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An Analysis Of On Sitting Down To Read King Lear Once Again

1168 words - 5 pages

An Analysis of On Sitting Down To Read King Lear Once Again


The poem "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again" by John Keats is a sonnet about Keats' relationship with the drama that became his idea of tragic perfection, and how it relates to his own struggle with the issues of short life and premature death. Keats uses the occasion of the rereading this play to explore his seduction by it and its influence on himself and his ways of looking at himself and his situation in spite of his negative capability.


From the first few lines Keats alludes to the great romances of the previous ages as opposed to William Shakespeare's great tragedies. While it could be discerned that Keats is referring to his poem Endymion: A Poetic Romance, the underlying meaning of the lines remains. Keats writes "O golden tongued Romance, with serene lute!/ Fair plumed Syren Queen of far-away!/ Leave melodizing on this wintry day,/ Shut up thine olden pages and be mute." (Lines 1 - 4). Keats here is shutting out the idyllic romantic notions he cannot at this time cling to due to the ever present spectre of death that hangs above him. Keats forsakes the romantic here leaning instead toward the tragic, which is what he perceives his short life to be. In these opening lines Keats seems to be a desperate, and morose storyteller who forbids himself the taste of the ideal, regardless of how strong a pull romance has for him. Keats is forced to command the romance to "Shut up thine olden pages and be mute!" (4) in order to pull himself away from it. This shows not only the strong attraction romance holds for Keats, but also Keats' recognition of the Romance as a personified thing he can converse with and bid "Adieu!" (5). The use of the word "Syren" (2) in reference to Keats' personified Romance further illustrates that this Romance (be it a general reference to romances he enjoys reading, or a reference to his own Endymion) is nearly irresistible and could lead him with its song to a fate worse than death for Keats, that being fading out of existence and memory, and thus ceasing to be.


The second quatrain gives the reader the insight of the reasons why he must pull himself away from the pull of the Romance and focus on the tragedy. Keats writes "once again, the fierce dispute/ Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay/ Must I burn through," (5 - 7). This shows that while tragedy, in this case King Lear, may not be as attractive as the "fair plumed Syren" (2) he forsakes, it is much more necessary for Keats to "burn through" (7) tragedy in order to concentrate on his own impending mortality. As Keats forces himself to "burn through; once more humbly assay/ The bitter-sweet of this Shakesperian fruit" (7 - 8) Keats is faced with that that is bitter (his knowledge of his mortality), and that that is sweet (his learning how to become immortal). In the line "Chief Poet! And ye clouds of Albion." (9) it can be seen that Keats addresses both...

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