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John Keats' "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell"

John Keats' poem, "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell" is a Petrarchan sonnet with the rime scheme ABBAABBACDDCDC; it dramatizes a basic tenet of the Romantic Movement, the desire to live a bucolic life and to commune with nature.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

Reading of "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell"

Commentary

The speaker in Keats' "O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell!" claims that he would be content to live a rural life alone but then decides he might prefer the company of a kindred spirit.

Octave: Choosing a Rustic Life

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.

In the octave, the speaker declares that if he must live alone or in "Solitude," he would choose to live in a rural setting. He particularly scorns the city and demonstrates that feeling by asking of "Solitude" not to require him to live "among the jumbled heap / Of murky buildings."

The speaker clearly disdains humankind's clumping together in edifices in the city. He invites Solitude to "climb with me the steep." He wants to roam in the hills in the open air, and remain nencumbered by streets, signs, and crowds of people. He desires the green grass and the sounds of rivers moving naturally through the rural landscape.

The speaker issues forth the Romantic sensibility of yearning for "Nature's observatory," from which "the dell, / Its flowery slopes, its river's crystal swell." He craves to reside among the flowers and clear river on a hillside, instead of living in a shabby city apartment.

The speaker then adds that he would prefer to watch in a rustic location that has deer "start[ing] the wild bee from the fox-glove bell." His lovely pastoral descriptions are the stuff that made the hearts of the Romantics flutter with ecstasy, as they conveniently omitted from their country-life fantasies the inconveniences that had originally motivated human beings to construct and collect in cities.

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Sestet: A Shared Experience in Bucolia

But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

In the sestet, the speaker adds a proviso to his notion of a perfect solitary life lived out in the country. He reveals that even though he would happily live alone as described in the octave, he would prefer to be accompanied by someone who is capable of offering "the sweet converse of an innocent mind."

The speaker's "soul's pleasure" is to be able to have conversations with someone who is like minded, someone who possesses a refined taste in both words and images. He wants to share his bucolic existence with someone who thinks as poetically as he does.

What the speaker ultimately discloses is that he would like to live in the country with solitude, but not total solitude, because he has decided that the height of "bliss of human-kind" is having two like-minded people--"two kindred spirits"—who can escape from the city and fly to the rustic locale together.

Tribute to Nature

The Romantic Movement saw many such tributes to nature, singing the praises of a "river's crystal swell" or "the deer's swift leap" where it "startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell." But Keats adds a clever dimension to his Petrarchan sonnet.

He would be sublimely happy to live in solitude in a pastoral setting, but he would find it even more blissful to have a companion who loves nature and poetry as much as he does. The two could then split from the city and flit off to the "haunts" of country life and live their bucolic existence in "the highest bliss."

John Keats - Commemorative Stamp

John Keats - Commemorative Stamp

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on January 09, 2016:

Thank you, Surabhi! Yes, Keats was one of the greats. And he died so young.

Surabhi Kaura on January 08, 2016:

Ah- John Keats! I have always admired his poetries. Thank you for this, Linda. Praise be.

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