Keats' Poems and Letters

Form as Strategy: Keats's On the Sonnet and Bright Star

Form as Strategy: Keats's "On the Sonnet" and "Bright Star"

"On the Sonnet" is a poem that deplores convention, flouts convention, is governed by convention, and recuperates convention. It is neither a proper Petrarchan poem nor a Shakespearean sonnet; both forms, however, serve as references for the poem. "On the Sonnet" has five rhymes, as in the Petrarchan form, but they are distributed with a seeming randomness, and do not mark structural shifts. Rhetorically, the poem gestures to both the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan forms. As in a Shakespearean sonnet, its argument is organized in short imagistic units, and it closes with two final, epigrammatic lines that form a couplet not through rhyme but through syntactical structure. While a Shakespearean sonnet is organized 4+4+4+2, Keats's sonnet is organized 3+3+3+3+2. Again, I speak of syntactic organization, unmarked by rhyme, but this numerical scheme is echoed by a rhyme scheme in which four of the five end-sounds appear three times, and the fifth only twice (ABC ABD CAB CDE DE; spaces represent syntactical divisions). The poem also gestures to a larger, two-part Petrarchan structure, as the timbre of its image-set shifts in...

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