Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Keats' Authenticity of Self

Reading the introductory information to Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" and the strange argument between Brown and Dilke over the true nature of the composition of the poem left me wondering, quite simply, "What does it matter?" It seems as though the legend of the creation of a poem, however much it adds to the ambiance of summer and tranquility, is ultimately secondary to the actual reading of the poem itself. The image of Keats sitting beneath the nightingale nested in a tree at midsummer produces itself through the poem for the reader, regardless of whether or not the reader knew the story Brown told.

On further consideration, however, it seems that the story is not what is primarily at issue here, or rather, it is only tangentially. The petty-seeming argument seems to be more profoundly linked to issues of authenticity in writing. Keats' place as the poet in this poem rests on his position while writing it, and it is a distinction to which it seems Keats would have been attuned. If we map this concern with authenticity (although displayed by those other than Keats in this case) onto "When I have fears that I may cease to be," it becomes plausible that authenticity is the one thing about which he harbors the most fears. Keats' conveyance of self through his writing becomes his only way to assert his identity to the outside world, and it is therefore paramount that this assertion take on the authenticity of self that will leave an accurate representation. His language of "glean'd," "charact'ry," "cloudy symbols," "shadows," "unreflecting," and "nothingness" creates an unstated mind that requires the authenticity of his own writing to be adequately created and conveyed to an audience. It is in this authenticity, then, in the exacting transcription of his reality of self and surroundings, that Keats can also find immortality.

1 comment:

  1. I like the idea of authenticity and immortality being linked. We have discussed poetical self-expression several times in class--the one I am thinking about now is Finch's "Bird in the Arras"--in which Finch's metaphor of the bird stands in for her life as a poet. It is funny how both poets use birds in their poetry--birds are free to fly and free to sing their songs and express themselves honestly. The poems of Keats and Finch strive to express these poets' inner selves in the hopes that their words will last forever, just as the birds' flight and songs will be passed from generation to generation.