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Keats’ Poetry

Keats’ poetry is of a truth in volumes but his greatest poems are, by common consent, the four “Odes”, on the “Nightingale”, “Autumn”, “the Grecian Urn” and “Melancholy”. In them he expresses and harmonizes the themes of beauty and death, the immortality of art, the relentless passing of time, the fears that he ‘may cease to be… before high-piled books in charctery/Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain’. We must always remember that Keats knew all about tuberculosis; he had had a medical training, had nursed his brother Tom who died of the disease, and recognized his own symptoms. All the more striking therefore is the poise and balance of these poems, their lucid architecture. Their mellifluous beauty, and the richness of their imagery have made them popular, and arguably an important influence on the poets of the Victorian Age. Here is the “Ode to Autumn”.

Season of mists and mellow fretfulness,

Close bosom – friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;

To blend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

With a sweet Kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees.

Until they think warm days will never cease,

For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Autumn brings the fruition of the year, and its death. This may be sad but it is inevitable, and a necessary part of the cycle of life. Its music is not a funeral marc, but part of life, a harmony ‘nor harsh nor grating though of ample power / To chasten and subdue’. A rich and calm resignation imposes the acceptance of nature’s, of life’s rhythm.

Keats spreads Autumn’s riches in profusion. Note how much of the work is done by verbs: run, load, bless, bend, fill, set, budding; how ‘bosom-friend’, and ‘conspiring’ contrive to suggest to mysterious magic intimacy, a power creating life and wealth everywhere.

In the second verse autumn is personified, but this is no frigidly conventional neo-classic literary device. Autumn is not described; the god, or goddess share in the season’s tasks. Threshing with flails, reaping with scythes and sickles, gleaners, and handworked cider-presses were all common country sights; Keats is not being fanciful or picturesque, but realistic. The figure of the gleaner is active; we feel the weight and balance of her burden as she crosses the plank bridge. The other three figures are in a land of timeless repose, careless, drows’d, patient. The reaper recalls death, but even his sickle is suspended and nature’s bounty, the corn, remains ungathered; nature’s beauty, the flowers, remains undestroyed. One is lulled into a kind of trance.

In his “Ode to a Nightingale” Keats explores creative expression and the mortality of human life. In this ode, the transience of life and the tragedy of old age is set against the eternal renewal of the Nightingale’s sonorous music. The speaker says “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird”. The speaker rejects the “drowsy numbness” he experienced in “Ode on Indolence”, because in “Indolence” the numbness was a sign of disconnection from experience, while in “Nightingale” it is a sign of too full a connection: being too happy in thy happiness”, the speaker tells the Nightingale. The song of the nightingale wants the speaker to flee the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to reach the bird’s state through alcohol but he rejects that later and longs to do that through poesy.

The nightingale’s music brings about the speaker’s poetic inspiration. Later, the poet imagines himself in the forest with the nightingale. The music later encourages the speaker to embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death. When the nightingale flies away, the reality dawned on him, and then he shouted “forlorn” for he recognizes that he has been living in illusion.

The Style of Keats’ Poetry

Most of Keats’ odes are written in ten-line stanzas. The first seven and the last two lines are usually written in iambic pentameter. The eighth line of each stanza is written in trimeter with only three accented syllables instead of five. “Ode to a Nightingale” is different from other odes because its rhyme scheme is the same in every stanza. Meanwhile, every other ode varies in the order of rhyme in the final three or four lines except “to psyche” which has the loosest structure of all the odes. Each stanza in “Nightingale” is rhymed ABABCDECDE, Keats’s most basic scheme throughout the odes. Keats’ poetry is characterized by sensual imagery and beauty.


Keats’ contribution to English poetry is not in small measure. His active years of writing poetry were short, yet he produced the kind of poetry which the English people have continued to read for a very long time. Keats’ appreciation of beauty is felt in most of his poems. Had Keats lived longer, he probably would have been the best English poet ever lived. Nevertheless, Keats is still very much remembered among the Pantheon of English poets.

In this article, we have discussed the brief history of John Keats. We made you understand that Keats was one of the best English Romantics who contributed in his own small measure to the English poetry from nineteen years to twenty-five years old. We also analyzed few of his odes of which are “Ode to Autumn” and “Ode to a Nightingale”.


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