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Chapter One Negative Attitude Towards Death and Life
1.1 Attitude From Life Experience
Keats was firstly influenced by his father’s death at the age of eight. It struck him heavily and his life had been blighted by death. Even worse, in the last year of his education at Enfield, his mother was struck down with tuberculosis. Although Keats tended his mother carefully, she died in March of 1810. Such miserable experience caused Keats’ panic of death and he slid into a depression. This mentality is articulated in Rita Charon’s work “Academic Medicine”. In the work, Charon illustrated the mental state of the persons who take care of patients. He wrote “A man caring for those who are ill, he bears witness to other’s pain, and he simultaneously exposes himself to suffering and endures the burden of his witness.” (Charon 234). Keats’ mental burden can be inferred from the witness of his mother’s illness and death. Watching the fatal disease tortured his mother, Keats was also anguished. He loved his mother, so his mother’s painful disease suffered him. Besides, Keats felt despair that he could do nothing for his mother. Under that mental pressure, Keats was fear of death. Furthermore, the negative attitude towards life was influenced by his medical profession. Being a surgical apprentice, Keats had to observe operations and to take care of patients. At that time, his daily life was fulfilled with blood, sickness and death. The environment deeply influenced Keats’ view of life. Exposed in such an unhealthy and gloomy environment, Keats’ attitude towards life was distorted. He lacked the confidence of life. He regarded that life was so fragile that any mistake or carelessness would take human’s life. Goellnicht recorded Keats’ anxiety in his letter “Keats’ fear of failure as a surgeon, of destroying instead of saving life” (Goellnicht 44). Keats was full of insecurity of life because of his miserable experiences, so he daren’t operate on his patients.
1.2 Melancholy and Detachment in Endymion and I Stood Tip-toe
Keats was enclosed by melancholy during the course of writing the second stanza of “Endymion”. His brother’s deteriorating illness plagued him and he was ill himself. Keats was involved in worry and distress. Keats wrote down the poem with bitterness:
But this is human life: the war, the deeds, The disappointment, the anxiety, [...] How quiet death is. (Keats 153)
The sense of depression is expressed between the lines. Tom’s fatal disease caused Keats’ world-weary feeling. The line “but this is human life: the war, the deeds, the disappointment, the anxiety”, Keats regarded that human’s life was inseparable from misfortunes. Being troubled by the sufferings of daily life, Keats was tired of the real world. This stanza reveals Keats’ melancholy. He considered that life was full of bitterness and he was bored with his life. The line “How quiet death is” articulates Keats’ disappointment of human’s life and he was eager to escape from his life. Experienced several misfortunes in life, Keats is tired of the secular world physically and mentally, so he was eager to get the tranquility that was brought by death.
Besides, his brother Tom was critically ill at that moment, which depressed him. Witness his brother’s alarming symptoms, Keats felt that part of his own life was passing away. In his letters to his sister Fanny, he articulated such feeling: “my own vitality ebbing way with Tom’s life” (Keats 267). This feeling can be analyzed by borrowing Heidegger’s account of “being”. Heidegger wrote as follows “Being concerns with the world and with others. The complete conditions of being are being-in-the-world, being-with-others, and being-toward-death” (Heidegger 53). If others die, the condition “being-with-others” can’t be completely satisfied. Thus, others’ death attenuates the “being” of us. Therefore, watching Tom’s alarming symptoms, Keats felt his life’s attenuation. Furthermore, “others” specially refers to our relatives. Since there is an emotion connection between our relatives and us, the fatal disease or death of our relatives make a strong impact on our heart.
Chapter Two Living Towards Death
2.1 Transcendency in The Fall of Hyperion and After Dark Vapours
Keats’ calm attitude towards life and death originates from his familiarity with death. Death took away what he cherished in his life, so Keats regarded that none beautiful and joyful things in life could be everlasting in the world. Thus, he didn’t cling to the happy moments in his life. Besides, Keats believed that human could get rid of miseries, pains and sicknesses by death. Therefore, he didn’t live in denial of death. This calm attitude makes his poems convey the feeling of transcendence. More importantly, a sense of death in his poems appeals to his readers to introspect the attitude towards death in their lifetime. In the poem “The Fall of Hyperion”, the description of Moneta’s appearance reveals Keats’ placid mood. “A wan face, not pin’d by human sorrows, but bright blanch’d by an immortal sickness which kills not. It works a constant change, which happy death. Can put no end to deathwards progressing” (Keats 367). Keats implied that human life was threatened by death perpetually through the word “immortal sickness”. It suggests that human’s life can’t get rid of the sickness. Even worse, sickness can be easy to take away life. Besides, the last line “Can put no end to deathwards progressing” can be analyzed by the view of Heidegger that human life is a movement towards death. “Death exists in life absolutely and constantly” (Heidegger 58). The whole stanza describes sickness but there is no sorrowful attitude. Moneta is pale and sick but under the threat of death, she seems fearless. Conversely, Moneta waited for death peacefully and she accepted the coming death without any struggle. Since death is inevitable, struggle and evasion are unwise. Admitting the inevitability of death and accepting death tranquilly are the sensible life attitudes.
2.2 Peaceful Mind in To Autumn
Human life may end at any moment. Living in the world means living towards death. Life is transient, and death will terminate all the things including the sufferings. Therefore, life is worthy of cherishing, and self-indulgence in the miseries is a waste of life. Keats tolerated the sufferings that he experienced, and even regarded these miserable things as baptism that purified his soul. In John Keats’ letter, he mentioned “Call the world if you please the vale of soul-making.Then you will find out the use of the world” (Keats 121). These sentences present his perception of life. Although he suffered a great many pains in the world, he still held positive attitude towards life. He strongly believed that his soul would be complete and noble after the baptism of sufferings in the world. It is the pains that cultivate the holiness of soul. After the baptism of sufferings, Keats accepted pains frankly and achieved peaceful mind. Life is full of miseries, but life also offers the poet beautiful sensation which is the main inspiration of his poems. Keats calm attitude can be attributed to his peaceful mood of death and his appreciation of life. Keats cherished every living moment in life and accepted the sufferings in the world tolerantly.
Keats’ achieves the peaceful life state by enjoying the beauty in the secular world together with death-bound attitude. In order to illustrate the view more eloquently, the concept of phenomenology of Heidegger has been employed. In Heidegger’s philosophical idea, “being” is in a state of movement and it is threatened to decline. Thus, “being” has “finitude”. Heidegger explains that the human’s consciousness of “being” is “I think I am” as “I am dying”. “Dying” exists in the life absolutely and constantly. In Being and Time, Heidegger articulates the feature of being-toward-death “What is peculiar to the certainty of death is that it is possible in every moment. Together with the certainty of death goes the indefiniteness of its when” (Heidegger 43). Death is omnipresent in human’s life, which is certain. However, the moment of death in people’s life is uncertain. People may die at any time. It suggests “the indefiniteness of its when” (Heidegger 43). Keats’ death-bound life attitude puts the emphasis on the limitation of life. He conveys that people living in the world are under the threat of death at any moment. This thesis argues that Keats’ death-bound attitude suggests his self-control.
Chapter Three Living After Death.......................................31
3.1 The Pursuit of Humane Solicitude in Endymion and Ode to Psyche...........33
3.2 The Meaning of Beauty and Truth in Ode on a Grecian Urn.......................36
3.3 The Circulation of Immortal Poems............................39
Chapter Three Living After Death
3.1 The Pursuit of Humane Solicitude in Endymion and Ode to Psyche
John Keats believed that human would get the immortality through love of lives and sympathy with others. This view has been deliberately articulated in his poem “Endymion”. Endymion was awarded the immortal life through his love of Phoebe. In order to pursue his love, Endymion experienced the arduous adventure and saved several people who underwent the suffering. In return, he won the love of Phoebe and the immortality. In Sidney Colvin’s view, “Endymion is successful only after his heart has been purified by sympathy with the lives and sufferings of others” (Colvin 172). Endymion’s adventure symbolizes the growth of the poet’s love of humanity. At first, Endymion’s love of Phoebe suggests the poet’s pursuit of the ideal world and his evasion of reality. In Robert Bridges’ eye, Phoebe is “Poetry or the ideality of desired objects. It is the supersensuous quality which makes all desired objects ideal” (Bridge 64). It represents Keats’ detachment from the real world. Poems are the great consolation to him. During the adventure, Endymion helps the lovers who are in suffering “I urge thee, gentle Goddess of my pilgrimage. By our eternal hopes, to soothe, to assuage. If thou art powerful, these lovers’ pains; and make them happy in some happy plains” (Keats 13).
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