John Keats’ poetry expresses Romanticism’s values of concrete individual experience, imagination, idealism and nature through the Romantic context and by challenging historical and social paradigms of the late 18th century in Western Europe and Russia. Even though Keats’ writing is illuminated by exaltation of the imagination and abounds with sensuous descriptions of nature’s beauty, it also explores profound philosophical questions. These values have been developed through “Ode to a Nightingale” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.”
John Keats’ poetry is one of an alienated and isolated poet who has endured and suffered great grief in his life due to the many people he has lost and also the inconsolable knowledge that he has to die soon because he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. This depressing life had influenced Keats to indulge into the arts of poetry in order to write and imagine about the life and love that he had always dreamt about and how he had never been able to achieve it.
In Keats’ eight line iambic pentameter (except the eighth line which is trimeter), “Ode to a Nightingale”, the values and ideas of Romanticism are explored through imagination, nature and idealism. In the second stanza John Keats quotes,
‘Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth.’
The poetic technique used here is imagery and also has features of hyperbole as Keats explores the origins of the wine that he drank in the previous stanza. ‘Tasting of Flora and country green’ sets the idea that the wine from the Earth tastes like flowers (flora) and also plants (country green). However Keats goes onto to say, ‘Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth.’ In this line, Keats talks about the metaphorical taste of wine as dancing, song and happiness (sunburnt mirth). The ‘Provencal song’ phrase is brought in from the idea of Provencal, which is a region in south of France known for its wine and poetic song. The idea of Romanticism can be seen as these two lines in the second stanza symbolise a shift from the realistic view that Keats explores in the first stanza into imagination, fantasy and nature. Here, Keats calls for wine but his purpose is not to get drunk. Rather, he associates wine as a substance which would take him into a carefree state, where he forgets about all of his problems. More importantly, Keats composes himself into his own imagination and idealism as he knows that this taste of nature will never open up to him in reality.
Imagination can also be identified in John Keats’ ballad, “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” an Iambic Tetrameter and Trimeter quatrain. In the fourth stanza, Keats writes,
‘I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful-a faery’s child.’
Imagery is seen in this quote as the Knight describes the woman that he meets in a field by calling her beautiful and also, by using his dreams and imagination, compares her to a faery’s child who takes him to an ideal world full of fantasy. This woman is a straight reference to Fanny Brawne, who Keats had loved but couldn’t marry due to the class differences. Throughout the poem, the Knight becomes totally absorbed in the pleasures of his imagination- the delicious foods, her song and her beauty. But, this imagination of acquiring all desires is later realised as being an obsession, a mere part of the human life experience. Romantics wrote, through their imaginations, dreams, and thoughts, of what they thought were features of life experiences, including the cause and what effect it had on humans. Through this quote and what follows in the poem, we learn about the many obsessions that surrounds us and that the only thing that it will lead to is misery.
Texts written during the Romanticism era examined and affirmed the power of the imagination to inform, illuminate and transform the human experience. John Keats was one of many who rebelled against some of the constraints of