Keats' Poems and Letters

Keats' Poems and Letters Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In "Ode to Psyche", what does Keats offer to build for Psyche? What is special about his construction, and how does it reflect his worldview?

    Keats, or the poet-protagonist, comes across Psyche and Cupid embracing in a forest. Keats is sympathetic to Psyche because, as a Greek goddess who was once mortal, she does not enjoy any temples or direct worship. To correct this, Keats offers to "be thy [her] priest," and build a temple for her himself. He will build this temple and all its accoutrements in his mind, where the temple will be permanent, unsullied, and idyllic. This goal reflects Keats' fixation on the Romantic "ideal," which often surpasses its worldly counterpart.

  2. 2

    How does "Ode on Melancholy" reflect a paradox?

    "Ode on Melancholy" is about the intertwined relationship of pleasure and pain. Joy cannot be experienced without the experience of its opposite, and the beauty of mortality lies in the fleeting nature of life itself. Keats saw joy in this paradoxical relationship, and encouraged readers to accept the reality of such apparent contradictions.

  3. 3

    What does the lady in "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" represent?

    The lady could represent the danger of falling in love: one loses track of one's emotional whereabouts and, upon "waking up" from love, experiences the pain of a lost connection with another person. (This is an especially likely outcome when, as the knight-at-arms of the poem does, one falls in love with a stranger). This lost connection can render one "ill" and depressed. It is unclear whether the lady is a malicious figure or not, but Keats also seems to be suggesting that one should stay clear of people who are cunningly deceptive, or skilled in manipulation.

  4. 4

    What devices does Keats use to describe the season in "To Autumn"?

    Keats uses metaphor and personification to describe autumn. In the first stanza, autumn is represented by the ripe fruit, full honeycomb, swollen gourds, and plump, sweet corn. In the second stanza, Keats personifies the season autumn -- sometimes likened to a goddess in this poem -- through the figures of the people working in the harvest. Lastly, in the final stanza, autumn is represented by "songs" -- the songs of gnats, lambs, crickets, and birds. These songs could be interpreted as melancholy, but Keats urges his readers to recognize the beauty of such forms of expression.

  5. 5

    What are some types of struggle exemplified in "The Eve of St. Agnes"? What are the opposing forces in this poem?

    "The Eve of St. Agnes" begins by depicting a devoutly religious, ascetic man in a church. He is compared to the wealthy people who mass together and enjoy festivities. This contrast exemplifies the struggle between religious observance/self-denial and the pleasures of food, wine, and wealth. When Porphyro enters the chamber of the young virgin Madeline, she is a little disappointed to see him "pallid, chill, and drear" (311) in reality, rather unlike the ideal lover of her dreams. At the end of the poem, Madeline and Porphyro, having stolen away, signify the satisfaction of earthly desires, while Angela (the elderly woman) and the Beadsman are either dead or continuing on in cold religiosity, representing the disappointments of asceticism.

  6. 6

    What does the urn represent for Keats in "Ode on a Grecian Urn"?

    For Keats, the images depicted on the surface of a Grecian urn -- lively, engaging, intriguing -- represent a kind of ideal world. It is ideal primarily because of its inability to be altered; Keats envies this immortal reality. Love cannot fade; the young cannot age; even the ideal music played in this scene -- the music of "unheard melodies" -- is somehow superior to what is experienced in reality. This poem, like many of Keats' others, represents the struggle between the ideal world of the imagination and the necessarily imperfect world of actuality.

  7. 7

    What does the nightingale represent in "Ode to a Nightingale"?

    The nightingale represents "the ideal," immortality, and perfection. Keats is overwhelmed because he is "too happy in thy [the nightingale's] happiness" (6). In the mortal world, "but to think is to be full of sorrow" (27) because of the inevitable passage of time and the arrival of death. The nightingale, in contrast, "was not born for death, immortal Bird!" (61); it has sung the same song across millennia.

  8. 8

    What themes in "Bright Star, would I were stedfast as thou art" are typical of Keats?

    Two major themes of this poem are the immortal versus the physical world and the nature of romantic love. The world of the star represents immortality and the absence of change, while the world of mortality -- exemplified in the "ripening breast" of the narrator's love -- is constantly in flux. The narrator's time spent lying with his lover is necessarily transient, and as a state of "sweet unrest" -- a paradox -- is typically Keatsian.

  9. 9

    What type of cultural/religious figures does Keats repeatedly cite in his poetry? What might his motivation be for doing so?

    Keats makes frequent references to ancient Greek mythological figures and places in his poetry. He likely does so in order to anchor his work in an ancient tradition, and to work within the classicizing poetic traditions of his own day.

  10. 10

    How does dreaminess play a role in Keats's poems, and what concept of his does such dreaminess reflect?

    Dreaminess -- a state that opens "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on Indolence", among others -- facilitates the creative impulse. Negative capability, the pursuit of the beautiful and mysterious in the absence of logical explanation, is also made possible by moods that are dreamy and nonjudgmental.