A linguistic inquiry into the role of Keats's sonnets in his poetic development



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Most critics of John Keats do not consider his sonnets a major element of his poetic development. Yet there are aspects of his stylistic "intensity" (to use a word which the critics have borrowed from Keats himself) which seem to have been encouraged by the brevity of the sonnet form. Chief among these aspects are his use of past-participial adjectives and preference for mono- and disyllables, which tend to give his language a "condensed" quality. Thus many critics have seen the sonnet as a proto-form of his great stanzaic poetry, such as the odes of May, 1819 and The Eve of St. Agnes. By limiting himself basically to a non-Latinate vocabulary, and employing a large number of participial compounds, Keats in effect placed word-level stress prominences in the poetic line with greater frequency that he could have by using polysyllables. It is possible to define such vague Keatsian concepts as "intensity" and "melody in verse" (i.e., vocalic assonance) in terms of his placement of stress prominences in the poetic line.