John KeatsWhile reading a poem the skills applied in its creation are often easilyoverlooked. However, it is the unsurpassed mastership of these skills what makesthis particular poet the most deserving recipient of this year’s prestigiousPOTY award. John Keats possesses unparallel poetic craftsmanship. Three of hispoems: “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” “When I havefears. . .
,” and “Ode to Autumn” reveal his genius ness at the artof poetry. The first poem: “On First Looking. . .
” displays Keats’smastership at one of the most difficult forms of poetry: the sonnet. What makesa sonnet such a difficult form of poetry is the fact that in each line there arefive accented and five unaccented syllables. This is difficult task toaccomplish by someone of limited writing experience. However, Keats showed hispoetic genius ness by mastering this form early in his writing career. The poemis in the form of an Italian sonnet which has a dual pattern: an octave ( 1steight 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 Italiansonnet the poet focuses on a problem or a situation in the octave; then, in thesextet, he focuses on the solution of the problem or the significance of thesituation. In the first few lines, Keats describes the experience of where hehad 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 agreat literary books. And, although he had been told about Homer: ” Oft ofone 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 didI 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 hecompares himself with an astronomer discovering a new planet: “Then felt Ilike 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 whenwith eagle eyes/ He star’d at the Pacific? and all his men/ Look’d . . . . .
with awild surmise?” (11-13). After having read the poem, the reader cannothelp but feel the same awestruck ness that overpowered Keats. The second poem toshow Keats’s craftsmanship is: “When I have fear. . . ” For the secondtime, Keats chooses to display his skill as a poet by writing in the form of asonnet, this time being a Shakespearean one.
The difference between this sonnetand the Italian one is in the pattern. The Shakespearean sonnet has threequatrains (4 lines each) with a rhyming pattern of : abab cdcd efef, and acouplet (2 lines) with the rhyming pattern of: gg. This is the most difficultform of poetry to write, yet Keats shows no difficulty in its development makingone more addition to the structure: he puts his sonnet in the form of a periodicsentence. This means that the main idea of the sentence is at the end as it isin the poem.
In the first quatrain he introduces the first part of the idea bysharing his innermost feelings on a subject very familiar to all: Death. Leavingthis world without his work being recognized was one of Keats’s greatestemotional battles: ” When I have fears that I may cease to be/ Before mypen has glean’d my teeming brain,” (Keats, 1-2) . The second quatrainexpresses his anxiety of not being able to fulfill his potential: ” When Ibehold, . .
. . . /Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,/And think that I may neverlive to trace/ Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;” ( 5-8). Thethird quatrain is about his fear of not seeing his beloved evermore: “Andwhen 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 allhis ambitions for love and fame are meaningless, and in doing so, he submits tothe idea that when it’s his time to go, nothing will stand in the way: “Ofthe wide world I stand alone , and think/ Till love and fame to nothingness dosink. ” (13-14).
The third glimpse at Keats’s craftsmanship comes throughhis mastership at yet another poetic form: the ode. In his poem ” Ode toAutumn” , Keats praises the season overlooked by most people: Autumn. Inthe first stanza, the reader gets a vivid picture of the landscape by Keatsfocusing mainly on visual imagery: Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; Conspiring with him how to load andbless With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; To bend with applesthe moss’d cottage-trees, And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; To swellthe 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 willnever cease, For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells. (Keats, 1-11) Thesecond stanza starts with the personification of Autumn, embodying her in thedaily labors of harvest: “Who Hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?/Theesitting careless on a granary floor,” ( 11,13). Then , Keats follows withwords that place the reader in a peaceful and harmonious environment: ” Thyhair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;/Or on a half-reap’d furrow soundasleep,/Drows’d with the fume of poppies, . .
. . . ” (15-17).
In the last fourlines, 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 acrossa brook; / Or by a cyder-press, with a patient look, / Thou watchest the lastoozing hours by hours. ” ( 19-22). In the last verse, Keats presents thereader with the symphony of Autum and sheds light on the fact that everythinghas a purpose in life: ” Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where arethey?/ think not of them, though hast thy music too,–” (23-24). Throughout his short writing career, Keats is able to prove his unsurpassablepoetic craftsmanship in the three poems previously discussed.
His passionatelove of truth and beauty and his exquisite ear for the music of love, makes himthe most deserving candidate of this year’s prestigious POTY award. BibliographyKeats, 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 EnglishLit. 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 ofEnglish Lit. Ed. M.
H. Abrams, et al. 7th ed. Vol 2. New York: Norton 2000.833-834