Sébastien: Keats shows how much poetry reflects the poet. He makes us understand that if he wasn’t reflected through these ‘cloudy symbols’, the poem would lack life.

Yessi: Keats’s work is both universal and personal. He writes about a common fear, one to which almost everyone can relate. It also appeals to anyone who feels the weight of not fulfilling their creative potential before death (‘before his pen has even gleaned his teeming brain’). More importantly, this poem allows the reader to gain a better understanding of his or her own fears.

Keats is preoccupied with death, a fact we all have to face

Frankie: I agree. I think that it is more relatable, for most, than the Diving-Bell. There is a crucial difference in the two texts: Bauby is more focused on the horrific condition that has rendered him almost completely isolated from the world, while Keats is preoccupied with death, a fact we all have to face. Keats worries about how he may ‘Never have relish in the faery power’ again, which is not something Bauby can even really dream of.

Rosa: I think that the Diving-Bell is much easier to relate to. You only have to look at the writer. He worked for Elle; he’s used to writing for mass audiences and his book was a major success. I think ‘faery power’ is a really abstract idea. Bauby talks about the universal through his relationships with his family – particularly his father and son. Yes, few of us are going to experience his condition, but the words are so bare and it all tries to capture his life before.

John: Uplifting, sad, and also a little comic. I can’t get rid of the image of him in my own mind, surfacing through the depths of his condition, eyelid beating like the wing of a butterfly. There are scatterings of humour throughout the book. It seems like he uses them to separate himself from the isolation of his situation.

He deals remarkably well given his debilitating condition, finding outlets in both real and imaginary forms.

Frankie: I was also astounded at the good humour he seemed to maintain; leads me to wonder whether it is truly honest in the diary-like form it takes, or if he was very much trying to write a book that would sell – a book that would mean he lives on after he dies. In this respect, I find Keats’s take on his own fatality more honest – ‘Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.’ Bauby seems largely to avoid the issue; although of course it remains in the back of your mind from the opening of the book (which states the date of his death), I think that the fact he never wallows in his own mortality evoked more sympathy in me than Keats’s poem did.

John: He deals remarkably well given his debilitating condition, finding outlets in both real and imaginary forms.

Sébastien: That reminds me of Keats’s ‘magic hand of chance’. This image speaks for itself. It tells the story of the poet as a magician who can transcend death through poetry. The hand of the poet becomes that of a god, creating a new world where poetry alone remains. So, the poem is neither sad nor pessimistic, but magic. It reveals the power of life over death, and shows how the act of writing overcomes death through the poet’s vivid imagination.

Yessi: Ironically, the poem was published posthumously so it forms part of Keats’s legacy. It shows that poetry holds the ability to last, as long as we think it worthy of sharing. Keats’s poem is the perfect example of balance between grit and beauty. His language is compelling and captivating even though he’s dealing with one of the most disturbing of subject matters: death.

Both texts strike a balance between beauty and, I’d say, gloom rather than grit.

Frankie: There is an inherent beauty in a sonnet. It’s an interesting choice for such a poem; an ode to life, almost. Both texts strike a balance between beauty and, I’d say, gloom rather than grit.

Rosa: Yes. You’ve only got to look at the last chapter of the Diving Bell: Season of Renewal. You expect it to be incredibly positive, but he leaves us hanging. He’s looking at a purse and asks if ‘the cosmos contain[s] keys for opening up’ his cocoon or a ‘currency strong enough to buy’ his freedom back. He ends it as if he knows he’s about to die, with ‘We must keep looking. I’ll be off now.’

Yessi: Many poems, novels, artworks show death as evil, suggesting that it purposefully drives both the artist and the reader to insanity. I think Keats challenges this by showing death as a liberating force that rids him of anxiety. When you cease to exist, you can’t retrospectively worry about your lack of accomplishment.

Sébastien: In a sense, I am not sure if I understand Keats’s sonnet. Maybe it is pure craziness. But it’s worth trying to identify with a sonnet written in 1884, as much as with a book written in 1988. Of course, this makes them both eternal and abolishes their fears of death.

Contributions from Rosa Lia, Frances Richens, Yessica Bello, John Hartley & Sébastien Dosne

Join the Bookclub on Facebook or e-mail: bookclub@mouthlondon.com

About The Author

This group is used as a place to discuss books or poems of your choosing. The most thoughtful comments will be put into print, with your name, in the student magazine MouthLondon. So if you want to be read by students throughout the city, get writing! Check the posts for our current reads. There's also room for your work online, so there's space for everyone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.