Color or Beauty?

First, let me apologize for not getting this post up sooner. I had a bit of a time attempting to unweave this poem for myself and find something that I could make sense of enough to gab about for a few paragraphs.

Though there are only a few stanzas in Keats’ “Lamia” where Lamia is actually a serpent, those lines are filled will vivid descriptions of her color and brilliance. Greens, golds, purples, rosy, vermillion, blue, crimson, silvers, scarlet, and jeweled hues of sapphires and amethyst colors describe the serpent’s speckled and striped skin. Her “rainbow-sided” serpent self, though sad and filled with longing breathed “silver moons” and was of “dazzling hue.”

When she begs to take human form her body and surroundings, though beautiful, are fairly colorless. Throughout the rest of the poem, beautiful scenes are described and her beauty touted above all other human beings, yet Keats uses only green to describe some of the surroundings in Lycius and Lamia’s budding romance. The amount of colors squeezed in to the first few stanzas is not equaled again throughout all the rest of the pages. It seems like Lamia is given the choice of fitting in to the black and white world in which her love inhabits, in this case the human world or being the brightly color and divine serpent, comfortable in her skin—but ultimately alone.

She’s imprisoned and condemned by her beauteous human form. She can have her love, but because she is not her true self, she lives under the constant threat of being found out. When she is a serpent, “Her loveliness invisible, yet free/ to wander as she loves, in liberty” is sacrificed for, “A woman’s shape and charming as before.” And though her love appreciates her beauty, he seems to long for something more. Apollonius’ question seems to bring up those desires as he tries to unweave her beautiful façade, “stronger fancy to reclaim/ Her wild and timid nature to his aim.” He seems to delight in the possible unmasking of his love, despite the fact that he loves her, he wants to get to the bottom of the question that he sees when he sees her beautiful, yet colorless form. It is mentioned several times that Lamia has no blood running through her veins, nor rosy cheek. Can she still be beautiful without the bright rainbow of her full and real self?

My favorite piece of this poem is a question mark, “Whither fled Lamia, now a lady bright,/ A full-born beauty new and exquisite?” Is her new “beauty” in her womanly form really all that beautiful? Keats throughout the rest of the poem alludes to the brightness and perfection of her human beauty, but in a world devoid of color, how beautiful can something really be? I wouldn’t presume that Keats’ intention was to speak to the struggle of this modern woman, but he did. Do I turn down my light so as not to intimidate the man that I want to partner with, or do I tone down my colors so he’ll be confident his will shine? I still haven’t quite got my head around unweaving the rainbow, but Keats seemed to speak directly to me in his heroine’s desire to be with her love, even if it meant loosing herself. I’d love to hear what other people got out of this poem. I realize that while reading it through this lens I have missed other facets of the work.

On a completely different and lighter note, here is a great example of the appeal of any area that inspired Keats’ poetry. (In regards to the destruction of the Lake District as discussed in class.) In the film adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary, which is a loose modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (complete with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), Bridget tries to convince her boyfriend to go on a mini-break holiday with her. They decide to go to the Alconbury rockery. She tries to sell it to him by saying that it inspired Keats’ “Eve of St. Agnes.” He wants to please her, and so off they head. Of course, the imagery used in “Eve of St. Agnes” is of a freezing and wintery place (the Saint’s Feast Day is in the middle of January). Though she obviously hasn’t read her poetry (inside joke for Keats fans is that the poem is about women trying to find a lover, so they perform this superstitious ritual on St. Agnes Eve. For those of you who aren’t Fielding fans, this same aim is the obsession of Bridget Jones throughout the entire book/film), it is the mention of Keats and his illustrious works that are advertised in the brochure she’s reading. The Keats name alone is what inspires her to prod her boyfriend until he takes her. This scene (one of my favorites) is when they are at the rockery, rowing in boats and making up poetry to read to each other:

BRIDGET: Season of mist… and… mellow fruitlessness.

DANIEL: Oh,fuck me, I love Keats. Have you heard this one? “There was a    young woman from Ealing… who     had a peculiar feeling. She lay on her back and opened her crack…and pissed all over the ceiling.”

DANIEL:[Bang] Oh, bollocks.

BRIDGET: What’ve you done?

DANIEL: I’m boarding you, Bridge. -Don’t you dare!I’m king of the world! -No! Fuck me. Uhh!

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6 Responses to Color or Beauty?

  1. h0p3d1am0nd says:

    I think it’s interesting how you called Lamia a heroine. I agree with you that in many ways she embodies the typical heroine. I liked the way you talked about her giving up her true self to be with her love, giving up her dazzling rainbow body for a pale human one just so her love can shine confidently, and all the while worrying about being discovered. It sounds like the bare bones of a very tragic love story.

    However, I’d imagine that more often than not, that is not what readers see when reading Lamia. I’d say that Lamia, the character, is usually called a temptress, which would align her more with the villainesses of the world than with the heroines. That’s why I liked the way you fleshed out the other view of Lamia. It really turned an old argument on its head.

    Also, I appreciated the Bridget Jones Diary reference. I guess Keats is so well-known that he’s one of those people who works well for name-dropping.

    • ebbwilliams says:

      I completely agree that my reading of Lamia, the heroine, is very different from the traditional reading. I feel like if you consider Lamia as pure temptress you ignore the first part of the poem, where she seems to genuinely lust and long for companionship. This way of reading the poem may shine light on a more stereotypical sense of women being sluts and men being players. I think I’m reaching a little to far with that though.

      Bridget Jones Diary is a favorite of mine, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading my work.

  2. Jack Skillet says:

    Thank you for posting. I’m struggling with what exactly is Lamia’s true state, whether or not she is of a divine nature. Could she have died in the end if she was really divine? She’s powerful enough to make a nymph invisible to a god – but apparently not powerful enough to shape shift herself. She tells Hermes, “I was a woman,” – I guess she could have easily been lying to the god, in order to get her way. But she doesn’t ask Hermes to turn her completely back into a woman. She only requests “a woman’s shape and charming as before.” So obviously there’s something about her snake nature that she doesn’t want to let go of – maybe she can’t let go of. If being a snake means you get to kick it in the garden of Eden with gods and nymphs, I’d be hesitant to become fully human again. Did she intend to return after her fling with Lycius?

    • ebbwilliams says:

      There seems to be an illusion to this not being her first time in womanly form. Maybe she just kicks it with a cute dude every couple of years to get her rocks off. Couldn’t really blame her.

      In terms of Lamia’s divinity, I think that that she might lie somewhere in that demi-god status. When I looked up Elysium (the only point of reference I had prior to this was Matt Damon’s new flick) I found it was a place for the children of gods and humans to spend the afterlife. I don’t know if that helps at all, the whole poem is a puzzle to me.

      Good luck and thanks for reading my work.

  3. Great post! I was having a lot of the same feelings when I was reading it– the description of her as a sort of creature was much more alluring than any of the following descriptions (or lack thereof). The quote “Whither fled Lamia, now a lady bright,/ A full-born beauty new and exquisite?” also really stuck out to me but I wasn’t really sure what to do with that question mark, since it seemed like there were a lot of possibilities as to what Keats (or the speaker) could be questioning. I think it’s also interesting that she’s described here as “bright” but with no specific color attached. I liked the notion of the world as black and white in the human realm. I noticed a lot of references to whiteness (especially in regards to the floor) and saw it as mostly a symbol of purity, but I appreciate the direction you took it in.

    Also, snaps to the Bridget Jones reference. You just really made me want to go watch that movie. I never caught the Keats reference for some reason, though. Hmm.

    • ebbwilliams says:

      Thank you for your comment. That question mark was my favorite part of the whole poem. It’s amazing how one punctuation can provide so much depth.

      Watch the movie, or better yet read the book. I read it on an airplane from SF to Paris. I was laughing out loud… loudly. When I got off the plane, a few of the people around me went and grabbed the book at the layover in New York.

      The Keats reference was made even funnier when I looked up the poem that she was referencing from the brochure she reads (in a deleted scene) and found it was about women longing for husbands. Clever, clever writers and closeted Keats fanatics.

      Thank you for reading my work.

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