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John Keats’ “On the Sonnet” and William Wordsworth “Convent’s narrow room” Essay

Two sonnets, “On the Sonnet” by John Keats and “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room” by William Wordsworth, address the same subject, the restrictions of the sonnet. Despite the same subject matter, they approach these restrictions using different forms and imagery, and each has his own opinion of the subject.

Keats starts off his sonnet using an allusion from Greek mythology: Andromeda, a princess chained to a rock and in danger of being devoured by a sea monster. This was his main idea and criticism of the structure of the sonnet–if poets are chained by the Shakespearean or Italian format, the sonnet will eventually lose its spirit and be devoured over time. He advises his fellow sonneteers to “fit the naked foot of poesy”, like us wearing shoes by breaking the rhythm and imposing creativity on the form, so the sonnet can endure. This is because it will stand out among mediocre sonnets. Keats` other allusion is to King Midas and his gold; he uses Midas to express how miserly poets have to be with their words and not to use clichés, “dead leaves in the bay-wreath crown”. His last allusion is to the Muse-Greek goddess of art-to express the creativeness and freedom needed for the beauty of poetry.

With “the weight of too much liberty”, poetry is as restrictive as ever, argues Wordsworth. If these restrictions are too much, do not write a sonnet because like poets who write a sonnet, nuns choose their convents, hermits their cells, maids their looms and bees their foxglove bells: all make this choice willingly. This vivid imagery makes plain what writing a sonnet is all about: a personal choice to chain ourselves because we enjoy it. It is sometimes better to play in a “scanty plot of ground” then run through the vast open fields and be lost and confused. The restrictions are what makes it more challenging and forces us to create something more beautiful than just prose. Wordsworth finds peace in a restrictive sonnet, like us when we lock ourselves in our room to do the same.

Each true to his word and ideas, the poets practice what they preach in their sonnets. Keats does not write his sonnet in any particular known form. It is broken into three parts; ln 1-6: expressing what poetry is like; ln 7-9: what poets must pay attention to; ln 10-14: what poets must avoid in writing. He follows what he says about “if we must be constrained”, that he wrote the poem in iambic pentameter. Wordsworth as well does what he says about writing true to the sonnets restrictions. His entire sonnet consists of only 4 rhymes, abba abba cddc cd, and the poem is also broken into three parts, ln 1-7: comparing the sonnet to other things in life, ln 8-9½: his statement on the sonnet restrictions, and ln 9½-14: why his statement is so.

Neither seems to agree about the roles restrictions play in the sonnet–Keats complains about them and tells us how to make the sonnet better, while Wordsworth is saying, take the challenge and enjoy doing it.


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