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John Keats's Negative Capability Theory Essay

1689 words - 7 pages

There are a myriad of critical theory lenses that can be applied and utilized to closely observe pieces of literature. One of these theories is John Keats’s Negative Capability theory which consists of an idea of “…when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason…” (Keats 968). Ultimately, this signifies that, in poetry, the emphasis be placed on the significance of inquisitiveness and the asking of questions of the life and scenery around one’s self rather than employing importance on strongly searching for answers. This theory can be applied to a multitude of works, but for these sakes and purposes what will be critiqued is Samuel Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Keats’s personal opinion involving this is that “…Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half knowledge” (Keats, 968). This elevated language is stating plainly that Keats does not believe that Coleridge exemplifies his theory in his works, and that Coleridge is always reaching for the full truth and never content with the unknown. Interestingly enough, this is not exactly true. Coleridge creatively does embody this theory, even if it does contains slight gaps. Though this work does occasionally disembody Negative Capability, through his content matter in Kubla Khan, Coleridge ultimately displays this theory through the opportunity for his readers to pursue the concept, as well as cultivating this theory a step further past Keats’s intents and purposes.
Kubla Khan contains an overabundance of descriptive language that creates a vivid, yet simultaneously fragmented picture within the reader’s mind; this is a concept created by Coleridge that fully represents Negative Capability. This extremely fragmented perspective of this dream world is what sparks that important sense of questioning within readers. Questions such as “What does this place truly look like?” can arise within readers. The speakers details of this dream landscape offer these vivid images that attempt to capture the true essence of the place; this is what creates Negative Capability. For instance, descriptions such as, “The shadow of the dome of pleasure/ floated midway on the waves;” or “And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,/ as if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing” offer images that readers can in no conceivable way create in their mind realistically. (Coleridge 31-32, 17-18) Due to the fact that readers have no concrete reference points within their mind for these depictions, they are continually pondering and questioning the descriptions of this dream provided to them by the speaker. This exemplifies Negative Capability in the sense that readers are questioning and attempting to engage with the work to create this mental image of Xanadu. Furthermore, this exemplifies it because no matter how hard they try, readers will...

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