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Faery lands forlorn: A window onto one region of the imagination of John Keats

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Philosophy Teacher's Assistant
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Dordt College

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  1. Introduction
  2. The reality of mystic insight
  3. A reading of 'Ode To a Nightingale'
  4. The wound of love and its description
  5. Keats and his mystic vision
  6. Reading Keats as a mystical poet
  7. Conclusion
  8. Works cited
  9. Appendix: Aspects of non-reductionistic criticism

Dooyeerdians tend to admit that indefinability characterizes an irreducible mode of being. At first, of course, this admission appears ludicrous. The modalities exist as a language for describing how the logical part of one encounters non-logical (not illogical) reality. But if they are pressed far enough, the modalities will discover themselves to be allusive or circumscriptive at best. To meaningfully use modalities at all we must already know to what they refer by the intuition of naive experience. For this reason, the dimension of Keats's poem ?Ode to a Nightingale? that I am about to open may seem reducible to something else, may seem like no true dimension at all to many people.

But that seeming reducibility speaks more of my reader than of the poem with which we have to do. As we explore the mystic insight to which Keats ascends by way of nature and the Greek and Spenserian mythos, I beg my reader to suspend his or her disbelief and view my words as seeking to do what Thomas Merton advises, for a dead poet who can longer do if for himself:

[...] Appendix: Aspects of Non-Reductionistic Criticism The following remarks focus on one of the three over-arching principles to be developed in a Christian theory of literary criticism: criticism must both recognize the non-reducible abundance of its object and it must not forget the inescapable obligation of its own abundance Criticism must recognize the non-reducible abundance of its object. This means, among other things, that literary criticism must humbly seek to open up a work of literature rather than to close it by limiting its significance to one or another aspect. [...]


[...] (Harmless, 104) Without going into numerous examples, I encourage the reader to notice that whenever Keats begins to enter his more mystical vein his imagery comes more and more from the mythos of Greek mythology or The Fairie Queene. The poet's love for these two have been well-documented, both by himself in his letters and in poems like First Looking Into Chapman's Homer? and also by articles like ?Keats and Spenser? by William Read. But I believe that noting the mystical context in which this love is most clearly expressed could potentially reveal an entire tradition of English poetry that is deeply mystical in various ways?a tradition that seems often hidden or lost in the critical literature. [...]

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