Serpents in Red Roses Hissing - This text starts off very simply as an exercise in dichotomy: every line contains two things which are diametrically opposed to one another. Keats takes this principle and seemingly works himself into a rhythmic frenzy until his poem sounds more like a witch’s incantation than a piece of poetry. But then, at line 23 (“O the sweetness of the pain!”), it suddenly turns into a beautiful elegy as he calls upon the Muses. After all this Keats ends up very simply in passion and sorrow over the grave of his beloved—a beautiful (and very human) ending to a poem that spends most of its energy invoking the gods.
Blue! ‘Tis the Life of Heaven - Of all the Color Madrigals, this text is the only one written about the actual color it takes its title from. Keats captures blue in all its forms by bringing the poem from the heavens to the ocean and finally back to the earth. Because of this, the poetry becomes more and more intimate as it progresses. I chose to write a gradually expanding hymn to create a sense of reverence for my own favorite color.
Purple-Stainéd Mouth - When I read this text for the first time, I always got stuck on the last two lines. I kept associating it with the image of someone whose heart is broken taking refuge in a bottle of wine. The eight lines of the poem that lead up to this are what this person wishes for but, in the end, probably doesn’t get. Anyone who has ever felt heartbroken knows this feeling and, although we usually heal ourselves of our own accord, “drowning your sorrows” can seem awfully inviting sometimes.
Yellow Brooms and Cold Mushrooms - The life of a satyr must be an easy thing. Essentially they just follow the wine-god around and spend most of their lives wrapped in joy and ecstasy in a drunken state of glee. I used some extended vocal techniques (glissandi, vocal “hiccups” and a violent, “drunken” key change) to portray the unpredictable nature of a jovial forest creature that’s had way too much to drink.
A Grass-Green Pillow - If there were a “standard” subject for poetry centered on the season of spring it would probably be the subject of love and, more specifically, new love. Luckily, the genius of Keats takes on this traditional theme with the amazing, poetic language and seamless rhyme he is known for. I gravitated towards this particular text because of the symmetry between the first and second halves of the poem. In the first two stanzas it sounds like the stereotypical, overzealous young man trying to woo a maiden who might be above him in social standing and may or may not return his sentiments. However, once you reach the midway point (and especially in the last stanza), it suddenly becomes much more tender and romantic—as if he suddenly figures out the difference between lust and love.
I’d like to think he chooses the latter.
Orange-Mounts of More Soft Ascent - It seems that Keats was not a fan of the color orange. I can’t say that I am either but, after undertaking the task of reading Keats’ collected works to find poems that mentioned colors, I wish he would have enjoyed it a little more because it seems that in his short life he only used the word “orange” once in his poetry. Granted that it’s one of those words that’s sort of famous for not rhyming with anything, but it still seemed ironic that in 458 pages the color only came up once.
That being said, I was lucky he decided to use it in a great poem. In the eight lines I excerpted Keats sprays invective on the prideful like a literary skunk (and even mentions another color in the process). He builds toward a final, desperate accusation to the heavens spitting out consonants like a great snake along the way.