The works of Keats and Shelley have attracted the attention of many scholars of English literature. In this essay, an attempt is made to compare the literary works of John Keats and Percy Shelley. This comparison is relevant due to the fact that both the poets were the contemporaries.
John Keats can be considered as belonging to the Romantic school in English literature because he wrote many poems regarding the importance of love which he considered as the basis of living as without love there is no goal for human existence. This indicates the spirit for life possessed by Keats. In some of his poems Keats expressed his love for the lady who becomes the central character of his poems. However, there are also poems which reflected the sadness, melancholy and utter despair and hopelessness regarding the human existence. This can be experienced by the study of his poem “Ode on Melancholy”.
This poem demonstrates the fact the human pleasure is temporary and it is susceptible to miseries and pain. In this poem, Keats seems to suggest the temporary nature of happiness and that life is illusion as always it is not possible to achieve what one desires. On the other hand in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn” there is a different feeling expressed by the poet. In this poem Keats is full of happiness and positive feelings as he believes that life is full of happiness and it is beautiful. In this poem, several times there is the use of the word ‘happy’ which indicates the mood of the poet while writing this poem.
In fact his “Ode on Melancholy” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” shows the two different views. Nevertheless, they also reflect the reality of life. Thus, Keats expressed both positive and negative feelings in his poems. These two different poems seem to indicate the contradictory nature of his poems. Nevertheless, melancholy is required to realize the value of happiness. Hence, in order to fully appreciate happiness or joy one should be aware of melancholy as well.
One can even find the fact that melancholy is in fact necessary to enjoy the experience of happiness. Hence two different poems have been composed by Keats to fully appreciate joys and problems in life. The poems of Keats remind us that after all we are humans and that humans are mortals. Keats also speaks about the inevitability of death and he romanticizes the pleasure of painless death.(Victoria, 2000)
Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” were composed during the same year. Being Romantic poets the critics might expect both of them to express the same feelings. However, both the poems give different messages. Shelly seems to believe in change and hence always there is hope as misery should be followed by happiness just like there are different seasons.
Thus, Shelly is more positive and hopeful of the present world although he accepts that there is both melancholy and happiness in one’s life. Keats seems to believe in static life and life without much of activities while Shelly believed in life full of motion, change and dramatic developments. The changes in nature are represented in his poem. Here for Shelly wind becomes symbolic expression of motion and change.
The poet is also optimistic of death because when there is death, there is birth also. Shelly seems to believe that change is life and life is change. Shelly speaks of god of change although this god of change may mean of god of destruction. This implies that he respects even the negative developments in the human life. This is proved by the fact that the poet even welcomes death because it is followed by birth and thus there is hope even in death. Thus, when compared with Keats, Shelley is more optimistic of life with motion and he enjoys both good and bad experiences in life. He claims to be a product of autumn.
He knows the happiness and melancholy of an autumn creature. For Keats beauty is seen in the stillness of the urn. He enjoys the motionless life of the urn. In the work of Keats there is reference to the melancholy life. In spite of these differences, in their different poems, both Keats and Shelley discuss regarding the hidden meaning of silence which is described by the use of different expressions. (Victoria, 2000)
Although both Keats and Shelly belonged to the school of Romanticism in English literature and although they wrote the poems during the same year, there are significant differences between their poems “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and “Ode to the West Wind”. While Keats expressed his love for stillness, Shelly considered life as full of motion and action.
(2000). “Discussion Questions about the Poetry of Keats and Shelley”, The Victorian Web Before Victoria: Selected Authors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Retrieved online on 30-08-2005 from http://www.victorianweb.org