Eve Of St. Anges Essay

Someone once said that true love is only an illusion and can never be achieved.

This is evidently shown through many elements of the poem by John Keats, “The
Eve of St. Agnes.” Much of this poem is about the imagination and how it can
blind people and make them oblivious to the true events that are occurring. We
the readers can see this very easily through the portrayal of one of the main
characters Madeline. The second main character Porphyro tries to authenticate
her quest for a dream experience however ends up taking advantage of her while
she thinks she is still dreaming. The poem does endorse how the power of
Madeline’s visionary imagination can influence her and the others around her,
but also that happenings outside of the dream can cause the person in the dream
to be taken advantage of with out the dreamers knowledge. The truth is that
Porphyro knows exactly what he is doing and instead of doing things in a
honorable way, he decides to proceed in a dishonorable way and totally violates
her visionary imagination. The night that is being spoken of in this poem is a
night of dreams and imagination. It is supposed to be a mystical night in which
young women have dreams of their one true love. Madeline takes this to a totally
different level in that she totally succumbs to the mystical ability of the
night and totally loses her mind. In that she doesn’t even know if she is
still dreaming or if she is wake. Some interpretations of the poem say that she
is wake and know what she is doing. However, I believe the contrary that she
doesn’t know what she is doing. “Hoodwink’d with faery fancy.” (70) Most
of what she does is due to the mystical feeling the night causes. A mind can
play may tricks and the mind can make it so that it has no concept of time or
whether it is wake or still dreaming. One of the few times in the book that she
sort of knows that she is wake is when Porphyro enter her room and tries to wake
her as gently as possible in that she never truly wakes up and remains in a
dream like state. He awakes her very softly, “He play’d an ancient ditty,
long since mute, /In Provence call’d ?La belle dame sans
mercy.'”(291-292) I find this to be quite odd because this poem is about
hoodwinking. Why would he do this to wake her sleeping? If you are hoodwinking
someone you are trying to dupe, trick or fool them and the only way that
Porphyro can do this is to keep her in a dream like state. This very softly and
sweetly awakens her and now “Her eyes were open, but she still beheld, now
wide awake, the vision of her sleep”(298-299) This tells me that she is now
awake but in her subconscious she is still dreaming. She has no clue as to what
she is doing at this point in time. She truly believes that she is still asleep
and she is just dreaming. After he has done the deed and she is still sleeping
he awakes her and she tries to him about here dream. Upon hearing this Porphyro
says, “This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline” (326) in an attempt to wake
her up so she know what she is doing. I think that he tries to do this so that
he doesn’t look like the bad guy, in that, the only way that he can get a
beautiful bride is by hoodwinking her. Upon hearing this Madeline is very
distraught by this and she proceeds to say “No Dream, alas! Alas! and woe is
mine! / Porphyro will leave me here and fade to pine. —“(328-329) All this
has happened after he has already violated her dreams and has done things that
young gentlemen at that time were not supposed to do. As Jack Stillinger said
“We must leave or world behind, where stratagems like Porphyro’s are frowned
on, sometimes in criminal courts, and enter an world where ?in sooth such
things have been’ (P.75)” All gentlemen were supposed to be honorable and
were supposed to address all aspects of their life in a very noble way. All this
evidently shows that a visionary imagination is so powerful that Madeline cannot
control it and Porphyro uses it to his advantage. It sure fooled Madeline into
believing that she was still dreaming, and dreaming enough to not stop herself
from running away this Porphyro in the end. However at the end of the poem
Porphyro never really wants Madeline to wake up. As Jack Stillinger said
“Madeline never completely awakens from her fanciful dream; for she believes
Porphyro when he tells her that the storm is ?an elfin-storm from faery
land’ (343)” (P. 88-89) Prophyro would much rather Madeline live in a dream
state then allow her to wake, to find out what he has done to get her to be his
bride. Thoughout the poem Porphyro tries to authenticate her dreaming experience
however in the process he totally violates her dreaming experience and he knows
exactly what he is doing. Angela whom he uses to get into her bedroom chamber
also seemed to succumb to the mystical power of the night. This cannot happened
because she doesn’t believe in the mystical powers of the night. However what
does affect her is that Madeline believes in the night and is power and just
that belief in that power has influenced someone that doesn’t believe in the
night, Angela. It doesn’t help that the people who were supposed to watch out
for her and protect her didn’t do their job and to me they seem senile, Angela
especially. When Angela sees that Porphyro is there and has asked her to tell
him where Madeline is, she promptly replies, “Get Hence! Get Hence! … Flit
like a ghost away.”(100-105) She basically tell him to leave right now because
it is not right that he is there and he could get into big trouble if he is
there. Porphyro continues to stay there and talk to Angela. She eventually tells
Porphyro that Madeline is “…By the holy loom / Which none but secret
sisterhood may see, / When they St. Agnes’ wool are weaving
piously.”(115-117) This defies logic because why does Angela tell Porphyro
where Madeline is when he is not even supposed to be there. This starts to show
the effects of how powerful ones visionary imagination, Madeline’s, can affect
a non believer, Angela Upon hearing this Porphyro comes up to at least what he
thinks is a brilliant plan. He tries to talk Angela to lead him to Madeline’s
chamber to which he is not supposed to go, so “That he might see her beauty
unespied, / and win perhaps that night a peerless bride,” (166-167) A young
gentleman should not be asking such a question. He is not acting noble. Angela
knows this but yet with very little convincing she decides to lead him to
Madeline’s chamber and hide him in a closet. Jack Stillinger points out that
“Then Angela asserts a kind of orthodox middle-class morality: ?Ah! Thou
must need the lady wed’ (179)” (p. 75) This shows to me that she knows that
it is wrong to do so, and thinks that everyone needs a wife. Yet I think that
because of the night and its mystical powers is why she unknowingly succumbs to
his pressure with very little trouble on the part of Porphyro. Angela has fallen
under the spell of the mystical night and she doesn’t even know what she is
doing herself. Once again this shows how powerful ones visionary imagination can
effect another’s. While Angela is busy moving Porphyro around the house she is
very frightened. She is very frightened about what might happen if she is
caught. I think that she doesn’t stop due to the mystical power of the night.

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Angela acts “…Like ring-dove fray’d and fled” (198). Angela is acting
crazy and cannot stop, and she doesn’t know what she is doing at all. Just
like Madeline in that Madeline, too, doesn’t know what she is doing. By
Porphyro doing all his little deceptions, he is violating her visionary
imagination by just be even attempting to reach her. This is quite unacceptable.

We can just see how Madeline’s belief in the night influences the decisions of
others around her. The poem tries to endorse the world of visionary imagination
or dreaming, however Keats effectively voids this out as shown through many of
the examples illustrated before. What does come across is that the dream world
can be spoiled by one very determined, conniving man, who will stop at nothing
to try and get what he wants. That is a sexual experience with that he would
probably nor normally have any chance at during normal times. So he has to trick
her into doing something on a night to which she seem to have no control over,
on one of the most mystical night of them all. The only reason that I can think
of that she goes away with him at the end is not because she truly love him, but
that she is starting to realize what she did. Now the only honorable thing to do
is go away with him so that she doesn’t dishonor anyone. This is kind of
ironic because it was the dishonor of Porphyro, which caused all this, and yet
she is doing the honorable thing.

Page Keats, John. “The Eve of St. Agnes.” The Norton Anthology of English
Literature. Vol II, Ed. MH Abrams, et al. New York; Norton 2000. Pg 834-844.

Stillinger, Jack. “The Hoodwinking of Madeline: Skepticism in The Eve of St.

Agnes.” Twentieth Century Interpretations of the “Eve of St. Agnes.”
Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Pgs. 67-94


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