John Keats is acknowledged as a poet of beauty. Of course, his beauty is no appraisement of gross, physical beauty, but of beauty in the absolute sense, that touches the mind and impels the heart. His creed of beauty is the essence of his poetic philosophy. This is well borne out in his celebrated odes, of which Ode to a Nightingale, Ode to Autumn, and Ode on a Grecian Urn deserve a specific mention. absolute sense, that touches the mind and impels the heart. His
As a poet of beauty, Keats is found to immortalise beauty in its ever-appealing and never perishing effect. ‘A thing of beauty’ is to him ‘a joy forever’. This is the essence of his contention both in his Ode to a Nightingale and in his Ode on a Grecian Urn. To the poet’s romantic imagination, the song of the nightingale is a thing of beauty, and, therefore, it has no change, decay, or death
“Thou wast not born for death, O Immortal Bird”.
The sculptural art on a marble vase of ancient Greece is equally deathless. It has remained a joy to the generation of men and women amid the changes of the world –
“Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’et,
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”
Of course, Keats has a different approach in the other ode, Ode to Autumn. The poet is concerned here with natural beauty and serenity in the season of autumn. The emphasis here is on the sensuousness of beauty, the effect that the loveliness even of the decadent season of autumn produces.
The appeal of beauty, as conceived by Keats, endures, but man, subjected to transience, is unable to relish this beauty for long. The sordid, tragic earthly life hardly allows human beings to have the taste of eternal beauty. This painful experience of human life is expressed, very powerfully no doubt, in the concluding stanza of Ode to a Nightingale.
It may be noted here that Keats’s beauty is not limited to any purely physical or sensuous element. As already implied, his beauty has an absolute conception, and is not confined to any particular thing or idea. What specifically draws him is the appeal of beauty, and this may be in nature, or in man, or in man’s creation of art. The central point is the imperishable appeal of beauty that is beyond the frailty or fatality of the mortal world. The nightingale, as an individual bird, is perishable, but its song, representing ‘absolute beauty’, is imperishable, just as the beauty of autumn has an unforgettable appeal in its sights, spirits, and songs.
This philosophy of the immortality of beauty, no doubt, forms a cardinal aspect of Keats’s concept of beauty. But this is not all, and, as seen in Ode On a Grecian Urn, the poet probes deeper into the aesthetic effect of the whole issue. He is no more content with the assertion that ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever’, but goes to attribute to it a moral force, an ethical grandeur. He assimilates truth and beauty not as two distinct things, nor even as twin elements, but as one and the same thing, looked only from different angles. What is truth is beauty, just is beauty is nothing but truth. A thing of beauty must have its foundation on truth, and when there is no such foundation, beauty is false and cannot stand long. Similarly, when there is no beauty, it is presumed that truth is lacking.
Indeed, Keats’s approach is quite original, although it may appear rather vague to many. He takes it for granted that truth and beauty are intimately connected, rather interfused, and may be interpreted differently only from different viewpoints. The sculptural art on the marble vase of ancient Greece is a specimen of beauty, and this beauty is nothing but truth, and lives forever, as truth can never die. There is a line fusion of aesthetics and ethics, and the poet triumphantly declares in the concluding lines of his poem
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”