John Keats is one of the prominent Romantic poets. His life encapsulates a lot of pain and suffering due to the loss of his family members and also his unrequited love for Fanny Browne. Anything in its authentic and original form can be regarded as beauty. Similarly, for Keats beauty is synonymous with Truth. It is in this pursuit of beauty that he completely forgets his pains and sufferings and also the world around him. Thus, he transcends into an imaginary world. Keats saw beauty in truth and truth in beauty. He never escaped the realities of life in pursuit of the beautiful visions of his imagination. Infact his imaginary visions are based on reality.
In one of the sonnets, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be”, John Keats has explored the theme of loveliness and love. In this sonnet, the poet has explored his fatal love besides the mortal beauty of his beloved Fanny. The poet proclaims:
“When I behold upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of 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”.
In these lines the poet takes the “Huge cloudy symbols” as a threat to his clear love, which is connoted by the phrase, “night’s starr’d face”. A clear reference to the poet’s beloved is witnessed as the poet asserts “fair creature of an hour”. Here he is focusing on the fact that life is fleeting and the physical beauty and loveliness of his beloved would not last forever, neither would his love. This shows that he is a staunch believer of the inner beauty because it is immortal and it does not need camouflage as opposed to physical beauty.
An Ode is addressed directly to Fanny Brawne namely ” To Fanny” . Keats was head over heels in love with Fanny and was also engaged to her. In this ode, the poet is filled with passion for her but he is a victim of his beloved’s neglection .This neglection arouses jealousy in him when he witnesses Fanny dancing with the military officers. The poet asserts:
“Ah! dearest love, sweet home of all my fears,
And hopes, and joys, and panting miseries,–
To-night, if I may guess, they beauty wears
A smile of such delight,
As brilliant and as bright
As when with ravish’d, aching, vassal eyes,
Lost in soft amaze,
I gaze, I gaze!
Who now, with greedy looks, eats up my feast?”
In these lines the poets addresses Fanny and calls her the home of his hopes, joys, fears and miseries. He imagines Fanny to be the prettiest creature in the world at least for one night. However, he is possessive about his lover and warns her not to allow anybody to touch her so that he may get the best of her. Furthermore, the poet says:
“Why, this – you’ll say, my fanny !is not true:
Put your soft hand upon your snowy side.
Where the heart beats: confess-’tis nothing new-“
Keats asks Fanny if she is really true to him. This question to the beloved substantiates Keats’ inclination towards the idea of beauty in truth. He also attributes her beauty by using the metaphor of “snowy side” which signifies the purity of Fanny’s heart. However, in the very next line he negates himself as he thinks that Fanny is also like other women who are similar to a feather in an ocean that is tossed by wind to any direction. The analogies that the poet draws for Fanny are drawn from nature that incorporates a romantic element which is an inevitable part of his poetry.
Last of all in this ode Keats confesses:
“Let none else touch the just new-budded flower;
If not – may my eyes close.
Love! on their last repose.”
At this point the poet appeals to his beloved to remain pure and unscathed like a fresh budding flower and if she cannot do so he thinks he should rather die immediately. Hence, this depicts the height of expression of love by Keats for his beloved and his obsession with her innocence.
In “Ode to Melancholy”, analogous themes are explored by the poet but not with specific reference to Fanny. However, these themes very subtly highlight Keats’ fascination for his beloved. The poet talks about the transience of melancholy thus projecting it as something beautiful. It further conveys the notion that the poet has tasted all flavors of life and transforms all heartachening emotions into rays of hope. Keats says:
“Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.”
The phrase “thy mistress” used in these lines is yet another allusion for Fanny. In these lines the poet is appreciating the beauty of an angry mistress. Consequently, he reflects that even in anger he finds his beloved beautiful. The moment is transient so he must get hold of it as it makes the mistress look lovelier. This beauty of the beloved would pass away as soon as her anger subsides. Here we notice that the bewitching and beautiful eyes of the beloved are also praised. Such references to the beloved’s eyes and the beauty of her anger are reminiscent of Urdu poetry, essentially poems of Ghalib echo these notions.
Another example of the transitory beauty of the beloved is witnessed when the poet claims:
“She dwells with Beauty-Beauty that must die;”
This line refers to the fact that Beauty by its very nature is short lived. As a result, even the beloved would not remain beautiful forever. If we take these examples in the context of the ode itself we observe that the poet talks about the voluptuous beauty of the irritated mistress that is transient hence marking the beauty of ephemeral melancholic moment. Whereas, the second example from this ode depicts that the fleeting nature of beauty is what gives birth to melancholy in man’s mind. Thus, Keats allies melancholy to beauty.
The themes of beauty and loveliness are also embedded in the sonnet “Bright Star”. It illustrates the poet’s desire to pillow his head on the fair rounded breasts of his beloved so he may hear her breathe. This is substantiated when the poet professes:
“Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feet for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live over-or else swoon on death.”
Keats explains these lines as,” Ever constant I should rest my head on my loved one’s well developed breast, feeling for ever its gentle rise and fall and always awakening to a sweet but restless feeling, just to hear the sound of her gentle breathing. So let me live for ever, or else faint away and cease to live”. This displays the poet’s unconditional affection and admiration for Fanny as he wants to take his last breath in her embrace.