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A Thing of Beauty | Summary And Analysis

Critical Appreciation of A Thing of Beauty by John Keats

 

The poem Endymion was dedicated to Thomas Chatterton and was described by Keats as “A trial of my powers of imagination”. Initially, this poem was hated by critics, and was called “drivelling idiocy”. This was contributed to by the fact that Keats was not formally educated and was deemed as “lower class”. However, this poem is now recognized and acclaimed the world over and is one of Keats’ most well-known works.

The poem was published in 1818 and is divided into four books, each with 1000 lines of poetry. This excerpt has 24 lines and is the first stanza of the poem. The poem is written in rhyming couplets, so the rhyme scheme is AABBCC and so on.

A Thing Of Beauty | Summary And Analysis

This poem was inspired by the Greek myth of Endymion who was a shepherd and was granted immortality. His father, Zeus, offered Endymion anything under the sun, and he chose to be immortalized in his youth, and sleep eternally. The moon goddess Selene loved him and visited him every night.

However, different myths say different things. Some say that the everlasting sleep was a punishment inflicted by Zeus, while others say that Selene put him to sleep so that she could stare at his face whenever she desired. Additionally, some myths say that Endymion was a prince, others say he was an astronomer, and still others say he was a shepherd. In any case, he loved to observe the movements of the moon, and thus the moon fell in love with him. He spent eternity asleep on Mount Latmus in Caria.

A Thing Of Beauty | Analysis, Lines 1-12

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

This poem is the source of one of the most famous lines in English Literature, that is, “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever”. This sentence means that the beauty of the world is everlasting, and beauty does not change as the seasons change, or as humans evolve. Something beautiful will always be beautiful, and it will invoke joy in the hearts of all who behold it. These things only grow in beauty and become more and more lovely as time passes. The beauty of the world, of nature, will never dissipate and will bring about a feeling of peace, or calm.

The bower here represents a place of comfort, where one can relax and be reinvigorated. This bower provides a sweet slumber for those who want it and retains their health and happiness. It is clear that this bower is a metaphor for Mount Latmus, where Endymion spent eternity asleep, with his youth and health intact. This bower for us is a place of relaxation, reflected in the “quiet breathing” and “sweet dreams”.

The beauty of the world provides us with this peace, so people remain on Earth joyfully. We wreathe a “flowery band” that holds us in the beauty that surrounds us and enjoy it despite the terrors that exist simultaneously. Despondence and gloom do not overtake the joy that beauty brings to the heart, so all the things that hurt the heart are pushed away by the shape of beauty. A “pall” is a feeling of gloom or fear, and this is pushed away by the beauty that pervades the world. There is no place for both gloom and joy in a person, and beauty brings joy forever, while terrors bring only fleeting sadness.

Here, Keats uses strong imagery to describe the beauty of nature. This can be seen in “A bower quiet for us, and a sleep/Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.” as it brings forth the feeling of calm and relaxation. It can also be noted in “A flowery band to bind us to the earth,” as it portrays the image of willingly situating ourselves among beauty, and of nature itself being the proponent of this.

A Thing Of Beauty | Analysis, Lines 13-24

From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are daffodils

With the green world they live in; and clear rills

That for themselves a cooling covert make

‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,

Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:

And such too is the grandeur of the dooms

We have imagined for the mighty dead;

All lovely tales that we have heard or read:

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Here, the poet describes the shapes of beauty that force the air of gloom to depart from our minds. The sun, the moon, and the shade of the trees provide peace for the sheep of the fields, just as the daffodils dance in the wind as they are surrounded by greenery. The babbling streams make little thickets for animals to languish in and provide cool water and rejuvenate all those that come by it. The “mid forest brake” is the thick growth that can be seen in the centre of a forest, ad this place is full of flowers and trees and provides a gorgeous perfume from the numerous blooms that lay within it.

These beautiful spaces are not just limited to nature, as humanity portrays the afterlife of the martyrs and freedom fighters with much greater magnificence. We have created the beauty that one steps into after death as a reflection of the beauty that one lives in before death. It truly is a joy forever, and this can be seen in the stories we tell and the joy that is imbibed in us through the blessings that surround us.

So, our spirits do not remain dark. The poet compares the things that bring sadness versus those that bring happiness. Gloom is brought about by despondence, the lack of integrity, the terrible events that take place, and the unhealthy ways that we treat ourselves. Joy is brought forth by the flowers, the sun and the moon, the greenery, the new life that grows, and the comfort that nature brings to us. The happiness is constant, while the sadness is transient.

The “endless fountain” may be an allusion to the Fountain of Youth, thus bringing back the theme of Endymion’s immortality as the base of this poem. Additionally, the mention of the moon is no coincidence, as the love between the moon goddess Selene and Endymion is the myth that inspired this poem in the first place.

The use of strong imagery continues, as the poet builds a vision of a forest bursting with life, with gentle streams and cool shade. Alliteration is used in “simple sheep”.

In fact, if you think about it, this poem itself is a thing of beauty, and even now it is bringing joy to all. The poet did not refer to this poem as he wrote, but his work became self-fulfilling. Though he died thinking that his poetry made no real impact on the world, it is a thing of beauty, and it is providing joy years after it was written.

 

A Thing Of Beauty | About The Poet

John Keats was born on 31 October 1795, in London.

He was a poet during the Romantic period, like P.B. Shelley and Lord Byron. His style of writing involved sensory imagery, as he had the talent of making a living image with just his words. The themes that his work generally followed were relating to beauty or imagination.

While he was alive, his poems had mostly neutral responses from critics, and it was only after his death that his writing became famous. To this day, he is one of the most popular poets and influenced many writers. In his youth, he undertook extensive medical training and expressed the desire to be a doctor. However, this training began to reduce the time he had to write, so he made the difficult decision to become a poet, not a surgeon. This was difficult for him as he faced several financial problems and didn’t have money to spare.

His first poem “O Solitude” was published in 1816, in The Examiner. In March 1817, his first volume “Poems” was published, and he soon became one of England’s greatest writers. He has only a small body of work to his name and was convinced he had not made any mark on the world. He died believing that he had not impacted the world the way he wanted to, yet now he is one of the most well-known names in poetry.

Some notable works of his are “Ode to a Nightingale”, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to Psyche”, and “Hyperion

He died on 23 February 1821, in Rome.

 

 

 

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