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I am trying to understand the meaning to the following excerpt from John Keats's Lamia (full poem here), and especially the fourth line below:

Fast by the springs where she to bathe was wont,
And in those meads where sometime she might haunt,
Were strewn rich gifts, unknown to any Muse,
Though Fancy's casket were unlock'd to choose.

I understand "were unlock'd" is the subjunctive but I have a few questions still:

  • What does "though" mean here? "As though" or "although"?
  • Does casket mean "a small box for jewels" here?
  • What does "Fancy's casket" mean here? Why does Keats use a capital letter for "Fancy"?

The meaning of this verse can be understood more or less if "though" means "as though" but I haven't found this meaning in the dictionary. Otherwise, what does the verse mean?

1 Answer 1

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The flowers (“rich gifts”) with which the meadows (“meads”) were strewn were so rare, beautiful, or unusual, that they cannot be depicted by any poet or artist (“unknown to any Muse”), no matter what resources (“casket”) of imagination (“Fancy”) are made available (“unlocked”) for them to choose from.

To answer the questions in the post:

  1. “Though” is used in this sense:

    though, conj. 2.a. Introducing a subordinate clause expressing a supposition or possibility: Even if; even supposing that; granting that. (With verb in subjunctive.)

    Oxford English Dictionary.

    The OED doesn’t have any usage notes for this sense, but Wiktionary suggests that it is archaic (see sense 2).

  2. “Fancy” is used in this sense:

    fancy, n. 3. In early use synonymous with imagination n.; the process, and the faculty, of forming mental representations of things not present to the senses; chiefly applied to the so-called creative or productive imagination, which frames images of objects, events, or conditions that have not occurred in actual experience. […] Often personified.

    Oxford English Dictionary.

    Keats capitalizes the word to indicate that he is using the device of personification. Fancy (imagination) is being depicted as if it were a person who could own a casket. This is a common device, as noted in the OED entry.

    A few examples of other verses in which ‘Fancy’ is personified:

    And Fancy blows into a Flame
    The Spark, that from his Beauty came.

    George Granville (1706). The British Enchanters, act 2, scene 1. London: Jacob Tonson.

                                            Fancy pours,
    Afresh, her beauties on his busy thought.

    James Thomson (1744). The Seasons, page 47. London: A. Millar.

    Fancy and Sense to form his line conspire,
    And faultless Judgment guides the purest Fire.

    John Brown (1750). ‘Essay on Satire’. In The Works of Alexander Pope, volume 3, page 29. London: J. and P. Knapton.

    She could not rest, but turn’d and toss’d,
    While Fancy whisper’d in her brain

    Robert Lloyd (1762). The New River-Head, page 15. London: G. Kearsly.

  3. “Casket” is used in the sense of a small box used to contain valuable objects. This is a metaphor whereby “Fancy’s casket” contains the resources of poetic or artistic imagination, likening them to treasures.

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  • Thanks very much for this answer Gareth!
    – balteo
    Commented Jul 6 at 15:02

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