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Updated on August 19, 2011


John Keats is one of the most remarkable poets of English Literature. His poetry revolves around romanticism and idealism, bringing to the fore all his thoughts, ideas, experiences and desires.

“Romantic escapism”, a part of romanticism, is an extremely important element of Keats’ poetry, serving as a foundation for many of his poems as he tries to project himself in the same, undesired situation and attempting to escape the world of worries through the power of his poetry. The recurrence of this theme in his poems is actually not only a part of romanticism, but also greatly a result of his personal unfortunate experiences in life. This painful experience of life is what actually makes him somewhat pessimistic and compels him to resort to the option of “escapism” through his poetry.

In the “ode to a Nightingale” Keats fully expounds upon romantic escapism. He is pouring out his thoughts very beautifully and is longing for escape from the world full of strife, sadness and grief. While listening to and appreciating the sweetly sung song of the nightingale, Keats too, wishes to become like her so that he can fly away from the cruel world that has given him nothing else but pain.

“… Fade far away, dissolve and quite forget

… The weariness, the fever and the fret…”

Keats repeatedly wishes to become like the nightingale whose melodious song is eternal and universal and soothes not only the mind but also the soul. He states that although he has no wings yet he would like to fly away “…on the viewless wings of Poesy…” Then again, Keats expresses the desire to die an “easeful Death” so that he doesn’t have to bear the harsh realities of life. Knowing that life has got nothing good to give him, he chooses death instead. Also aware that he can’t become like the nightingale, who songs so melodiously, regardless of all the crisis in the world and whose beauty can’t be snatched away by passing time, Keats prefers death as a solution to his problems. However, by the end of the poem he is pulled back from his world of fancy into the real world, where he has to live and fight for his survival.

In another of Keats’ poems called “The Eve of St. Agnes, the theme of “romantic escapism” is quite dominant. In this ballad, Madeline, the heroine, out of her love for Porphyro performs the rites of St. Agnes in order to envision her future husband, amidst all the festivities and celebrations going on. On the other hand, the fire of love being kindled in Porphyro’s heart for Madelinemakes him come to her house to see her, despite the fact that their families are sworn enemies and all his ‘could-be’ killers had gathered there. This poem is actually a celebration of love. Despite all the dangers, Porphyro gets to meet Madeline and they elope in a very idealistic setting. Both Madeline and Porphyro are hungry for love and escape the house of their enemies that night so that they can freely celebrate their love and union. They run away from the worries and fears of their families’ reaction to create a world of their own where they would be free to love and court each other. The darkness of the night and the noisy storm helped them conceal themselves as they escaped unnoticed, especially when the house was full of guests that night!

This is how Keats presents the theme of “romantic escapism” in his poems, as a depiction of his own sorry state and terribly agonizing experiences. This desire of ‘escaping’ is actually a result of a very lonely and miserable life that he has spent, wherein his career was ruined; his family lost; he couldn’t get the love of his life due to poverty and then had to combat tuberculosis in the end. All these factors made him pessimistic and compelled him to turn towards the option of escapism, projected in his poetry as “romantic escapism”.


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      #Geeshan 3 years ago

      This is really useful to me .... thank you