Study Guide

The Eve of St. Agnes Stanza 9

By John Keats

Stanza 9

So, purposing each moment to retire,
She linger'd still. Meantime, across the moors,
Had come young Porphyro, with the heart on fire
For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
Buttress'd from moonlight, stands he, and implores
All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
But for one moment in the tedious hours,
That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss—in sooth such things have been.

  • Madeline's dying to get away (sort of like how it seems totally logical that if you go to bed earlier, somehow Christmas morning will come sooner), but is still stuck at the party.
  • Meanwhile, back on the moors (rolling hills of the English countryside)… our man Porphyro is making his move. (Of course there would be moors—the poem is, at this point, going out of its way to create a world that feels wild and medieval.)
  • We get our third character in Porphyro, and he apparently digs Madeline in a major, fiery way.
  • Just as she's hoping to go through rituals to catch a glimpse of her beloved, Porphyro is praying to the saints that he can catch a glimpse of her.
  • Things kind of diverge here, though: our girl Madeline is appealing to an ancient Christian martyr who demands that she cut herself off from her senses and become totally vulnerable (remember, she's got to be stark naked in bed and isn't allowed to look around her) so that she can be visited by a vision. In short, she's got to be totally exposed and totally receptive. Porphyro, on the other hand, is hoping to "gaze"—not have a vision—upon an object of worship (Madeline), and to do so "unseen."
  • In this stanza, then, the setup is that Madeline is the heavenly object (she's got divine eyes, after all), receiving the gaze of Porphyro, who's by contrast very worldy (he's got a heart on fire, so he comes off as more physical than Madeline). Got it?
  • Also, lest we forget, he wants more than a gaze—Porphyro's hoping these saints he's praying to will throw in a touch and kiss. (We suggest he pray harder.) 
  • Also, just a note on meter (come on, you love notes on meter): this is a really good example of that final long line you get with Spenserian stanzas. Namely, this line takes forever to say: you have to pause four times before you even get to the middle of the line. (Check out "Form and Meter" for more of this good stuff.)