"On Death"


Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain's to die.


How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.


In the first stanza, John Keats discusses that there is no difference in being asleep or being dead and why we are scared of dying. The second stanza, he goes on to describing how a man will live a life of misery and overcome the greatest pain but he cannot face his own fate, the fate that is nothing else but to wake up. a man goes on living a life of misery but compared to that death is a gift. In addition, the first stanza introduces the famous quote "Life is but a dream," where it is said that life is a form of dream and every moment one has to live like the last but life is not always enjoyable and people get carried away in the depressed moment and stay in a very sad moment.


"On Death" illustrates every aspect of Romantic literature put to work such as nature, religion, and individualism. The nature is used in the concept of connecting sleep and death together where the author is stating that “life is but a dream” (line 1). In dreams one sees their innermost feelings and desires and when one is dead, all they see is dreams; therefore, death is a dream and one should not be scared of it. This release from fear is also illustrated from an archetypal perspective, as Keats presents death as a journey everyone must take; a part of the natural life cycle. Keats adds religion to this poem taking his stand on the issue of afterlife (line 8). During the romanticism period authors took a risk in all their works, they wrote about issues that opposed the Enlightenment period such as religion. In this poem, Keats says that ones life continues even after they are dead, he suggests the issue of life after death which a lot of religions practice and other religions oppose. Last but not least, Individualism is portrayed by describing how a man lives his life of fear from death (lines 5-8). Keats takes a stand on the reality of life, he states people do not fulfill their lives but drag on from day to day to finish their work instead of enjoying every moment that they are given.


John Keats wrote this poem in an eighteen century style to his brother in 1814 when his brother was in his deathbed suffering from Tuberculosis. John dedicated this poem to his brother and left this poem as a symbol of his brother. Rather than being a typical poem about death, focusing on the sorrow and loss usually associated with such an event, Keats instead takes a less morbid approach and expresses his belief that death is simply one's chance to truly live, tossing aside the shroud of life to see the world for what it really is. Quite contemporary for its time, "On Death" represents the shifting attitudes towards death during the Romantic period, revealing people's more rational thinking on the matter and realizing that it may not be as scary an occurrance as previously thought.


Keats brings out the moral truth of the society during the eighteen hundreds where there was a shift from literary humors and satires which were focused mainly on upper and middle class people to Romanticism, which was a rebellion against aristocracy, and political and social norms during the Enlightenment period. One of the most noteworthy qualities of Romantic poets is their confrontation of nature, such as that of man as He is illustrated in "On Death". In the second stanza, Keats identifies his conflict with human nature. He suggests that death is not as dreadful as being alive. It is not worth living when one lives a life of sadness that he has to carry on his rough journey to prevent his kismet, and death provides relief from this suffering; allowing one to return to a time when they were happiest.

In addition, Keats makes a good point in the first two lines, all creatures love to sleep because it is an escape from reality but then death is also sleep. A sleep where one will always view the picture they most desire. There is nothing to fear from death except the fears one creates for themselves.

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