Last month, I entered the Gould Prize for essays in English Literature which is organised by Trinity College, Cambridge. For my entry, I chose the following question from a range of seven:
‘What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat
and breaking the golden lilies afloat
With the dragon-fly on the river.’
(Barrett Browning, ‘A Musical Instrument’)
What are the gods of Greece and Rome doing in English poetry?
In my response, I posit that the role of ancient deities in Keats’ poetry is threefold: they allow Keats to seemlessly blend the personal and the universal, to trace the cultural evolution from the Hellenic era to 19th Century England, and to enter a mythic realm which is entirely dependent on a literary tradition. Ancient mythology is therefore prominent in Keats’ poetry for a variety of reasons and gives Keats a uniquely confident poetic diction. I was lucky enough to be highly commended for my essay, which you can read below if you like; I’d love to hear your thoughts!