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John Keats and the Presentation of ”Sleep and Poetry”

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“Sleep and Poetry” is one of the first poems written by Keats and it can be viewed in two different ways, either as a powerful presentation and a spirited and focused piece of writing or a naive, immature poem which does nothing more than idolise Wordsworth. In this essay I will provide points for both of these arguments and decided which one is the strongest at the end.

From the beginning you feel the immaturity of the poem come across in Keat’s idyllic description of life with these clich�d moments and images. This immaturity only seems to get stronger throughout the poem as this idea of a perfect moment and life are portrayed. In line 81, still relatively near the beginning , Keats talks about being a giant (of literature maybe) and seizing the world and understanding the human race, which is quite simply naive.

There is also a fault with his way of using language, a sign that he hasn’t been writing that long with some terrible rhyming. An example of this is, again, near the beginning on lines 25/26 when Keats rhymes ‘holy’ and ‘folly’ together. It is small incidents like this that show that Keats is far from ready to be next in line of the great writers as he claims he will some day become, which leads onto the next point of my argument.

Throughout the whole of ‘Sleep and Poetry’ there are subtle hints towards Wordsworth which reaches a climax in the description of a Charioteer, someone to come and inspire a new generation of poetry. The ‘Charioteer’ is blatantly Wordsworth and Keats’ admiration for him is almost cringing with such lines as “O that i might know; All that he writes with such a hurrying glow” (line 154) and “ye have breathed; Rich benedictions o’er us” (line 221). This is made worse by the fact that Wordsworth panned Keats’ work and ignored/insulted him when introduced and yet he is still idolised throughout.

The line 221 which was just mentioned refers to Wordsworth ‘breathing life’ into the supposed ‘stale poetry’ of the Augustans, victims of Keats’ abuse. He speaks about how they should be in the forgotten era of poetry and how they abused and ignored nature, causing a blip in the grand sea of poetry. He later recognises that he is in fact immature, “foolish face” (line 272) and “whining boyhood” (line 273). This is because he would receive alot of criticism from his abuse of Augustan poetry. Many critics would wonder why such a new poet who isn’t established himself would attack a whole era of poetry and poets more successful than himself, another sign of his youth and immaturity.

This feeling is summarised at the end of the main action with the line “Impossible! Impossible!” (line 312). This line almost acts as his realization of all his claims and promises. He may not be able to live up to these and with the targets he has set himself, probably won’t be able to.

However, on the other side of this, you could look at this as the emergence of a great new talent, admittedly with faults, but that occurs with all young poets. His powerful presentation first makes an impact in line 17 with “what is higher beyond thought than thee?”. This shows his absolute love for poetry. In this the ideal and clich�d moments are used as a standpoint to compare poetry against and even those don’t match the feeling Keats gets from poetry. This struggle to find a comparison soon moves onto religion with many references to it (‘holy’, ‘divine’, ‘great Maker’s’, ‘wide heaven’ etc).

Within his slight immaturity is a sign of maturity with the realisation that he may not be ready yet to become a great poet, but he has the positive attitude that he will one day achieve that, it is his ambition to become next in the great line of writers. His adoration for Wordsworth is a sign of respect, which many people would be flattered by as Keats is aspiring to become like him, hence all of the references throughout the poem such as ‘the charioteer’. In fact he shows great respect for all of the poets and writers wishes to become, praising them by calling them ‘poet kings’.

There is not much else to say on this, at times Keats shows great inspiration and positive thinking and ideas on poetry that haven’t really been acknowledged before. There is also his undeniable love for poetry which bodes well for his future and has a drive and passion for it that not many people have. Yet there are also times where his immaturity takes hold and there also appears to be periods of nothing more than parodies and praise towards Wordsworth and his work. If forced to make a decision on this I would have to say that this is indeed a spirited piece of writing and his desire is very strong but it appears to lack focus with ideas jumping around with no particular order and the praise of Wordsworth and the ‘poet kings’ is a bit strong sometimes.

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