John Keats, selected poems Contents
- Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou
- The Eve of St Agnes
- ‘Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!’
- Isabella: or The Pot of Basil
- La Belle Dame Sans Merci
- Lines to Fanny (‘What can I do to drive away’)
- O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell
- Ode on a Grecian Urn
- Ode on Indolence
- Ode to a Nightingale
- Ode to Autumn
- Ode to Melancholy
- Ode to Psyche
- On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer
- On Seeing the Elgin Marbles
- On the Sea
- Sleep and Poetry
- Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb
- To Ailsa Rock
- To Leigh Hunt
- To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
- To My Brothers
- To Sleep
- When I have fears that I may cease to be
Lines to Fanny: Synopsis and commentary
Synopsis of Lines to Fanny
The speaker asks what he can do to drive away the memory of the woman he loves. He says he wants to return to that time when he was free to find many women attractive and when he had control over his poetic inspiration.
In the second stanza the speaker asks what he can do to regain his emotional and artistic freedom. Should he start drinking? No, that creates more problems than it solves. Where will the speaker find peace again and banish from his mind thoughts of his friends, who are suffering in alien and hostile landscapes which have no charms?
In the final stanza Keats yearns for his 'lady bright'. She may be an all-consuming and troubling presence in his life but he longs to lay his soul upon her breast and to take her waist in his arms. She fills him with rapture, the pain she causes being sweet and irresistible. All he desires is to dream of her.
Commentary on Lines to Fanny
This poem was probably written around October 13 1819, when Keats wrote Lines to Fanny Brawne:
This moment I have set myself to copy some verses out fair [Keats was referring to the poem which begins ‘The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!’]. I cannot proceed with any degree of content. I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time [Was Keats referring to this poem, Lines to Fanny?]. Upon my soul I can think of nothing else…I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further…I could be martyred for my Religion – Love is my religion – I could die for that…You have ravish’d me away by a Power I cannot resist; and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often ‘to reason against the reasons of my Love’.
In July 1819 Keats had written:
I am indeed astonish'd to find myself so careless of all charms but yours - remembring as I do the time when even a bit of ribband was a matter of interest with me.
The poem also alludes to friends living ‘a wrecked life’. The previous year, in 1818,
Keats’ younger brother George had emigrated to America, a place in which harsh environment he struggled to establish himself. Keats may also have been thinking of his youngest brother Tom, who had contracted tuberculosis and entered the realm of sickness then of death.
parti-coloured things : what Keats perceived as the uneven quality of his poetry
muse: The Muses were goddesses who were believed to give inspiration to all types of creative artists.
throes: Keats uses as a verb the noun meaning sudden spasm or convulsion denoting extreme pain or suffering.
vulgarism: a word, expression or action that is considered inelegant, or even offensive
heresy: belief or opinion contrary to orthodox (especially religious) doctrine; opinion that is profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted
schism: a split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties, caused by differences in opinion or belief
canon law: collection of ecclesiastical rules governing faith, morals and discipline.
strand: the shore of a lake, sea or large river
zephyrless: Zephyrs are soft, gentle breezes.
Dryad: In folklore and in Greek mythology Dryads are nymphs inhabiting a tree or wood.
harsh-herbaged: Herbage is the succulent part of herbaceous vegetation, used as pasture.
Investigating commentary on Lines to Fanny
- ‘I must write you a line or two and see if that will assist in dismissing you from my Mind for ever so short a time.’ If Keats was referring to his poem Lines to Fanny, do you think he will have succeeded?
- Why should he have wanted to ‘dismiss’ his beloved from his mind?
- What do the extracts from Keats’ letters suggest about his state of mind when he wrote them?
- How do they compare with the state of mind suggested by the poem?
a grammatical part of speech which indicates an action or experience
A word that refers to a person, place or thing
Represented or imagined as a person.
Son of Venus, Roman god of love. (Greek name, Eros.)
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