. It seems that Keats is dreading the inevitable pain to come in his future and would rather die at his own hand.
      • Time is Limited
        • "youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies"
          • Keats was young himself but soon knew that he would grow spectre-thin and die due to tuberculosis. He worries that he will not have the time to create the art that he wants to.
        • "hungry generations"
          • New generations are coming and they are hungry and will squash the older generations down. There are always reminders that we are growing old and dying.
        • "my heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense"
          • Soporific sibilance highlights Keats' yearning to escape a world that moves too fast and will soon kill him. Link to Industrial Revolution.


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