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A Discussion of John Keats' Sonnet entitled "As from the darkening gloom a silver dove"

Updated on August 10, 2013
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I am a high school English teacher who is passionate about writing, theater, directing and enjoying a positive life with family and friends.

The Petrarchan, or Italian, sonnet is the most common sonnet form. A Petrarchan sonnet is a fourteen-line poem. The first eight lines are called the octave. The author uses these eight lines to present a situation. The rhyme scheme for every Petrarchan sonnet is abba abba in the octave. The last six lines are called the sestet. The author uses these lines to comment on the situation that he has presented in the octave. The rhyme scheme for these six lines varies. “As from the darkening gloom silver dove,” by John Keats, is a Petrarchan sonnet.

This poem is also an elegy. Keats wrote it in December 1814 after the death of his grandmother, Alice Jennings. In 1804, Jennings began to care for Keats and his siblings after the death of their father and the remarriage of their mother. Keats was very close to his grandmother. This is one of his early poems, as he only began writing verse in 1814.

In the octave, Keats describes the flight of his grandmother’s soul into heaven. He symbolizes her soul with a silver dove. A dove universally symbolizes peace. He is saying that her soul is at peace now that she has died. The “dove upsoars and darts into the Eastern light…” Her soul flies free and smoothly into heaven lifted by “pure delight.” He emphasizes the smooth, easy flight by using run-on lines in the first two lines of the poem where the flight is being described.

She was accepted into heaven by angels. Keats creates a great image of the blessed angels in heaven with brightly shining halos. He paints a picture of heaven as a beautiful, peaceful place full of love. He presents her flight into heaven as a happy, joyous occasion.

In the sestet, the rhyme scheme is cd cd cd. Keats questions his grief in these six lines. He believes that she is extremely happy in heaven. He says that she will sing with an angelic choir that will fill even the already perfect haven with “superior bliss.” Or she might pass swiftly through the air to send a holy message at God’s desire.

“What pleasures higher?” He asks this question in line thirteen after using a caesura, a pause in the middle of the line. He wants the reader to pause and think about the question that he is about to ask because it is important. In his mind there is no higher pleasure than living in eternity.

“Wherefore does any grief our joy impair.” He asks himself, and the reader, to question why we are so sad when someone we love is in such wonderful place. Keats is questioning this natural human behavior. When we have lost a loved one, we grieve. We are sad even though we know they are at peace. Keats says that we have no room for sadness; we should be joyful that the ones we love live on in heaven.

2012. Written by Donna Hilbrandt.

© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt

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    • donnah75 profile image
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      Donna Hilbrandt 4 years ago from Upstate New York

      Jeff: Busted! I am indeed an English lit teacher :) thanks for the read. I'll have to check out Fry's book.

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 4 years ago from St. Louis

      Always enjoyed Keats. I've written some poetry "constrained" by prevailing form from eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Can be extremely difficult. For anyone interested in writing their own poetry, I recommend Stephen Fry's "The Ode Less Travelled." Your hubs have the mark of an English Literature teacher...