‘LAMIA’: Worksheet on critical aspects


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.

For detailed notes on the poem, read my annotated text.


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.

The critics:

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:

John Keats: Brief biography

Lamia part 1: annotated text

Lamia part 2: annotated text

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

La Belle Dame Sans Merci

The Eve of St Agnes: critical views



Keats Narrative Poems – Casebook Series

Introduction to Keats – William Walsh

The Poetry of Keats – Brian Stone (Penguin Critical Studies)

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