Hush, hush! tread softly! Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!

The young male speaker in the poem addresses Isabella, his beloved with whom he is having an affair. He urges her to be as quiet as possible in escaping from the house, under the nose of a jealous elderly man. He says that the jealous have unusually sensitive hearing. 

The night is still and dark. He tells her to lift the door latch gently. If it makes so much as a tiny ‘clink’ ‘We are dead’. The extreme caution of the young lovers is matched by the ‘ache’ of the young man to be with Isabella.

Commentary on Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!

This poem may refer to Keats’ relations with Mrs Isabella Jones, a young woman whom Keats had met and befriended while on holiday in the Hastings area. She is a rather enigmatic figure who has caused speculation amongst Keats scholars.

In his letters to his brother George, Keats says that he ‘kissed her’, although it is not clear that the relationship went any further. Her greatest significance is as the possible inspiration for this poem and for The Eve of St Agnes. The fact that she was one of the first people to be informed of Keats’ death suggests that there was some depth to the relationship. It may also be significant that the young Miss Jones was associated with a 70-year-old man called Donat O’Callaghan who could be the model for the ‘jealous old bald-pate’ of line 3.

This light-hearted love lyric is closely connected with the much longer The Eve of St Agnes. The setting is summer, however, unlike the cold winter setting of the longer poem.


baldpate: bald-headed man

Lethean: the adjective from Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, one of the rivers of the Underworld in Greek mythology, over which the dead spirits travelled on their way to Hades

stock-dove: a grey Eurasian and North African pigeon, resembling a small wood pigeon which nests in holes in trees.

Investigating commentary on Hush, hush! tread softly!...

  • The commentary describes this poem as a ‘light-hearted love lyric’. What do you find ‘light-hearted’ about it?
  • And what are its ‘lyrical’ qualities?
  • Can you find anything in the poem which supports the suggestion that the poem springs from Keats’ own emotional attachment to a young woman?
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