Keats's Lack of Religious Belief

Glenn Everett, Associate Professor of English, University of Tennessee at Martin

Except for his famous description of life as "a vale of soul-making," Keats seems unconcerned with religion. This lack of concern is perhaps surprising in light of his close acquaintance with death and disease and his expectation of a short life. Do you find in his poetry and his letters any explanation for this? What does he ask of art — i.e., what does artistic creation mean to him?

He says in a letter to Benjamin Bailey dated November 22, 1817,

I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination‹What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth‹whether it existed before or not‹for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty. . . . The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream [of the creation of Eve — Paradise Lost, VIII, 460-490] — he awoke and found it truth. . . . I have never yet been able to perceive how any thing can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning. . . . O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts! It is a "Vision in the form of Youth" a Shadow of reality to come‹and this consideration has further convinced me . . . that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated. And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in Sensation rather than hunger as you do after Truth.

Connect this passage to the poems in which these ideas apply.

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000