Reference > Cambridge History > The Romantic Revival > Keats > Sonnets
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

IV. Keats.

§ 9. Sonnets.


With one exception, the Autumn ode is the last great and complete poem of Keats. The last of all, written a year later, is, with Milton’s Methought I saw, among the most moving of English sonnets. Of the sixty-one sonnets he wrote, more than thirty are later than those in the 1817 volume, already noticed, and nearly all belong to the fifteen months following January, 1818. He had written no sonnet during the last eight months of 1817. But his close and eager study of Shakespeare’s poems towards the end of that year sent him back with renewed zest to sonnet-writing, and, henceforth, after an interval of hesitation, it was exclusively on the Shakespearean rime-scheme. The sonnet which shows him most decisively under the spell of Shakespeare (On sitting down to read King Lear once again, January, 1818) still, it is true, follows (save for the final couplet) the Petrarchian form. But, a few days later, he wrote the noble When I have fears, with the beautiful repetition of the opening phrase in each quatrain, reminiscent of Shakespearean sonnets, such as In me thou see’st. One or two, as the charming June’s sea, copy the Elizabethan manner too cleverly to be very like Keats, nor are his mind and passion at all fully engaged. But, often, he pours into the Shakespearean mould a phrase and music nobly his own. To Homer (“Standing aloof”) contains the line “There is a budding morrow in midnight” which Rossetti pronounced the noblest in English poetry. To Sleep is full of the poppied enchantment of the Nightingale ode. A new, and tragic, note sounds in The Day is gone, I cry you mercy—with one or two exceptions (Ode to Fanny and To …) the only reflection in his poetry of the long agony of his passion for Fanny Brawne. Finally, after a long interval, came that September day of 1820 when, “for a moment,” writes Severn, “he became like his former self,” and wrote his last sonnet and last verse Bright star! He still aspires, as in the great odes, towards something steadfast and unchangeable; but now, when he is at the end of his career, and aware that it is the end, the breathing human passion counts more for him than the lone splendour of the star.   18

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