John Keats' "On the Sonnet" and William Wordsworth "Convent's narrow room"

Categories: William Wordsworth

Two sonnets, "On the Sonnet" by John Keats and "Nuns stress not at their convent's narrow space" by William Wordsworth, resolve the same subject, the restrictions of the sonnet. Despite the same subject matter, they approach these constraints using various kinds and imagery, and each has his own viewpoint of the topic.

Keats starts his sonnet using an allusion from Greek mythology: Andromeda, a princess chained to a rock and in danger of being feasted on by a sea monster. This was his essence and criticism of the structure of the sonnet-- if poets are chained by the Shakespearean or Italian format, the sonnet will ultimately lose its spirit and be feasted on over time.

He recommends his fellow sonneteers to "fit the naked foot of poesy", like us wearing shoes by breaking the rhythm and enforcing imagination on the type, so the sonnet can endure. This is since it will stand apart amongst average sonnets. Keats 'other allusion is to King Midas and his gold; he uses Midas to reveal how miserly poets have to be with their words and not to use clichés, "dead leaves in the bay-wreath crown".

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His last allusion is to the Muse-Greek goddess of art-to reveal the creativity and freedom required for the charm of poetry.

With "the weight of excessive liberty", poetry is as restrictive as ever, argues Wordsworth. If these limitations are too much, do not compose a sonnet since like poets who compose a sonnet, nuns pick their convents, hermits their cells, maids their looms and bees their foxglove bells: all make this option willingly.

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This vibrant images makes plain what composing a sonnet is everything about: an individual choice to chain ourselves because we enjoy it. It is often better to play in a "scanty plot of ground" then go through the huge open fields and be lost and confused. The limitations are what makes it more tough and requires us to develop something more lovely than just prose. Wordsworth discovers peace in a limiting 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.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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John Keats' "On the Sonnet" and William Wordsworth "Convent's narrow room". (2016, Jul 27). Retrieved from

John Keats' "On the Sonnet" and William Wordsworth "Convent's narrow room" essay
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