Keats: Bicentenary Readings

By Michael Oweill | Go to book overview

pompous, becoming the thing it wants to ward off, 'Calling for pomp': 'He does not become a three-days personage' mimics the idiom and stance it would shun. But when in the next stanza the poem starts again for the second time, it manages to find a more suitable register by acknowledging its problem: 'Death is absolute and without memorial'. And this time the poem does not come to a full-stop with the phrase 'As in a season of autumn', but manages, haltingly, to keep going. The season that traditionally ushers in thoughts of endings and death, is discreetly and unpompously extended into a coda that extends the poem's ending. 'The wind stops', but the poem does not, and carries on past the stanza break by hesitantly repeating this line about the wind stopping, but with the addition of an 'and' ('When the wind stops and') to allow itself a beautifully managed, not too swelling cadence towards an underspoken affirmation of life as, at any rate, a supportable 'nevertheless': life must go on, as we say. Life does go on, in its 'direction', but the poem is too feelingly reticent to say what that may be.

The poem's self-reflexive intelligence can be felt constantly at work in the texture of the language. It achieves those 'heavens' and 'clouds', the subdued lyric moment of the final stanza, against the odds, knowing the cost. A line such as Keats's fullthroatedly autumnal 'While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day' would, needless to say, be out of place in 'The Death of a Soldier'. 'Nevertheless' Stevens's poem tacitly registers that such full-throatedness is possible -- if not in this poem, and if only by encouraging his reader to hark back to Keats.


NOTES
1
Walter Jackson Bate, John Keats ( 1963; London: Hogarth Press, 1992): ' Keats saw ... that he was and could only be a modern poet: that he could hardly escape a poetry that was turned more to the inner life.' (p. 322) Of The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream Bate writes: 'In the powerful fragment that he now wrote, anticipating much of what poetry was to do a century later, the interest that takes precedence over every other is the self as it tries to come to terms with reality.' (p. 587) And comparing that poem with Hyperion: A Fragment, he writes: 'The problems involved in the poetic treatment of the growth of modern consciousness are now faced directly at the start.' (p. 602)
2
John Bayley, The Uses of Division ( London: Chatto and Windus, 1976), p. 112.
3
Christopher Ricks, Keats and Embarrassment ( Oxford: OUP, 1976). My opening paragraph attempts to sketch only the broad outline. In the last decade or so the picture has become more complicated, and American critics in particular, partly in reaction to the Bloom- Vendler approach, have been anxious to relate Keats's style to its social matrix: see especially Marjorie Levinson, Keats's Life ofAllegory: The Origins of a Style

-100-

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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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