What do you think the Pre-Raphaelites might have seen to admire in this poem, in language and theme?
Why would this have been a good poem to use as the basis of a painting? Which aspects of the poem are emphasized in the paintings by Millais and Hunt?
What are some resemblances between “The Eve of St. Agnes” and “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil”? Some important contrasts?
“Isabella” was greatly admired in the nineteenth-century, but during the twentieth century “The Eve of St. Agnes” has found more favor. Why do you think this may be so?
Both poems are based on tales by Boccaccio—do you know what kind of tales were included in Boccaccio’s Decameron? How would the use of this source have given Keats’ poems more authority?
How does the knowledge of the legend of St. Agnes’ eve affect our view of the story? What responses does it predispose the reader to feel?
Why do you think Keats may have chosen the nine-lined Spenserian stanza? What are some advantages of this form? How is it different from the stanza form of “Isabella and the Pot of Basil”?
What are some features of the poem’s diction and sounds? In particular, what are some of the features of its descriptive language and the use of rhythm, alliteration and assonance?
What is the tale’s historical and geographical setting? How may this be intended to affect our response to the tale?
What are some traits of the names in the story? Would any symbolism or historical contexts have been associated with such names as “Porphyro” or “Madeleine”?
Are there aspects of this story which might have seemed risque or improper to an early nineteenth-century audience? Or offensive to a modern one?
Why does the poem intend for us to see him as good if impassioned young man rather than a voyeur? Why would a group of young male artists have been especially sympathetic to this view?
Can you defend Holman Hunt’s view that the poem is about the beauty of innocent love in contrast to the evils of proud intemperance?
Can you see parallels between Keats’ tale and any earlier poems or plays he may have read? Can you see comparisons or contrasts with any of Shakespeare’s dramatic portrayals of young love?
What are some features of the opening descriptions in stanzas 1-4? Of the descriptions in general?
How are Madeleine’s emotions described in stanzas 5-8?
What is added to the tale by the presence of the aged dame? Is she more than a plot device? Why does she laugh “in the languid moon”? (st. 15)
What do we know or surmise about Porphyro, his life, his relationship with Madeleine, and his family? How do we know that he is a fit lover for Madeleine? Would the poem be aided by greater knowledge?
What is Porphyro’s plot to win Madeleine’s consent to their marriage? Does he have other motives? (st. 16, 19)
What are some forms of imagery and symbolism associated with the bedchamber scene? (st. 20, 23) What are some of its unusually exotic or lovely features, and do these relate to the main plot? (sts. 24-25)
What symbolism is emphasized in Madeleine’s transition from dream to waking state? Why is it so important that this transition be gentle? What event confirms that the magic of the dream has ended? (sts. 24-26)
How are Madeline and Porphyro’s shared dream and embrace described? (sts. 27-34) Why is she reluctant to waken? (st. 35) Is this important thematically?
How does Porphyro respond and what elements are contained in his proposal? (sts. 36-39)
What are important or symbolic details of the description of the lovers’ escape? Are any lines in sts. 40-42 especially beautiful?
What response is expected from the readers as the lovers escape? Are we expected to worry about their later lives? (42)
Why does the poem end with references to the Beadsman and aged dame?
What are some interpretations of “beauty” which seem to underlie this poem?
Must beauty be remote in time and space?