Consider how Keats treats the question "What is poetry?"
The poems we will be reading this week all derive from Keats' very early
period, and they address in some way the question of what poetry is. We
can imagine that this was a creative and philosophical question that
concerned the young poet.
Take the opportunity to apply the principles learned from Perrine and
Oliver to your reading of Keats' work, but also see these poems as
the beginning work of a developing poet. All of the poems for this
class were written before what most critics see as Keats'
significant accomplishment in poetry. In our class we
will be following the development of this artist and paying
particular attention to his practice of poetic craft.
Keats' Early Poems
Familiarize yourself with Keats' biography in some way. The more ambitious
among you will want to read a full-length biography, the classic one being
John Keats, by Walter Jackson Bate. There is ample material
available on the web and
The Romantic Chronology Page may
be a good place to start for historical context.
For each of Keats' poems, analyze the use of sound. Make observations
on the form (is it a sonnet? what line length? what rhyme scheme?).
For at least one poem, scan the entire poem, marking meter, caesura,
Also for each poem, make sure you read the notes that are
printed in the back of the book. These will provide valuable
information about biographical and literary details.
Suggestions for reading poetry: read all the way through one
time to get a sense of what the poem is about. Read the second
time scanning the notes for information and trying to understand
the complexity of the piece. Read a third time out loud to hear
the rhythms and rhymes, etc. Read as many more times as you
like or need to. POETRY NEEDS TO BE READ MORE THAN ONE TIME.
Most of these earlier poems address the question "what is poetry?"
in part because Keats was learning to become a poet and was
interested in deciphering what this great endeavor truly was.
In part he addressed this more philosophical question because
he lacked an immediate subject to which to turn his poems.
Of the verse epistle "To George Felton Mathew," Keats' biographer
Walter Jackson Bate writes: "If it turned out to be something of
a prototype for much of Keat's writing it was not through choice.
When his experience failed to provide him with other subj
ects, it was always possible to write about poetry itself.
The limitations of doing so were obvious, and his later
struggle against them is a signficant part of his development"
(John Keats, New York: Oxford University Press, 1966, p. 59).
"To Charles Cowden Clarke"
Examine the first stanza -- what image does he develop?
Note the number of lines, the connotations,
the metaphor made explicit in line 15.
Read stanza 3 lines 49-67. Analyze the genres
of poetry he mentions. Compare them to his own formal choices.
Read lines 68-72. Compare with the similar
lines from his verse epistle to Mathew.
Also consider the role of male friendship for
Keats. In what ways are these men important to his poetry?
To his poetic development?
What form is "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"? Why is this
In this poem Keats memorializes his literary relationship to two authors:
Homer and Chapman. How are they distinct? What images does he use to
convey the character of each relationship?
Is there a turn in the poem? Why or how? What is the signficance?
How does the poem answer the question: What is poetry?
What is the purpose of the poem? How does it achieve it? How
significant is the purpose/poem?
Back to Top of Page