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The Eve of St. Agnes has been criticised as building tension but not really fulfilling its potential. How far do you agree with this view point?

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The Eve of St. Agnes has been criticised as building tension but not really fulfilling its potential. How far do you agree with this view point? The Eve of St. Agnes is an epic, romantic ballad which tells the story of conflict between the families of two lovers; Madeline and Porphyro. The Eve of St. Agnes was based upon a superstition whereby if a virgin girl fulfilled the rites on the eve, she would dream of her future husband that night. For me to look fully into this view point it is important to establish the meaning of the word 'tension'. I would describe it as a mental strain provoking feelings of anxiety, apprehension and suspense. As I study this poem in context of the view point I will keep making references to these emotions where relevant and discuss how these sections create tension. The poem begins with descriptions of a chilling, harsh environment. "The owl, for all his feathers, was a cold; the hare limped trembling through the frozen grass." In the second stanza it reinforces the idea of frailty with a description of the Beadsman as being "...meagre, barefoot, wan..." and how "...already had his deathbell rung." This is a stark contrast to stanza IV which has vibrant references to the sheer grandeur and wealth of Madeline's home: "...glowing to receive a thousand guests: the carved angels, ever eager-eyed, stared". ...read more.


This danger is reinforced by the line "...a hundred swords will storm his heart." Just how dangerous a position is Porphyro in? The last line in stanza XI partly answers this question; the old woman warns him that the "whole blood-thirsty race" are there (meaning the guests). Stanza XIX shows the voyeurism of Porphyro into to Madeline's room; "...which was to lead him, in close secrecy, even to Madeline's chamber, and there hide him in a closet" By the reader being old that he has to hide it fuels the awareness of nervousness we are feeling for Porphyro and his safety. The fact that Angela tells him to be patient in stanza XX enables us to again intuit his growing excitement. Restlessness and thrill are two emotions that are reflected from Keats addressing the concealed Porphyro alerting him to the arrival of Madeline "Now prepare, young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed; she comes, she comes gain, like ring-dove fray'd and fled." Up to this point the reader has been made to feel all those emotions associated with tension; anticipation, restlessness, eagerness, danger, and anxiety, yet it is added to further in stanza XXIII with the added emotion of distress. Angela has arrived back "she panted...no uttered syllable, or, woe betide!" ...read more.


In stanza XLI Keats says how "the wakeful bloodhound rose..." These are dogs that are associated with hunting, and in the context of the poem we can relate this to Porphyro. We can feel his apprehending danger. The last stanza is very significant in helping form my opinion on the statement in the question. Porphyro and Madeline have finally made it out of the house yet we are left with a slight sense of danger. This is resulting from the use of negative wording, such as 'warrior', 'witch', 'demon', 'coffin', 'nightmared' and 'ashes'. Depending on your interpretation of the text, you could form the view that this ending does live up to the immense tension that is built up throughout the poem. We know that they managed to get away from the house, yet all the negative connotations almost crate a sense of doom: you are left wanting to know what happens to the lovers. If you look at the ending in a different way then I think it is possible to believe that it is not a very dramatic departure from them; there is no celebration from them or any real indication of what happens to them. Some resolution is given by Angela and the Beadsman, but it is not to the level that you would expect. ...read more.

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