Essays in English Romanticism
Online ISSN : 2189-9142
Print ISSN : 1341-9676
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“Let me thy vigils keep”: The Culture of Retirement and the Early Keats
Yoshikazu SUZUKI
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2015 Volume 39and40 Pages 115-131

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This paper examines the progress of Keats’s early career in terms of the eighteenth-century vogue for retreating from the noisy world to tranquil countryside, focusing on the sonnet “O Solitude” and Endymion. The solitude sonnet, his first appearance in print, attempts to negotiate between two types of retirement, solitary, or Wordsworthian, and sociable, or Huntian, culminating in two kindred spirits’ flight into the haunts of Solitude. This solution accords with the optimistic, or middle-class, notion of solitude spread among neoclassicists, but, on the other hand, as a relevant epistle suggests, the poem anticipates Keats’s personal struggle on the road to fame, with the image of solitary vigils supposedly taken from a stock character in medieval romances, the forest hermit. An interest in rural retirement and its poetic implications are increasingly evident in the development of Endymion, and in the author’s life. Far from establishing a religion of love, in fact, the story moves towards exploring the potential of solitude and sorrow, as represented by the concepts of the bower, which shift from the sensual bower of love, through the Indian Maid’s lonely bower, to the Cave of Quietude. This reflects the poet’s experience of being alone in the countryside of the Isle of Wight, an experience intended to improve the mind. His sentiments on solitude show striking similarities to those found in J. G. Zimmermann’s then-celebrated Solitude Considered (1791), especially in relation to solitude as a remedy for the broken-hearted and the importance of occasional retirement for the young mind. During his efforts to conclude Endymion at Box Hill, Keats’s detached frame of mind seems to have been perfectly tuned to the surroundings of a resort known for its solitary landscape. His pursuit of solitude as the muse, beginning with the solitude sonnet, is thus crystallised into the solitary existence of a hermit-poet which Endymion finally decides to lead.

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© 2015 Japan Association of English Romanticism
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