John Keats, selected poems Contents
- Bright Star! Would I were steadfast as thou
- The Eve of St Agnes
- ‘Hush, hush! tread softly! hush, hush, my dear!’
- Isabella: or The Pot of Basil
- La Belle Dame Sans Merci
- Lines to Fanny (‘What can I do to drive away’)
- O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell
- Ode on a Grecian Urn
- Ode on Indolence
- Ode to a Nightingale
- Ode to Autumn
- Ode to Melancholy
- Ode to Psyche
- On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer
- On Seeing the Elgin Marbles
- On the Sea
- Sleep and Poetry
- Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb
- To Ailsa Rock
- To Leigh Hunt
- To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
- To My Brothers
- To Sleep
- When I have fears that I may cease to be
To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat: Language, tone and structure
Language and tone of To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
The tone of Keats’ poem is deliberately portentous and transforms the aged cat sitting on Keats’ lap and digging its claws into his knee into something much more adventurous. Keats may have been familiar with Thomas Gray’s mock-heroic Ode on the Death of a Favourite cat, Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes, which has a similarly elevated tone.
The cat’s former power is suggested by ‘destroyed’ (line 3). It does not have claws but rather ‘talons’, like some mighty bird of prey. Like a warrior it has survived ‘frays’ with fish and mice. Keats imagines the cat as having been mauled by the fists of maids and even imagines it as a young knight entering the lists, proving its courage in some sort of tournament.
However, the tone shifts at the end and Keats displays a finely judged sense of bathos in seeing the cat’s proving ground as merely a wall topped by shards of broken bottles.
The sonnet contains many instances of parody as well as elements of the mock heroic. The first line begins with the abrupt invocation ‘Cat!’ in the manner of a Miltonic sonnet and ends with the grand and esoteric word ‘climacteric’. There are other Miltonic features, such as the spreading of adjectives either side of the noun in ‘bright languid segments green’ (line 4).
Investigating language and tone of To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
- Why does Keats create a tone that is far weightier than the light-hearted subject matter would suggest?
- How does Keats create a sense of anti-climax at the end?
- List all the examples of parody and mock-heroic that you can and comment on the effects they create.
- Why would echoes of the poet John Milton be of particular significance for Keats?
- How does the language suggest the contrast between the cat when young and now that it is old?
Structure and versification of To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
Although the poem is a piece of light-hearted whimsy, Keats shows his mastery of form and language. Keats utilises a formal structure: a Petrarchan sonnet, recognisable by the rhyme-scheme abba abba in the octave and cdc cdc in the sestet. The octet sees the cat in heroic terms; the sestet cuts it down to size, focusing on its ‘dainty’ wrists, its ‘wheezy asthma’, its nicked off tail, its mauling at the fists of ‘many a maid’ and the fact that it has had to contend with the hazards of broken glass on the top of walls.
Keats only occasionally disrupts the iambic pentameter, inverting the first foot of the first line to give emphasis to his subject, and again in line 11 when the damage of the cat’s ‘tail’s tip’ being ‘nicked off’ is highlighted by two spondees. Then he adds extra syllables and intersperses two iambs with three anapests to convey the speed of the maids’ assaults in l.12.
Investigating structure and versification of To Mrs Reynolds’s Cat
- ‘Although the poem is a piece of light-hearted whimsy, Keats shows his mastery of form and language.’ Comment on those features of structure and versification that seem to you to demonstrate this mastery.
- Comment on the effect of enjambement between lines 2/3 and on the effect of the caesura coming after the first word of line 3.
- What is the effect of further enjambment between lines 3 and 8 – none of which is end-stopped?
- How does Keats vary the rhythm of the sonnet in line with its subject matter?
The tone of voice in which anything is to be read in: e.g. lyrical, dramatic, contemplative.
A parody or comic poem, that uses epic conventions to portray trivial matters instead of important ones.
Anticlimax. When we expect a climax in speech or literature and instead get something trivial or comical.
A sonnet is a poem with a special structure. It has fourteen lines, which are organised in a particular manner, usually characterised by the pattern of rhyming, which changes as the ideas in the poem evolve.
A comic, mocking or satiric imitation of a form of literature or someone's action.
1. Making someone experience a particular feeling or memory 2. Calling on an external power to help, similar to an incantation to call upon a spirit or a deity.
Relating to the poet John Milton
A form of sonnet developed by the poet Petrarch.
The ordered or regular patterns of rhyme at the ends of lines or verses of poetry.
The 8-line stanza of a Petrarchan sonnet, always occupying the first eight lines. It sometimes has a division halfway, creating two quatrains. It poses a problem or describes some single object or incident.
The 6-line stanza of a Petrarchan sonnet, occupying the last six lines, sometimes divided into tercets or couplets. It often resolves the problem posed in the octave or comments significantly on it.
A line containing five metrical feet each consisting of one stressed and one unstressed syllable.
A unit of metre, being a foot of two long, or stressed, syllables.
Metrical feet made up of one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable (or one short syllable followed by one long syllable).
A metre in poetry, each foot consisting of two unstressed syllables, followed by a stressed syllable. A rising metre, like the iambic.
The technique used in blank verse and other verse forms in which the sense of a line runs on without a pause to the next one; this often gives a sense of greater fluency to the lines.
A pause, often indicated in text by a comma or full stop, during a line of blank verse.
a line of verse where the sense ends at the end of the line
The musical effect of the repetition of stresses or beats, and the speed or tempo at which these may be read.
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