To My Brothers: Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism in To My Brothers

The fire is a symbol of the emotional warmth generated by the close relationships which Keats and his brothers enjoy. The flames playing in the hearth are literally the focal point of their life together (the word ‘focus’ means ‘domestic hearth’). The fire becomes almost another person in the scene. Its ‘busy’ flames ‘playing’ personifies the fire and the ‘whispers’ of its flames are like those of tutelary spirits. The image of whispering also suggests intimacy and the quiet confidence that the brothers have in each other’s love.
The image of Keats searching ‘around the poles’ is a humorous way of describing the time and effort Keats expends in order to find suitable rhymes for his poem.  He is like an explorer roaming to the ends of earth whilst his brothers’ eyes are fixed on the flames. The flames transmit ‘lore’, that is, traditional, instinctive wisdom as opposed to the ideas which must spring from Keats’ own imagination.
The ‘great voice’ at the end of the sonnet is that of the call to death – according to Christian belief each person’s soul or spirit will be summoned by [God3]at the end of mortal life.

Investigating imagery and symbolism in To My Brothers

  • ‘The fire becomes almost another person in the scene.’ How does Keats create the image of the fire and what is its effect in the poem?
  • What effect is created by Keats’ image of himself writing his poem?
  • How does the poem’s imagery convey the relationship between the brothers?

Themes in To My Brothers

The poem is about brotherly love and the fragility of human happiness and of life itself. Their love is intense but death can end their relationship at any time.
The scene has so much warmth: that of fraternal love and the warmth of the fire. However, the final line shows an acute awareness that what the brothers now enjoy will not last forever. The ‘great voice’ could summon their spirits at any time.
Another theme is that of different sorts of wisdom. Keats has to generate his ideas, sometimes with great effort. Searching for his ideas makes him like an explorer at the ends of the earth (‘poles’). On the other hand there is a sort of ‘lore’ to be discovered much nearer to home (embodied in the warmth of the hearth), which has supplied emotional ‘care’ in the face of loss – the power of human love and solidarity to support one another through grief.

Investigating themes in To My Brothers

  • In what ways does the poem suggest that the joys of this life are fragile and can be shattered at any moment?
  • What does the poem have to say about different sorts of wisdom?
  • Do you think this is a Christian poem?
    • How do you interpret the ‘great voice’?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.