To Leigh Hunt: Language, tone and structure

Language and tone of To Leigh Hunt

The language of beauty and delight in the octet (‘glory’, ‘loveliness’, ‘smiling’, ‘gay’) is balanced by similar words describing Keats’ satisfaction at being part of Hunt’s circle (‘delights’, ‘bless’, ‘pleasant’, ‘free’, ‘luxury’). Keats saw a continuity between the best of his own time and that of the world of classical mythology.

The tone is one of admiration and gratitude. There is a strong sense of enjoyment of the beauty associated with classicism. This tone is carried forward into the poem’s sestet in which an equivalent delight is experienced when offering poems for Hunt’s appreciative scrutiny.

The tone is also quite formal. The two parts of the poem are carefully balanced – which conveys a feeling of artifice – and the language is relatively conventional, associated with classical imagery (‘incense’, ‘nymphs’, ‘shrine’ etc.)

Against this formality the final line carries relatively more force, since the tone here is more personal and heartfelt. The sestet uses the word ‘I’ three times. This repetition, together with the final phrase (‘a man like thee’), makes it clear how much Hunt meant to Keats. Keats’ poem is indeed offered as a token of devotion.

Investigating language and ton of To Leigh Hunt...

  • Explain how the language of this sonnet suggests continuity between Keats’ time and the world of classical mythology.
  • How does the language convey a tone of delight?
  • ‘The tone is quite formal.’ How does Keats’ use of language produce this effect?
  • What is the effect of the repetition of the word ‘I’?

Structure and versification of To Leigh Hunt

This is an example of a Petrarchan sonnet, recognisable by the rhyme-scheme abba abba in the octave and cd cd cd in the sestet, and written in uniform iambic pentameter.

The octet describes an idyllic pastoral landscape from the world of classical mythology which has now passed away. The sestet focuses on the present pleasure of having the friendship of a man to whom he can offer his poems for appreciation and supportive criticism, which makes for an alternative ‘leafy luxury’.

Investigating structure and versification of To Leigh Hunt...

  • What do you understand to be the relationship between the sonnet’s octave and its sestet?
  • What is the effect of the enjambement between lines 3/4, 7/8, 11/12 and 13/14?
  • In line 7 what is the effect of the repetition of ‘and’ and of the three commas?
  • Consider the final line. What is the effect of the final four words of the sonnet?
    • Why does Keats make ‘thee’ the final word?
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