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‘He Sang the Story’\ud Narrative and Poetic Identity in Keats’s Work



Story-telling is a mode central to the practice and achievement of John Keats. In ‘Sleep and Poetry’, he refers to life as ‘The reading of an ever-changing tale’. This line suggests his sense of the centrality of narrative to human experiences. Yet the Keatsian narrative is as a medium for Keats to investigate the nature and development of his poetic identity. His idea of poetry and of the poet, and his narrative figuring of himself as a poet are my subject, as they are his, when in the phrase the thesis takes for its title Keats writes of a poet in Endymion, ‘He sang the story up into the air’ (II, 838). \ud \ud Recent scholarship has interpreted Keats’s narrative techniques in different ways. Critical approaches have modified the Bloomian concept of the anxiety of influence by using a reader response approach, or have taken on board or swerved from a McGannian New Historicist perspective. In the process Keats’s formal achievement, once celebrated by critics such as Walter Jackson Bate and Helen Vendler, has received comparatively little attention. This thesis, adopting ideas and approaches associated with narratology (including its application to lyric poetry), analyses Keats’s poetic career, focusing on the poetry’s narrative techniques and its treatment of the narrator’s role. My approach might be described as aiming to accomplish a ‘poetics of attention’. \ud \ud This thesis consists of eight chapters. Chapter one discusses ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ and ‘Sleep and Poetry’, poems that are crucial in understanding Keats’s use of narrative to explore his poetic identity. In chapter two, concentrating on Endymion’s enactment of imaginative struggle, I attempt to show the purposeful function of the poem’s ‘wandering’ and complex narrative structure, which allows Keats space to develop and examine his beliefs about mythology, beauty, and visionary quest. Chapters three and four examine narrative techniques and the narrator’s role in ‘Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil’ and ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ as Keats questions the nature and function of ‘old Romance’, even as he employs it, thus bringing a modern self-consciousness to bear on his task. Chapters five and six are devoted to the narrativity shown in the odes. Such an exploration of the ‘lyric narrative’ seeks to shed new light on our understanding of Keats’s odes. Chapter seven considers the ambivalence that Keats creates in ‘Lamia’. Lamia’s enigmatic identity as a woman and a serpent makes the narrative complex and the narrator perplexed. Chapter eight analyses ‘Hyperion: A Fragment’ and ‘The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream’, arguing that Keats uses these two poems as narratives to explore his idea of poetry and of the poet. \ud \ud In his short creative life, Keats demonstrates different and various narrative skills. These narrative skills shape his ideas and ideals of poetry as well as of the poet. Via his use of narrative, we are able to see the evolution of his poetic identity. He presents himself as what he recommended a poet should be, a shape-changing figure, who might be best described as a ‘camelion Poet’.\u

Topics: Keats, narrative, poet, poetry, poetic identity, English Romanticism
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Durham e-Theses

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