The poem Happy Insensibility by John Keats is about beauty. But this beauty is not the common one. The poet celebrates the ugliness of beauty (i.e. when it is lost). The poem is divided into three parts.
In the first part, the poet says to the tree that it is very happy because its branches do not remember the greenery which once covered them and also kept them alive. Now it is leafless however neither the cold winds of the north nor the frozen ice of December can make it remember its springtime.
In the second part, the poet says to the brook (small stream), whose water has been frozen by the chilly cold night of December, that it does not remember those days when its bubbles were shining in the sunlight. Being frozen into crystals, it does not remember the joy of flowing freely. Hence like the tree, it is also “too happy”.
In the third part, the poet turns to humans. He talks about a boy and a girl who are in love with each other. He desires that it was good if the two lovers would be able to forget the memories of the past joys when they separate, like the tree and the brook. However, it is not possible because humans do not possess liberated souls like tree and brook.
Thus when they separate, they regret by memorizing past joys. According to the poet, the devastation of separation is something which is felt only by humans. There is no cure for such grief. Neither the time can take it away (i.e. time cannot make us forget those sweet memories) nor a poem can express it in the words. Thus the devastation of separation is something beyond words and cures.
The poet uses several images throughout the poem in order to distinguish between beauty and its absence (ugliness). He then celebrates this ugliness (insensibly because ugliness cannot be celebrated by our senses).
- In the first part, he uses visual images (greenery and leaflessness).
- In the second part, he uses auditory images (pleasant sound and frozen sound).
- In the third part, he uses the images of human emotions (pleasure of love and devastation of separation).
By contrasting two opposite things in every part of the poem, the poet conveys to us that the absence of something has more value (among humans) than its presence. It is the absence of something that makes us crazy about it. In this sense, he prefers the absence of something over its presence.
The poet compares and contrasts the lost beauty and joy of three different things (tree, brook, and humans) and then further distinguishes humans from the others two because humans have emotions which are lacked by the other two.
Hence Happy Insensibility is a poem that makes us celebrate the ugliness insensibly because by using our senses (eyes, nose ears etc) we will not be able to celebrate the beauty of ugliness.