The After Dinner Scholar

John Keats “The Eve of St. Agnes”: A Conversation Between Dr. Glenn Arbery and Dr. Tiffany Schubert

April 21, 2020
St. Agnes' Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was!
       The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
       The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
       And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
       Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
       His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
       Like pious incense from a censer old,
       Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith.

With those lines, the Romantic Era poet John Keats (1795-1821) began “The Eve of St. Agnes”(available here). A beadsman was someone whose duty it was to pray for his benefactor, the beads being the beads of the rosary.

While he prays in the chapel, in the adjacent castle, Keats tells us, Madeline dreams of her love for Porphyro, her family’s great enemy. Later that night Porphyro arrives at the castle and finds his way to Madeline’s bedroom. She wakes from a dream, the two declare their love for each other, and they run off together.

Dr. Glenn Arbery and Dr. Tiffany Schubert got together—online of course—to discuss the poem for the benefit of Wyoming Catholic College juniors listening at home.