Whoa it’s been a while! I’m not sure how long a blog on Keats can stay fresh, but he sure stays fresh in my mind. We’ve been learning in class about Modern vs. Romantic writing. Though I know Keats has always been classified as a Romantic, now I’m not so sure. It seems as though, according to T.E. Hulme’s definition, that he fits both categories pretty well.
To Hulme, moderns are classicists that are firmly groundly in “the real,” and recognize the boundaries of human nature. Romantics, he says, get carried away and go off on tangents that try to escape “the real,” which to them is torturous and enslaving; they seek those sublime moments that can let them enter what they think it real— the world of the imagination.
Keats, though, maybe wasn’t so easy to put in a box. Sure, he had his moments of trying to escape painful human experience— “Nightingale” and “Grecian Urn” definitely don’t help his case. But, then again, he always came tumbling back down into the here-and-now, no matter how painful it was to him. And, when that crash landing happened, he realized something: that it actually wasn’t so bad.
Especially in “Ode on Melancholy” or in “To Autumn,” or even “Bright Star,” he realizes that what’s truly beautiful is that pain, because it’s so real. Not “real” in the Romantic sense that reality must be a total escape from the empirical and tangible, but “real” in the sense of what humans actually experience together— painful or not. He says in “Autumn” that, though the plains are “stubble” and empty, showing the mournful end of the harvest, they have a “rosy hue.” It’s almost like they have a human blush, giving them vitality despite their sad barrenness. In the end, for Keats, it’s not about human experience vs. the life of the imagination, or sensation vs. thought. It’s about what’s true— a subject that can dissolve those dichotomies and transcend generational labels.