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LIT 4930.001
Appreciating Poetry

Fall 2004
Time: Monday and Wednesday
11:00am - 12:15 pm
Room: CPR 348

Class 11

Reading Assignment: Keats' early sonnets

    "To Kosciusko" (94)
    "Happy is England" (95)
    "After dark vapours" (96)
    "On the Sea" (101)
    "When I have fears" (221)

    DUE: Group A: Post 6

    "When I have fears..." (221)

    Class Objectives:

  • Study of form -- Keats' use of the Italian and English sonnet

  • Study of imagery/texture -- move from sentimentalism and romance to a more particular and transcendant imagery

    This week we will focus on Keats' use of the sonnet, a form which he never greatly admired but which came easily to him. Through his brief career we can see his development to a distinctive style by closely analyzing these brief poems.

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions

    Keats' Early Sonnets


    Make sure to read the endnotes for each of these poems, and pay special attention to the date of composition. Given the brevity of Keats' life and his unprecedented rate of development into a world class poet, these poems cover the period from his earliest to his latest achievement, a period from 1816 through 1819.

    "In turning to the Shakespearean pattern, beginning with "When I have fears," [Keats] was making at least a gesture both of independence and of his new start. For with the exception of the loose heroic couplet -- which he also abandoned after Endymio n -- no form was so closely associated with his previous poetry as the Petrarchan sonnet. And the associational drag of the Petrarchan form was even less pleasant than that of the couplet. From the first primitive efforts back at the Edmonton surge ry, through the sentimental sonnets of the Felton Mathew period at Guy's Hospital, and then through the year and a half of Hunt's influence, it represented both subjects and mannerisms of which he was ashamed, including sonnet contests, feminine 'occasion s' for poetry, and responses to gifts of roses or laurel crowns. By the end of January 1818 he had written at least forty-one sonnets, all in the Petrarchan form. But from now until the end he was to write little more than half that number -- a total of twenty-five. Of these a fifth -- dashed down on the spur of the moment when he reverted to old habit -- are Petrarchan. Of two others, one is unrhymed ('What the Thrush Said') and the second is deliberately experimental ('If by dull rhymes'). The remaining eighteen are either basically or entirely Shakespearean" (Bate 298).

    After composing the sonnet "If by dull rhymes" (April 1819) Keats wrote the following in a letter to George and Georgiana Keats:

    "I have been endeavouring to discover a better sonnet stanza than we have. The legitimate [Petrarchan sonnet] does not suit the language over-well from the pouncing rhymes -- the other kind [Shakespearean sonnet] appear too elegaic -- and the couplet at the end of it seldom has a pleasing effect."

    Obviously Keats was very conscious of the form he worked, and also conscious of his place in a community of poets, both past and present. What do his changes to the form suggest? What is the significance of his move to a Shakespearean form while the Petrarchan was so clearly preferred by his contemporaries? What changes does he attempt in his innovations?

    For each poem, pay close attention to the rhyme scheme, the date, the choice of Petrarchan versus Shakespearean, and the changes in idiom.

    "When I have fears that I might cease to be" (Jan. 1818) -- Bate writes: "Keat's own sonnet, in fact, is the first of a series in the Shakespearean form in which he breaks deliberately not only with those he has written before but also with the sonnet as conventionally used in this period -- a break that was at least a small by-product of the attempt to make an entirely fresh start (after Endymion). Though his heart was never much in the form, and, within a year or so, he was to tire of it and indeed of the sonnet generally, his new sonnets approximate the style of Shakespeare's more closely than any other sonnets of the century" (291).

    Compare this sonnet with Shakespeare's sonnets. In what ways are they similar? Rhymes, sounds, imagery, diction, patterns?

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