John Keats is in many ways the most romantic of all romantic poets. His poetry aims at the complete expression of the individual as compared to classical poetry, which aims at the expression of social experience. Other romantic poets have some political or social comments in their poetry, but the poetry of Keats has no moral, political or social significance.
Like all romantics, Keats loves nature and its varied charms. He has a vivid sense of colour, and he transfigures everything into beauty. His poetry conveys a direct, almost pictorial impression of the object or situation he describes.
Here are the best John Keats poems:
1. Ode to a Nightingale
Ode to a Nightingale is one of the greatest lyrics in the English language. It was inspired by the song of a Nightingale that had built its nest close to the house of Keats’ friend in Hampstead. The song of the Nightingale sets aglow the imagination of the poet. As he listens to the song, he feels pain in his heart through excess of joy.
2. To Autumn
To Autumn gives a graphic description of the season of autumn with all its richness. The poet is not disturbed by the thought of the snows of winter that will follow soon; he is content with his present happiness. The ode is faultless in its arts and workmanship. In no other poem, again, does Keats’ simple and direct love of nature find a better and full expression.
3. Ode on a Grecian Urn
In Ode on a Grecian Urn the site of the Urn sets the poet’s mind working. The Grecian Urn is a relic of antiquity and a chronicler of ancient greek pastoral life. The poet addresses it and asks what is the legend which is carved on its sides. It is not a dream of unutterable beauty, nor is the urn itself the sign of an impossible bliss beyond mortality. It has a precious message to mankind, not as a thing of beauty which gives exquisite delight to the senses, but as a symbol of the prophecy of comprehension of human life which mankind can attain.
4. Bright Star
Bright Star shows a boys desire to pillow his head on fair rounded breasts. Keats was not a great poet of human love; he had not the years or the experience to deal expertly with man’s passion for a woman. This sonnet is evidence that Keats was still a boy and immature, although in a rich poetic expression he is an artist.
5. La Belle Dame sans Merci
La Belle Dame sans Merci is one of the greatest poems of Keats. Its rich suggestiveness has made it one of the most haunting and unforgettable poems in English. It has generously been praised by critics, some of whom have called it Keats masterpiece.
6. Ode on Melancholy
In Ode on Melancholy Keats tells us that melancholy is a rare emotion, delicate, refined and exalted. We cannot experience it by associating ourselves with gloom, sadness and death, but by coming in contact with the beautiful and joyful things of the world and life.
7. Ode to Psyche
Ode to Psyche is the most purely fanciful. It would be easy to take it as a piece of lovely decorative mythology, but it is probably something more. Keats male religious feeling is a longing for the natural piety of antiquity. He wants to present Psyche as not only a goddess of beauty but also an incarnation of love, and as such she wants to record her as the embodiment of love and beauty.
8. On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer is a perfect sonnet of the Italian type. In it the poet pays his tribute to Homer, and expresses his feelings of joy when he read the Homeric epics in the translations of Chapman; for though by nature Keats was thoroughly imbued with the greek spirit, he had no knowledge of the Greek language and so he could not read Homer in original.
9. The Eve of St. Agnes
The Eve of St. Agnes must be reckoned, on the whole, the most splendid of Keats poem. Keats takes in the poem the simple, almost threadbare theme of the love of an adventurous youth for the daughter of a hostile house and brings it very cleverly and skilfully into association with the old popular belief as to the way a maiden might, on the anniversary of St. Agnes’ Eve, win sight of her lover in a dream.
10. When I Have Fears
In When I Have Fears the first twelve lines express the poets’ desire for poetic expression and for love; the last two lines bring out the feeling that arises because of the poet’s fear of early death – the feeling of the vanity of human life and aspirations.