Time’s sea: Synopsis and Commentary

Synopsis of Time’s sea 

The speaker says that it has been five long years since he was first attracted by the beauty of the young lady whom he addresses. Every time the speaker sees the stars at night, red roses or any ‘budding flower’, he thinks of the lady’s eyes and lips (and the sounds of love the latter might emit). However, since her beauty is greater than anything to be found in nature, it eclipses these examples of natural beauty. Consequently, his former delight in such natural images has been soured by grief.

Commentary on Time’s sea 

This poem was written on February 4 1818. Keats had been rereading Shakespeare’s sonnets and had heavily annotated numbers 60 and 64. Sonnet 60 begins: 
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end.     
and Sonnet 64 also contains sea/time imagery:
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the wat’ry main…
…Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate:
That time will come and take my love away.      
Keats may have been inspired by Shakespeare’s lines but he applied them to his personal situation and they are addressed to the memory of a mysterious lady, seen in Vauxhall Gardens in 1814 when Keats was just 18. This lady also appears in Keats’ poem When I have fears. It had, in fact, been only four years since he had seen her, but he changes this to five to make a greater poetic impact.

Investigating commentary on Time’s sea

  • What connections can you find between the lines from Shakespeare’s sonnets (quoted above) and this sonnet by Keats?
  • Why do you think Keats alters the time which has passed since he first saw the mysterious lady from four to five years?
    • What impression does it give of him?
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