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Arnold & Keats

Poets' conceptions of their roles in society can be fairly consistent for long periods of time or may change rapidly in a decade or two. The difference between the idea of a poet's function as conceived by the Romantic era and the Victorian period provides an example of significant change. Not all the supposed members of any school of poetry, of course, share every aspect of the predominant theory of poetry in their generation. Neither John Keats (1795-1821) nor Matthew Arnold (1822-88) is entirely typical of his era. But, especially because Arnold reacted against Keats--among others--in specific, articulated ways, a comparison of their ideas of their role as poets will demonstrate how such changes take place and the effect they have on the poetry that is written.

A brief discussion of the two poets' ideas about the art of poetry must precede the analysis of their notions of the poet's role. Keats and Arnold form a particularly interesting contrast because even the forms in which they articulated their ideas about poetry and poets are very different from each other and entirely consonant with their ideas. Keats' thoughts on poetry were not systematically set out. But in the course of his brief life he was in the habit of discussing poetry in his many letters. As Stone explains, Keats' "statements dashed off in the communicative urgency of letter-writing" directly reflect the way his thinking about poetry was formulated (13). Although the creation of his art was a process that involved hard work and as careful an attention to the smallest details as any poet, he believed that the finest poetry developed from a "trust in feelings and imagination" and that this was the only way that one could think about it as well (Stone 13).

Unlike other Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, Byron and Shelley, Keats never took a particularly serious interest in political thought "beyond the general openness to radical and libertarian tho...

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Arnold & Keats. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:16, August 09, 2020, from