"Passion's passing bell" : dying into life in The eve of St. Agnes, La Belle Dame sans Merci, and Lamia.

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Date
1983
Authors
Little, Sylvia
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Publisher
Middle Tennessee State University
Abstract
Between January and September 1819, John Keats wrote three remarkable, intricately related love poems: The Eve of St. Agnes, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," and Lamia. As a group the poems indicate ambivalent attitudes toward love, thematic transition, and tonal shift evident in his poetry during 1819. That they register Keats's dying into life as lover and poet is the thesis of this study.
Chapter One, "Three Love Poems," traces the physical and psychological conditions under which Keats wrote the poems and cites general critical interpretations. Comparisons and contrasts of the three poems reveal a developing ambivalence in Keats toward the entanglements of love and art.
Chapter Two, "The Poet as Lover," examines Keats's biography and letters and establishes the context for reading the poems autobiographically. The recurring images of entrapment, absorption, and dissolution in the letters suggest the ambivalence, the exquisite misery, Keats felt toward loving Fanny Brawne. Each poem contains veiled references to their relationship.
Chapter Three, "The Lover as Poet," analyzes each poem as a statement of poetic process, the poet's union with poetic imagination. The fates of the poet-dreamers suggest an increasingly ambiguous view of the nature of the poet and his craft. The Eve of St. Agnes, "La Belle Dame sans Merci," and Lamia record a transformation of the poetic self.
Chapter Four, "The Lover as Lover," focuses upon the dreams and realities of the lovers--Porphyro and Madeline, the knight-at-arms and La Belle Dame, Lycius and Lamia, and Hermes and the Nymph. The women are portrayed as angels and demons; the men, as impassioned lovers and self-deluded dreamers. The interrelationships of the lovers are analyzed and linked to Keats's emotional fluctuation in 1819.
Chapter Five, "Labyrinthine Love," examines the nature of love in the poems, the paradoxes of bliss and pain, enchantment and entrapment, and the attempts to unperplex bliss and pain. Physical consummation occurs but ultimately leads to darkness, chill, or death.
Chapter Six, "'Passion's Passing Bell,'" concludes that the pleasures and torments of loving Fanny Brawne created the tension for Keats's dying into life.
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