O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell: Language, tone and structure

Language and tone of O Solitude

The sonnet has a rather formal tone. This is reinforced by a number of archaic linguistic forms, such as ‘thee’ and ‘thy’, as well as the medieval associations of a word such as ‘pavilion’d’.
The sestet begins with an emphatic ‘But’ at the beginning of line 9. An even greater pleasure than being in nature is to enjoy nature’s delights in the company of an ‘innocent mind’, a kindred spirit with whom the speaker can share his thoughts and emotions. The language reflects the degree of pleasure this would afford: ‘sweet converse’, ‘thoughts refined’, ‘soul’s pleasure’, ‘highest bliss’, the abstract nouns contrasting with the more tangible ‘dell’, ‘slopes’, ‘river’, ‘boughs’, ‘foxglove’ etc. which make up the description of nature’s realm.
The relative directness of a phrase such as ‘jumbled heap / Of murky buildings’ suggests just how heart-felt was Keats’ desire to escape from his overcrowded and insanitary surroundings. By contrast, the sibilance of many of the words in the sestet slows the voice and conveys a drowsy ease that contrasts with the harder consonants of lines 2-3.

Investigating language and tone of O Solitude

  • How does Keats’ use of language convey (a) his feelings about the city and (b) about the countryside?
  • Think about the sounds created by the words ‘jumbled heap / Of murky buildings’. How does Keats create his effect here?
  • Why do you think Keats uses archaic forms such as ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ and exploit the medieval associations of a word like ‘pavilion’d’?

Structure and versification of O Solitude

In the octet of this sonnet Keats personifies Solitude and begs this powerful, godlike figure to allow him to endure his isolation away from the squalor and ugliness of the city, among the mountains or in forests. The sestet encapsulates the thought that his pleasure would be ‘almost the highest bliss of human-kind’ if he were allowed the company of one sympathetic friend.
Notice how the strength of Keats’ desire to leave the city and live in nature is expressed by the movement of the verse. The move from ‘murky buildings’ to the world of nature is accomplished abruptly in the middle of line 3 and with the energetic verb ‘climb’. The frequent punctuation creates six short phrases before the semi-colon, which convey the speaker’s breathless excitement and longing. This eases out into two longer phrases up to the full-stop as Keats relaxes once morewithin the rural landscape
Such a contrast between city and countryside is a familiar idea in poetry – especially Romantic poetry.

Investigating structure and versification of O Solitude

  • Trace the development of ideas in the sonnet. 
    • How does the subject matter of the octave relate to that of the sestet?
  • How does the punctuation convey Keats’ mood in lines 3 to 8?
  • What is the effect of enjambement between lines 2 and 3 and between lines 6 and 7?
  • The sonnet is structured around contrasts. Is the idea of town versus country the only one – or are there more?
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