To My Brothers: Synopsis and Commentary

Synopsis of To My Brothers

Keats describes an evening in front of the fire for himself and his brothers Tom and George. It happens to be Tom’s birthday. Keats describes himself writing a poem (presumably this poem) alongside Tom and George, as they stare into the fire. Keats clearly wants this family closeness to last as long as possible – until death separates them.

Commentary on To My Brothers

This sonnet was written on November 18 1816 to mark Tom Keats’ seventeenth birthday. It probably celebrates the fact that the three Keats brothers’ were now living together in their new lodgings at 76 Cheapside.
Tom and George were to Keats a much loved and trusted team of supporters, helping him in various ways such as copying out his poems for distribution. More generally, they were people with whom Keats shared his reading and his thoughts. Tom was now keeping a notebook into which this sonnet was copied. In his letters Keats stated:
My Love for my Brothers from the early loss of our parents and even for earlier Misfortunes has grown into an affection ‘passing the Love of Women’.     


household gods: gods presiding over a household, especially (in Roman history) the tutelary spirits known as the lares and penates
around the poles: i.e. the world over (from North Pole to South)
lore: body of traditions and knowledge on a subject held by a particular group, passed from person to person by word of mouth
try: put to the test
the great voice .. shall bid: Keats alludes to the belief that God is in charge of when people are born and die.
fair face: Depictions of God stress the beauty and light associated with him (see Revelation 1:12-16).

Investigating commentary on To My Brothers

  • What for Keats is the ‘true joy’ of the scene he describes?
  • In what ways is it helpful to know something of the biographical context when approaching this poem?
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