On the Sea poem by John Keats | Summary and Analysis

November 28, 2013

On the Sea by John Keats

On the Sea by John Keats is a thoughtful and exquisite sonnet-like poem which celebrates the sea and its restorative and soothing power.  Have you ever been to the seashore and observed the waves crashing against the shore or the gentle ebbs and flows of the sea?  Perhaps, it was a day when you felt very tired after the continuous assault on the senses due to so-called “modern development” from film songs to high rises.  A simple walk along the seashore or resting near the shore, watching the waves, can feel therapeutic when one is caught in the troves of a burgeoning and developing city.  “On the Sea” is a poem by the brilliant Romantic poet John Keats which like many romantic poetic themes tries to celebrate nature.  This was during the turbulent times when England was experiencing the worst of the industrial age.

On the Sea by John Keats | Summary and Analysis

Read the first four lines of the octave of the sonnet and reflect on it.  Imagine that you are sitting near the sea and watching the waves on a day when you feel very weary.

“It keeps eternal whisperings around

Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell

Gluts twice ten thousand caverns, till the spell

Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound”

Here, John Keats describes the sea’s intriguing sounds and sights as signifying eternity and timelessness.  The sea’s mesmerizing and magical sounds can even reach the most depressing-looking and God-forsaken shores.  Here, the poet compares the effect that the sea and its soothing and mesmerizing sounds and sights can have on a depressed, careworn or hassled individual living in a polluted city.  It also has a powerful, wild and untamed divine side to it which is signified by mighty waves as they travel towards countless shores.  Here, Hecate, an ancient Greco-Roman “goddess,” is used to signify the mighty, untamed and wild and free nature of the sea which can cause destruction on haphazard artificial constructs.  Notice how the first four lines rhyme, “around” with “sound” and “swell” with “spell,” which follows an abba rhyme scheme.  The next four lines of the octave of the sonnet also follow the same rhyme scheme.

Let us now reflect upon the next four lines of the poem, “On the Sea.”

“Often ‘tis in such gentle temper found,

That scarcely with the very smallest shell

Be moved for days from whence it sometime fell,

When the last winds of heaven were unbound”

In these lines, John Keats talks about the soothing effect that watching the waves on a serene and tranquil day can have on the senses.  Even the minutest shell remains undisturbed on such a day.   This signifies the gentle and tranquil lull brought about on the onlooker which seems like a heavenly release.

“Oh ye!  Who have your eye-balls vexed and tired,

Feast them upon the wideness of the sea,

Oh ye! Whose ears are dinned with uproar rude,

Of fed too much with cloying melody-Sit ye near some old cavern’s mouth and brood

Until yet start, as if the sea-nymphs choired!”

Here, the sestet which is the last six lines of a sonnet poem discusses a resolution for the materialistic and city-weary soul.  John Keats appeals to such individuals who have had enough of their senses being assaulted by the materialistic and mean and corrupt forces of the city to take refuge by resting near the sea.  They will feel that their whole being is uplifted as if they are listening to the divine and soulful renderings of a choir and leave feeling rejuvenated again.

photo credit: Mark Wassell via photopin cc

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One Response to On the Sea poem by John Keats | Summary and Analysis

  1. Hussein Abu Jbarah on October 25, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Really helpful for my literature assessment thx

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