Within Keats’ poetry there are some repeating themes, with some poems being constructed around certain ideas. One such is women, and how Keats feels towards them. His poetry reflects different periods of his live, when he feels a certain way about them. Generally, there is a sense of ambiguity about his feelings towards women, as said in the title, he felt a “Gordian complication”- a knot that could not be undone- of feelings, and usually just as a reader feels they begin to know his opinions, the poem seems to move in a contradictory way.
In both ‘Lamia’ and ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ Keats draws our attention to the fragility of the moment. In both of these narrative poems, he points out how nothing is forever, whatever feelings we have for another are destined to die, either through our own mortality “There they reposed,|Where use had made it sweet… came a thrill|Of trumpets – Lycius started”, or through time “And they are gone – ay, ages long ago”. Although it is unknown if Keats ever had sex, his writing shows his high thoughts about it-“Into her dream he melted, as the rose|Blendeth its odour with the violet”- and this is one of his contradictory thoughts.
Although he likes the idea of making love and the perfection of the moment, he understands that it does not, indeed can not last, due to human nature. Love, like the post-coital euphoria, can be broken, and as both are linked with women this is a contradiction, as both states do not really allow for thoughts of ending the situation. Within this idea is another of the questions that Keats asked himself and that are shown in his work- “Oh for a life of sensation rather than thought”- is it best to forsake the mind for the body, and live a life of pleasure, or should we think and postulate new ideas?
He believed that one could not be attained with the other, as a life of pleasure, i. e. with a woman, would be too distracting and may even taint his thoughts. The poem ‘Lamia’ contains a very ambiguous view of women, with Keats questioning again if he should think or love, and if love is dangerous. Lamia begins the poem as a snake “Vermillion-spotted, golden, green and blue”. Keats gives a lavish description of her, as if to ensnare the reader to her through his language.
We never know how she got to be in this form, was she “some penanched lady elf,|Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self. ” This adds to the ambiguity of her character, and to the deeper question of the nature of women. Lamia is very much the sensual character, the “sensation” side of life over thought and, true to Keats’ ideas, the love between Lamia and Lycius, and the two themselves, is eventually destroyed by thought- “Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings”.
Although it seems that Lamia truly loves Lycius, as she undergoes a lot of pain in her transformation so that she can be with him, there is a dark streak running through the poem that the reader can sense, and we are never truly trusting of or comfortable with Lamia in the same way that Keats presents some of his other women. This idea of women as a destructive force is in some of his other poems, for example ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ “And no birds sing. ” In ‘Lamia’ Keats gives a warning of women, that they can take everything away from you and leave you with nothing, only a hollow shell of what you once were.
But on the other hand, Keats seems to adore women, freeing them from all blame of the torment they may impose on men. In ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, Madeline is idolised almost to religious levels “She seemed a splendid angel”, and the language he uses to describe her is very beautiful throughout “She knelt, so pure a thing”. In this poem particularly Keats emphasises his positive feelings for women- he appreciates their beauty and the pleasure they can bring. Porphyro is described almost as being ill, he is “faint” and “burning”, yet Madeline is his cure.
In Keats’ language, such words are associated with passion and sexual longing, and this to is fulfilled. In this poem Keats empathises with women, with Madeline’s preparations for her loss of innocence described in a similar way to a sacrifice. Keats uses very sombre, yet still evocative, language “Rose-bloom fell on her hands” to let the reader know that he is not a misogynist, he understands how women feel and thus has a valid standpoint as a writer to put his opinions across.
From one poem to the next, Keats’ opinions on women and the love they bring differ. This is not as erratic as it may seem, as his poems mirror things that occur in his life, for example upon meeting Fanny Braun his love poems become very vivid and match his frustration at not being able to have them. But, as with many of the other questions he asked of life, it seems that Keats never untangled the know of his feelings toward women, and this ambiguity, along with the positive and negative thoughts he had throughout his life, ar reflected in his poetry.