O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind- John Keats – Analysis

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind

O thou whose face hath felt the Winter’s wind,
Whose eye has seen the snow-clouds hung in mist
And the black elm tops ‘mong the freezing stars,
To thee the spring will be a harvest-time.
O thou, whose only book has been the light
Of supreme darkness which thou feddest on
Night after night when Phoebus was away,
To thee the Spring shall be a triple morn.

O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet my song comes native with the warmth.
O fret not after knowledge- I have none,
And yet the Evening listens. He who saddens
At thought of idleness cannot be idle,
And he’s awake who thinks himself asleep.

John Keats (1795 – 1821)

A draft copy of this sonnet was sent to his friend John Reynolds on today’s date the 19 February. His friend was suffering from pneumatic fever. He wanted to ‘lift a little time from his shoulders’. Apparently the song of a thrush heard while Keats was out walking was the inspiration for this poem.

It is the only unrhymned sonnet that Keats wrote. It forms the traditional break after the first eight lines – after the full stop, and I have inserted a blank line at this point.

Feddest – feed perhaps
Phoebus – Greek God of light; God of prophecy and poetry and music and healing.

John Reynolds was obviously going through a very dark time. It is appropriate that he mentions the absence of Phoebus, the inability of his friend to write. His illness is conceited to darkness in nature and that Spring will be a great happening – and two lines stress this – a harvest-time and a triple morn.

The last six lines stress the lack of knowledge on the illness and its progression. Again two lines are involved – O fret not after knowledge – I have none, but independent of this his song comes native with warmth.

The last lines give hope that although he, John Reynolds, may think of death in terms of idleness and sleep he is actually awake – and will live, hopefully.

John Keats on Wikipedia

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