John Keats (part 1)

  A. Read and translate the poem.

Written On A Blank Space At The End Of Chaucer's Tale Of The Flowre And The Lefe*

This pleasant tale is like a little copse:
The honied lines so freshly interlace,
To keep the reader in so sweet a place,
So that he here and there full-hearted stops;
And oftentimes he feels the dewy drops
Come cool and suddenly against his face,
And, by the wandering melody, may trace
Which way the tender-legged linnet hops.
Oh! what a power has white simplicity!
What mighty power has this gentle story!
I, that do ever feel athirst for glory,
Could at this moment be content to lie
Meekly upon the grass, as those whose sobbings
Were heard of none beside the mournful robins.

copse: a small group of trees growing close together
(black and) white simplicity: involving one idea that is clearly right and another that is clearly wrong, so that it is not difficult for you to make a moral decision

B. Answer the questions.

  1. Whose tale inspired Keats to write the poem? What do you know about the author?
  2. What is the tale compared to (line 1)? What figure of speech does the poet use?
  3. What examples of imagery that appeals to the senses do you find in the poem?
  4. How does the poet characterise the tale he has read?
  5. What is the poet's attitude to glory?
  6. How does the tale influence the poet? What emotions does he experience?
  7. Who does he compare himself to in lines 13-14?
  8. What adjectives and adverbs does the poet use? Which word combinations look unusual?
  9. How many lines does the poem consist of? What is the form of this poem?
  10. What is the rhyme scheme of the poem?

*In the "Tale of the Flower and the Leaf" (attributed to Chaucer) the main character sees two groups of knights and their ladies. The first group praises the green leaves of the trees in the grove, while the second one admires the beauty of the flowers in the middle of the meadow. However, the heat of the sun and the sudden storm and hail soon destroy the flowers and make the second group suffer from bad weather, while the first one is safe, protected by the thick greenery of the trees. In this allegory the author enforces the lasting advantages of purity, virtue, and faithful love, and the fleeting and disappointing character of idle pleasure.

C. Read the life story of John Keats.

John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was one of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement. Keats's works, including a series of odes that were his masterpieces, remain among the most popular poems in English literature.

John Keats was the son of a stable manager. He was the oldest of four children. His father died in 1804 in a riding accident, and his mother died of tuberculosis in 1810. Before devoting himself entirely to poetry, Keats studied surgery. In 1817, He published his first volume of poetry. In 1818 and 1819 he wrote his best works, among which were his famous odes: Ode to Psyche, Ode on a Grecian Urn, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy, and To Autumn.

John took care of his brother Tom, who died of consumption in 1818, and soon after that he also fell ill. In 1818 he fell in love with his neighbour's daughter, but their relationship was cut short when he began showing worse signs of the disease. On the suggestion of his doctors he moved to Italy where he died in 1821.

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  D. Read and translate the poem.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love; then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

glean: collect or gather;
teeming: full, prolific, producing a large number of (ideas)
charactery: (old) writing
garners: buildings where grain is stored
behold: see
high romance: great poem
relish: great enjoyment
faery: (old) fairy

D. Answer the questions.

  1. Who is the speaker?
  2. What fears does the poet express in the poem? What worries him in the first and second quatrains? In the third quatrain?
  3. How do you understand line 2?
  4. What is compared to garners holding stores of grain? What figure of speech does the poet use? What idea does this comparison contain?
  5. What figure of speech is used in line 5?
  6. What expression in the third quatrain suggests the short lifespan of beauty?
  7. What words in the final couplet suggest insignificance of a person in comparison with the universe? What words emphasize his loneliness and despair?
  8. What does the poem have in common with Shelley's "Ozymandias"?
  9. Find run-on lines.
  10. Compare the form and the rhyme scheme of this poem and the previous one.
  11. How is the poem (written in 1818) connected with the poet's life?