On The Sonnet

On The Sonnet

by John Keats

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d,
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter’d, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain’d,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain’d
By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

Summary of On the Sonnet

  • Popularity of “On the Sonnet”: Published in his collection in March 1817, this beautiful sonnet of John Keats presents his perspective on sonneteering. Although commentators trace Leigh Hunt’s influence on his poetry, it seems that Keats himself has set new trends in sonneteering and other poetic writings. This piece sets his views on how English sonnets should set different norms and conventions. The beauty of the poem lies in its Grecian allusions, while its popularity rests on its unique rhyme scheme.
  • “On The Sonnet” As a Representative of English Sonnet Writing: The speaker, who is Keats himself, starts this sonnet with conditionality that if the sonnet is to be put into English poetic writing and if it must be chained like that the princess, Andromeda, then it should be found out how intricate shoes could be fitted into naked feet. The speaker also wants to inspect the lyre to synch its chords to the metrical pattern of the instrument to measure its melody and whether it meets the standard of the music connoisseur. It could be that such people are as unaware of their skills and as Midas rebelled against the accepted norms. Therefore, the constraints must be put in place in the shape of garlands or a new type of rhyme scheme or pattern to create English sonnet writing traditions.
  • Major Themes in “On the Sonnet”: Poetic writing, rebelling against the norms, and creating new poetic traditions are three major themes of this sonnet about sonneteering. In fact, it could be called a meta-sonnet which spells out the art of writing sonnets in a new way. Keats beautifully compares sonnet writing to Andromeda through a simile, saying if it is to be chained, then it must have some norms to be suitable to the English ears and that its metrical pattern and rhythm must conform to the lyrical patterns. However, it must not be out of touch with reality like Midas if poetic rebellion is a must. And similarly, it should not go wild in freedom. Instead, it must be put into new poetic norms or traditions. The use of classical and Grecian allusions gives a new poetic touch to this sonnet on sonnets, with all three themes merging into one another by the end.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in On the Sonnet

John Keats uses various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his sonnet on the sonnet. Some of the major literary devices used in this poem are as follows.

  1. Allusions: It means the use of significant religions, historical, literary, or other references to emphasize the main idea. The poem shows the use of several illusions, such as of Andromeda, Midas, and Muse.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ and /e/ in “Than Midas of his coinage, let us be” and the sound of /o/ in “To fit the naked foot of poesy.”
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /s/ in “Sonnet sweet.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t/ in “By ear industrious, and attention meet” and the sound of /s/ in “Misers of sound and syllable, no less.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example, the second verse merges into the third without a pause or a punctuation mark as follows;

By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. John Keats used imagery in this poem, such as “And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet”, “Sandals more interwoven and complete,” and “Misers of sound and syllable, no less.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poem shows the use of the metaphors of sadals, lyrie, and misers to stress upon the main idea of writing sonnets.
  3. Parallelism: It is a literary device that shows parallel use of sentences and phrases such as “By ear industrious, and attention meet” which has three words in each phrase.
  4. Simile: The poem shows the use of similes such as “like Andromeda” in which Keats compares a sonnet to Andromeda, a princess.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in On the Sonnet

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The sonnet shows formal and poetic diction embellished with figures of speech.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. John Keats has used end rhyme in this sonnet such as chained/constrained and sweet/completed.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is quatrain.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows ABCABDCA in its octave and BCDEDE rhyme scheme in its sestet.
  5. Sonnet: It is a poetic form having fourteen verses. This poem is a sonnet.
  6. Tone: It means the voice of the text or poet in the poetic output. This sonnet shows a serious and poetic tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when writing poetry or about poetry.

So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

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