Keats' Poems and Letters

Two Worlds Collide

"The Eve of St. Agnes" tells the fantastic story of a bewitching night when two lovers consummate their relationship and elope. It takes place on the Eve of St. Agnes, a night when "young virgins have visions of delight," giving the action of the poem a dreamy and otherworldly quality. But while the romance takes place on this evening, the setting is a cold, gloomy castle (probably between the 12th and 16th centuries) during a "bitter chill" in the dead of night. These two elements of the setting contradict each other, the bewitched night reflecting the unreal, fantastic aspects of their affair, and the cold, rigid castle embodying the external forces that oppose their romance in reality.

Keats's portrayal of an idealized romance and dream offers an environment steeped in the mysterious and miraculous, but threatens to unravel at any moment through glimpses of the banished elements of reality. Keats uses images of mystery, adventure, and the unknown to enhance the fairy-tale atmosphere of the poem. Throughout each stanza Keats evinces the importance of setting, time and atmosphere, never quite lifting the veil of mystery. The progressively dramatic quality of this poem is achieved by a...

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