Keats's Paradise Lost: a Digital Edition 1.0.1, last updated January 26, 2021
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Keats’s two-volume, 1807 copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost
is one of the most valuable of the poet’s surviving books. H. J. Jackson claims
that only two of Keats’s annotated books contain notes that offer “serious critical commentary:” his Paradise Lost
and his folio Shakespeare (191).
(NOTE)Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. 1623. Rpt. London, 1808. Owned by Keats House and stored in the London Metropolitan
In the latter, however, only five plays are marked by Keats and of these only two
(Troylus and Cressida
and King Lear
) are marked throughout.
(NOTE)According to Forman, “The First Part of King Henry the Fourth is marked only in the first eight pages . . . in Romeo and Juliet the markings extend over the first half of the play. . . . [and] in A Midsummer Night’s Dream there are but two pages” marked (5: 269n).
The Paradise Lost
volumes, by contrast, contain markings and annotations throughout the entirety of
Milton’s poem. The book provides a remarkable record, not just of Keats’s response
to one of his most important literary precursors, but of his reading practices, aesthetic
tastes, and habits of mind more broadly.
Keats’s edition of Paradise Lost
was published in Edinburgh, printed for W. & J. Deas, in duodecimo format.
(NOTE) Keats also possessed a 1775 edition of Paradise Lost (8th ed., 2 vols., printed in London for J. Beercroft et al.), the first volume of
which is missing. On the inside front cover of the surviving second volume is written
in an ornate hand, “John Keats / 1810,” indicating that the book was probably given to the poet when he was a student at
John Clarke’s school (see Owings 42-43). It contains no marginalia.
Besides the text of Paradise Lost
, this edition contains at the beginning of volume 1 a “Life of Milton” by Elijah Fenton, a postscript that lists passages added to the 2nd, twelve-book edition of Paradise Lost
, a Latin poem by Samuel Barrow, “In Paradisum Amissam Summi Poetae Johannes Miltoni,” Andrew Marvell’s poem “On Paradise Lost,” and Milton’s explanatory paragraph “On the Verse.” None of these items in the front matter is marked or annotated by Keats. The volumes
also include six engraved illustrations of Milton’s poem. Five of these are after
paintings by Henry Fuseli (Satan Calling Up His Legions
from book 1; Satan Encountering Death at Hell’s Gate, Sin Interposing
from book 2; Satan Starting from the Touch of Ithuriel’s Spear
from book 4; The Triumphant Messiah
from book 6; and The Explusion from Paradise
from book 12), and one is after William Hamilton (Eve Tempted
from book 9). All are engraved by Daniel Lizars, a painter and engraver who worked
(NOTE)The artists are not identified in Keats’s edition; I was able to do so by consulting
Pointon 198; Ravenhall 529-89; and Weinglass 202-06. Titles for each illustration derive from Weinglass and Pointon. Information about Daniel Lizars is from The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online (accessed 9 Nov. 2018). The title page vignette of Eve handing Adam an apple
has not been identified.
Keats’s marginalia in the Paradise Lost
volumes consist of nineteen notes and extensive markings: underlining (single, double,
and triple) as well as vertical lines in the margin (also ranging from single, double,
to triple lines, indicating varying degrees of intensity in Keats’s response to particular
passages). In addition, on the flyleaf of volume two Keats wrote a draft of his sonnet
. Markings occur in every book of the poem, though both notes and markings are most
extensive in the earlier books and become less frequent in the last three. This pattern
could reflect either that Keats found the beginning of the poem more significant and
engaging than the end or that he simply became less committed to recording his responses
as he worked his way through it.
Transmission and Publication History
Keats gave these volumes to Maria Dilke before he left for Italy; the second volume
is inscribed “Mrs Dilke from / her sincere friend / J. Keats
.” Keats’s Paradise Lost
remained in the Dilke family throughout the nineteenth century. Both volumes contain
C. W. Dilke’s bookplate, and they eventually were donated to the Hampstead Libraries
by his grandson Sir Charles Dilke as part of the valuable Dilke bequest. They now
belong to Keats House in Hampstead and are housed in the London Metropolitan Archives.
The Paradise Lost
marginalia have long been valued by those interested in Keats, starting with his
family and friends. George Keats copied eleven of the nineteen notes onto the flyleaf
of his own edition of Milton’s poem, and Marianne Reynolds went to the trouble of
reproducing not only the notes but all of Keats’s markings into her personal copy
of Paradise Lost
(NOTE)The information about Marianne Reynolds comes from Forman 5: 291. The whereabouts of Marianne Reynolds’s and George Keats’s copies of Paradise Lost are currently unknown.
When Keats gave the volumes to Maria Dilke, the significance of the gift resided in
the marginalia rather than the printed text (at least one copy of which she and her
husband already owned), and he would have known that his commentary would be read
by Maria, her husband Charles, and most likely others in their circle.
(NOTE)Keats House owns a copy of The Poetical Works of John Milton (London 1811) that belonged to Charles Dilke, which is filled with his notes and
markings. Keats is likely to have seen Dilke’s Milton, which may have served as one
model for his own annotated copy of Paradise Lost. Another model may have been Benjamin Bailey’s copy of Milton, discussed below.
The eleven notes George transcribed were the first examples of Keats’s marginalia
to be published, in the form of a letter by James Freeman Clarke to the editor of
the American periodical The Dial
for April 1843. Clarke explains in his letter that he was “permitted to copy” the notes from the fly-leaf of a Paradise Lost
George Keats possessed (499).
(NOTE)See also the letter from James Freeman Clarke published in the article “George Keats” in The Athenaeum(4 Jan. 1873).
Richard Monckton Milnes reprinted the Dial
notes in his 1848 biography of Keats, and in an 1872 Athenaeum
article, Sir Charles Dilke provided the eight marginal comments not printed by Clarke
(NOTE)A note written by Sir Charles Dilke on the inside front cover of volume 1 of Keats’s Paradise Lost refers to the article he published in The Athenaeum.
Beginning in 1883, Harry Buxton Forman published all of Keats’s Paradise Lost
notes in his editions of Keats’s poetry and prose, concluding with the 1938-39 Hampstead Edition, which for many years was the standard source for Keats’s annotations in Milton and
several other works. The notes have subsequently been included in a number of editions
of Keats’s poetry, indicating their continued importance for scholars and students.
(NOTE)See editions by John Barnard 517-26; Elizabeth Cook 336-45; Susan J. Wolfson 225-37. Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr., also prints the Paradise Lost notes in his valuable collection, The Romantics on Milton 553-60.
It was not until Beth Lau’s 1998 Keats’s Paradise Lost
, however, that Keats’s extensive markings as well as his notes were made available
in a print transcription. These allow scholars to share the almost line-by-line experience
of reading Milton’s poem from Keats’s perspective.
The current digital edition of Keats’s Paradise Lost
improves on Lau’s transcription of the marginalia in a number of ways. First, as
an open-source website, it makes this valuable material more accessible than it is
in Lau’s book, which is chiefly to be found in academic libraries. In addition, readers
can now see the actual appearance on the page of Keats’s notes and markings and their
relationship to particular passages of Milton’s poem. This edition also includes
the entirety of Paradise Lost
, not just the passages Keats marked, as in Lau’s book. The passages Keats did not
mark can themselves be revealing, indicating what sections and aspects of the poem
were less interesting—literally unremarkable—to him. Finally, Keats’s markup can
now be analyzed computationally, an affordance which might seem superfluous for a
single text, but which could become significant as more marginalia are systematically
digitized and encoded.
(NOTE)As, for example, Melville’s Marginalia Online is attempting to do. Besides its transcription of the marginalia, Lau’s book contains
commentary on Keats’s notes and markings and on the practice of writing marginalia
in the early nineteenth century. Much of the information in the present Introduction
and the explanatory notes for this digital edition derive from Lau’s study, reprinted
with the permission of UP of Florida.
Dating the Marginalia
Keats did not specify when he read and annotated his copy of Paradise Lost
, and different dates have been proposed (see Lau 23), but the bulk of evidence points to early 1818 for this activity. Benjamin Bailey
told Richard Monckton Milnes in 1849 that when Keats visited him at Oxford in September
1817, he “was . . . far more enamoured of the beauties of Spenser & the Faery Queen” than of Milton’s epic and had not yet begun “[t]he subsequent study of Milton [that] gave his mind a mighty addition of energy
& manly vigour.” This study Bailey, a self-styled “great student of Milton,” apparently urged Keats to undertake, perhaps showing Keats as a model his own edition
of Milton “with passages marked in ink, & similar passages cited & referred to, & some M.S. notes.” Certainly, as Bailey explains, “We had much talk of Milton when Keats was at Oxford” (The Keats Circle
2: 283, 296), and this visit seems to have marked the beginning of Keats’s serious interest in
. References to the poem appear in a 22 November 1817 letter to Bailey (Keats, Letters
1: 185), and in January 1818 Keats wrote his poem “Lines on Seeing a Lock of Milton’s Hair,” in which he salutes Milton as “Chief of organic numbers” and characterizes himself as a worshipful votary offering “a burnt sacrifice of verse” to the elder poet’s “sacred and ennobled hearse” (1, 8-9).
(NOTE)Keats’s poems are quoted from The Poems of John Keats, ed. Jack Stillinger, hereafter cited as Poems.
In a 3 February 1818 letter to Reynolds, Keats compares modern poets unfavorably to
Shakespeare and Milton (Letters
1: 223-25), and in a 27 April 1818 letter to Reynolds, Keats says, “I long to feast upon old Homer as we have upon Shakespeare. and as I have lately upon
1: 274). The term “feast” implies attentive, in-depth reading of the sort reflected by the markings and annotations
in the 1807 Paradise Lost
volumes. Comments on Milton in 24 March and 3 May 1818 letters also point to this
period as one in which Milton was prominent in Keats’s thoughts. It is therefore
likely that Keats began reading and marking his copy of Paradise Lost
in late 1817 or early 1818 and continued into the spring of that year.
Some evidence does connect Keats’s reading of Milton’s poem with other periods of
his life. In the fall of 1818 Keats wrote his epic fragment Hyperion
, which is heavily indebted to Paradise Lost
in structure, theme, and style. Although Miltonic elements in Hyperion
could derive from an earlier reading of the poem, the extent of influence suggests
a saturation in Milton that could be consonant with close reading and marking of Paradise Lost
at this time. One specific connection between this period and Keats’s marginalia
occurs in a 21 September 1818 letter to Dilke. “I wish I could say Tom was any better,” Keats writes. “His identity presses upon me so all day that I am obliged to go out—and although I
intended to have given some time to study alone I am obliged to write, and plunge
into abstract images to ease myself of his countenance his voice and feebleness—so
that I live now in a continual fever—it must be poisonous to life although I feel
well. Imagine ‘the hateful siege of contraries’” (Letters
1: 368-69). This letter, which announces the composition of Hyperion
, quotes Paradise Lost 9.121-22
, a passage distinguished by both underscoring and triple marginal lines in Keats’s
copy of the poem.
(NOTE)The abbreviation PL will hereafter be used for references to book and line numbers in Paradise Lost.
A few weeks later, Keats underlined the words “Poor Tom” in his folio edition of Shakespeare’s King Lear
and wrote in the margin, “Sunday evening, Oct. 4, 1818” (W. J. Bate 390). The marking of the lines in Paradise Lost
and quotation of them in his letter to Dilke seem a parallel example of Keats finding
words to express his own painful feelings about his dying brother in a text he is
reading at this time.
(NOTE)Greg Kucich notes that markings probably made by Keats in Charles Brown’s Spenser
volumes habitually flag passages describing pain and suffering, which express Keats’s
own anguish in the summer of 1820 when the volumes were annotated (“A Lamentable Lay” 13-22).
A draft of Sonnet to Sleep
is written on the flyleaf of volume 2 of Keats’s Paradise Lost
, and this poem is dated late April 1819 (Poems
646). In addition, references to the fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from Eden
occur in March and April 1819 letters (Letters
2: 79, 101). Keats was almost certainly reading Paradise Lost
in the summer of 1819, for he tells both Bailey and Reynolds in August of that year
that “the Paradise Lost becomes a greater wonder” to him (Letters
2: 146; see also 139). A 31 August 1819 letter to Taylor slightly misquotes PL 4.683
—“responsive each to other’s note”—which is underscored in Keats’s copy of the poem (Letters
2: 153). Finally, in 21 and 24 September letters to Reynolds and to George and Georgiana
Keats, respectively, Keats rejects Milton’s language as artificial and claims, “I have but lately stood on my guard against Milton. Life to him would be death to
2: 212; see also 167). These statements may signal the end of Keats’s initial worshipful attitude toward
the elder poet, though not of the latter’s impact on Keats’s poetry. That Keats continued
to draw upon Paradise Lost
during this period is suggested by a number of parallels scholars have detected between
Milton’s poem and both Lamia
(written July and August 1819) and The Fall of Hyperion
(July-September 1819). Indeed, both Stuart Sperry (Keats the Poet
313-14) and David Fairer (164) believe that The Fall of Hyperion
reflects a more successful assimilation of Milton’s influence than does the earlier
(NOTE)Scholars who have argued for parallels between Paradise Lost and Lamia include Gordon 435-37, 440-41; Stephenson; and Allott 616-48. Numerous works treat The Fall of Hyperion in relation to Milton, but, besides Sperry and Fairer, see especially Jonathan Bate, “Keats’s Two Hyperions.”
On pages in which both markings and notes appear, it is clear that the markings were
done first, for the annotations often curve around them (see, for example, notes in
response to PL 1.598-99
). In addition, some notes refer to later passages of the poem. For example, the
first note, written on the half-title page of volume 1
, quotes “But his face / Deep Scars of thunder had entrench’d &[c.]” from PL 1.600-01
, on page 20 of Keats’s copy. A note praising Milton’s use of the word “vale” in 1.321
also cites “the Next mention of Vale” in 2.546-47
. More significantly, the note extolling the Ceres and Proserpine passage in 4.268-72
cites as another example of “very extraordinary beauty” in the poem “Nor could the Muse defend her son,” from 7.37-38
. Similarly, a note in book 7 describing Milton’s technique of “stationing” (volume 2, pages 42-43
of Keats’s copy) quotes “sagacious of his Quarry” from 10.281
. These notes obviously were written with later passages clearly in mind. Keats may
have initially read through the entire poem marking significant passages and then
immediately have begun a second reading during which he wrote his notes; he may have
written some notes during his initial reading and some later; or he may have written
all the notes at a later period than that in which he marked the poem.
Another possibility is that Keats remembered later passages of Paradise Lost
from a much earlier reading. Keats was familiar with the poem before he read and
annotated his 1807 copy. As mentioned previously (see note to first sentence of second paragraph
), Keats possessed a 1775 edition of Paradise Lost
inscribed “John Keats / 1810,” at which time he was a student at John Clarke’s school. In the verse epistle “To Charles Cowden Clarke,” written in September 1816, Keats praises his friend and former schoolmaster for
teaching him to appreciate “Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness / Michael in arms, and more, meek
Eve’s fair slenderness” (58-59). In addition, a number of scholars, beginning with Richard Woodhouse, have identified
allusions to Paradise Lost
in Keats’s early poems, including “Imitation of Spenser,” “Calidore,” “To one who has been long in city pent,” “How many bards gild the lapses of time,” “Sleep and Poetry,” and Endymion
(NOTE)For allusions to Paradise Lost in “Imitation of Spenser” and “To one who has been long in city pent” see Sperry, “Richard Woodhouse’s Interleaved and Annotated Copy” 144-45, 149-50; for “How Many Bards” see Gleckner; for “Calidore,” “Sleep and Poetry,” and Endymion see Gordon.
In Bailey’s account, Keats was not unacquainted with Milton’s poetry in 1817 but did
not sufficiently appreciate it.
It is unlikely, however, that Keats’s memory of the later passages he quotes in his
annotations derived from his schoolboy reading of the poem. Benjamin Bailey’s comment
to Monkton Milnes suggests that Keats’s impression of Milton before fall of 1817 was
very different from the one conveyed in his Paradise Lost
marginalia. In addition, the references to later passages in Keats’s notes seem consistent
with a fresh reading of the poem and effort to record his response to the work as
a whole, as Keats points out what he sees as recurring patterns and techniques (e.g.,
multiple instances of “extraordinary beauty” and of “stationing”). Both Bailey’s and Keats’s references to the latter’s “study” of and “feast[ing] on” Milton in 1818 imply a methodical, focused course of reading that may well have
involved two sessions, the first dedicated to an initial marking of arresting passages
and the second, immediately following, in which Keats expressed in his notes some
of his major insights into and impressions of the poem.
(NOTE)Jackson believes “It is quite likely that the marking was done first, the extended note-writing later” (194).
Overall, the surviving evidence suggests early 1818 for Keats’s initial, sustained
reading and annotating of the entire poem. Nonetheless, Keats may have added some
marginalia at later periods when letters and poems suggest that he was rereading Paradise Lost
. If Keats did read and record his impressions of Paradise Lost
in the winter and spring of 1818, the fall of 1818, and the spring and summer of
1819, we should have to conclude that close engagement with the poem was intimately
connected with all the most creative periods of Keats’s life.
Keats’s Style of Marking
Scholars who have studied Keats’s marginalia have attempted to identify a coherent
system in his use of underscoring and vertical lines in the margins. Most claim that
vertical lines identify passages Keats found significant for their content, involving
ideas, emotional power, or character development, whereas underscoring highlights
more detailed effects such as striking language, imagery, or other poetic techniques.
(NOTE)See Spurgeon 24-27; White 93-94; Kucich, “A Lamentable Lay” 9-11.
This may be Keats’s general practice, though as Kucich says, he did not adhere to
it with “systematic rigidity”(“A Lamentable Lay” 9n22). Numerous passages in Keats’s copy of Paradise Lost
are both underscored and marked with marginal lines, seemingly as a way to give more
emphasis than either type of marking alone could convey (see, for example, 4.271-72
Jackson claims that Keats followed a system of marking in which both underscoring
and vertical lines denote appreciation of passages, whereas crosses indicate disapproval
(182). Two crosses (or “X’s”) appear in the Paradise Lost
marginalia, but only one of these is aligned with a critical remark. Alongside 9.43-47
(also marked with a vertical line), where Milton expresses his fear that “an age too late” may “damp my intended wing,” Keats makes an “X” and then adds the question, written sideways in the left margin
and preceded with an “X,” “Had not Shakspeare [sic] liv’d?,” challenging Milton’s claim that the age in which he lived was unfavorable to poetry.
By contrast, an “X” beside PL 3.488
(“Blows them traverse ten thousand leagues awry”) is keyed to a note that conveys admiration for the way “This part in its sound is unaccountably expressive of the description.” If Jackson’s point about Keats’s use of crosses is unsupported by the Paradise Lost
marginalia, however, she is accurate in characterizing them as predominantly “of the booster variety,” drawing attention to passages and effects Keats admired (187). Besides the example cited above, only one other note in the Paradise Lost
volumes is critical. In the margin of volume 1, page 65
, containing part of the dialogue between God and Christ about the fate of mankind,
Keats writes, “Hell is finer than this.”
Two other patterns in the markings can be noted. First, when underscoring lines, Keats
frequently lifts his pen and then resumes, leaving a break in his underscoring. These
breaks typically occur at caesuras and indicate where Keats paused in his reading
of Milton’s lines. (These breaks are not shown in the transcription of the marginalia,
but readers can see them in the page scans.) Second, the vertical lines Keats draws
are typically in the left margin, alongside the first words in the lines of poetry
he highlights, but in two instances he draws a vertical line in the right margin (3.644
). In the second passage, Keats might have used the right margin because a phrase
he also underscores in 8.94
(“barren shines”) is near the end of the line. This is not the case with the passage in book 3, however,
where the entire line 644
(as well as the eight previous lines of text) is underscored. In addition, on both
pages that contain vertical strokes in the right margin, other passages are marked
with the usual vertical line in the left margin (3.659-67
). It is not clear whether Keats deviated in these two instances from his customary
practice by conscious design or from a more haphazard impulse of the moment.
In a 21 September 1819 letter to Reynolds in which he announces that he has abandoned
because “there were too many Miltonic inversions in it,” Keats proposes that his friend “pick out some lines from Hyperion
and put a mark X to the false beauty proceeding from art, and one [draws double vertical
lines] to the true voice of feeling.” In the next sentence, however, Keats confesses, “Upon my soul ‘twas imagination I cannot make out the distinction—Every now and then
there is a Miltonic intonation—But I cannot make the division properly” (Letters
2: 167). In this passage Keats announces a system of marking (basically the one Jackson
says he follows) and then immediately rescinds it as unworkable. Along the same lines,
he may have set about annotating his copy of Paradise Lost
with a particular strategy in mind but then have deviated from it upon occasion,
as his responses to particular passages dictated. Readers of this digital edition
of Keats’s Paradise Lost
may discern hitherto unnoticed rationales for Keats’s annotating practices.
Themes and Patterns in the Marginalia: Descriptive Passages
Numerous patterns can be noted in the passages and aspects of Paradise Lost
that Keats does and does not mark or comment on in his notes. One of the most conspicuous
of these is a tendency to highlight descriptive passages. He frequently flags passages
describing characters’ facial expressions. Examples include the account of Satan’s
face, which “Deep scars of thunder had intrench’d” (1.600-01
), a line that is not only underscored but also quoted in the first of Keats’s notes,
written on the half-title page of volume 1
. Similarly, “round [Satan] throws his baleful eyes” (1.56
) is underscored and quoted in two notes: to PL 1.1-22
. Keats also marks the passage in book 4 when Satan, disguised as an angel, first
sees Eden and is torn with conflicting emotions, so that “each passion dimm’d his face, / Thrice changed with pale, ire, envy, and despair;
/ Which marr’d his borrow’d visage” (4.114-16
). A few lines below this passage, the angel Uriel “on the Assyrian mount / Saw him [Satan] disfigured” (4.126-27
); these lines are distinguished by both underscoring and triple marginal lines and
are also quoted in Keats’s note on PL 7.422-23
. Keats also marks passages describing the facial expressions of Chaos (2.988-90
), Christ (3.266-67
), and the angel Raphael (8.560
), among others.
In the initial description of Adam and Eve, Keats underscores the section on their
faces and hair (4.300-11
), but he frequently highlights passages that depict them at full length. For example,
he underscores Satan’s view of “Eve separate” tending her flowers (9.424-37
). Further on in the climactic temptation scene, Keats marks Adam’s anxious expectation
of Eve’s return and his sight of her approaching with “A bough of fairest fruit” in her hand (9.838-54
), as well as Adam’s reaction to her account of having eaten from the forbidden tree:
Astonied [he] stood and blank, while horror chill
Ran through his veins, and all his joints relax’d;
From his slack hand the garland wreath’d for Eve
Down dropt, and all the faded roses shed:
Speechless he stood and pale.
In book 10, Adam longs for death, and Keats underscores his posture of despair: “On the ground / Outstretch’d he lay, on the cold ground; and oft / Cursed his creation” (10.850-52
In a note responding to PL 7.422-23
, Keats praises what he calls Milton’s “stationing or statu[a]ry
.” Milton, writes Keats, “is not content with simple description, he must station—Thus here, we not only see
how the Birds ‘with clang despised the ground
’ but we see them ‘under a cloud in prospect
’ So we see Adam ‘Fair indeed and tall—under a plantane
’ and so we see Satan ‘disfigured—on the Assyrian Mount
.’” As Nancy Goslee explains, the term “stationing” derives from theories of the visual arts and refers to a static composition of one
or more figures “caught in a suspended, significant moment” or positioned within a particular setting (205-06).
(NOTE)See also Ian Jack 48-49, 141-42, 162ff.
Keats seems to have experienced Paradise Lost
largely as a series of pictures or tableaus, whether close-up portraits or more distanced
views of complete figures posed in relation to their surroundings.
Keats also frequently highlights descriptions of settings in Paradise Lost
. The extended initial description of Eden in book 4 is heavily marked (4.132-68
). In these passages, Keats departs from the visual emphasis of most of the marked
lines describing characters and responds to various sensory impressions. For example,
Keats frequently marks references to mild, balmy, sweet-smelling air, as in accounts
of “the soft delicious air,” “the buxom air, embalm’d / With odorus,” and the “pure, now purer air” of Paradise, where “gentle gales / Fanning their odoriferous wings, dispense / Native perfumes” (2.400
). Keats also underscores the famous simile describing the pleasure of a city dweller
Forth issuing on a summer’s morn, to breathe
Among the pleasant villages and farms
Adjoin’d, from each thing met conceives delight;
The smell of grain, or tedded grass, or kine,
Or dairy, each rural sight, each rural sound.
(NOTE)Keats does not mark the well-known opening line of this simile—“As one who long in populous city pent” (9.445)—which is considered a source for his 1816 sonnet “To one who has been long in city pent.” Perhaps the line was so familiar to Keats that he did not consider it worth singling
out for special attention.
Keats does not note only pleasant odors, however. He also underscores “Asmodëus with the fishy fume” (4.168
) and the passage in which Death “snuff’d the smell / Of mortal change on Earth”(10.272-73
; see also 10.279-81
). The lines just quoted have been linked to Hyperion
1.167-68, in which the old sun god “still snuff’d the incense, teeming up / From man.”
Leigh Hunt reported that “Keats . . . observed to me, that Milton, in various parts of his writings, has shown
himself a bit of an epicure, and loves to talk of good eating” (Autobiography
2: 209). Hunt does not mention what particular passages from Milton Keats cited, but a number
of lines describing eating, appetite, and taste are marked in Keats’s copy of Paradise Lost
. The account of the meal Eve prepares for Adam and Raphael, which has been linked
to the food Porphyro prepares for Madeline in The Eve of St. Agnes
and the half-eaten meal the speaker discovers at the beginning of The Fall of Hyperion
, is heavily underscored (5.303-07
(NOTE)Gordon (445) and Watkins (21-22) compare the food preparations in Paradise Lost to those in The Eve of St. Agnes. Gordon (445), Sperry (Keats the Poet 317-18), Allott (659n), Barnard (678), and Jonathan Bate (“Keats’s Two Hyperions” 330) compare Eve’s meal to the one in The Fall of Hyperion. Gordon (445) also draws parallels between the Paradise Lost passage and “To Autumn.”
Keats also marks passages describing the angels’ eating habits and digestive systems
), as well as one in which Adam tells Raphael that the latter’s discourse is sweeter
“Than fruits of palm-tree pleasantest to thirst / And hunger both, from labour, at
the hour / Of sweet repast” (8.212-14
). The role of appetite in the temptation scene likewise is noted. Keats underscores
a passage in which the serpent tells Eve that, as he approached the tree of knowledge,
. . . from the boughs a savoury odour blown,
Grateful to appetite, more pleased my sense
Than smell of sweetest fennel, or the teats
Of ewe or goat dropping with milk at even,
Unsuck’d of lamb or kid, that tend their play.
Keats also underscores the lines on Eve: “Greedily she ingorged without restraint, / And knew not eating death” (9.791-92
Just as he notes both sweet and rank odors, however, Keats also marks foul as well
as pleasant eating experiences in Paradise Lost
(Eve’s eating of fruit from the tree of knowledge could of course be considered both
pleasant and unpleasant). Several lines are underscored describing the disgust of
the fallen angels in hell when they eat fruit that turns to ashes in their mouths:
“which the offended taste / With spattering noise rejected” and “With hatefullest disrelish writhed their jaws” (10.566-67
). Keats also underscores the grim passage in which Death, learning that he will
gain access to all living things on earth after the Fall, “Grinn’d horrible a ghastly smile, to hear / His famine should be fill’d, and bless’d
his maw / Destined to that good hour” (2.846-48
Keats’s markings also reflect a sensitivity to sound imagery, both somber or sublime
and sweet and melodious. In the first category, Keats marks passages describing thunder
), the echoing of Satan’s voice in hell (1.314-15
), organ music (1.706-09
), “The sound of blustering winds” in “hollow rocks” (2.285-90
), the sound of trumpets (2.516-18
), “The voice of God” after the Fall (10.97-99
), and “The brazen throat of war” (11.713
). In addition, the single word “noise” is underscored in 2.957
. Among the soothing and celestial sounds Keats marks, one finds references to the
fallen angels singing (2.546-54
), to angels in heaven playing musical instruments and singing (3.365-68
), to music of the spheres (5.625-27
), and to nightingales (3.38-40
Keats also appears to have relished the euphony or sound effects of Milton’s verse.
As previously mentioned, a note on PL 3.488
—“Blows them traverse ten thousand leagues awry”—comments approvingly, “This part in its sound is unaccountably expressive of the description.” One pattern in Keats’s marking that also suggests an appreciation for the sound
of words is his frequent underscoring of lists of names and place names. For example,
. . . yet had his [Dagon’s] temple high
Rear’d in Azotus, dreaded through the coast
Of Palestine, in Gath and Ascalon,
And Accaron and Gaza’s frontier bounds.
Him follow’d Rimmon, whose delightful seat
Was fair Damascus, on the fertile banks.
Of Abbana and Pharphar, lucid streams.
Marked passages containing similar lists of euphonious names include 1.392-411
; and 11.386-411
. The passage in 10.695-706
contains a reference to “Notus and Afer black with thunderous clouds / From Serraliona,” which Keats quotes in his 3 May 1818 letter to Reynolds (Letters
1: 276). Leigh Hunt wrote an essay on the “Originality of Milton’s Harmonious Use of Proper Names,” in which he celebrates Milton’s “fondness for heaping together those sonorous proper names, which . . . are so managed
as to charm and exalt the ear with an organ-like music,” passages Hunt characterizes as “islands of poetical beauty” (“My Books” 387, 392). This essay was written after Keats’s death, but Hunt may have shared his appreciation
of “harmonious” names in Paradise Lost
in conversation with Keats. Or, as with Keats’s remark on Milton’s love of good
eating, Keats may have alerted Hunt to the pleasing sound effects of the poem’s lists
of proper names.
Keats’s habit of marking passages notable for striking images or poetic use of language
has been noted by others who have studied his marginalia in Paradise Lost
and other works.
(NOTE)See for example Caroline Spurgeon (17), Stuart Ende (88-89), R. S. White (33-37 and passim), and Jonathan Bate (Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination 179), along with Shears and Kucich, cited below.
Indeed, one of the most characteristic features of Keats’s reading of poetry, as revealed
by his marginalia in both Shakespeare’s plays and Paradise Lost
, is a tendency to focus on descriptive passages and felicitous phrases and to neglect
passages concerned with central ideas, plot, and character development. One of the
ways this neglect is conveyed in the Paradise Lost
marginalia is an absence of interest in characters’ spoken dialogue. Very few of
the major speeches or conversations in the poem—which are key in expressing the characters’
psychology and motivation, important stages in the narrative, and central themes and
motifs—are marked by Keats. In fact, he often marks lines leading up to a speech
and then ceases when it begins. Thus in book 1, the description of Satan before he
addresses his assembled host is heavily marked, but the address itself—lines 622-62
—is left clean. In the council of hell scene in book 2, the introductions of Belial
and Beelzebub are underscored (2.109-13
), as are the accounts of audience response to Mammon’s and Satan’s speeches (2.285-90
), but very little in the speeches themselves is highlighted. Only lines 87-88
are underscored in the conversation between God and Christ in book 3. In book 4,
several lines (15-18
) leading up to Satan’s first soliloquy are marked, as are the three lines immediately
following the soliloquy (114-16
), but among the eighty-one lines that make up this dramatic speech itself, only 73
are distinguished by Keats’s pen strokes.
Numerous examples of this tendency could be cited. Little of the conversations between
God and Raphael, Raphael and Adam, Satan and his army, Christ and God, or God and
Adam is marked in books 5-8 (though Keats does mark passages where Raphael as narrator
recounts to Adam the war in heaven and the creation of heaven and earth). Likewise
in the climactic book 9, few passages in the key conversations—between Adam and Eve
at the beginning of the book, between Eve and Satan, or between Adam and Eve after
her and then his fall—are marked, though intervening descriptive passages frequently
are. For example, the serpent’s movements and appearance as he leads Eve to the tree
of knowledge are heavily marked (9.631-43
), but the ensuing temptation speech is completely untouched by Keats’s pen. As noted
previously, in book 10 Keats’s marks the lines describing Adam lying “Outstretch’d . . . on the cold ground” (10.851
) but not the preceding soliloquy in which Adam wonders why he was created and longs
for death (10.720-844
). Keats clearly seems more interested in what characters convey through their facial
expressions and “stationing” in relation to their surroundings than through their words.
Some critics believe that Keats’s interest in imagery and sound effects to the neglect
of broader thematic and structural elements in Paradise Lost
and other works reflects a selective reading of poetry that has problematic implications
for Keats’s own work. Jonathan Bate states that Keats’s tendency to focus on “fine Phrases” in his reading of Shakespeare and other writers may be one of the reasons why “many of Keats’s poems lack organization and discrimination on a larger scale” (Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination
(NOTE)“Fine Phrases” is quoted from the 14 August 1819 letter in which Keats tells Bailey, “I look upon fine Phrases like a Lover.” This statement comes immediately after the remark, “Shakspeare [sic] and the paradise Lost every day become greater wonders to me” (Letters 2: 139).
Jonathan Shears claims that Keats’s “privileging of parts or fragments” (8), “delight in the music of Milton’s verse” (163), and emphasis on “pictorial scenes” (172) at the expense of “the logical progression of the argument” (163), constitute a significant misreading of Paradise Lost
that helps to explain why Keats could not finish Hyperion
. Unlike Milton, Keats had no “presiding argument, or established symbolic order, of his own” to underpin his epic poem, and his disregard for key narrative features such as
transitions and patterns of cause and effect translate into a lack of meaningful action
(NOTE)R. D. Havens (208-09), and Paul Sherwin (386-89) also comment on the lack of action and the static, sculpturesque figures in Hyperion, contrasting these features to Milton’s more dynamic narrative.
Ultimately, Shears argues, Keats’s marginalia indicate that the Romantic poet read
as a “series of lyrical moments” rather than as a unified narrative poem (178; see also 159, 169), a tendency that casts doubt on the likelihood that he could have fulfilled his
ambition of writing successful epic, narrative, or dramatic works.
Keats was not alone among his contemporaries, however, in his focus on detached, lyrical
passages in Paradise Lost
. Indeed, Shears claims that all the major Romantic poets read Milton’s epic in a
similar “piecemeal” fashion (13), privileging evocative parts over the poem as a whole, especially its central argument
that establishes a clear, determinate meaning to the characters and events it depicts.
Among Keats’s circle of friends, one finds a similar emphasis on isolated descriptive
passages, especially those depicting static, pictorial scenes. William Hazlitt, in
his lecture “On Shakespeare and Milton,” which Keats attended in January 1818 when he was beginning to read and annotate
his copy of Paradise Lost
, describes the central characters of the poem in terms that recall Keats’s note on
Milton’s gift for “stationing or statu[a]ry”: “the persons of Adam and Eve, of Satan, &c. are always accompanied, in our imagination,
with the grandeur of the naked figure; they convey to us the ideas of sculpture.” After quoting PL 3.621-44
, Hazlitt concludes, “The figures introduced here have all the elegance and precision of a Greek statue” (5: 60). Similarly, in his Round Table
essay on “Milton’s Eve” (a book Keats was reading with Benjamin Bailey in September 1817 [see Letters
1: 166]), Hazlitt states that “The figures both of Adam
are very prominent in this poem. As there is little action in it, the interest is
kept up by the beauty and grandeur of the images” (4: 106). In “On Shakespeare and Milton,” Hazlitt seeks to dispel what he says is “a common perversity of criticism,” the belief that Milton’s “ideas were musical rather than picturesque.” Although Hazlitt agrees that Milton’s verse is “in the highest degree musical,” he asserts that it is also vividly pictorial. In fact, claims Hazlitt, “There is . . . the same depth of impression in his descriptions of the objects of
all the different senses, whether colours, or sounds, or smells” (5: 59). Hazlitt’s criticism may have helped alert Keats to the striking visual and other
sensory descriptive passages in Paradise Lost
Leigh Hunt delighted in the pictorial elements of poetry and focused on detached scenes
rather than continuous narrative or unifying ideas in his reading of long poems.
Hunt’s essay “A New Gallery of Pictures” declares that The Faerie Queene
“contains a store of masterly, poetical pictures” (161), a claim Hunt supports by providing short quotations from the poem and naming
an artist who would be appropriate for depicting the scene each describes. Greg Kucich
argues that Hunt “taught Keats how to read The Faerie Queene
as a gallery of discrete, gorgeous pictures. . . . instead of following his narratives” (Keats, Shelley, and Romantic Spenserianism
150), and Hunt no doubt approached Paradise Lost
in a similar manner. R. Brimley Johnson claims that Hunt, like Matthew Arnold, practiced
a form of literary criticism that involved selecting and commenting upon exemplary
passages of poetry, rather than analyzing works as a whole (113). Hunt’s Imagination and Fancy
(1844) follows this model, as it is composed of a series of extracts from various
poets meant to illustrate the characteristic style and beauties of each, with selected
lines and phrases in each extract italicized and then discussed in notes. Hunt’s
method in this anthology resembles that of marginalia, with the extracts corresponding
to marked passages (perhaps scored with a vertical line), the italics reproducing
the effect of underscoring, and the notes corresponding to marginal annotations.
In fact, Brimley Johnson believes that many of Hunt’s essays are “practically reproductions from some volume in his possession with his own underlinings
and marginal notes transcribed” (113). For Hunt, marking and annotating selected passages in his books and discussing
those same works in formal literary criticism were virtually synonymous activities.
In addition, Hunt’s own narrative poetry is full of detailed descriptions that often
slow or impede the progression of the story. Richard Cronin notes that the tendency
in Hunt’s The Story of Rimini
(1816) for “the narrative momentum to dissipate” as the poem lingers on descriptions of settings, costumes, animals, or incidental
visual effects was one of the features of the poem that John Gibson Lockhart and other
Tory reviewers castigated as a vulgar “Cockney” style. What these reviewers objected
to, Cronin states, was the way in which Rimini
“refuses in its style that graceful subordination of part to whole, and of the less
to the more important that secures the economy of classical narrative” (788). Clearly Keats was not alone among Romantic writers in his attention to passages
of striking visual, auditory, tactile, and olfactory imagery in Paradise Lost
, often to the neglect of other passages such as characters’ speeches that advance
the plot and develop its central argument.
One can, however, challenge the claim of Shears and other critics that Keats’s focus
on descriptive, lyrical passages reflects a misguided reading of Paradise Lost
that had detrimental consequences for his own work. The rich imagery of Keats’s
poetry, drawing on all the senses, even the “lower” ones of taste and smell, has long
been considered one of its distinctive achievements, rather than a defect. Many critics,
moreover, argue that Paradise Lost
does not in fact express a consistent argument and univocal meaning but is permeated
with contradictions, ambiguities, and multiple perspectives that Keats and other Romantic
writers recognized and built upon in their own works.
(NOTE)The most influential advocate for this point of view is Lucy Newlyn. For some other
recent versions of this argument see Henry Weinfield (1-9 and passim) and David Fairer (who includes discussion of Keats’s Paradise Lost marginalia on 162-63). Shears surveys numerous writers from the eighteenth century to the present (besides
the major Romantic poets) who argue that Paradise Lost is ambiguous and multi-vocal rather than consistent and determinate in its meaning
(see especially chapters 1, 2, and 9).
In addition, Paradise Lost
deviates from previous epics in ways that can be considered lyrical. At the beginning
of book 9, Milton famously distinguishes his choice of subject from those of other
major epics, all of which center on war and battle (9.25-41
). In Paradise Lost
, the climactic scene involves the decisions of Eve and Adam to eat a piece of fruit;
the action is centered on the thoughts and feelings of the characters, rather than
any dramatic deeds they perform. Similarly, although the poem describes hell as a
physical location, it presents Satan’s inner, psychological suffering as his most
acute punishment, for as he states, “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell” (4.75
). In Paradise Lost
, as in most lyric poetry, subjective states are more important than external actions.
Moreover, in some passages Milton seemingly in his own voice speaks of his personal
feelings and experiences, most notably at the beginning of book 3, where he laments
his blindness and struggles to come to terms with this affliction (3.1-55
). Carter Revard declares that in this passage “the impersonal epic has been transformed to personal lyric” (209), and he finds close parallels between Milton’s lines and Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” Even if Keats and other Romantics went further than Milton in prioritizing short
passages of lyrical description and self-expression over narrative, they followed
a path that the Renaissance poet had embarked on before them.
A final qualification to the view that Keats’s marginalia reflect a selective, deficient
reading of Paradise Lost
is the fact that they highlight many other issues and aspects of the poem besides
its vivid, evocative descriptions. Among other motifs and effects Keats explores
in his annotations and markings are an appreciation for the way in which obscurity
and uncertainty stimulate the imagination; an interest in female decorum and solitude;
a tension between the appeal of disciplined ambition and the pull of luxury and ease;
a general fascination with contrasts; anti-monarchical sentiments; and a sensitivity
to the pathos of change, suffering, and separation from loved ones and familiar surroundings.
(NOTE)For further discussion of these issues, see Lau 36-68. Besides those already cited, others who analyze Keats’s Paradise Lost marginalia include Ende 87-98; Williams 116-19; and Jackson 191-95. Wittreich, Cook, and Wolfson provide some commentary on Keats’s notes in their
These and other patterns and emphases that scholars may discover in Keats’s Paradise Lost
marginalia yield valuable insights into Keats’s intertextual dialogue with one of
his most important literary role models or “Presiders” (Letters
1: 142). The marginalia also provide evidence of reading practices and attitudes toward
Milton characteristic of the period generally and of Keats’s coterie in particular.
As Jackson says, “Marginalia . . . document the reader’s relation to the text. They bring us about
as close as we can reasonably expect ever to get to the reader’s processes of thought” (297). Or, to adopt a phrase from Leigh Hunt, the Paradise Lost
marginalia allow us to read Milton’s epic “on a principle of co-perusal
” with John Keats (Imagination and Fancy
iii; Hunt’s emphasis).
Works CitedClick here to view works cited.
Anna Brown helped with transcription and with coordinating the 2018 Keats’s Reading / Reading
Alissa Doroh provided administrative support, set up the 2018 Keats’s Reading / Reading Keats conference website, and helped coordinate the conference.
Daniel Johnson worked through technical and legal issues in the acquisition of the page scans from
Keats House, established transcription practices, developed the TEI-XML encoding strategy and
documentation, encoded the transcriptions, developed the web site, and helped coordinate
the 2018 conference.
Greg Kucich was main organizer of the 2018 conference, acquired a major grant, and communicated
with Keats House about logistics for the edition and the conference.
Beth Lau wrote the scholarly introduction and notes, interpreted Keats's handwriting, acquired
a grant, communicated with Keats House about logistics for the edition and the 2018
conference, and helped transcribe the text.
Jack Rundle constructed the Zotero library for the works cited.