The imagination is a key theme in many of Keats’ works. Keats was a voracious believer in transcendence, which his poetry suggests he thought could be acheived through the imagination and the world it creates. Keats famously wrote, “The Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream—he awoke and found it truth. ” Here he is theorising that imagination can connect a dreamer to the ideal world that existed before the fall of man, and transfer what is created within the imaginary world to reality.
This suggests the immense power of the imagination, and also the happiness it can bring. This idea is reinforced in his works. In Lamia, the imagination is portrayed as powerful through the use of phrases such as “there was a noise of wings” and “faery-roof”. This is suggestive that the imaginary world of the ‘Faeries’ is the force behind the creation of the Fairy Hall, thus presenting to us the vast power of the imagination. As well as the highlights of the imagination, the downfall of reality is also reinforced throughout the poetry of Keats.
A frequent idea is that reality is never as good as what is imagined. After she is awoken from her dream in ‘The Eve Of St. Agnes’, Madeline laments the appearance of the earthly Porphyro compared to the heroic lover of her dreams, exclaiming “How chang’d thou art! How pallid, chill, and drear! ” This shows the disappointment that laces the world of reality. The portrayal of the imaginary world is often more desireable than reality. In ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ Keats utilises language such as ‘sweet’, ‘honey’ and ‘beautiful’ to describe the world of ‘La Belle Dame’.
This greatly contrasts to the description of reality, which is created through the use of words and phrases such as ‘withered’, ‘pale’ and ‘no birds sing’ which create a desolate landcape and a cruel, cold atmosphere. This contrast creates a negative impression of reality, and suggests the imaginary world is an effective retreat. However, in La Belle Dame Sans Merci the imagination is also shown to be frivolous and inconstant. The dream in which the knight sees “pale kings and princes too” shows the harmful effect the imaginary world and the creatures within it can have on humans.
This suggests that although the imagination may be a temporary escape, it can have a damaging result for those that do not belong there. Although the power of the imagination is emphasised in many of Keats’ works there is also a sense of impermancence created. Throughout his poetry Keats constantly reminds the reader that what you imagine can be easily destroyed. This could be an emotional response to the critics’ negative receipt of ‘Endymion’. This idea of an unendurant creation is reinforced in ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, through the interruption of Madeline and Porphyro’s ‘bubble’: “St Agnes’ moon has set. This suggests the inexorability of reality and that the imagination and the magical world are not a replacement. This is again emphasised by the conclusion of Lamia’s story. All the beauty of the imaginary Lamia is destroyed by Apolonius, who represents reason within the poem: “Philosophy will clip and angel’s wings. ” The allegorical meaning of the story seems to be, that it is dangerous (or fatal in the case of Lycius) to attempt to separate the imaginary and emotional life from the life of reason.
In contrast to the impermanent nature of the imagination displayed previously, in ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ happiness, beauty, love and youth are transitory in reality, while in imaginary world everything is beautiful and perennial. This is shown by the deaths of Angela and the Beadsman in reality while it is suggested Porphyro and Madeline escape to the world of imagination: “Angela the old died palsy twitched”. The transitory nature of youth that has been suggested is emphasised by the use of the word ‘old’.
The poem that has come to be forever asscociated with Fanny Brawne, ‘Bright star’, also suggests the permanence of reality: “still steadfast, still unchangeable”. However , Keats rejects the steadfastness of the star in favour of being ‘Awake forever in a sweet unrest’ with his love. This suggests that, though Keats is torn between the frozen beauty which the imagination can create and reality that has both pain and pleasures, the world of imagination can not really replace the feelings and emotions of reality.
The possibilities and limits of the imagination are a recurring theme throughout Keats’ work as he contemplates both the heights which can be achieved “On the viewless wings of Poesy,” and also the failings of the “deceiving elf” fancy. The poems employ complex imaginary concepts, building images and worlds in the imagination these images are constrasted with the realities of human existence. Keats therefore creates a conflict between the compelling but elusive fantasies of the imagination and the hard but necessary realities of human existence.