John Keats’s sonnet ‘On Fame’ is a beautiful evocation of Nature which shows the striking difference of the restless condition of man. Man is continuously agitating in his restless pursuit of recognition and rewards. His span of life is limited. He cannot look upon his life’s problems with healthy deliberation. He always looks worried and thus ruins all the phases of life. He is after name and fame. The outcome is that he is deprived of the pure and virgin springs of life.
Keats uses sensuous images in the poem in order to bring out the difference with man. He tries to communicate his own influences to others through concrete images and world pictures. The first image is the rose which desires to separate itself from the plant to possess its smell and beauty. The second image is the plum which wants its rounded perfection and ripeness independent of the tree. The third image is a Naiad water nymph which gets to the depth of its pure water and makes it dirty. These images appeal both to our eyes and ears. If the rose and plum separate themselves from the plant and the tree, they lack beauty and smell, size, and round perfection. If water nymph does not plum the deep water in self-adoration, water remains pure. The same is the case with man. If he tries to get fame and name, he can not enjoy the pure joy of life.
In the second half of the sonnet ‘On Fame‘, the poet comments on the contrast in the processes of Nature with the condition of Man. If the rose remains on the plant the breeze spreads a sweet smell through the air. Bees feed on it. The ripe plum does not interfere with its freedom and retains a full bloom. The lake without meddling with itself enjoys its own pure and transparent glory in the same way man craves for worldly recognition and reward, i.e., name and fame. So he cannot enjoy the pure joy of life. The greed undermines his peace of mind. Owing to bad faith, he is deprived of his salvation. Keats warns us to desist from the madness of fame and name.