John Keats (1134 words) Essay

John Keats
While reading a poem the skills applied in its creation are often easily
overlooked. However, it is the unsurpassed mastership of these skills what makes
this particular poet the most deserving recipient of this year’s prestigious
POTY award. John Keats possesses unparallel poetic craftsmanship. Three of his
poems: “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” “When I have
fears…,” and “Ode to Autumn” reveal his genius ness at the art
of poetry. The first poem: “On First Looking…” displays Keats’s
mastership at one of the most difficult forms of poetry: the sonnet. What makes
a sonnet such a difficult form of poetry is the fact that in each line there are
five accented and five unaccented syllables. This is difficult task to
accomplish by someone of limited writing experience. However, Keats showed his
poetic genius ness by mastering this form early in his writing career. The poem
is in the form of an Italian sonnet which has a dual pattern: an octave ( 1st
eight lines)with a rhyming syntax of: abab abba, and a sextet (last six lines)
with a rhyming pattern of: cdcd, making a total of 14 lines. In an Italian
sonnet the poet focuses on a problem or a situation in the octave; then, in the
sextet, he focuses on the solution of the problem or the significance of the
situation. In the first few lines, Keats describes the experience of where he
had been in his literary journey before encountering “Homer”: “
Much have I travell’d…,/ And many ….states and kingdoms seen;” ( Keats,
lines 1-2). This is giving the reader the understanding that he had read many a
great literary books. And, although he had been told about Homer: ” Oft of
one wide expanse had I been told/ That….Homer ruled as his demesne,” (
5-6); it did not have the same effect as when he read it himself: “Yet did
I never breathe its pure serene/ Till I heard Chapman speak …. :” ( 7-8).

The impact this experience had on him is told in the last six lines. First he
compares himself with an astronomer discovering a new planet: “Then felt I
like some watcher of the skies/ When a new planet swims into his ken;” (
9-10) or a voyageur discovering new territory: “Or like stout Cortez when
with eagle eyes/ He star’d at the Pacific? and all his men/ Look’d …..with a
wild surmise?” (11-13). After having read the poem, the reader cannot
help but feel the same awestruck ness that overpowered Keats. The second poem to
show Keats’s craftsmanship is: “When I have fear…” For the second
time, Keats chooses to display his skill as a poet by writing in the form of a
sonnet, this time being a Shakespearean one. The difference between this sonnet
and the Italian one is in the pattern. The Shakespearean sonnet has three
quatrains (4 lines each) with a rhyming pattern of : abab cdcd efef, and a
couplet (2 lines) with the rhyming pattern of: gg. This is the most difficult
form of poetry to write, yet Keats shows no difficulty in its development making
one more addition to the structure: he puts his sonnet in the form of a periodic
sentence. This means that the main idea of the sentence is at the end as it is
in the poem. In the first quatrain he introduces the first part of the idea by
sharing his innermost feelings on a subject very familiar to all: Death. Leaving
this world without his work being recognized was one of Keats’s greatest
emotional battles: ” When I have fears that I may cease to be/ Before my
pen has glean’d my teeming brain,” (Keats, 1-2) . The second quatrain
expresses his anxiety of not being able to fulfill his potential: ” When I
behold, …../Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,/And think that I may never
live to trace/ Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;” ( 5-8). The
third quatrain is about his fear of not seeing his beloved evermore: “And
when I feel,…./That I shall never look upon thee more,” ( 10-11) Finally,
after telling the world of all his fears, he comes to the conclusion that all
his ambitions for love and fame are meaningless, and in doing so, he submits to
the idea that when it’s his time to go, nothing will stand in the way: “Of
the wide world I stand alone , and think/ Till love and fame to nothingness do
sink.” (13-14). The third glimpse at Keats’s craftsmanship comes through
his mastership at yet another poetic form: the ode. In his poem ” Ode to
Autumn” , Keats praises the season overlooked by most people: Autumn. In
the first stanza, the reader gets a vivid picture of the landscape by Keats
focusing mainly on visual imagery: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load and
bless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with apples
the moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swell
the gourd, and plump the hazel shells With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees, Until they think warm days will
never cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells. (Keats, 1-11) The
second stanza starts with the personification of Autumn, embodying her in the
daily labors of harvest: “Who Hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?/Thee
sitting careless on a granary floor,” ( 11,13). Then , Keats follows with
words that place the reader in a peaceful and harmonious environment: ” Thy
hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;/Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound
asleep,/Drows’d with the fume of poppies, …..” (15-17). In the last four
lines, the realization of Autumn in a more physical and active form is seen:
” And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep/Steady thy laden head across
a brook; / Or by a cyder-press, with a patient look, / Thou watchest the last
oozing hours by hours.” ( 19-22). In the last verse, Keats presents the
reader with the symphony of Autum and sheds light on the fact that everything
has a purpose in life: ” Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are
they?/ think not of them, though hast thy music too,–” (23-24).

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Throughout his short writing career, Keats is able to prove his unsurpassable
poetic craftsmanship in the three poems previously discussed. His passionate
love of truth and beauty and his exquisite ear for the music of love, makes him
the most deserving candidate of this year’s prestigious POTY award.

Keats, John. “Ode to Autumn.” The Norton Anthology of English Lit.

Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. 7th ed. Vol 2. New York: Norton, 2000. 872-873 “
On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” The Norton Anthology of English
Lit. Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. 7th ed. Vol 2. New York: Norton, 2000. 826-827
“When I have fears that I may cease to be.” The Norton Anthology of
English Lit. Ed. M. H. Abrams, et al. 7th ed. Vol 2. New York: Norton 2000.



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