Date

2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

Master of Arts

Department

English

First Adviser

Dolan, Elizabeth

Abstract

This paper explores John Keats's 1820 poem The Eve of St. Agnes and the particular ways in which Keats uses the poem to investigate different avenues into the imagination. Using the chamber of maiden-thought as his standard definition, this paper diverges from traditional critical history in order to re-conceptualize the imaginative visions of the dreamer, Madeline, and the reader. For Keats, to achieve the perfect union of intellect and soul that is required for poetic production, the poet must enter the chamber of maiden-thought, experience her beautiful vision, and then realize that reality, unlike her vision, is chilly, dark, and ending in death. Madeline enters the chamber of maiden-thought, experiences a vision of St. Agnes, and, upon waking, discovers that reality is much harsher than her vision. Both of these steps are integral, in Keats's conceptualization of poetic transcendence. Further, this paper argues that, mirroring Madeline, the reader of the poem, too, experiences this chamber of maiden-thought through Keats's construction of the chivalric romance genre. By calling on reader's investment in imagining a shared English chivalric past, this construction creates a chamber of maiden-thought that the reader enters, and once inside, experiences a vision. However, the poem's close wrenches the reader from the warmth of the chamber of maiden-thought, ending her vision and leaving her without direction. However, for Keats, this confusing space is actually a moment where the reader can realize negative capability, and her own potential to explore the other chambers inside the mansion of the mind.

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