Cultural Studies:
John Keats's (1795-1821) 
"Ode to Psyche"-- 
Masculine Quest, or Poetic Feminization? 
"The Eve of St. Agnes"--Romantic Passion, Imagination or Rape? 
Negative Capability: 
"when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doublts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason..." (Letters I, 193) 
"may be compared to Adam's dream--he awoke and found it truth" (Letters I, 185) 
(Portrait of John Keats in Rome, shortly before his death from tuberculosis in February 1821, by his friend Joseph Severn.)
Copyright © 1997, The British Library Board 
British Library, Ashley MS 4165, f.v  
FromPortico - The British Library's Online informationServer 
"Ode to Psyche"
  • allusion
  • the narrator eats up Psyche?
  • "The Eve of St. Agnes"--
  • censorship and revisions
  • four possible readings
  •  multiple texts and frames

  • 1.  the juxtaposition of different worlds (the beadsman's vs. the banquet guests'; Porphyro's vs. the bedlame's; Porphyro's vs. Madeline's, the two lovers' vs. the outside world).
    2. the poem and the painting--Madeline's bedroom--outside time
      Arthur Hughes, The Eve of St. Agnes, London, Tate Gallery  (from Women/Image/Text) 
      Please pay attention to the multiple frames, including the stanza that decorates the frame: 
      They told her how, upon St. Agnes' Eve 
      Young virgins might have visions of delight, 
      And soft adorings from their loves receive  
      Upon the honey'd middle of the night,
      If ceremonies due they did aright; 
      As, supperless to bed they must retire, 
      And couch supine their beauties, lily-white; 
      Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require,
      Of heaven for upward eyes for all that they desire.
       more paintings--Study for Hughes's "The Eve of St. Agnes"
      "The Eve of St. Agnes" by E. Siddal
     allusion ----from The Visionary Company (by Harold Bloom)
    "Aphrodite, jealous of the beautiful Psyche who is drawing her admirers away, commands Eros to afflict [Psyche] with love for a base creature.  But he falls in love with her, and comes to her regularly, always in the darkness.  When, against his wishes, she lights a candle to see him, he flees from her.  She quests for Eros by performing tasks set by Aphrodite, the last of which is a descent into the underworld. ..." (399)

    the narrator eating up Psyche (from "Poetry as Enforcement") ?
    In response to the concatenation of negatives of non-being, the poet asserts himself Psyche's grove and shrine, which, in
    practice, make up the sarcophagus (literally 'flesh-eating' coffin) of her individuality. The poet indeed is about to absorb her
    identity completely. D. L. Hoeveler has astutely observed that the Romantic poets were very keen on 'creat[ing] female
    characters with whom their male heroes (often slightly veiled versions of themselves) could merge in a sort of apocalyptic
    union'. Put in an even more straightforward way, Hoeveler stresses how 'The Romantics cannibalistically consumed these
    female characters, shaped them into their ideal alter egos, and most of the time destroyed them by the conclusion of the
    poem' (27). In the ode, the poet's ploys of conjuring Psyche into being through ritualistic invocation, only to deconstruct her
    afterwards, fits this scheme very well. The poet came to the sacred, 'scarce espied' bower, saw the goddess, recognised her
    and thus acquired absolute ascendancy. 'I see and sing' and, one may complete, conquered; or Vene vidi vici .

    The 'Ode to Psyche' is by no means the only instance in Keats's work which contains such an all-devouring propensity in the
    persona. The following excerpt, taken from a sonnet addressed to Keats's beloved, Fanny Brawne, is particularly revealing:

         O, let me have thee whole, all, all be mine!
         That shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
         Of love, your kiss, those hands, those eyes divine,
         That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast,
         Yourself your soul in pity give me all,
         Withhold no atom's atom or I die
         ('I cry your mercy', ll. 5-10)

    revision of "St. Agnes"
    "It is somewhat ironical to reflect that the hero's plight was in certain ways similar to Keats's own when he discovered that passages in the completed manuscript of the poem offended the scruples of his publishers and he was forced to revise them, partly unwillingly, to bring them into conformity with the demands of propriety." (Sperry, Stuart M.  Keats the Poet.  Princeton UP, 1973, 213)
    "The devices of disguise and censorship perform an integral and even aesthetic function throught the whole formation of the work..." (213)

  • four possible readings of "Eve of St. Agnes"    p. 100

  • Pearce, Lynne.  Women/Image/Text: Readings in Pre-Raphaelite Art and Literature.  NY: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991.
    1. philosophy of love and beauty at once.
    2.  a poem about the Imagination: a poem which celebrates the power of the Imagination in the face of Love and Death.
    3. mysticism--"Earl Wasserman,  'Here in the chamber of Maiden Thought the ascent of the sacle of intensities is acted out, and P and M unite in a mystic blending of mortality and immortality, chastity and passion, the moonlight of perfect form and the ruddiness of intense experience."
    4.  Jack Stillinger--rape

    Further references on the web: