Sunday, 10 April 2011


Hello Y12
Right, I'm going to do another post about Lycius and Apolonius as well as some other general notes about Lamis. I will do a new post about Romantic allegory, which is also useful for Coleridge (you might have done it already with Mrs Archer). I also think it is useful, though not essential, for you to have an understanding of negative capability. So much more to come!

I have sprained my ankle (it still really hurts). Consequently, I have to sit down, which is not in my nature. However, I have endeavoured to turn my confinement into your academic gain! (There is little else I can do; I've read three books now and need a change of focus.)

In this week's lesson we looked at Lamia. We considered narrative voice and, in groups, we looked at the presentation of the characters. Keats' Lamia is based on the version told by Robert Burton in Anatomy of Melancholy (apparently, Keats' favourite book). In Burton's version Lycius is rescued by a wise philosopher from the charms of a lamia. Keats modifies the story and this increases the complexity of the narrative in to a sumptuous feast of ambiguity.

Hermes Keats's makes a significant modification to Burton's version in the the addition of the opening episode concerning Hermes, the nymph and Lamia. What is the relationship between the opening and the subsequent narrative? Immediately, Hermes is known for being cunning, which could heighten our suspicion.

The narrative and textual references provide a fantasy, mythical setting. You can consider this to be like in Science Fiction; we know we are in an alternative setting where the expectations of reality are different (think of Star Wars or The Fringe). Hermes is looking for a nymph of famed beauty. As his search goes on he gets hotter with a 'celestial heat'. The virginal 'whiteness' of the 'lily clear' cheeks to the 'blush'd ... rose' indicate that sex and lust will be involved in this poem. the censorship laws at the time would have prevented Keats form making any explicit reference. The contrast of the virginal whiteness and the red rose could also signal the loss of virginity. The following image of the Grecian god Hermes with his 'golden' curls' tussled on his 'shoulders bare' develops the sexuality in the poem. The rhyme on 'hair' and 'bare' heighten the sexuality as does Keats' use of alexandrine for this line.

The repetition of 'vale to vale from wood to wood' increase the sense of an unfulfilled frustrated search that Hermes is experiencing.

The end of the opening sees a shift in the focus of the narrative; the Hermes story ends. But why is it there? Look at the final twenty lines. The narrator creates a dramatic comparison to reality and illusion or dream and reality. With 'It was no dream; or say it was/ real are the dreams of Gods' Keats makes the reader aware that we seeing something that we know is not true. However, if the dreams of the Gods are real, the dreams of mortals must be deceptive. Although love for the nymph and Hermes has an edge of complication to begin, she 'sobs' and 'cower[s]', but this could also be seen to preserve her feminine modesty, love is uncomplicated. they go into the woods and do not grow 'pale, as mortal lovers do.' Love for immortals is uncomplicated and easily fulfilled (Hermes just has to touch her hand). The implication is then that love for mortals is complicated, difficult to fulfil and complex. It also states that mortal lovers grow pale; love will end badly. I'll draw you back to the earlier question: What is the relationship between the opening and the subsequent narrative? Feel free to leave a comment and get some debate going amongst yourselves. Prizes for those who do!

Lamia Part I
How do we respond to Lamia? Our introduction to Lamia creates intrigue and mistrust. She is 'bright', colourful and beautiful. She is in the form of a snake, but with a woman's mouth, teeth and voice. The speaker here says 'but ah, bitter-sweet!'. Not only does the oxymoronic statement create ambiguity about Lamia, we also have the interjection from the speaker with 'but ah'. this happens later, line 201, where the speaker says, 'we shall see'. Why are these asides there? Again, do add comments below. It will help your learning if you engage with the text. We spoke in class about associations with the devil and the Fall of Man and this would have had an impact readers in the 19th century.

Lamia goes on to repeat what has just happened to Hermes back to Hermes. This makes it seem like a premonition and creates intrigue. Lamia's change into human form is compelling. Her mouth 'foam[s]' and this foam kills the grass it lands on as it is so 'sweet and virulent', again, this creates ambiguity as to our sympathies towards Lamia. The image of this metamorphoses is in stark contrast to the earlier description. Lamia's eyes are 'tortured' and 'glaz'd' and the use of colour is darker and more sinister. The narrative breaks at the end of this stanza and the perspective shifts. The 'beauty' who is 'exquisite' contrasts with the former stanza, yet echoes the initial sight of her as 'bright'. The narrator also asks a question, as if he does not know, which he subsequently answers heightening the confusion. Again, this makes us aware that we are being told a story. It is also the point where we first hear her name. The description of Lamia is of a woman who is beautiful, but also intelligent. She has a 'sciental brain' which seems calculating, cold and led by fact rather than emotional. Why would this have had particular resonance with a Romantic audience?

The reader's intrigue is enhanced when we hear the contradiction that she is both a virgin, but is educated in sex where in 'Cupid's college she has spent sweet days as a lovely graduate'. Why would Keats create this ambiguity in the narrative?

How do we respond to Lamia in the dialogue that she has with Lycius? Our understanding of Lamia is through Lycius' response to her. He is frantic and passionate while she is cold and bids him 'adieu!'. The narrator states that she is a 'cruel lady' and he is in a 'trance'. The use of alexandrine again is out of keeping with the iambic pentameter of the majority of the poem. Here, it seems like it is spell like and adds to the notion that she is enchanting Lycius; the narrator states that she tells him she is a 'woman, and without any more subtle fluid in her veins' even though she has already told him she is a goddess.

The poem moves to indirect speech and with this we lose the sense of truth that comes with dialogue as we are subject to the bias of the narrator. Can you find connections between Lamia and La Belle Dame sans Merci here?

Throughout Part I we have seen Lamia as a snake and then metamorphose in to a beautiful enchantress to seduce a young man. Does sympathy towards Lamia change towards the end of Part I? Identify words, phrases and narrative techniques that possibly change the reader's sympathy.

Lamia Part II
The end of Part I has seen Lamia move into Corinth. Their is a structural shift in the poem that corresponds to the movement of place within the narrative.

The ambiguity of where the reader's sympathies should lie is further developed. Lamia becomes the submissive partner. The narrator sees that she is like a mortal woman, weak, insecure and dependent. Poor Lamia! this perhaps reflects the rights of women in the early 19th century. However, when Lycius looks in her eyes he is 'mirror'd small' suggesting that he is a reflection and, in consequence, dependent on her for his existence.

Identify aspects of the narrative that are sympathetic to Lamia in Part II. Where does the sympathy turn? Is it ever directly sympathetic to Lamia? What poetic devices does Keats use to emphasise the speaker's sympathy or lack of it? Leave a comment!

I also invite you to make notes on the semantic fields. Look at heat, madness, sex, colour and disappearing. Find where they are in the poem and note any differences.
Here is an article that Mrs Archer passed on to you in your lesson, but you may have missed it. The video that has gone wrong for some reason in my last post is available here.

That's enough to be going on with.


  1. Hi Ms Caldwell,
    I think the Hermes opening is perhaps meant to warn the audience about Lamia and Lycius' later love, as it is almost a mirror image. By stating good things about immortal love, Keats implies the opposite about mortal love, meaning we are on the look out for failings in the later romance.
    It also sets Lamia up in a position of power; guardian (although perhaps not a very effective one) of a beautiful nymph and able to bargain with a god. This then creates a bigger contrast between her status at the beginning, middle (subjected to Lycuis' 'cruel grown' love) and end (dead at her wedding).
    Although perhaps Keats just needed a way to turn Lamia from a snake into a woman without it seeming too magical and unreal!
    Also, if anyone's interested, you can download the poems from a mixture of ItunesU and Itunes podcasts without having to pay anything! (I'm hoping I'll absorb quotes if I listen to them as I go to sleep!)
    Eleanor :)

    1. your bent allow lamia

    2. Callum Homan (Southend High for boys)20 March 2013 09:35

      I love this thing, cheers mate

    3. If you are studying Lamia, you should know how to use an omissive apostrophe...

  2. The Lamia and Lycius love does reflect the love of Hermes and the Nymph. Particularly the phenomenal effort involved in finding love by Hermes and Lamia. It does establish Lamia as someone with power to negotiate with Hermes, known for his cunning. If Lamia is an equal to Hermes, and Lycius is akin to the nymph, perhaps this also sets Lycius up in a female role?
    The happy ending in stark contrast to the ending for mortal love as well as giving the reader a sense of impending doom. It also makes Lamia's demise more dramatic.
    Of course, it works to establish a mythical world too where there is a snake with the face and mouth of a beautiful woman!
    Keats was awesome.
    Excellent interpretations and thanks for the itunes tip, I'd forgotten about itunes for poetry.
    Ms :)

  3. HI Ms Caldwell! Thanks for the blog1 it really helped me out. Could you please do another blog just based on the individual characters and how they help tell the story and tie in with the theme of the poem!
    Thank you
    Oyin :)

  4. I'm glad it's been useful to you. I'm afraid I am not teaching this at the moment and don't have time to write a post as you requested. You do it though! One way you can do this is to make a line graph. Time on x axis and tension on the y axis. do a line, with quotes of course, for key points in the story for each character. See how they overlap. Then see if you can point out where the themes are. Are there any turning points, narrative echoes etc?
    Best wishes, Ms Caldwell

  5. Hi, this may be completely irrelevant but I think positive feedback brightens anyone's day :)
    I'm studying Keats for Y12, and this site is really helpful and insighful. Thanks :D

  6. Positive feedback is clearly never irrelevant and has brightened my day! I'm glad you've found it useful. Good luck! :)

  7. Really helpful! Thanks :) (from another school)

  8. David Smeeton20 March 2013 09:36

    i just love english

  9. Laurence Turner (Southend High School for Boys) (Southend on Sea)20 March 2013 09:37

    this made me so happy and excited when i found it, i love keats so so much! yay

  10. Good. I love Englsih and Keats (as well as many other Romantics). You should look at the other post on some of the characters. (Yay!)

  11. Just encountered this site, for revision aid on my AS English Lit exam, thank you so much this is really useful and bought up points that I haven't even considered. Thank you so much :)

  12. I'm glad it's been useful and good luck!