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.
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:
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
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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