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John Keats's Cold Eve of St. Agnes

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  1. The cold, more than just a dominant theme
  2. The contrast between the world of the Beadsman and the world of Madeline and Porphyro

"The Eve of St. Agnes" is a poem that begins and ends in the cold. The story that forms the bulk of the text, and its most memorable elements, includes more dramatic and traditional narrative forms: entrance, conflict, and exit. However, Keats does not choose to include these narrative elements in the first or last lines of the work. Instead, we begin with images of penance and the character of the Beadsman, and end with words that harken back to theses same images.

[...] As the lovers come to each other, Keats allows the images of cold not to be a burden, but even to be a boon. Not only is their love as strong as ice, but as she first prepared for bed, "the wintry moon threw warm gules on Madeline's fair breast" (ll.218-219). Here the external, natural, cold world outside actually heats up Madeline and increases her sexual desire. This is not the only instance in which Keats reminds us of the cold surrounding the fleshy warmth of the two lovers and their hot dreams. [...]

[...] The cold of the first stanza of the poem is more than just a dominant theme. Each of the first six lines contains a clear reference to cold temperatures or something of similar effect: "chill" "cold" "frozen" "silent" and "wolly" admittedly, the context is sheep, but the word's connotations remain strong "numb" and "frosted" (l.6). The subtext of these lines, however, deals with animals: warm-blooded creatures who do not suffer the penance which the Beadsman inflicts upon himself. Already the contrast is strong and powerful. [...]

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