John Keats as a Sensuous poet. / Sensuousness of John Keats's poems.

What is "Sensuousness"?
Sensuousness is that quality in poetry which is derived from or affects the sense-of sight, hearing touch, smell and taste. By the
term "sensuous poetry is meant poetry which is devoted, not to an idea or a philosophical thought, but mainly to the task of giving
delight to the senses. Sensuous poetry would have an appeal to our eyes by presenting beautiful and colourful word-pictures, to our ears by its metrical music and musical sounds, to our nose by arousing our sense of smell, and so on.

All poetry proceeds originally from sense-impressions, and all poets are more or less sensuous. Impressions of the senses are in fact the starting-point of the poetic process for it is what the poet sees and hears that excites his emotion and imagination, and his emotional and imaginative reaction to his sense-impressions generates poetry. Wordsworth's imagination was stirred by what he saw and heard in nature-what he calls "the language of the eye and the ear", and ther he passed beyond his sense-impressions and constructed his poetic view of life and nature. Milton was not less sensitive to the beauty of flowers than Keats; the description of flowers in Lycidas and of the Garden of Eden in Paradise Lost bear witness to Milton's sensuousness.

Keats said, "O for a life of sensations rather than of thoughts" Sensuousness means appeal to our senses-eye, ear, nose, taste and smell, and sense of hot and cold. Other poets give only eye-picture. They are capable of giving other pictures.

Picture of the Eye
Keats is a painter in words. With the help of a mere few words he presents a solid, concrete picture:
(i) "Her hair was long, her foot was light
And her eyes were wild"

(ii) "I saw their starved lips in the gloom
with horrid warning gaped wide”.

These pictures are statuesque (like a stone statue). They remain firmly fixed in our memory.

Sense of Hearing
The music of the Nightingale produces pangs of pain in poet's heart.
(i) Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
(ii) The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Sense of Touch
The opening lines of La Belle Dame Sans Merci describe extreme cold:

The sedge has wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Calving called the line And no birds sing', as the best line in English literature.

Keats' Sensuousness
In Ode to a Nightingale, Keats describes many wines. The idea of their taste is intoxicating:

(i) O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrende.

In “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”
(ii) She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,

Pictures of Smell
The poet can't see the flowers in the darkness. There is mingled perfume of many flowers:

Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Technicolor Pictures
Keats paints coloured pictures. The multi-coloured wines and flowers are painted with a colourist's delight:

Full of true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
The red wine makes the mouth purple

Ode to Autumn: A Remarkable Example of Keats Sensuousiess
In the Ode to Autumn, the season of autumn is described in sensuous terms, in which all the senses are called forth:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Autumn, to Keats, is the season of apples and moss'd cottage trees,
of fruits which are ripe to the core, and of later flowers for bees.

Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Autumn again is represented as a thresher, 'sitting careless on a
granary floor', and her "hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" or as
a reaper:

Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies,

There is nothing in the poem about autumn being the prelude to
dreary winter or the symbol of old age; autumn to Keats is all ripe
fruits and ripe grains. Autumn also has music that appeals to the ear:

The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter the skies.

Keats' Epithets Rich in Sensuous Quality
Keats is pre-eminently a poet of sensations, whose very thought
is clothed in sensuous images. The epithets he uses are richin
sensuous quality- "watery clearness", "delicious face", "melodious plot", "azure lidded sleep", "sunburnt mirth", "embalmed darkness 'anguish moist". Not only were the sense perceptions of Keats quick
and alert, but he had the rare gift of communicating these perceptions by.concrete and sensuous imagery. How vivid and enchanting is the description of wine-bubbles in the line:
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.

Keats' Sensuousness in Different Colours in his Matured Poetry
This delight in pure sensation was, however, but a passing phase
with Keats: As his mind matured, his sympathies broadened, and he
It at one with the human heart in travail. Sensuousness is still there
aving its fairy tissues as before but the colouring is different. In his maturer poems, it is gradually manifested with the stirrings of an
awakening intellect, and is found charged with pain, charged with
the very religion of pain. His yearning passion for the beautiful is transformed into an intellectual and a spiritual passion. He sees
things, not only in their beauty, but also in their truth. And it is partly
by reason of his perception of truth in sensuous beauty that Keats has become the, "inheritor of unfulfill'd renown"

That "sensuousness is a paramount bias" in Keats' poetry is
largely true; than of contemplation." Yet, like all generalised statements, these remarks are only partly true. "Keats' mind is mainly sensuous by direct action but it also works by reflex action, passing from sensuousness into sentiment. Certainly, some of his works are merely, extremely sensuous; but this is the work in which the poet was trying his material and his powers, and rising towards mastery of
his real ; faculty and his final function. In his maturer performances in the Odes, for example, and in Hyperion, sensuousness is penetrated.by sentiment, voluptuousness by vitality, and aestheticism is empered by intellectualism. In Keats' palace of poetry, the nucleus is sensuousness; but the superstructure has chambers of more abiding.things and more permanent colours”.

Sensuousness and Principle of Beauty
Keats was a worshipper of beauty and pursued beauty everywhere; and it was his senses that first revealed to him the of things. The beauty of the universe from the stars of the sky to the flowers of the woods-first struck his senses and then from the beauty perceptible to the senses his imagination seized the principle of beauty in all things. He could make poetry only out of what he felt upon his pulses. Thus, it was his sense impressions that kindled his imagination which made him realistic the great principle that "Beauty is Truth and Truth Beauty".

The imagination of Keats came to be elevated by his sense perceptions and sense impressions. His poetry is not a mere record of sense-impressions. It is a spontaneous overflow of his imagination kindled by the senses. He hears the song of the nightingale and is filled with deep joy which at once kindles his imagination. He has been hearing the actual song of 'a nightingale, but when his imagination is excited, he hears the eternal voice of the nightingale singing from the beginning of time. He sees the beauty of the Grecian Urn and of the figures carved upon it. His imagination is stirred, and he hears in his imagination the music of the piper:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter, therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:


John Keats as a poet of Beauty.

Beauty-the Dominant Passion and Theme of Keats' Poetry
Every poet is a lover of beauty-but he may have, and often has,
other interests and affections. Shakespeare was interested in the
drama of human life and in the play of human passions. Milton's
dominant interest was religion, though he was a passionate lover of beauty. Wordsworth and Shelley had other interests than mere beauty. But to Keats, passion "with a great poet, the sense of beauty overcame every other consideration". Beauty was, for Keats, the moving principle of life; in fact, beauty was his religion. He loved.beauty in all its forms and shapes -in the flower and in the cloud, in the song of a bird and in the face of a workman, in a work of art and in tales of romance and mythology. . And all his poetry from Endymion to Hyperion has one dominant theme-viz, Beauty.

The Mighty Abstract Idea of Beauty- Aestheticism Grows
But he went beyond mere sensuousness, though he never lost the intense appeal of sensuous beauty. The song of the nightingale was as joyful and as entrancing as before, but it brought to him by contrast the thoughts of the pains and sufferings of human life. His
aestheticism grows more and more intellectual, till at the last stage he imaginatively passes beyond the world of senses to the world of eternity. At first, he loved and rejoiced in concrete things of beauty that appealed to the senses; then he worshipped "the mighty abstract idea of Beauty", that appealed to the mind and imagination. This passion, what Shelley calls 'intellectual beauty' was the spiritual passion of Keats. What is it that he sings 'in his great Ode to a Nightingale? Is it merely the song of the nightingale that delighted his ears on a particular evening? It would be that, if he wrote it early in his career; but he had passed beyond that stage. The song of that particular nightingale, which he heard, is merely a symbol; it is the
symbol of the universal Beauty which is eternal:

Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird!

Keats would die, that particular Nightingale would die, but 'the
song of the Nightingale i.e. the beauty that the song represents would continue forever. The poet, in a sudden sweep of his imagination, has passed from the world of senses to the world of eternity, where the Nightingale would sing forever. Beauty transcends time and space
Keats was not an Epicurean, feasting only on the beauties of life, nor an escapist, flying away from the realities of life.

Sensuous Beauty
Keats was extraordinarily endowed with a native gift-viz, that
of feeling acutely with his senses. All his five senses reacted quickly
to the beauties of the external world, and these sense impressions are transmitted into poetry by his imagination. The first line of Endymion strikes the keynote of Keats' poetry:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever:

Even in the midst of his pains of disease and his sufferings and
disappointments of life, this joy of beauty came to him through his
senses. In one of his early poems-Sleep and Poetry, he wrote:

First the realm I'll pass
Of Flora, and of old Pan: sleep in the grass,
Feed upon apples, and strawberries.,
And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees;

So Keats drank in the beauty of the external world with all his
senses, and his whole being was excited by it and he sang out with
wonder and delight,

Many the wonders I this day have seen;
The sun, when he first kist away the tears
That filled eyes of Morn; the laurell'd peers
That from the feathery gold of evening lean;
The Ocean with its vastness, its blue green
Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears
Its voice mysterious.

In one of his last poems-Ode to Autumn, he describes the
sensuous beauty of the season-but here the tone is one of joy mixed with the sadness of thought:

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

The poet thinks of the passing away of beauty, though he soon
overcomes the feeling of sadness:

Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.

Thus throughout his brief career, Keats' poetry revealed the sensuous aspect of his love of beauty.

Beauty in Life Taken as a Whole
He saw that life was full of sufferings, and he himself was a prey to pain and disease. Where is then, beauty in life? He takes up this question in his Ode on Melancholy. He finds melancholy even in the sweetest things of life; even when a man loves most fondly, when he bursts "joy's grape against his palate fine," veiled Melancholy comes.and disillusions him. In fact, Melancholy dwells with Beauty
Beauty that must die. Keats has realised the truth of life, because he has passed through its agonies. Pain and suffering is not to be divorced from joy, for they together -sorrow and joy- make up
life, just as days and nights together make up time. It is the sum of things that is to be viewed, not a few things, but all things, and this complete view reveals the ultimate and universal beauty.
involves", says Middleton Murry, "a profound acceptance of life as it
is-a passing beyond all rebellion, not into the apathy of stoic resignation, but into a condition of soul, to which the sum of things
foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor-is revealed as necessary
and true and beautiful." Keats accepts life as it is-and still can
affirm that though forms of beauty are fleeting, the principle of beauty that is behind the universe is eternal.

Identity of Beauty and Truth
Keats often asked to himself the question, "Where are the songs
of Spring?" Indeed, the songs of spring do not stay; beauty does not
keep her lustrous eyes for long. So beauty is transitory, fleeting, -it
remains for a time and passes away. It is experience of his senses. But his imagination revealed to him the essential truth about beauty. In the Ode on a Grecian Urn, he first tells of the beauty that is seen by the eye:

What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Then imagination reveals to the poet, the beauty which is beyond
the senses:

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.

So, imagination reveals a new aspect of beauty, which is
sweeter' than beauty which is perceptible to the senses. The senses perceive only the external aspect of beauty, but imagination
apprehends its essence, and 'what the imagination seizes as beauty (Keats says) is truth. Hence Keats declares emphatically:

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,- that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

The Pictorial Quality of John Keats.

Keats is one of the greatest word-painters in English poetry. The
pictorial quality in his poetical work stands above all its other qualities. Picture follows picture in quick succession in his poems and each picture is remarkable for its vividness and minuteness of detail. In this respect, he is a direct descendant of Spenser. His images are concrete and stand in a striking contrast with Shelleys
images which are abstract and vague. The Eve of St. Agnes is literally full of pictures, we have the hare limping, trembling through the frozen grass; the frosted breath of the Beadsman taking flight for heaven; the aged creature Angela "shuffling along with ivory headed wand," the little moonlight room, pale child and silent as a tomb; Madeline of whose fair breast the wintry moon threw its light and whose rich dress came rustling to her knees, etc. Each image in distinctly drawn and we are able to see it.

The Ode on a Grecian Urn also contains vivid and distinct pictures. On the Urn are painted images of a fair youth burning with passion and about to kiss a maiden, a melodist piping unheard songs,
a priest leading a heifer for sacrifice to some altar. As we read the poem, these images actually appear before our eyes.

While giving us the pictures of inanimate objects, Keats often
gives them life and the power to feel, see and think so as to make his pictures more vivid. He tells of dead and senseless things in terms of life, movement and feeling. In The Eyes of St. Agnes, for instance he draws the pictures of the statues of kings and queens and represents them as capable of feeling cold

The sculptur'd dead, on each side, seem to freeze
Emprison'd in black, purgatorial rail:
Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat'ries.
He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

Again, he refers to the angels carved in stones and attributes to
them power to see.

The carved angels, ever eager eyed
Star'd, where upon their heads the cornice rests,

Another point about Keats' pictorial quality is that many of his
pictures are sensuous in appeal. In other words his pictures appeal to our sense of sight, sense of taste, sense of smell, sense of hearing, etc. Here he again reminds us of Spenser. Many of his pictures are colourful. In the richness of colour, no picture can surpass Keats' description in The Eve of St. Agnes of a high window decorated with carven images" and 'diamonded with panes of quaint device', with splendid colours like the colours of the wings of a tiger moth. The.description of the delicious eatables arranged by Porphyro on a table in The Eve of St. Agnes, appeals to the senses of sight, smell and taste simultaneously; Porpyhro puts candied apple, plums, jellies, manna, dates, syropus on golden dishes and bright baskets of wreathed silver
In La Belle Dame Sans Merci we have the sensuous image of a lady
whose hair was long, whose foot was light, whose eyes were wild, and.for whom the lover made a garland, bracelets and fragrant zone His pictures, too, are detailed and elaborate and show minute observations.

Nature of Keats' Imagery As Compared with Shelley
In his illuminating book, The Imagery of Keats and Shelley, R.H
Fogle has presented a very lucid and exhaustive treatment of this aspect of Keats' poetry which we can touch upon only briefly. Speaking about Keats’ imagery Prof. C.L. Finney has observed: "His poetry is not only rich in line, colour, light and shade and sound but it is also rich in mages of the intimately physical sensation of taste, touch, smell, temperature, and pressure and in images of the organic sensations, such thirst. Thus his imagery is both sensuous and comprehensive". In this regard Shelley differs from him not because he sitive but because he deals with different material and has a different temperament. Keats is earthly and arboreal while Shelley is aerial and ethereal; the former fixes his gaze on the objects in all their varieties, but the latter either penetrates into the heart of things or tries to grasp thin substances like light, air, fire, fog and airy things. Keats' imagery is organic, rounded and statuesque; here everything is solid and as hunger and tangible, but Shelley has no sense of the body and his poetry is replete with airy forms, glittering phantoms, or geometrical shapes, figures and structures. Keats' objects are generally in repose, a state of momentary ispension of life and motion and if there is any movement at all it is slow and gradual. But Shelley is a poet of impetuous speed and his lines
and words, even the things in nature are always on the run. We pant after him breathlessly, but with. Keats the movement of lines is slow, drugged, almost slumberous. We have to stop at every phrase, simple or compound epithets and it is not the play of vowels and consonants which retard our step. Shelley had a passion for the naked loveliness of
things or the realm of light above and beyond this universe. Hence, he is a lover of things keen and piercing; sounds, equally shrill; and smell that kills the senses; the heat that burns; and cold, piercing to the marrow. His surface is jagged and broken and he dwells upon the shattering force storms and oak-splitting power of lightning. The surface of Keats is always smooth and velvety; his cold is seldom keen and cutting and heat is warm and agreeable; there is no storm in his poetry
ve in causal references, but common sounds and earth-songs and breezes are there in plenty. He, loves honey, breaks the grape of joy on his palate fine and hankers after a 'beaker full of warm south. His poetry is thick with fragrance, which becomes sacramental because he loves the incense, hanging about it in the temple, like a thick cloud.

He would taste the spicy wreaths
Of incense, breath'd aloft from sacred hills.

A remarkable feature of Keats' sensuous imagery is the fusion of
different sensations and a subordination of other sensations to those of touch and taste. This is why his images are so solid, rounded and intense like a molten ore sublimed by enormous pressure. Touching with 'dazzled' lips her starlit hands; 'incensepillowed’ every summer night. Let the rose 'glow intense and warm' in the air. She 'writh'd about', 'convuls'd' with 'scarlet rain', 'taste the music of that vision pale', 'mid hush'd', 'cool-rooted flowers', 'fragrant-eyed’ are only a few of the examples.