Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keats’s Treatment of Nature

Keats’s Love of Nature for Nature’s Sake
Keats’s sentiment of Nature is simpler than that of the other romantics. He remains absolutely uninfluenced by the Pantheism of Wordsworth and Shelley, and loves Nature not because of any spiritual significance in her or any divine meaning in her but chiefly because of her external charm and, beauty.
The instinct of Wordsworth was to interpret all the operations of Nature by those of his own soul. For Shelley, natural beauty was symbolical in a two-fold sense. In the visible glories of the world, his philosophy saw the veil of the unseen: and all the imagery of Nature’s more remote and skyey phenomena was inseparable in his soul from visions of a radiant future. In Keats the sentiment of Nature was simpler, more direct, and more disinterested than in either of these two poets. It was his instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of the sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and aspirations. He was gifted with a delighted insight into all the beauties of woods and fields. Keats is the poet of the senses, and he loves Nature because of her sensuous appeal, her appeal to the sense of sight, the sense of hearing, the sense of smell, the sense of touch. He loves flowers because of their beauty of colour, fragrant smell, and softness. He loves the streams because of their music. He loves the snow, the moon and rainbow for their visual loveliness. He has no mystic intercourse with Nature and reads no moral significance in her (except probably when he personifies the moon as Cynthia in his Endymion and considers her influence as beneficent).
His Love of Nature in His First Volume of Poems
There is ample evidence of his love for Nature for Nature’s own sake in Keats’s first volume of poems. In I Stood Tiptoe, we have several Nature-pictures showing Keats’s delight in the beauties of Nature. We have, for instance, the following lines:
The clouds were pure and white as flocks new-shorn,
And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept
On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept
A little noiseless noise among the leaves
Born of the very sigh that silence heaves:
This beautiful picture of the white clouds sleeping on the blue fields of heaven is followed by other pictures of Nature:
A bush of May-flowers with the bees about them:
Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them;
And let the lush laburnum oversweep them.
And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them
Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets,
That they may bind the moss in leafy nets.
This picture of the May-flowers, the long grass, the violets, etc., has an obvious sensuous appeal.
His Love of the Static Aspects of Nature
The two pictures of Nature given above illustrate another point in regard to Keats’s treatment of Nature. He dwells chiefly upon the static aspects of Nature like the flowers, the trees, the grass, the hills, the moonlight, the fields, etc. In this respect, again, he may be distinguished from Shelley who is more interested in the dynamic aspects of Nature like the west wind and the cloud, and the shifting phenomena of Nature like the ocean and the sunset. This is how Sleep and Poetry opens:
What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
That stays one moment in an open flower,
And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing?
In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
More secret than a nest of nightingales?
Here we have a series of Nature pictures—the bee flying from flower to flower, the musk-rose blowing in a green island, the leafiness of dales, a nest of nightingales.
His Keen Observation of Nature; and His Vivid Pictures
Keats’s observation of Nature is very keen and nothing escapes it. In most of his poems we have Nature-description for its own sake, “expressive of nothing but a keen delight and genuine joy in Nature”. His Nature-pictures are detailed and elaborate. It is for this reason that he is generally regarded as a precursor of the Tennysonian School of Nature. In Endymion, the account of the feast of Pan contains passages which in the quality of direct Nature-interpretation are scarcely to be surpassed in poetry:
rain-scented eglantine
Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run
To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass;
Man’s voice was on the mountains, and the mass
Of Nature’s lives and wonders puls’d ten-fold,
To feel this sun-rise and its glories old.
In Fancy, the poet shows his keen observation when he gives us an inventory of natural phenomena by mentioning the field-mouse peeping from its cell, the snake casting away its winter-skin, the freckled eggs being hatched in the hawthorn tree, the hen-bird’s wing resting on her mossy nest, etc.—
Thou shall see the field-mouse peep
Meagre from its called sleep,
And the snake all winter-thin
Cast on sunny bank its skin;
Freckled nest-eggs thou shall see
Hatching in the hawthorn tree,
When the hen-bird’s wing doth rest
Quiet on her mossy nest;
Then the hurry and alarm
When the bee-hive casts its swarm;
In the Ode to a Nightingale we have a couple of remarkable Nature-pictures owing Keats’s delight in the purely sensuous appeal of Nature. One is the picture of the moon shining in the sky while there is darkness on the grassy floor of the forest:
And happy the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by her starry fays; etc., etc.
The other is a picture of flowers—hawthorn, eglantine, violets, musk-roses:
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;             
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;      
                                And mid-May’s eldest child,           
                The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,  
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
In the Ode to Psyche, we again have a couple of exquisite pictures of Nature. Cupid and Psyche are seen lying side by side:
In deepest grass, beneath the whisp’ring roof             
                Of leaves and trembled blossoms, where there ran   
                                A brooklet scarce espied: 
                Mid-hush’d, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed.        
                Blue, silver white, and budded Tyrian,        
                They lay calm-breathing on the bedded grass;
This is, indeed, one of the best Nature-pictures in Keals’s poetry. We have the deep grass below and the leaves and blossoms up on the branches of trees; there is a brooklet close by and, above all, there are the hushed, cool-rooted, fragrant-eyed flowers of various colours. It is a most inviting picture.
In the Ode on Melancholy, we have a beautiful picture of rain falling from a cloud above on the drooping flowers below:
                But when the melancholy fit shall fall         
                Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud, 
                That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,  
                And hides the green hill in an April shroud:
Then, of course, we have the Ode to Autumn in which we have beautiful pictures of autumn’s fruits and autumn’s songs. The ripe apples, the swollen gourd, the sweet kernel in the hazels, the honey in bee-hives have all a rich sensuous appeal. The songs of autumn are the mournful sounds of gnats, the bleating of lambs, the singing of crickets, the whistling of the redbreast and the twittering of the swallows. The whole of this poem illustrates Keats’s extraordinary powers of observation in the world of Nature. The brief picture of the sunset over the fields in this poem is noteworthy:
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day           
                And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue:
The Greek Element in His Attitude to Nature
Keats’s attitude to Nature has been compared with that of the ancient Greeks. The ancient Greeks personified the objects and forces of Nature. They called the moon Cynthia, and the sun Apollo; they saw Dryads in the wood and Naiads in water. Keats, too, sometimes followed the Greeks in this respect. In one of his poems he says:
I shall again sea Phoebus in the morning:  
                Or flushed
Aurora in the rosiate dawning!  
                Or a white Naiad in a rippling stream.
Aurora in Greek mythology is the goddess of dawn; Phoebus is the god of sun and a Naiad is a water-spirit. In other words, Keats possessed a myth-making faculty in regard to Nature. This is, of course, best seen in Endymion and in Hyperion. Shelley, too, it may be observed, personified the objects of Nature—he personified the west wind, the cloud, the Mediterranean, etc. But while, in Shelley’s case, the objects of Nature retain their character as objects of Nature and are not given any human character, Keats gives to his personifications of the objects and forces of Nature a distinctly human character, thus following the Greeks. The moon is for him Cynthia who falls in love with a mortal and has the same amorous desire as an earthly woman.
An Occasional Complex Sentiment in His Treatment of Nature
Occasionally Keats’s treatment of Nature shows a complex sentiment, as in the following lines from Hyperion:
As when, upon a tranced summer night,     
Those green-robed senators of mighty woods,           
Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars         
Dream, and so dream all night without a stir.
Here Keats employs several metaphors and epithets to express every effect which a forest scene by star-light can have upon the mind.
One of the Supreme Poets of Nature
Keats was one of the supreme poets of Nature. To Wordsworth Nature is a living with power to influence man for good or ill. Keats neither gives a moral life to Nature, as Wordsworth did, nor attempts to pass beyond her familiar manifestations, as Shelley did. (Shelley is the poet “of sky and sea and cloud, the gold of dawn and the gloom of earthquake and eclipse. The world of Nature that he paints is rarely a world that we know.”) But in Keats’s Nature poetry, realism or the quest for pure truth informs every detail. He is the predecessor of .the Tennysonian school because all his Nature-poetry is based on exact knowledge, and the knowledge of a man deliberately observing and storing up the minutest details of what he sees.
Sidney Colvin’s View
Sidney Colvin observes: Keats’s character as a poet of Nature begins distinctly to declare itself in his first volume, the Poems of 1817. He differs by it alike from Wordsworth and Shelley. The instinct of Wordsworth was to interpret all the operations of Nature by those of his own strenuous soul. For Shelley, natural beauty was symbolical in a two-fold sense. In the visible glories of the world, his philosophy saw the evil of the unseen; and all the imagery of Nature’s more remote and skyey phenomena was inseparable in his soul from visions of a radiant future. In Keats the sentiment of Nature was simpler than in either of these two men; more direct, and more disinterested. It was his instinct to love and interpret Nature more for her own sake, and less for the sake of sympathy which the human mind can read into her with its own workings and aspirations. He was gifted with a delighted insight into all the beauties of the woods and fields. Evidences of this gift appear in the longer poems of his first volume, with their lingering trains of peaceful summer imagery, and loving inventories of “Nature’s gentle doings”; and pleasant touches of the same kind are scattered also among the sonnets as in To Charles Wells:
As late I rambled in the happy fields,           
                What time the skylark shakes the tremulous dew      
                From his lush clover covert,—
or again in the one To Solitude:
let me thy vigils keep        
‘Mongst boughs pavilion’d where the deer’s swift leap            
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.

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1 comments:

Pritha Chakraborty said...

thanks...!!!

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