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Keats’ Conflict Between the World of Imagination and the World of Reality
John Keats, an escapist, being torn with the sufferings of practical life, escapes from the real world to the realm of imagination. But there is a stark contrast between the world of reality, where the poet actually lives, and the world of imagination where he wants to be. Now we will discuss the conflict between these two worlds as we find in his poems especially “Ode to the Greek urn”, “Ode to the Nightingale” and “Ode to melancholy”.
In the real world, happiness, beauty, love and youth are transitory while in the imaginative world everything is beautiful and permanent. “Ode to Nightingale” shows a clear conflict between the happiness and immortality of the kind and the poverty and mortality of human life. The poem begins with a description of the effect of a nightingale’s song on the poet’s body and soul. As the poet says:
“My heart aches and a dull numbing pain.
My sense as of hemlock had drunk”
The song of the Nightingale, to the poet, is a symbol of eternal joy. Nightingale’s world is ideal for him. Fatigue, fever and the rush of reality make him unhappy. He wants to disappear to dissolve from the real world where as the poet says:
“… youth grows pale, and thin specter, and dies,
Where but to think is to be full of pain”
So, to be released from the belter and painful reality of life, the poet wants to escape to the dream forest with the nightingale. As you say;
“Far away! Away! To fly to you”
In his imaginative forest, the poet finds all the sensual pleasure of his life that he wants to have in an ideal world. This extremity of joy also reminds him of death. As we see in the poem:
“Now more than ever it seems rich to die.
In such ecstasy.”
The poet now contrasts the mortality of man with the immortality of the nightingale. The song of nightingales, which the poet hears today, was heard in ancient times by emperors and clowns. He also felt in fairyland where-
“… magical wings, open on the foam
of dangerous seas, in abandoned fairyland.”
The world itself “forlorn” as a bell brings him back from the world of make-believe to the real world. It is, to the poet, like a dream. As you say;
“Was it a vision, or a walking dream?
Fugitive is that music – I wake up or sleep.”
So in the poem we find a dynamic contrast between an imaginary world and a real world full of pain.
As an ode to the Nightingale, in the poem “ode on a Greek Urn” weir also find a contrast between the permanence of purity, beauty and joy carved on the urn and the temporary joy of reading the world As the poet says;
You still unstained bride of quiet!
You use the child of silence and slow lime.”
In the imaginative world of art, the bride will not be touched forever, but in the real world it is quite impossible.
Keats also contrasts the permanence of art with the transience of actual life. As the poet says,
“Can not fade, …. forever with your love, and be right.”
In real life, beauty and love are short-lived. Here the beloved grows old with the passing of years and loses her beauty. But the girl depicted on the urn, which is a work of art, will never grow old and will remain young forever.
“Ode to Melancholy” is another poem that deals with the strange dilemma of human life. The poet says that melancholy lives in beauty and happiness. When we enjoy them, we think they will end soon. The duration of beauty makes us unhappy.
Melancholy, according to the poet –
“She lives with beauty – beauty that must die.”
To the poet, melancholy lives with the goddess of pleasure in the same temple. As the poet says;
“…in the very temple of Melancholia’s veiled joy…”
It shows the inter-relationship of pain and pleasure, joy and pain transitory and permanence.
Last of all, we can say that, the world of imagination can take refuge for a while, but it cannot give better reality solutions. So everyone must face the contrast between these worlds and finally return to the real world.
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