Hymn to Apollo: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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      Hymn to Apollo is based on a real incident, when a lady sent a laurel crown to Keats. The poet wrote Sonnet to a young lady who sent me a laurel crown. It is said that Keats wore it on his forehead first to claim for himself the rank of a poet. According to Woodhouse, both Keats and Leigh Hunt wore laurel crowns, but when their friends came, Hunt removed the crown, while Keats did not. After some time, Keats realized his folly and wrote this apologetic Hymn to Apollo.

Summary

      There is no development of thought as such in this poem. The poet realizes his mistake and his presumption in wearing a laurel wreath which appropriately belongs to Apollo or some of the greatest poets of the world. It would have been proper for Apollo to have punished the poet even with death. Was it the greatness of Apollo to have forgiven him or was he too contemptible a worm which did not deserve the attention of Apollo? Anyway, the poet is really sorry for his mistake. Jove the thunderer got ready to kill him with his thunderbolt, but Apollo with his music softened the fury of Jove and pleaded for compassion to the poet. The poet felt that he deserved the greatest punishment and wondered why he was spared by Apollo. The poet mentions the reason and the environment in which this foolish act was committed. It was the season of spring; flowers and plants were shooting up, when suddenly Someone, in sheer lunacy, put the laurel round his brow (maybe the poet himself did it thoughtlessly and thereby brought shame to himself self and an insult to Apollo.) The poet is really sorry for his arrogance, as it does not behoove a poet to be so conceited. His repentance is quite sincere.

Style

      This is an autobiographical poem. The Ode shows metrical craftsmanship. A.R. Weekes observes:

      “The irregular anapaestic beat of the Hymn to Apollo is a measure not often essayed by English poets, and Keats handles it with considerable daring and freedom, attaining in parts a real and rich music. The quality of music, the birthright of great poet, was given to Keats in full measure, even in his early days; for example, the Hymn to Apollo, which has few other merits, moves with a springing, vigor and fullness of tone worthy of a better meaning”.

      The imagery is concrete and apt. Apollo is the god performing, various roles as archer-god, sun-god and music-god. Jove is the thunderer. Pleiades—the spring constellation—and the ocean’s old- labor indicates the season and the time of the incident. The refrain in the last line of each stanza—‘O Delphic Apollo!’ gives a sense of musical cadence. The notable quality of the poem is its fine music.

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