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John Keats Research Papers

Research papers on Keats feature his most prolific works of poetry that are symbols of the Romantic Era. Get help with your research paper on Keats and have one of Paper Masters' literary writers custom write your project on Keats' life, his poetry or any critique of a specific poem by Keats you need.

Although Keats is by no means the only poet whose work helped to shape the course of Romanticism, it is in his poetry that many of the themes, motifs, and ideas that have since come to be associated with Romanticism came into full fruition. This paper will seek to trace the development of these Romantic elements in three of Keats’ most significant poetic works, namely, “Endymion,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” First, a brief overview of the historical development and chief characteristics associated with Romanticism will be presented. Then, each of five poems will be analyzed for their illustration of themes and images associated with the Romantic movement. Finally, an overarching assessment of Keats’ contribution to Romanticism and his lasting legacy will be presented. 

Clearly, Keats’ body of work - though relatively small in comparison to other authors of similar stature - played a major role in defining and characterizing the movement known as Romanticism. Keats' is development of ideas commonly associated with the core philosophical tenets of Romanticism is shown to be pervasively evident in the following poems:

  • Endymion
  • Ode to a Nightingale
  • Ode on a Grecian UrnKeats

By the time Keats’ long verse poem “Endymion: A Poetic Romance” was published in 1818, the Romantic program had largely been established and there were a number of artists working in that mode. Despite the fact that “Endymion” embodies many of the Romantic preoccupations, it was harshly criticized upon publication, and Keats later abandoned the Miltonic style that he had employed throughout the poem.

Although his later works were written in a more organic mode, Keats did not abandon the principle thematic concerns of “Endymion.”  Clearly, one of the chief preoccupations of the poem is with romantic and erotic love. Another important theme in the poem is the quest for ideal beauty and love. The romantic and erotic love in “Endymion”is represented in a way that signals not only the heightened sensuality of Romanticism, but also the linkage between romantic and erotic love and the creative process and the power of the imagination to change the parameters of the experienced world. Endymion’s quest for love is equated with the creative imagination and its constant search for enlightenment, which is embodied physically in this poem through the recurrent images of sun and moonlight. In this way, Keats merges two of the major preoccupations of Romanticism, namely, the privileging of the sensual as well as the unique mechanism of the creative imagination.

Ideal beauty, which was a major theme throughout Keats’ entire oeuvre, plays a major role in “Endymion” as well. Two significant interpretations can be made of the role of ideal beauty in the piece, both of which deal with the protracted Garden of Eden system of allegory that is present in the poem. As discussed previously, the longing for a past age or era is a trope that runs throughout Romantic art. This trope is represented in Keats’ classical choice of subject matter, as well as in the repeated references to an idyllic state that resembles biblical descriptions of a prelapsarian Eden, the quintessential “golden era.”

On one hand, the constant pining for ideal beauty expressed by characters in the poem can be interpreted as a manifestation of the Romantic ethic longing for the past, for the paradise that existed before the Fall, when people were not cognizant of themselves outside of the context of nature. In other words, it was only because of the Fall that people have the need to get back in touch with the sublime by consciously placing themselves in nature, and because of this, we are doomed to hope forever for ideal beauty, although we will never truly possess it as we did before the Fall.

Although Keats’ later style is more suitable for conveying the Romantic themes he hints at even in his earliest work, Endymion clearly represents a significant foray into the realm of ideas, images, and themes that not only figure heavily in Keats’ work, but in the Romantic program as a whole.

Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” is often regarded as second in significance only to Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” as the quintessential Romantic poem, embodying many of the most pressing ideas and concerns of the era. “Ode to a Nightingale” chiefly preoccupied with questions of mortality and the evanescence of human existence.  While this theme was very common in Romantic works, it was of particular interest to Keats. From his training as a surgeon to his slow decline as a result of tuberculosis, Keats was always very cognizant of the inevitability of death, and this fact is made abundantly clear in not only  “Ode to a Nightingale,” but also, in many of his other poems.

In “Ode to a Nightingale,” the speaker hears and wistfully reflects upon the “full-throated ease” of the nightingale’s song, which has the power to revive his dulled senses. The contrast of vivid reminders of life and contrasted with images of inevitable decay and disintegration throughout the poem; this juxtaposition is used to explore the vagaries of the muse and the creative process, another important concern of the Romantic poets. Like life, fancy and the imagination is fleeting and ephemeral; encountering the creative process is likened to a struggle, after which the poet, spent, must reluctantly return to his “sole self.” The fleeting encounter with the muse is over so quickly it seems unreal, and the speaker questions whether it even happened at all, or if it was merely a “a vision, or a waking dream.” Still, the potency of the creative process is demonstrated by the very existence of the poem itself, and the poet is transformed by his melancholy encounter with the sublime.

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