And each imagined pinnacle and steep

Of godlike hardship tells me I must die

The "pinnacle and steep" represent the pillars of the Parthenon if I'm not mistaken. But the next line doesn't make sense to me. How can the pillars be of godlike hardship? Also, why are they imagined? I feel like I'm misunderstanding something here...

  • 3
    Why do you believe it refers to the pillars?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 29, 2017 at 20:22
  • @Spagirl Not really sure, it's just that nothing else makes sense. As I said, these two lines are kind of confusing for me.
    – Airdish
    Jan 30, 2017 at 17:32
  • I don't have much knowledge on Keats, but would suggest a couple of things; that he may be referencing the wider literal landscape around the parthenon, ie the Acropolis itself with its steeps and pinnacles, while linking it metaphorically to the trials and tribulations of live and man's moral and philosophical struggles. Looking outward from the poem to Keats life may be as useful as looking inward to the poem.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 31, 2017 at 10:55

2 Answers 2


I have never thought of this line in reference to the Parthenon, and to me that makes no sense. Here's my interpretation:

The way I've always viewed this line is as saying "every high point in hardships that I must face." The poem goes on to say:

Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.

The speaker is ready to die, obviously, because of these godlike hardships. He is like an eagle in that he's tired of flying, sick of having to keep going, since it's such an effort.

The hard times that the speaker is going through are being described as pinnacles, like walking over the crest of a hill. It gets harder and harder ("steeper") because the tension releases at the pinnacle, but he cannot rest because he sees the next pinnacle, the next godlike hardship, coming up.

It's like the light at the end of the tunnel turning out to be another tunnel full of darkness.


You need to read through the enjambed line. It might help to remove the carriage return:

And each imagined pinnacle and steep of godlike hardship tells me I must die

Further... it helps to realize that "steep" is being used here in a non-standard way, largely as a synonym for "pinnacle" (or at least, the steep sides of a mountain leading up to the pinnacle.) It's in there because it rhymes with "sleep". (I'm not crazy about that; it feels forced to me. English just isn't a great language for writing triple rhymes like the ones in the poem. Try Italian.)

So you can read "pinnacle and steep of godlike hardship" is "each difficult thing that has to be done". And in context: he sees the various battles depicted in the marbles, and that puts his imagination in mind of his own eventual death.

Remember that Keats was seeing the marbles in London, rather than on the Parthenon itself. Which gives him a great view of them, at eye level, but they've been removed from context. (Keats never made it to Greece. I don't believe he ever left England. He would surely have known the Parthenon from pictures in books, but I don't know if he would have really connected the marbles to the Parthenon itself.)

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