"The Eve of St. Agnes"
is a long poem (42 stanzas) by John Keats
, written in 1819
and published in 1820
. It is widely considered to be amongst his finest poems and was influential in 19th century literature
. The poem is in Spenserian stanzas
The title comes from the day (or evening) before the feast
of Saint Agnes
(or St. Agnes' Eve
). St. Agnes, the patron saint of virgins, died a martyr
in fourth century Rome. The eve falls on January 20; the feast day on the 21
. The divinations referred to by Keats in this poem are referred to by John Aubrey
in his Miscellanies
(1696) as being associated with St. Agnes' night.
Keats based his poem on the superstition that a girl could see her future husband in a dream if she performed certain rites on the eve of St. Agnes; that is she would go to bed without any supper, undress herself so that she was completely naked and lie on her bed with her hands under the pillow and looking up to the heavens and not to look behind. Then the proposed husband would appear in her dream, kiss her, and feast with her.
A Scottish version of the ritual would involve young women meeting together on St. Agnes's Eve at midnight, they would go one by one, into a remote field and throw in some grain, after which they repeated the following rhyme in a prayer to St. Agnes:“ Agnes sweet, and Agnes fair,Hither, hither, now repair;Bonny Agnes, let me seeThe lad who is to marry me. ”
In the original version of his poem, Keats emphasized the... Read More