English Romantic Poetry
John Keats (1795-1821)
was the son of a livery stable manager who died in a horse racing
accident when Keats was eight. His mother died of tuberculosis when he
was fourteen, so he and his two brothers and sister were on their own
as teenagers, supported by a grandmother and a distant foster father.
was an exceptional student. He loved all aspects of school. He was an
athlete as well as a scholar, and he excelled at English and Art. He
began writing poetry while in school and quickly became recognized in
the literary world as an exceptional, precocious talent. His first
poems were sonnets written in imitation of great English poets like
Spenser and Shakespeare.
first great poem was On First Looking
into Chapman’s Homer
He and his friend Charles Cowdern Clarke had stayed up all night
reading out loud from Chapman’s translation of The
Iliad and The Odyssey.
Keats left at dawn and wrote this sonnet in a couple of hours. It
expresses how you feel when you are actually learning something.
Keats’ foster father pulled him out of school and made him an
apprentice to a surgeon when he was sixteen. (Surgery was not the
glamorous profession in 1816 that it has become in modern times since
the invention of effective anesthetics.) Eventually, Keats drifted away
form the profession and devoted all his time to poetry.
was introduced by his friend Clarke to a circle of Romantic poets
living in London, and he published his first collection of poems in
1818. That winter he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne, but their
relationship was cut short by tragedy.
became ill that spring when he caught cold during a hiking trip with
friends. Later that same year his condition worsened while he nursed
his dying brother Tom who was suffering from tuberculosis. All this
time Keats was writing exceptional poetry, experimenting with a variety
of poetic forms and themes. During 1819 he wrote his romances, The Eve of St. Agnes and Lamia,
two versions of his epic, Hyperion,
and his great odes, Ode to a
, Ode on
, and Ode on a
became too ill to work in 1820, and he traveled to the warmer climes of
Rome in a desperate effort to reclaim his health. There he died in 1821
at the age of twenty-five.
the following poems and be prepared for a reading comprehension quiz:
were the circumstances surrounding the composition of this poem?
two images does Keats use to describe how it felt to discover Homer as
translated by Chapman?
historical mistake does Keats make?
again Keats is describing his first reaction to seeing an extraordinary
work of art, this time the Elgin Marbles. These celebrated sculptures
had been taken to England from the Parthenon in Athens during the Greek
Civil War. The sculpture had decorated the pediments and friezes of the
temple with processions of the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece.
is Keats’ first reaction to seeing these sculptures, artifacts of an
ancient, vibrant culture?
does the existence of this great art balance for Keats the sure
knowledge of his mortality?
to a Nightingale
Keats wrote this ode during the spring of
1819 just after his brother died from tuberculosis. He was visiting a
friend who mentioned that a nightingale made frequent visits to his
garden. That morning Keats went out and sat in the garden for about
three hours and wrote this poem in one sitting.
response does Keats have to the beauty of the nightingale’s song?
does he wish he could do in verse #2?
is he trying to forget in verse #3?
verses #4 to #6, what fantastic realm does Keats strive to enter with
the power of his imagination?
on a Grecian Urn
weeks later, Keats wrote this ode. It is frequently described as the
greatest lyric poem in the English language.
situation does Keats describe in the picture painted on this Grecian
Urn? (verses #1 and #2)
expressed by this work of art so fascinates Keats? (verses #2 and #3)
Keats looks on the other side of the urn, what scene does he see?
the last verse carefully. Which approach to life would Keats have us
take: touching the eternal beauty of this cold pastoral or experiencing
the fleeting passion of an actual love affair?
late September of the same year Keats wrote this ode after going for a
long walk through the fields in which the grain had just been harvested.
Keats, what is autumn’s role in the life cycle?
what different roles does Keats personify
autumn in verse two?
music does Keats hear during these last autumn days?
does autumn symbolize for Keats?
makes many allusions
to classical literature in the first verse:
can it be that Keats finds pleasure in melancholy in verse two? How can
one find pleasure in such pain?
is the paradox resolved poetically in verse three?
Presentations on Keats’ Odes
- What happens in a Keats poem? Describe its action
in a BRIEF paragraph.
- What is the key symbol in the poem?
- What paradox
does Keats explore in this poem? What are the three key moments in the
poem? Quote the text.
- What is an ode?
Describe Keats’ poetic voice. What ‘musical’
devices has he used to create the particular sound of this
poem? How does the sound of the poem relate to Keats’ poetic purpose?
Quote the text to support your point.
- What is Keats’ purpose in this poem? How does the poem’s theme
relate to Keats’ larger interests about the meaning of our lives and
our path to God? What makes this poem Romantic?
- At the end of class, be prepared to write a thesis
statement which relates all three poems:
a verse or poem that is, or supposedly is,
susceptible of being sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument
(in ancient times, usually a lyre) or that expresses intense personal
emotion in a manner suggestive of a song. Lyric poetry expresses the
thoughts and feelings of the poet and is sometimes contrasted with
narrative poetry and verse drama, which relate events in the form of a
Elegies, odes, and sonnets are all important kinds
of lyric poetry.
The sonnet is a verse form that began as the love
poetry of troubadours in Medieval Italy. The sonnet form was perfected
by the great Italian poet Petrarch during the fourteenth century, and
it became popular among English poets during the 16th
century. Shakespeare wrote an immortal sonnet series in the 1590’s.
A sonnet consists of 14 lines that are typically
five-foot iambics rhyming according to a prescribed scheme. The first
eight lines (the octave) is rhymed abbaabba. The rhyme scheme of the
next six lines (the sestet) varies; it may be cdecde, cdccdc, or
cdedce. Typically, a sonnet presents an idea or situation in the sestet
which is questioned or complicated in the sestet.
A rimed (rarely unrimed) lyric, often in the form
of an address; generally dignified or exalted in subject, feeling, and
style, but sometimes (in earlier use) simple and familiar (though less
so than a song).