Sonnet # 9 (John Keats)

May 12, 2009

KEEN fitful gusts are whispering here and there
    Among the bushes, half leafless and dry;
    The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare;
Yet feel I little of the cool bleak air,
    Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
    Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
Or of the distance from home’s pleasant lair:
For I am brimful of the friendliness
    That in a little cottage I have found;
Of fair-haired Milton’s eloquent distress,
    And all his love for gentle Lycid’ drown’d,
Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
    And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown’d.

*

I have never been good at recalling nursery rhymes, nor have I ever cultivated that “baby voice” so popular among parents of infants. So when our son Dominic was born I would sometimes read to him from Shakespeare and Keats while he lie in my lap on the green rocking chair in his bedroom. While I don’t always understand what’s going on in their sonnets, I have always found pleasure in hearing them aloud, and I figured the music there would be as good as anything I might read the boy. More selfishly, it gave me an opportunity to read two of the great masters of the sonnet side by side. Admittedly, I am a crude reader of both poets, so I won’t try doing any kind of analysis or comparison. I do prefer Keats to Shakespeare, however. Dom did too, if I remember right. I think he preferred the Italian sonnet, perfected by Petrarch, if only for the whimsical lightness Keats brings to the form. Or to put it more crudely, the Keatsian sonnet wears a summer dress to Shakespeare’s formal gown.

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