By close examination of ‘On the Sea’ and one other poem, discuss the distinctively Romantic characteristics of Keats’ poetry Consider – the themes of the poems and their style and tone – the contexts in which the poems were written Romanticism is sometimes described as a revolt against the ‘Age of Reason’ of the 17th century. However changes had already taken place; the French Revolution and the American War of Independence made old certainties seem questionable and new possibilities achievable. They were major factors in the ‘revolt’. They inspired a new liberal concept of man and his fate.
Romanticism followed on with this, by celebrating human freedom and creativity. Yet Romanticism is hard to define; the changes that stimulated the creation of what we know as the Romantic Period affected the individual in so many different ways that what was created was a range of different voices, not a series of common assumptions. Romantic poetry sprung from the Romantic Period, dating roughly from as early as 1780 – 1830. Although the Romantic poets were all different in political, religious and artistic beliefs, the poetry they wrote shared common characteristics.
The poetry valued feeling and emotion over reason, brought in interests in exploring the self and understanding the self through nature, had a focus on imagination, wanted something beyond the mundane; something transcendent, rebelled against the traditional conformities of poetry in 18th poetry (which included a greater focus on ordinary everyday language) and incorporated many references to the classics and a renewed interest in the medieval world. The most prominent characteristic was the valuing of an individual’s emotions.
Blake was perhaps the most extreme believer of this, saying that he would ‘sooner murder an infant in cradle than nurse unacted desires’. Much of Keats early poetry was under the influence of Leigh Hunt. Keats’ first poems were also inspired by Spenser (16th century poet) – ‘Imitation of Spenser’ – and the Romantic poet Wordsworth – ‘To Solitude’ (a Wordsworthian style sonnet). Keats’ poem ‘On the Sea’ was composed in 1817, one of Keats earlier poems. It was written in the Petrarchan sonnet form, which consists of the 8 line octave and the 6 line sestet.
The octave usually presents a problem, which is then commented upon or resolved in the sestet. Between the octave and sestet there is a caesura/volta (pause), which represents the change in argument or mood of the poem and the rhyme scheme is abbaabba cdecde, cdccdc or cdedce. Prevalent in much Romantic literature is the glorification and almost worship of nature. It is especially common in much of Keats poetry, who had the ability to describe many simple delights of nature so beautifully.
His most famous appreciation of this – ‘To Autumn’. Similarly everyone knows of Wordsworth’s ‘I wander’d lonely as a cloud’ where he had been struck by the beauty of a daffodil field – one of the many that were inspired by nature. Here Keats writes of the restorative, almost supernatural power of the sea people can use – part of the force of nature. The octave opens with Keats’ emotive descriptions of the sea: ‘It keeps eternal whisperings around Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns… ‘