Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keats’s Pictorial Quality

Keats’s Pictorial Quality
One of the Greatest Word-Painters
Keats is one of the greatest word-painters in English poetry. The pictorial quality in his poetical work stands above all its other qualities. Picture follows picture in quick succession in his poems and each picture is remarkable for its vividness and minuteness of detail. His images are concrete and stand in a striking contrast with Shelley’s images which are abstract arid vague.
The Eve of St. Agnes is literally full of pictures. We have the hare limping through the frozen grass; the frosted breath of the Beadsman “taking flight for heaven”; the aged creature Angela “shuffling along with ivory-headed wand”; the little moonlight room, pale, latticed, chill and silent as a tomb; Madeline on whose fair breast the wintry moon threw its light and whose rich attire came rustling to her knees, etc. Each image is distinctly drawn and we are enabled fully to see it. In The Eve of St. Mark, we have two very vivid pictures, one depicting the out-door scene in the street, and the other describing the maiden over her book in the fire-lit chamber. In the Ode to Autumn, Autumn has been represented in the concrete forms of a reaper, winnower, gleaner, etc. The Ode on a Grecian Urn contains a series of vivid and concrete pictures—passionate men and gods chasing reluctant maidens, the flute-players playing their ecstatic music, the fair youth trying to kiss his beloved, the happy branches of the trees, the towns people going to a place of worship in order to offer a sacrifice with a mysterious priest to lead them, the little town which will always remain desolate.
Pictures of Inanimate Objects
While giving us the pictures of inanimate objects, Keats often invests them with life and with the power to feel, see and think so as to make his pictures more vivid. He tells of dead and senseless things in terms of life, movement and feeling. In The Eve of St. Agnes, for instance, he draws the pictures of the statues of kings and queens and represents them as capable of feeling cold:
Again, he refers to the angels carved in stone and attributes to them the power to see:
Sensuous Imagery
Another point about Keats’s pictorial quality is that most of his pictures are sensuous in appeal. In other words, his pictures appeal to our sense of sight, sense of taste, sense of smell, sense of hearing, and sense of touch. I Stood Tiptoe, Sleep and Poetry, and Endymion contain numerous such pictures. Many of his pictures are colourful. In the richness of colour, no picture can surpass Keats’s description in The Eve of St. Agnes of a high window decorated with “carven imageries” and “diamonded with panes of quaint device”, with “splendid dyes” like “the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings”. The description of the dainties arranged by Porphyro on a table in the same poem appeals to the senses of sight, smell, and taste simultaneously: Porphyro puts candied apple, plums, jellies, manna, dates, syrops on golden dishes and bright baskets of wreathed silver. In the Ode to Autumn, the first stanza is a rich feast of apples, grapes, hazels, gourd, and honey. In Fancy, again, the poet appeals to our senses of smell and sight by describing flowers of all kinds and colours: the daisy, the marigold, the lily, the primrose, the hyacinth. Our fancy, says the poet, can mix up the pleasures of all seasons for our enjoyment “like three fit wines in a cup”. Describing an imaginary sweetheart in the same poem, he tells us that she will have a waist and a side as white as Hebe’s. And then follows a lovely picture of Hebe’s petticoat slipping down to her feet, and Jove becoming languid with passion on beholding her physical charms. The Ode on Indolence contains a number of pictures which bear witness to Keats’s gift of concrete and sensuous imagery. Each of the three figures is given a separate life in the poem and is fully individualised. There is a lovely picture of a cloudy morning when the air smells of coming rain.
More Examples
In the Ode to Psyche, again, we have several concrete and sensuous pictures. There is the lovely picture of Cupid and Psyche lying in an embrace in the deep grass. An exquisite picture is given in the two lines in which Keats describes, with rare felicity of word and phrase, the flowers of different colours. The lines which describe the beauty of Psyche and the paraphernalia of worship in a temple have also a sensuous quality. The Ode to a Nightingale contains some of the finest pictures of Keats. The lines in which the poet expresses a passionate desire for some Provencal wine or the red wine from the fountain of the Muses, have a rich appeal. Then there is the magnificent picture of the moon shining in the sky and surrounded by stars. The rich feast of flowers that Keats gives us in the poem is one of its outstanding beauties. Apart from these sensuous pictures, there is also a vivid and pathetic image of Ruth when, sick for home, she stood tearful amid the alien corn. The following lines contain an unforgettable picture, wonderful for its suggestiveness and mystery:
The same that oft-times hath          
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam      
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Detailed and Elaborate Imagery
Much of the imagery in the poetry of Keats is detailed and elaborate and bears witness to his powers of minute observation. This is particularly true of’ his pictures of Nature for describing the beauties of which Keats had a rare gift. Picture of Nature are plentiful in / Stood Tiptoe, Sleep and Poetry, Endymion, Hyperion, the Ode to Autumn, and the Ode to a Nightingale.
The Concreteness of the Imagery and its Effect
The concreteness of Keats’s images impresses them on our minds. Many of these images were drawn from his own observation of English woods and gardens, sea-side and brook-side; and he is one of the most enthusiastic of poets in depicting these scenes. But he also drew his images from regions far removed from his personal experience—from the ancient world of “emperor and clown” the Biblical world of Ruth “amid the alien corn”, or the world of medieval romance. Ancient Greece serves as the setting in his Endymion, Lamia, and Hyperion. Boccaccio’s Italy is the setting of his Isabella, or The Poet of Basil. And the Gothic Middle Ages form the background in both The Eve of St. Agnes and The Eve of St. Mark. And in all cases he achieved conspicuous success, even though his knowledge of past ‘ages in foreign lands was not based on a first-hand study of foreign languages, but on a careful study of secondary sources and on his own poetic intuition.

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