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 Madelines 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 doesnt 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 doesnt know what she is doing. Hoodwinkd 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 playd an ancient ditty, long since mute, /In Provence calld 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 doesnt 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 Porphyros 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 doesnt 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 doesnt believe in the night, Angela. It doesnt help that the people who were supposed to watch out for her and protect her didnt 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, Madelines, 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 Madelines 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 Madelines 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 doesnt even know what she is doing herself. Once again this shows how powerful ones visionary imagination can effect anothers. 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 doesnt stop due to the mystical power of the night. Angela acts Like ring-dove frayd and fled (198). Angela is acting crazy and cannot stop, and she doesnt know what she is doing at all. Just like Madeline in that Madeline, too, doesnt 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 Madelines 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 doesnt 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.
Works Cited 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