Some literary aspects and activities
(Criticism & worksheet on context, form, structure and language)
Keats’ Letter to George and Georgiana Keats 1819: ‘There is that sort of fire in it which must take hold of people in some way – give them either pleasant or unpleasant sensation.’ Identify the pleasant and the unpleasant in Lamia.
Keats also wrote: ‘the poetical Character itself … has no self – it is everything and nothing … [and that he] has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.’ Apollonius and Lamia are dramatic creations in Keats’ dialectic: identify the ‘everything’ and the ‘nothing’ in these two.
Hermes: astronomical/heavenly imagery: ‘star of Lethe’, ‘bright planet’, has ‘serpent rod’. He grants love aspirations.
Lamia also has astronomical/heavenly imagery: ‘silver moons’, ‘mooned body’s grace, stars’, starry crown’. She also grants ‘love’ aspirations. Lamia seems a ‘lady elf …or the demon’s self’. She promises to separate bliss from pain I 192/6. ‘All charms’. She is a ‘foul dream’. But Lamia desires a mortal. Moon imagery links her with Cynthia/Phoebe/Diana: sister of Phoebus/Apollo is part of Apollo’s fire-world). Lamia as a serpent also suggests Satan. Lamia is mocked in Hermes’ ‘beauteous wreath’.
Lycius is a hoodwink’d dreamer, falling in love with Lamia who has ‘elfin blood’ and lingers by the wayside ‘faerily’, with whom he lives in a magical palace with a ‘faery roof’ I 147, 200; II 31 123.
The Love affair
The poem starts with a love affair between the god Hermes and a nymph, which is a prefatory literary idyll. It highlights by ironic contrast the principal narrative where not one of the main characters is thoroughly desirable:
- Identify where Lamia is portrayed as an immortal serpent-woman with some of the properties of Hermes.
- Find examples of Lycius lacking ‘spine’.
- Note (a) the negative traits and (b) the dignity of Apollonius.
Select one of the viewpoints below and argue its the relative merits.
Leigh Hunt: Triumph of thought over feeling, feeling over imagination. Lamia has a soul of humanity. She is not a mathematical truth.
Some critics view the poem as a satirical denunciation of philosophy (or rationalism).
David Perkins: no heroes/villains, showing Keats’ ambivalence. The poem is about the consequences of being a dreamer.
Hazlitt (essayist and Keats’s mentor): ‘’the progress of knowledge and refinement has a tendency to circumscribe the limits of the imagination, and to clip the wings of poetry.’
See my other pages on Keats:
Keats Narrative Poems – Casebook Series
Introduction to Keats – William Walsh
The Poetry of Keats – Brian Stone (Penguin Critical Studies)
You are free:
- to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
- to Remix — to adapt the work
Under the following conditions:
- Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified, as above, by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
- Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
With the understanding that:
- Waiver — Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
- Public Domain — Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.
- Other Rights — In no way are any of the following rights affected by the license:
- Notice — For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.