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The Romantic Poems Of John Keats

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3359 words Published: 18th May 2017

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John Keats was an English Romantic poet who lived during the 19th century. In his short-lived life he faced many ordeals and had to witness death and suffering that shaped him as a poet and reflects in his work. Both of his parents died when Keats was at a young age, his father passed away when the author was only 9 years old. The illness and death of his brother Tom affected him immensely; Keats spent countless hours by Tom’s bedside and nursed him. [1] The author contemplates on death in various ways in connection to nature and love, Keats longs to escape reality and dreams of living in a fantasy. The author explores the fear of death and dying in his poems to the extent of experiencing it himself. 

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Keats suffered from ill health, the poet supposedly contracted a venereal disease (the theory is supported by the fact that Keats was treated with mercury, that is used to cure syphilis and gonorrhoea) but it might have as well been a respiratory illness. Keats had recovered from his previous illness, but soon he caught a cold that turned into acute tonsillitis. As he suffered from an illness, Tom’s condition deteriorated, he died in 1818.

By 1820 Keats was at the hype of his creation, but soon tragedy appeared. The author experienced the first signs of tuberculosis, the disease that had taken away his mother and brother Tom. [2] 

John Keats met with the Brawne family in 1818, John and the eldest daughter Frances “Fanny”, of the Brawne family (not to be mistaken for Keats younger sister Frances Keats) developed a love affair and were engaged, but could not marry as to the lack of income on Keats’s behalf. [3] The poetic and vivid letters by Keats to Fanny provide the reader with an insight into the love story. The lovers were separated when Keats travelled to Italy, Rome to improve his health. But it was too late. John Keats uttered his final words: „Don’t breathe on me. It comes like ice” remaining poetical till his final breath, Keats died on 23 February 1821 at the age of 25. He died believing himself to be a failure. [4] 

To analyze the relevance of the aspect of death in Keats poetry I have chosen poems and a letter from John Keats. In this essay I will research the imagery of death and how it reflects in John Keats’s poetry. The reason for choosing to analyze the poetry of Keats was the previous interest in English literature and the different viewpoint on death that Keats poses in his works, the interest in death and dying captivated me to research and analyze the meaning behind the poems. In Keats’s poetry, since he uses imagery and literary devices constantly, there are a lot of aspects to look into and analyze that is why I chose a certain aspect to narrow the topic to make the essay more manageable and to analyze the aspect of death in more depth. My thoughts

Death & nature

Nature captivated Keats as he incorporated it into majority of his works, by connecting nature and the circle of life the author created some of his most famous poems in connection to death. In his poem To Autumn which he wrote in 1819 when he still possessed some strength in him to create one of his most famous piece. My thoughts

Personal grief and his reflected in the imagery. Amongst this gloominess he had a love for life, represented by the imaginative style and beauty in his most romantic pieces. [5] The poem is full of descriptions that appeal to senses like sight, taste and hearing. One can smell the “fume of poppies” and hear the “bees, until they think warm days will never cease”. My thoughts

Keats describes autumn as a “season of mist and mellow fruitfulness” after being inspired by a walk near Winchester. [6] It seems as if the season will not come to an end, but in the last stanza the previous joy and colourful description ends. The reader can distinguish the negative connotations that describe “the soft-dying day” and the end of autumn. [7] Keats captures the beauty of dying using vocabulary that indicates the delicate and romantic ideal that Keats thought death to have been, my thoughts as the sun sheds a “bloom” of “rosy hue”. [8] In this poem Keats combines and contrasts death and life and is able to see the pleasure in something unlikeable, since they both are inevitable and merge into one in life. My thoughts By accepting death Keats turns it into a positive and normal part of life, the poem does not remain overly negative, my thoughts since in the last stanza in the line “Think not of them, thou hast thy music too” the author welcomes the end of autumn as he sees something beautiful in the end as well and acknowledges that life and death are in harmony. [9] 

His poem Bright Star that was allegedly written to Frances Fanny Brawne [10] , has a frostiness to it, the words „star”, „night”, „snow” create a feeling of wintriness, that empowers the poem. Still it remains positive since Keats has no repugnance towards death, especially when he is with his loved one. My thoughts

The aspect of death is emphasised when Keats brings in a personification in the line „the moving waters at their priestlike task”, creating an ominous atmosphere. My thoughts The Keats, in his works, has always accepted death sine qua non. kas ladina keelseid v2ljendeid peab ka referensima

Death & love

In his letter to Fanny he says: “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.” The letter Fanny’s loveliness and his death were the thoughts in his mind. He believed that he could reach fulfillment by dying and having her at the same moment. Keats completed the letter, “Yours ever, fair Star.” That might be the indication that the poem “Bright Star” was written to Fanny Brawne. [11] Keats wrote “Bright Star” in 1819 and revised it in 1820. [12] 

In a lot of Keats poems there has been speculations over sexual overtones, for example in Bright Star the author uses the expression to „swoon to death”- an orgasm is often compared to dying (the French term for orgasm is le petit morte- the small death). „Because of its position as the last word in the poem “death” carries a great deal of weight in the final effect and meaning of the poem.” [13] It can be considered as a culmination and an abeyance after that.

In the Ode to Autumn Keats erects a momentum with „to set budding more, and still more” that peaks with “warm days will never cease” and releases itself (with definite sexual undertones) with “For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cells.” [14] From the previous examples it can be recognised that John Keats uses love and romantic feelings to form his poems, his usage of literary devices and vocabulary often creates a visual delight for the reader, as the descriptions are vivid and vibrant with life even when describing death. my thoughts

Keats has intertwined love and death that formed the essence of him and his creations. He was interested in both of them and even death captivated Keats as much as love. My thoughts In Bright Star Keats expresses his wish to be “Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,… And so live ever -or else swoon to death” cite the poem He dreamed of eternity as he was fully content being in one certain moment but as he knew that it would pass, Keats preferred to die rather than leave that particular situation. In Ode to a Nightingale the author admits that “for many a time I have been half in love with easeful Death” and finds that “To cease upon the midnight with no pain” … “In such an ecstasy!” it “Now more than ever seems it rich to die”. Poem quotes These examples show Keats fanaticism towards death. His lover is a “fair creature of an hour”, poem my thought in his poem When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be, and cannot be for “ever” poem he thinks of death as the best or even an enjoyable option for him. [15] 

Death & reality vs. fantasy

In his theory of Negative Capability Keats says:” . . several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously–I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason–Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge. This pursued through Volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.” December 21, 27 (?), 1817 [16] 

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The willingness to remain in doubt is seen in his poetry in “Ode to a Nightingale” the lines “Was it a vision or dream? Fled is that music: Do I wake or sleep?” [17] form a rhetorical question and confirm that he is capable of being in uncertainties and does not need facts or reason in order to understand or enjoy the situation. My thoughts. Since Keats experienced tragedy in his life, he felt as if poetry was a way to escape [18] and go “Away! Away! for I will fly to thee,” “But on the viewless wings of Poesy” poem so it appears as if to Keats the migration of birds a positive and beautiful detail connected to the end of Autumn and the idea of escape and fleeing reality. My thoughts

The differentiation between reality and fantasy is evident in Bright Star as Keats is willing to be „Awake for ever in a sweet unrest”. The poet accepts that he could die from pleasure, and contrasts the dream and reality that he flees from once again.

Keats attributes the qualities of love with something mystical comparing it to “faery power” as something magical and beautiful but still remaining a fantasy or an illusion.

Keats was used to death and as he had experienced so much of it became normality for him, therefore it was difficult for him to believe that he could be happy or feel pleasures of life without them passing by. The expression to pass by appears in many of Keats’s poems. my thoughts In Ode of Indolence Keats is certain that “Neither poetry, nor Love have any alertness of countenance as the pass by me”. Keats by Andrew Motion, page 359, University of Chicago Press, 1999 This leaves the reader an impression as if Keats was only standing by as life passed him, since he could not see anything positive in them at times and it seemed to him as if there was no expressions in poetry or love and therefore Keats could not at times relate to it and only thought of them as a fantasy. My thoughts

Death & creation and the fear of death

It was evident that Keats could not continue with writing much longer due to financial problems and about a year after publishing the poem Ode to Autumn he died. During that time Keats was struggling with his own personal problems. His brother George was in need of money to emigrate to America and he himself could no more afford the lifestyle of a poet. [19] Therefore the poem can be interpreted as a final farewell to his creation. “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” he asks, the singing of the birds that are preparing to depart create a melancholy mood that emphasizes the author’s reflection of his feelings. [20] He might have felt like- since he was ill and had no money to support himself, not to mention the unattainable marriage to Fanny- death was approaching.

The fear of dying is reflected in his poems as well, as before the reader could see that Keats was fascinated with death and even considered it to be something positive, he still was afraid of death and dying. In When I Have Fears he admits that ” I have fears that I may cease to be, Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain”, my thoughts not fully achieving his ambitions as a writer [21] and that he might die before he could write all he had ever wanted daunted him, as it is common for poets to be afraid of failure.

In order to overcome his fears he “stands alone”, thinks of the relevance of love and fame and the insignificance of a single human being by contrasting himself to “the wide world”. It gives an effect of loneliness and insinuates to the theme of the poem that is death and fear of dying. In the final two lines “Of the wide world I stand alone, and think, Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink”. My thoughts Keats connects the desire for love and fame, that he has to accept are unimportant and “to nothingness do sink”, to the ceasing of fear and yearning. [22] 

Keats was inspired by Shakespeare and parallels to the existential monologue by Hamlet can be drawn in the poem On Death. Keats contrasts death and life, comparing them to sleep and to a dream. Keats asks „can death be sleep when life is but a dream”and in Hamlet Shakespeare has posed a question rather similar to of Keats “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come”. Both authors think of death as something unknown but yet intriguing and possibly something positive and better as the life on earth. He ridicules people and himself who are religious and crave for afterlife and live in the pursuit of it but when it comes down to dying and reaching their dream, they fear death that leads to it since „we think the greatest pains to die”.

Keats contemplates how „strange” it is that people have to „lead a life of woe” and despair, that a man is made to suffer on earth and only in the afterlife gain bliss and happiness. The last two lines in On Death are addressed on the subject of being able or daring to „view alone his future doom” that is in fact face death. There is a change in the last line of the poem, where Keats compares death to an „awakening” saying his future doom which is but to awake”. The fear of death takes over once again, using negative vocabulary, the words „doom”, woe, rugged, alone, pain, roam,” indicate a dark atmosphere and make the death seem like a final suffering before the “awakening”. Keats contrasts sleep and being awake by indicating that waking up is something negative as he uses the word “doom” and as if coming out of the fantasy is like dying. My thoughts The pleasures of life Keats longed to possess were “transient” and only a “vision” as he expresses his thoughts in On Death. But as the author was able to make peace with death it is not the “greatest pain, therefore, to die”

Keats thought of it abnormal for a person to live a life in “the veil of tears” and walk along the “path of woe”, even when have seen so much death Keats remained “in love” with life. His passion towards life and love were overwhelming and reflect in his works and letters. The love affair with Fanny was the evidence of how much passion and love and devotion Keats possessed.


John Keats was greatly affected by death and since he had to lose many of his loved ones at a young age that made him even more vulnerable and opened to creations. In connection to nature, love and creation, Keats captivates the reader to contemplate on death as he often did. The often extreme examples of the fantasy of dying and living in a dream show how much his short life was full of grief and how Keats was fascinated by death and dying. The author uses vocabulary that helps to create a certain atmosphere or portray an image of what feelings the author wanted to convey to the reader. Keats often fell into extremes by expressing his thoughts on death, his ultimate dream to die and be with his loved one simultaneously and the concept of Negative Capability are examples of his struggle to balance between reality and fantasy. The longing to escape the harsh reality and face the real world seemed like “doom” for him. His existential thoughts are represented in his works as he accepts death as a normal part of life. Keats still remains captivated by dying and death since it is something unknown. His works represent his life and the way he felt and decided to live his short life. My thoughts and previous ideas from sources

He had lived, he had loved and he had seen death, but as Keats had wished “Here lies one whose name was writ in water” to be written on his tombstone. [23] It can be considered true that “A poet is not at all poetical. He is the most un-poetical thing in existence. He has no identity.” [24] 


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