John Keats' 'The Eve of Saint Agnes'

John Keats (1795-1821)

Given what’s acceptable today, it’s difficult to imagine how shocking this poem was when it was being written.

It almost lead to a falling out between Keats and his Publisher.  John Taylor, who was convinced Keats was a genius, had stood with him despite the financial failure of Endymion, But he was shocked by the goings on in Madeline’s chamber. After all, they are not married!  He didn’t like the last verse either. He wanted Keats to change the poem so that it wouldn’t shock his (female) readership or give hostile critics a new stick with which to beat Keats.

This lead Keats to write:

‘‘I shall ever consider them (people) as debtors to me for verses, not myself to them for admiration-which I can do without’.

For someone who was trying to make a living as a poet it was an untenable position. For a publisher investing in a writer it was too self destructive to be acceptable.

The argument was smoothed over. Changes that made the ‘solution sweet’ more explicit were dropped.

I’ve always thought this poem is like a play where the characters are not as believable as the setting and the props.