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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2012

Afterword: Ode to Psyche and Ode on a Grecian Urn

Summary

The developmental frameworks evident in poems from Sleep and Poetry to The Fall of Hyperion are most often read in relation to theories of influence and maturation. Keats certainly stages his own development as a ‘very gradual ripening of the intellectual powers’ (LJK, I, 214), but both his self-representations and ‘life of allegory’ readings of his work have obscured the extent to which the sociological drive of his poetry is an inheritance from the Enlightenment. His awareness of the ways in which changes in social and economic conditions are reflected in literary practices, as well as his understanding of the interdependence of manners, morals, laws, customs and opinion, suggest that he was writing against the background of his acknowledged reading of Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Buffon, Robertson, Gibbon, Hutcheson and Mavor, and in all probability, his additional reading of Montesquieu, Goldsmith, Blair, Hume, Hartley, Warton and Smith. Keats draws primarily on six Enlightenment conceptual frameworks: the first is the so-called ‘contrariety’ model that permeates the historiography of the French, English and Scottish Enlightenments; the second is the descriptive developmental model that attempts to explain the shift in European culture from feudal to civil and commercial societies; the third is the so-called ‘philosophic’ model of history which supplements classical and exemplary history with a more empirical study of probable causes and effects, and widens the scope of history from a narrow concern with high politics to a broader view of society; the fourth is the diachronic, comparative and uneven ‘stages of society’ paradigm of the Scottish Enlightenment; the fifth is the Enlightenment moral debate concerning theories of self-interest and benevolence; and the sixth is the associative and sceptical framework of the British empiricists.