Study of themes -- the relationship between knowledge and
human suffering, tension between desire and illusion, the role of beauty
The readings for this week are longer and more poetically complex
works than we have read thus far. Take the time to understand each
piece. We will be concentrating our discussion on two or three:
Eve of St. Agnes, and either Lamia
or The Fall of Hyperion, depending upon the group's interest.
I have not assigned Hyperion: A Fragment in the interest of time,
but it is important that you are aware of it. Together, the four
poems for this week (including The Fall of Hyperion for Wednesday)
fall into natural pairs -- Hyperion and The Fall
of Hyperion are both fragments in an epic style, both narrating the
fall of the Titans, with the latter being a dream vision reworking of the
former. As fragments, neither poem offers a satisfying aesthetic closure,
but both demonstrate Keats' skill and impressive thoughtfulness.
The Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia are both tales of romance,
an interest that reflects Keats' longstanding fascination with Spenser and
Hunt and other representatives of that form. Here, however, the style is markedly
free of the sentimentalism of earlier Keats, as the poet applies the Grecian
objectivity of his epic practice to his familiar genre. The romances appeal to
me more in terms of the rich style, while the epic affords more philosophical
speculation. What do you think?
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions
The Fall of Hyperion. A Dream
Written mid july 1819 -- given up c 21 September -- though Keats probably
tinkered with it after that. Published in 1856.
In this poem the problems associated with illusion and reality move to a
broader plane of conception, what might be considered the "ceaseless
effort of individuals, and of generations of individuals . . . to come
to terms with reality or to avoid it -- the hungry effort to bring the
self into harmony with such reality as we can glimpse ("truth") or to
bend reality to the heart's desire" (Bate 586). Examine.
Note the major differences between Keats' earlier treatment of the Hyperion
myth and this dream vision. What changes has he made? What is the significance?
How does this poem represent the figure of the poet? What are his
characteristics? Strengths? Weaknesses?
What is the relationship between the poetry of the past and the poets
of the future?
In this poem we return to Keats' preoccupation between sleep and poetry.
How are the two related here? What is the distinction between the
sleeper and the visionary? What do visionary, dreamer and poet have in common?
How is the style different from the original Hyperion?
Bate notes a change in idiom that focuses the poem in a calm, mellow,
quiet "sharp concentration of empathy on bodily functions that reminds
us of the Shakespeare of Hamlet . . . . Mirroring all of these
qualities, the versification avoids the packed, phonetic concentation of
the poems from Hyperion through the Eve of St. Agnes to the odes.
The elaborate use of the vowel interplay that we noticed earlier is almost
as absent here as in Lamia" (602-3). What other changes can you
find that create this sense of mellowness?
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