The Fusion of the Ideal and the Real

Essay by CollisionHigh School, 11th gradeA+, December 2009

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The Romantic poet, John Keats, fuses the ideal with reality through his poetry. The ritual of the “Eve of St. Agnes” is used to show Madeline her ideal husband. Sadly, reality does not allow Madeline to have her ideal husband. In the “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Keats stresses the timeless beauty and purity of the urn to identify its ideal nature. He also mentions its true emptiness to manifest the reality of the urn. In the “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats attempts to use the nightingale as a means of transcendence to a ‘better world.’ Yet this ‘better world’ is only temporary and one must always return to reality. These poems of John Keats are prime examples of the usage of the ideal and reality in Romantic poetry.

The ritual of the eve of St. Agnes is said to have caused a vision of a bride’s husband.

The narrator mentions, “They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve, Young virgins might have visions of delight, And soft adorings from their loves receive Upon the honey’d middle of the night” (46-49). Porphyro uses this as an opportunity to solidify Madeline’s choice in him. Porphyro will lean over so that Madeline will dream of and awake to him. Madeline will dream of Porphyro and in her dreams, he is the ideal husband she has been longing for. The narrator says, “He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute, In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy:” Close to her ear touching the melody;—Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan: He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenly Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone…”(291-294). The soft moan and pants indicate the pleasure of Madeline’s dream of Porphyro. It seems as though Madeline has seen her ideal husband in her vision.

Porphyro prepared for this manipulation very well and it seemed to have caused success. The narrator says, “In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d, While he from forth the closet brought a heap Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd; With jellies soother than the creamy curd, And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon…” (263-267). This indicated his preparation for this event. Yet by Porphyro interfering in the ritual, the idealness of the ritual itself is negated. The ritual is meant to supernaturally allow the virgin bride to have a vision of their true husband. Therefore, Porphyro forces ‘reality’ into Madeline’s ideal dream. Also Madeline comes to realize that the ideal cannot be reality. The narrator mentions, “Her eyes were open, but she still beheld, Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep: There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d The blisses of her dream so pure and deep At which fair Madeline began to weep…” (298-302). Madeline awakes to Porphyro and is somewhat disappointed. She looks at him and begins to weep because she comes to a realization. This realization is that the real Porphyro cannot compare to her ideal Porphyro.

The urn, in the “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” is portrayed as an ideal and almost supernatural object. He uses vivid imagery and portrays it as a timeless image of classical antiquity. The narrator mentions, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d…” (11-13). He makes it seem as though the urn is perfect. He also depicts it as of timeless beauty and purity. Keats narrates, “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of silence and slow time…” (1-2). The “unravish’d” bride is supposed to symbolize the purity or virginity of the urn. Referring to the urn as a ‘foster-child,’ personifies the urn and attempts to compare it to a human. This reference is used to imply that the urn is not of other urns, yet it was cared for by humans.

This idealistic tone quickly changes when the speaker realizes the actual emptiness of the urn. The speaker praises the melancholy image on the urn, yet realizes that art leaves questions unanswered. The tone begins as pleasant praise to violent skepticism. The narrator says, “What leaf fringed legend haunts about thy shape” (5). Since art is 'still,' it is not dynamic or amendable to being able to answer questions. The narrator also mentions, “What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy” (9-10)? The narrator finally comprehends that art does not display the complete narrative; art is just the representation of a singular moment. A singular moment, which does not tell the emotions and background that are necessary in fully understanding.

The “Ode to a Nightingale” explores the sufferings of mortal life and ways of escape including alcohol, imagination and poetry, and death. The nightingale represents transcendence to a better world and its song is the means by which the narrator reaches this state. The narrator says, “With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, And purple-stained mouth; That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, And with thee fade away into the forest dim…” (17-20). The narrator wants to escape his pains through alcohol. He then wants to transcend with the nightingale. He narrates, “Away! away! for I will fly to thee, Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, But on the viewless wings of Poesy, Though the dull brain perplexes and retards…” (31-34). He longs to transcend with to the nightingale and to be in a ‘better world.’Sadly, the narrator returns to reality and comes to a realization about the nightingale. This realization seems to have been prompted by the word ‘forlorn.’ The speaker says, “The same that oft-times hath Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn” (68-70). This word leads to the narrator’s realization. He then says, “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell To toil me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf” (71-74). He realizes the nightingale has deceived him by convincing him he can escape into the ideal world. He realizes that this world is only temporary and he must always return to reality.

In conclusion, John Keats brilliantly fuses the ideal and reality in order to intensify his Romantic poetry. The “Eve of St. Agnes,” the “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and the “Ode to a Nightingale” are prime examples of his use of the ideal and reality. There is a recurring theme of the ideal and how it always must return to reality.

Bibliography"Eve of St. Agnes" by John Keats"Ode on a Grecian Urn" by John Keats"Ode to a Nightingale" by John Keats