Keats: Bicentenary Readings

By Michael Oweill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Keats and Silence

J. R. WATSON

My subject is that which lies on the other side of language, but which is spoken about, or gestured towards, in the language of poetry. Silence is, by its very nature, enigmatic: it can take many forms -- the silence of horror, as in the response to the concentration camps ('after Auschwitz, no poetry'); the silence of anger or despair; the silence of wonder; the silence that precedes or succeeds sound or words, poems, or verses; and finally the silence of sleep and death. In beginning to discuss it, I take as a model not George Steiner "Silence and the Poet" in Language and Silence but a collection of essays by the psychoanalyst Nina Coltart, entitled Slouching to Bethlehem ( 1992). As the title of her book indicates, Coltart finds literary metaphors useful and illuminating when she is describing psychoanalytic experience and method: in particular the 'rough beast' of Yeats "The Second Coming" is something within the patient that gradually begins to form in analysis, and which it is the analyst's dangerous duty to find. In an essay on the silent patient, Coltart discusses the difficulty. 'I have treated', she writes, 'eight patients in twenty-five years who have been deeply silent for long periods during the analysis. One for nearly a year, several for months and weeks':

Any silence of more than about forty minutes in analysis
begins to have its own peculiar interest. But there is a very
particular challenge issued by profoundly silent patients,
who are often, by the way, not diagnosable as such during a
careful assessment interview. I make this point because it
indicates that profound silence itself, as well as what it
conceals, can be a rough beast which is slouching along in
the depths of a communicative, articulate patient and whose
time may need to come round and be endured in the analysis. 1

She writes of one such patient who, after an initial elation, 'fell violently silent, exuding ever-stronger black waves of hatred and despair'. 2 We have met his fellow in Iago, busily engaged in a

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Keats: Bicentenary Readings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgernents vi
  • Note on Texts vii
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Notes 10
  • Chapter Two - A Cockney Schoolroom: John Keats at Enfield 11
  • Notes 25
  • Chapter Three - Keats's New World: an Emigrant Poetry 27
  • Notes 44
  • Chapter Four - Old Saints and Young Lovers: Keats's Eve of St Mark and Popular Culture 48
  • Notes 68
  • Chapter Five - Keats and Silence 71
  • Notes 86
  • Chapter Six - The Inward Keats: Bloom, Vendler, Stevens 88
  • Notes 100
  • Chapter Seven - Keats's Poetry: "The Reading of an Ever-Changing Tale' 102
  • Notes 126
  • Chapter Eight - Still Life with Keats 129
  • Notes 142
  • Chapter Nine - 'Cutting Figures': Rhetorical Strategies in Keats's Letters 144
  • Notes 169
  • Notes on Contributors 170
  • Index 172
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