The Eve of St. Agnes | Study Guide

John Keats

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The Eve of St. Agnes | Symbols



The cold and stormy weather is a symbol used repeatedly throughout "The Eve of St. Agnes." It is often used as a kind of pathetic fallacy, in which the external weather reflects the emotions or moods of the characters. The weather-related imagery also adds tension and atmosphere to the poem, as it is consistently bleak and foreboding. The first line establishes it is "bitter chill." This image returns when Madeline wakes from her dream: "the frost-wind blows" and "sharp sleet" hits the windowpanes. When Porphyro "melts" into Madeline's dream in this stanza, the image of the wind battering the window strengthens the interpretation that he is engaging in sexual relations with her. The next stanza begins with Porphyro referring to her as his bride, further indicating sexual relations are taking place. The harsh weather imagery continues in the following line, "iced gusts still rave and beat," and it reappears at the conclusion: "These lovers fled away into the storm." This signals to the reader that the relationship might not be a peaceful one.

The Moon

The moon, an image commonly found in Gothic literature, is referenced in this poem multiple times. Porphyro is "buttress'd from moonlight" when he first appears, and he is left in a "moonlight room." A buttress, in actuality, is a kind of support beam used in masonry, or architecture. Porphyro being "buttress'd" here suggests an image of moonlight surrounding him in such a way as to seem to hold him up. Perhaps the moon is shining from behind him. Angela laughs "in the languid moon" when he tells her his plan. The "wintry moon" shining through the stained glass of Madeline's window illuminates her while she prays, casting jewel tones upon her through the stained glass window. The moonlight fades as Porphyro sets a table with delicacies. After he reveals himself and "melts" into her dream, the moon sets. The setting of the moon represents an ending, and the moon is a traditionally feminine object. As it is associated here with the virginal St. Agnes, the patron of chastity, young girls, and rape survivors, the setting of the moon may indicate the end of Madeline's virginity.

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