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Study Questions for poems by John Keats

Vocabulary: ode, oxymoron, paradox, personification, thanatos

Introduction: Where did John Keats grow up, unlike so many other Romantic poets? How did John Keats die?

Lecture or Handouts: How does John Keats' concern for death appear in his poems?

Identify the following characters and images:

A Grecian Urn, the beautiful woman without mercy

Reading Questions for "When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be."

  • What does the title of this poem refer to?
  • What is the speaker talking about when he refers to his pen gleaning his "teeming brain?"
  • Explain the comparison between piles of books and garners holding stores of grain.
  • What figure of speech is used in line 5 regarding the night?
  • What are "huge cloudy symbols of a high romance"?
  • What does the speaker do when he realizes he will never look upon "thee" more? What does "thee" possibly refer to? (come up with two or three answers here)

Reading Questions for "Ode on a Grecian Urn."

  • What is the poet examining in the first stanza?
  • What scenes or images are depicted on the urn?
  • In stanza two, the poet sees an image of musicians and a boy chasing a girl. In lines 11-14, what paradox or oxymoron does the poet perceive in looking at images of music?
  • The speaker notes that the boy chasing the girl will never be able to catch her to give her a kiss, but what comforting thought does he offer the boy?
  • In stanza three, what will never happen to the painted tree's leaves?
  • What biographical circumstance about John Keats' own life might be creeping into the poem in lines 29-30?
  • What religious ritual is depicted on the urn in stanza four?
  • In stanza four, the poet looks at the crowd of people gathered for the religious rite, and he wonders about where they come from. What image does the poet evoke for this town? What is the town like? Note that the poet has now moved beyond what's actually depicted on the urn to imagine a scene the artist never painted on it. Why does Keats include this?
  • What does the word "brede" mean in the last stanza? Why is the urn "overwrought"?
  • Why does the poet address the urn as a "cold pastoral"?
  • The poet imagines in the future his own generation dead and gone, but what does he say will remain for future generations?
  • Why is the urn a "friend to man"?
  • The urn declares that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." What does the urn mean? Do you agree that truth is beautiful? Or that beautiful things are somehow true? Is there no such thing as a beautiful lie?
  • The poet doesn't refer to the singular "you" in the last few lines, but rather the plural "ye." To whom is the personified urn speaking if not to the poet?
  • Do you agree when the urn says that this statement is all humanity knows on earth? Do you agree when the urn says this is all we need to know?

Reading Questions for "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

  • What does the French title of this poem mean when translated into English?
  • In the beginning of the poem, the speaker has encountered a knight. What does this knight look like in stanza one and stanza three?
  • The third and fourth line describes the setting of the poem. Where are the speaker and the knight standing? What season is it? What is the condition of nature in this time and place?
  • After you've read the entire poem, come back to look at lines 3-8. Why (symbolically) should this be the setting in terms of time and place?
  • In stanza four, we hear the knight's response to the speaker's questions. What did the Knight encounter in the meads (meadows)? What did this creature look like?
  • In stanza five, what gifts did the knight make for this creature? How did this creature look at the knight afterward, and what sounds did the creature make?
  • In stanza seven, what foods did the creature give the knight?
  • Where did the creature lead the knight in stanza eight? How many times did the knight kiss her on the eyelids?
  • When the knight falls asleep, what does he see in a nightmare?
  • Who are all these pale kings, princes, and warriors? (The poem never tells us explicitly, but what do we suspect?)
  • The knight had fallen asleep in an "elfin grot" with the maiden, but where does he awaken? Why symbolically is this location "cold"?
  • Point out any three images of death in the poem.

Passages for Identification: Be able to explain who wrote this passages, what poem the passage come from, and briefly explain their significance, context, or importance in the work:

A. And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

B. O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

C: She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
“I love thee true.”

D: I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—“La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!”

E: Thou still unravished bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan Historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme

F. Heard melodies are sweet, but tohs unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not tot he sensusal ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.

G. Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in misdst of other woe
Than ours, a friend a to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," --that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.


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