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«`He Sang the Story' Narrative and Poetic Identity in Keats's Work YAO, HUEY-FEN,FAY How to cite: YAO, HUEY-FEN,FAY (2011) Durham `He Sang the Story' ...»

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Durham E-Theses

`He Sang the Story' Narrative and Poetic Identity in

Keats's Work


How to cite:

YAO, HUEY-FEN,FAY (2011) Durham

`He Sang the Story' Narrative and Poetic Identity in Keats's Work,

theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/3350/

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Academic Support Oce, Durham University, University Oce, Old Elvet, Durham DH1 3HP e-mail: e-theses.admin@dur.ac.uk Tel: +44 0191 334 6107 http://etheses.dur.ac.uk ‘He Sang the Story’ Narrative and Poetic Identity in Keats’s Work Huey-fen Fay Yao PhD in English Studies Durham University Table of Contents Declaration, statement of copyright, and acknowledgements…………………iii Abstract…………………………………………………………………………v Note on Texts……………………………………………………………….......vii Introduction………………………………………………………………………1 Chapter One: Narrative Beginnings: ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ and ‘Sleep and Poetry’…… …………………………….……………………….…..26 Chapter Two: ‘Imagination’s Struggles’: The Quest for Beauty and Poetic Identity in Endymion ….………………………………..…………………….…62 Chapter Three: Digressions in ‘Isabella’: Keats as a Modern Narrator………... 92 Chapter Four: Narrator and Narrative in ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’………………120 Chapter Five: Lyric Narratives I: ‘Ode to Psyche’ and ‘Ode to a Nightingale’…..…. ………………………………………………………..…...149 Chapter Six: Lyric Narratives II: ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, ‘Ode on Melancholy’, ‘Ode on Indolence’, and ‘To Autumn’ ………………………………………....176 Chapter Seven: The Perplexed Narrator in ‘Lamia’……………………………205 Chapter Eight: Narrating a Romantic Epic: ‘Hyperion’ and ‘The Fall of Hyperion’…………………………. …………………………………………...235 Conclusion…………………………..……………………………………….....267 Bibliography………………………………………………………………........271

–  –  –

No material in this thesis has been previously submitted for a degree at this or any other University. The work is solely that of the author, Huey-fen Fay Yao (姚惠芬), under the supervision of Professor Michael O’Neill. Excerpts from chapters three and

four, in an earlier form, have been published as ‘“Old Romance” and New Narrators:

A Reading of Keats’s “Isabella” and “The Eve of St. Agnes”’, in Grasmere 2010:

Selected Papers from the Wordsworth Summer Conference, compiled by Richard Gravil (Penrith, Cumbria: Humanities-Ebooks, 2010), pp. 139-48. Another excerpt from chapter six, in a previous version, has been published as ‘Reading Keats’s Imagination: “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, in Literary and Poetic Representations of Work and Labor in Europe and Asia During the Romantic Era: Charting a Motif Across Boundaries of Culture, Place, and Time, eds Christopher R. Clason and Robert F.

Anderson (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2011), pp. 271-84.

Statement of Copyright

The copyright of this thesis rests with the Author. No quotation from it should be published in any format, including electronic and the Internet, without the author‘s prior written consent. All information derived from this thesis must be acknowledged appropriately.


I am grateful to the Faculty of Arts, the Department of English Studies, and Ustinov College of Durham University for travel awards, enabling me to give conference presentations every year from 2008 to 2011. I also need to thank the Wordsworth Conference Foundation for its generosity in twice giving me student bursaries. My thanks also need to go to my country’s embassy, the Cultural Division of Taipei Representative Office in the UK, for awarding me a travel grant.

I wish to thank my supervisor Professor Michael O’Neill for his guidance and support.

I also wish to thank my American teacher Professor Donald Gray who encouraged me to do a PhD when I was in Indiana University at Bloomington in 1990.

iii There are other people whom I would like to show my gratitude: my Spanish Catholic Father, Padre Ferdinando Mateos, S. J. (沈起元神父), for his continued belief in me as a researcher and teacher; Mrs. Joy Hudson, for her unfailing emotional and academic support; and for those people who had helped me when I was at the nadir of my life: Ms. Nicky Corkerton, Drs. Joanna Mobbs, Anthony Butler, Stephen Dellar, Sanje Rao, and Mark Jones.

Last of all, I wish to thank my family and particularly my mother, Mrs. Gin-kwey Yen Yao (姚嚴金貴女士), for giving me their emotional and financial support.

–  –  –

‘He Sang the Story’: Narrative and Poetic Identity in Keats’s Work Story-telling is a mode central to the practice and achievement of John Keats. In ‘Sleep and Poetry’, he refers to life as ‘The reading of an ever-changing tale’. This line suggests his sense of the centrality of narrative to human experiences. Yet the Keatsian narrative is as a medium for Keats to investigate the nature and development of his poetic identity. His idea of poetry and of the poet, and his narrative figuring of himself as a poet are my subject, as they are his, when in the phrase the thesis takes for its title Keats writes of a poet in Endymion, ‘He sang the story up into the air’ (II, 838).

Recent scholarship has interpreted Keats’s narrative techniques in different ways.

Critical approaches have modified the Bloomian concept of the anxiety of influence by using a reader response approach, or have taken on board or swerved from a McGannian New Historicist perspective. In the process Keats’s formal achievement, once celebrated by critics such as Walter Jackson Bate and Helen Vendler, has received comparatively little attention. This thesis, adopting ideas and approaches associated with narratology (including its application to lyric poetry), analyses Keats’s poetic career, focusing on the poetry’s narrative techniques and its treatment of the narrator’s role. My approach might be described as aiming to accomplish a ‘poetics of attention’.

This thesis consists of eight chapters. Chapter one discusses ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ and ‘Sleep and Poetry’, poems that are crucial in understanding Keats’s use of narrative to explore his poetic identity. In chapter two, concentrating on Endymion’s enactment of imaginative struggle, I attempt to show the purposeful function of the poem’s ‘wandering’ and complex narrative structure, which allows Keats space to develop and examine his beliefs about mythology, beauty, and visionary quest. Chapters three and four examine narrative techniques and the narrator’s role in ‘Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil’ and ‘The Eve of St. Agnes’ as Keats questions the nature and function of ‘old Romance’, even as he employs it, thus bringing a modern self-consciousness to bear on his task. Chapters five and six are devoted to the narrativity shown in the odes. Such an exploration of the ‘lyric narrative’ seeks to shed new light on our understanding of Keats’s odes. Chapter seven considers the ambivalence that Keats creates in ‘Lamia’. Lamia’s enigmatic identity as a woman and a serpent makes the narrative complex and the narrator v

perplexed. Chapter eight analyses ‘Hyperion: A Fragment’ and ‘The Fall of Hyperion:

A Dream’, arguing that Keats uses these two poems as narratives to explore his idea of poetry and of the poet.

In his short creative life, Keats demonstrates different and various narrative skills.

These narrative skills shape his ideas and ideals of poetry as well as of the poet. Via his use of narrative, we are able to see the evolution of his poetic identity. He presents himself as what he recommended a poet should be, a shape-changing figure, who might be best described as a ‘camelion Poet’.

–  –  –

The Letters of John Keats 1814-1821, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, first one-volume edn (1958; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). Abbreviated hereafter as L. All references to Keats’s letters are taken from this edition.

John Keats: Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger (1978; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982). Abbreviated hereafter as CPStillinger. Unless otherwise indicated, all references to Keats’s poems are taken from this edition, with line numbers in parentheses.

John Keats: The Complete Poems, ed. John Barnard, 3rd edn (1988; Harmondsworth:

Penguin, 2006). Abbreviated hereafter as Barnard.

The Poems of John Keats, ed. Miriam Allott (London: Longman, 1970). Abbreviated hereafter as Allott.

The Poems of John Keats, ed. Jack Stillinger (London: Heinemann, 1978).

Abbreviated hereafter as PoemsStillinger.

John Keats: Selected Poems, ed. Nicholas Roe (London: Dent, 1995). Abbreviated hereafter as Roe.

–  –  –

Story-telling is a mode central to the practice and achievement of Romantic poets.

Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry revived the ballad form and, in association with its influence, there was a revival of interest in narrative poetry.1 Robert Southey and Sir Walter Scott wrote romances which drew, in Southey’s case, on oriental and mythological materials (as in Thalaba the Destroyer and The Curse of Kehama), and, in Scott’s case, on historical materials (as in The Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion). Their poems significantly promoted the use and popularity of verse narratives.

Every major male Romantic poet attempts to tell stories in his poetry, even when apparently writing lyrics. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience often contain miniature narratives which, on their own and set against one another, invite the reader to reflect on ‘contraries’ and contradictions. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge narrate their stories via Lyrical Ballads but in such a way as to draw attention less to incident than to feeling. Wordsworth narrates, albeit in an individualist and subjective way, his growth as a poet in his epic-like Prelude. Narrative is the medium through which Byron works, allowing him, through his accounts of heroes such as Childe Harold or Don Juan, to comment on contemporary society and speak —sometimes in a masked way — of his own feelings.

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first major poem, Alastor, tells a story of a lonely poet who is

See Peter Vassallo, ‘Narrative Poetry’, in Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, ed. Nicholas Roe (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 350-52. For a detailed account of the romantic verse’s history, see

Hermann Fischer, Romantic Verse Narrative: The History of a Genre, trans. Sue Bollans (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 36-54.

driven by the desire for love of an ideal being.

John Keats, in this context, is no exception. Keats, however, puts ‘story’ to different uses. Unlike Scott who explores the fraught survival of the heroic code into the modern age in his romances, or Byron who boldly demonstrates his individualism, or Shelley who uses allegory to portray the poet’s quest in Alastor, Keats conceives life as a narrative, and he tells his life story via his poetry. In ‘Sleep and Poetry’ (1817), he refers to life as ‘The reading of an ever-changing tale’ (91). This line suggests Keats’s sense of the centrality of narrative to human experiences, given that the latter forms ‘an ever-changing tale’.

Two books in particular trace Keats’s development as a narrative poet. The first one is Judy Little’s Keats as a Narrative Poet (1975). In this study, Little attempts to examine Keats’s narrative skills from the perspective of his ambition of writing an epic. This study mainly features the longer poems, and Keats’s narrative skills shown in his accomplished odes are not discussed. Moreover, Little does not explore the narrator’s role and perspective displayed in Keats’s poems. The second book is Andrew Bennett’s Keats, Narrative and Audience (1994). Bennett’s book is written from the perspective of reader response criticism and discusses the relationship between the poet, the reader, and audience. Taking his cue from, but modifying Harold Bloom’s theory of anxiety of influence, Bennett uses the idea of ‘anxiety of audience’2 to study Keats’s development as a narrative poet. Bennett’s reading of Keats’s ‘solecism’3 is a highly sophisticated study commending the ‘scandalous instabilities’4 of Keats’s poetry. However, the underlying emotional and subtle elements of Keats’s poems which I would like to stress do not seem to receive much

Andrew Bennett, Keats, Narrative and Audience: The Posthumous Life of Writing (1994; Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 4 (cited hereafter as Keats, Narrative and Audience).

Ibid., p. 1.



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