A  Thing of Beauty -Synopsis and explanation

                                        by   John Keats    

John Keats (1795- 1821) was an English, second generation poet alongside P.B. Shelly and Lord Byron. His lyrical poetry was known for its vivid imagery and sensuous appeal. He died in Rome at a young age of 25 years due to tuberculosis. The romantic poets believed in ‘ a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ and returned to nature for inspiration. ‘A thing of beauty is joy forever’ is the beginning of his poem ‘Endymion: A Poetic Romance’ which is a long poetry of 4000 words. This poem reflects his eternal love for beauty as he says in “Ode on a Grecian Urn’ – ‘ beauty is truth, truth beauty, that’s all yee know on earth and that’s all yee need to know’. Endymion is based on a Greek legend in which Endymion a poet and a shepherd who lived on Mt. Latmos has a vision of Cynthia, the moon goddess. He pursues her in search of beauty which is the perpetual search for mankind.

A THING OF BEAUTYJohn Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.

Synopsis:

A beautiful thing can cause immense joy in a person’s soul that lasts forever. This pleasure will be there for a lifetime, irrespective of the fact that the beautiful thing passes out of sight with time. This joy never disappears; rather, the effect goes on advancing as the time passes. A beautiful thing has the ability to provide relaxation, peace of mind, good sleep and also has the power to heal. Beauty refreshes ones soul and rejuvenates it. People may be surrounded by negativities: they may be disappointed due to failures, therefore grow jealous of others. They lack in good human qualities and often take up wrong ways to realize their ambitions. But, in spite of all these things which cause suffering, beauty in some form or the other comes to our rescue and helps us in overcoming misery and sadness. These are the reasons we try to be close to nature, as the beauty of nature has a soothing effect upon us.

 We also try to create beautiful memories everyday and cherish them, so that we can continue to live on.  The poet gives a list of beautiful things which are found in nature like the sun, the moon, trees providing shade, daffodils, clear rills and musk rose blooms. He adds another thing to the list of beautiful things. Keats talks about the grandeur which is associated with people whose deeds were heroic. They are dead now, but the actions which they performed in their lifetime have become legends. Their stories inspire people and give meaning to their lives. The poet repeats the idea of permanent impressions left by the things of beauty on people’s minds. He says that beauty gives eternal joy (immortal drink) which continues to encourage and inspire people endlessly (endless fountain). The divine influence showers its grace on people who are living on this earth.  

Explanation of the poem

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

Its loveliness increases, it will never

Pass into nothingness, but will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

The poet says that the joy a beautiful thing gives is everlasting, though the beauty of the thing may diminish. It increases as we talk or think about it and does not go off with passing time. In fact it keeps a soothing shade in our minds which will help us to get peaceful sleep with sweet dreams resulting in good health.

Bower- shaded place

Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing

A flowery band to bind us to the earth,

Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth

Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,

Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways

Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall

From our dark spirits.

The poet continues that everyday we make a flowery band of beautiful memories which help us to tie ourselves up with the earth. We try to inspire ourselves through the beauty that exists in nature as we need good memories to keep living on in this earth despite its disappointments and failures. The earth lacks in good qualities and people adopt wrong ways to succeed resulting in unhappiness. This gloom is made by us for ourselves. It is the memories of beauty that help us survive in this gloomy earth by removing the dullness from our spirits.

Such the sun, the moon,

Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon

For simple sheep; and such are daffodils

With the green world they live in; and clear rills

That for themselves a cooling covert make

‘Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,

Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms;

Here the poet lists a few things of beauty which brings happiness in our lives. The sun, moon, old  and young trees giving shade to sheep, the daffodils amidst greenery and the cooling streams in hot summers, the fragrant musk roses are some of the blessings showered on the inhabitants of the earth.

And such too is the grandeur of the dooms                    

We have imagined for the mighty dead;

All lovely tales that we have heard or read;

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink

The poet adds to the list of blessings the grandeur of the deeds of the mighty people who are now dead. The tales of their grand deeds inspire us forever. All these things of beauty and experiences give us joy that is never-ending and nectar-like. These bounties of nature are showered on us from the heaven giving us hope and reason to live.

Word meanings

Bower – shaded place

Morrow – tomorrow

Wreathing – form into a wreath

Despondence – depressed, disappointed, dispirited

Dearth – lack of

Noble natures – good qualities

Gloomy – sad

Pall – funeral cloth, dark cloud

Boon – blessing

Rills – small stream

Mid forest brake – a place in the forest where we stop to see musk-rose blooms

Musk rose – wild roses

Grandeur – grand splendor

Dooms – inescapable death

Mighty dead – the legendary heroes who are now dead but immortal due to their deeds

Endless fountain – never–ending cascade or source

Immortal drink – nectar that makes one live forever

Brink – edge

Rhyme scheme

The rhyme scheme of the poem is – aabb

Literary devices

Bower quite – shade is compared with the calmness that beauty provides

We wreathing – alliteration

Flowery band – metaphor for good memories

Some shape – alliteration

Of noble… / of all … – anaphora ( use of same word in consecutive lines)

Inversion – are we wreathing a flowery band ( reversed order of words)

Old and young – antithesis  (opposite words placed together)

Simple sheep – alliteration

Cooling covert – alliteration

Have heard – alliteration

Immortal drink – metaphor (beautiful things are like nectar- giving immortality)

Visual imagery is used in the entire description of things of beauty.

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