A Close Reading on the “Eve of St. Agnes”

Danna D'Esopo

The first step to being able to use literary history and genre in writing is to be able to close read texts. Here is an example of close reading of the poem “Even of St. Agnes” by John Keats:

     Both explicitly and implicitly, the word “wings” are strongly associated with Madeline’s vulnerability within the poem. During stanza twenty-four, a section of Madeline’s bedroom wall is described as, “Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,/ As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings” (212-213). Tiger moths are insects which means they are both smaller and structurally different from humans. The wings of tiger moths do not have bones, which means they can tear quite easily. Because of their size and the composition of their body, tiger moths are easily crushable and therefore quite fragile. In terms of tiger moths specifically, their wings are brightly colored red, brown and white (English Oxford Living Dictionary). Compared to bland neutral toned moths, these moths are more colorful making them more susceptible to harm; this is due to the fact that they have a harder time blending into nature. Thus, tiger moths represent vulnerability because they are highly exposed compared to others of their species, associating this instance of the term “wings” with that trait. Wings are also implicitly connected to Madeline’s vulnerability through their association with the abundant bird imagery Keats’ utilizes. As Keats’ is describing Madeline after she first enters her bedroom in stanza twenty-three, he compares her fearful state to a “tongueless nightingale” (206). Although the word “wings” is not directly used in conjunction with the nightingale imagery, wings are inherently associated with it because a defining characteristic of all birds, including the nightingale, are wings. Similar to the tiger moth, nightingales are also small, fragile birds. However, their vulnerable state is furthered with the addition of the word “tongueless”. Nightingales are vocal birds; a tongueless nightingale would be an outsider to its own kind as well as leave it helpless to speak up for itself, making it susceptible to attack.

 

In this close reading, I analyzed the use of the term “wings” within Keats’ poem while also investigating words associated with “wings” that did not actually mention the term. By using Keats’ placement of the term to find a deeper meaning in the text, the text has been critically looked at in a way that the reader can then connect to literary history or genre.

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Introduction to Literary History and Interpretation Copyright © by Danna D'Esopo. All Rights Reserved.

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