Question: Evaluate John Keats as a poet of beauty and sensuousness.
John Keats (1795-1821) is an English Romantic poet and a sensuous lover of beauty. He is one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Although his poems were not generally well-received by critics during his lifetime, his reputation grew after his death, and by the end of the 19th century, he had become one of the most beloved poets of all English poets.
The key concept of Sensuousness
Sensuousness refers to five human senses such as taste, touch, hearing, sight, and smell. John Keats had a strong and deep knowledge of beauty and sensuousness. He uses this advantage in his writings. The tenor of his poetry is” A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” The poetry of Keats is characterized by ‘sensuous’ uses of language. The sensuousness of Keats is a striking characteristic of his poems including his great odes. The odes which represent the highest achievement of Keats are replete with the sensuous picture. John Keats’ sensuous talent which has influenced Matthew Arnold is limned here poem-wise.
“Ode to a Nightingale”
“Ode to a Nightingale” is one of the most remarkable poems of sensuousness among Keats’ basket. It’s a poem that contains the passion for eternal beauty. The poem begins with the drawing of the effect of the song of the Nightingale on the human body and mind. In the second stanza of this ode, there is a narration of the gustatory sensation of drinking wine. There are references to the visual and auditory senses too. The poet also paints the picture of a drunken whose mouth is purple-stained because of the red wine he has drunk:
“With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth.”
In the 5th stanza, the poet gives a highly sensuous description of Nightingale’s world that it alludes to the senses of sight or its absence (one cannot see): the senses of touch and smell (soft incense) and by the end of the verse, with the evocation of ”the coming musk-rose, full of dew wine”, the sense of taste and hearing has also been incorporated.
“Ode on Melancholy”
In “Ode on Melancholy” again, we have several sensuous pictures. This poem shows us the ephemeral quality of beauty. According to Keats, beauty and joy are the real sources of melancholy. There is the rain falling from the cloud above and reviving the drooping flowers below and covering the green hill in an “April”. There presents the morning rose and there are colors produced by the rainbow lying on the wet sand, and the wealth of “globed peonies”. And then:
“Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Imprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.”
Keats has shown that human life is full of suffering and he himself was prey to disease and pain. He feels sad because he can only enjoy the beauty for a short time. Thus, the poet allies Melancholy with beauty. Besides that, the Goddess of Melancholy lives in a veil with the God of Joy. The God of Joy always keeps his finger on his lips to bid farewell to his worshippers.
“Ode on a Grecian”
In the poem “Ode on a Grecian”, Urn contains a series of sensuous pictures- passionate men and Gods chasing reluctant maidens, the fair youth trying to kiss his beloved, the happy branches of the tree enjoying an everlasting spring, etc. The rapture of the passion of love and of youth has finely been drawn in the following lines:
“More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
Forever painting, and forever young.”
“To Autumn” is one of the fantastic poems of John Keats in which he talks about the beauty of the season with full of sensuousness. The three stanzas of the poem uphold all the sensuous traits. At last in his sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, his imagination is blasted by the delightful excitement of joy to find a poetic kinship between him and Homer. His speech is that he had traveled to many counties and regions but hardly found a piece like Homer. The feelings are like those of an astronomer who has discovered a new planet and those of the Spaniards who has caught sight of new land in the Pacific.
Thus, Keats always selects the objects of his writings and imagery with a keen eye on their beauteous and sensuous appeal. These qualities are the principal charm of his poetry. His treatment of beauty overcomes every other concern. Among all, he is the king poet of beauty. It looks like beauty is his religion.