Keats and the Impersonal Craft of Writing

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


It has been characteristic of most commentary on Keats since Leigh Hunt described The Eve of St. Agnes in 1820 as a “picture” rather than a “story” to take recourse to some form to the language of the visual—painting, sculpture, particularly the genre of ekphrasis, and cinema (Matthews 172). While there are numerous studies investigating the lines of influence between Keats and the visual arts, the inclination to draw the parallel between Keats’s style and the various isual media is actually more fundamental and transpires almost inevitably and repeatedly in criticism.1 In addition to being filled with passing descriptions of and references to “tableaus” or “stills” in the poems, criticism on Keats often also makes recourse to the visual at the level of thesis. Christopher Ricks, for instance, writes of Keats’s “scopophilia”; Marjorie Levinson of his writing in “word-pictures”; Charles Rzepka of the “statuesque” quality of his figures; Jerome McGann of the way “To Autumn,” for instance, aspires to “pictorial silence”; Geoffrey Hartman of “frames” in the ode; Michael O’Neill of Keats’s “poetic cinema”; Helen Vendler regularly of “friezes” in all of the Odes; and Grant Scott of the way in which the genre of ekphrasis eventually becomes indistinguishable from Keats’s style and poetic point of view itself (Ricks 89; Levinson, Allegory 143; Rzepka 231; McGann 59; Hartmann, “Poem and Ideology” 130; O’Neill 117; Scott xiv).


Late Work Literary Form Contemporary Criticism Odal Form Narrative Progression 
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  1. 1.
    For studies of Keats’s relationship to the visual arts, see especially Grant Scott, The Sculpted Word: Keats, Ekphrasis, und the Visual Arts (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1994)Google Scholar
  2. Ian Jack, Keats andthe Mirror of Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967).Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    On the relationship between Keatsian imagery and physicality, see also particularly Christopher Picks, Keats and Embarrassment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974)Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    On this point, see also Marjorie Levinson, who argues that “to ‘overhear’ Keats is to hear nothing but intonation, to feel nothing but style and its meaningfulness” (Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style [Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1988], 36)Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For an analysis of the density of the phonic constitution of “forlorn” in relation to the whole of the “Ode to a Nightingale,” see especially James O’Rourke, Keats’s Odes and Contemporary Criticism (Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998), 7.Google Scholar

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© Larry H. Peer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Boston UniversityUSA

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