Abstract

Keats's narrative poetry displays an acute awareness of the symbolic potential of interior spaces, and description becomes an important tool in the rendition of space. The focus on spatiality interacts in a number of ways with the stories in the poems, and hence Keats's narrative poems consist of complex relations between descriptive stasis and plot progression. To address this, I broach three ideas from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's influential book Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry from 1766: the economy of descriptive adjectives functioning as epithets; narrativized description; and text space at the service of narrative space. Each notion is supplemented with other relevant theorists (Georg Lukács, Marie-Laure Ryan, David Herman, and Brian McHale).

In particular, I interpret Keats's “Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil” from 1818 and “The Eve of St. Agnes” from 1820. The readings demonstrate how Keats makes use of description of interior spaces for multiple purposes: it serves as deliberate interruptions; it is narrativized, thematized, and semanticized; it is performed by a heterodiegetic narrator; it offers a poetic vision; and occasionally it reflects character psychology.

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