On The Sea: by John Keats - Summary & Analysis

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It keeps eternal whisperings around
Desolate shores, and with its mighty swell
Gluts twice ten thousand Caverns, till the spell
Of Hecate leaves them their old shadowy sound.
Often ‘tis in such gentle temper found
That scarcely will the very smallest shell
Be mov’d for days from where it sometime fell,
When last the winds of Heaven were unbound.
Oh ye! who have your eye-balls vex’d and tir’d,
Feast them upon the wideness of the Sea;
Oh ye! whose ears are dinn’d with uproar rude,
Or fed too much with cloying melody
Sit ye near some old cavern’s mouth, and brood
Until ye start, as if the sea-nymphs quir’d!

Summary & Analysis

      The sea has had many addresses to it from the poets, whether in the form of ode or sonnet. Keats has added one to the list. While he mentions the wideness of the sea, the general tone of this sonnet is his impression of the sounds of the sea. It is not only the direct and clearly heard sounds, such as the thunders of the waves rushing into mighty caverns, but also the minor, ha If heard sounds which seem, as it were, to be on a scale of vibration hardly received by the human ear. Keats feels that there is a melody which will gradually penetrate the senses of a receptive listener and that the sea will then speak her message, and sing her song to him. He says:

      “The sea keeps forever whispering around barren shores, and with the swell of its mighty waves fills up twice ten thousand caves, till the magic of the goddess Hecate restores them to their old and gentler sounds. Often the sea is found in such a quiet mood that even a tiny shell will not be moved by the waters for some days, but will remain where it last fell, when the winds of heaven were unloosed and blowing freely. Men whose eyes have been grieved and fatigued (by sad sights), should rest them by gazing on the wide spaces of the sea. Those whose ears have been stunned by rough noises, or sickened by hearing too many sweet musical sounds, should sit near the mouth of some cave of the sea and meditate, until suddenly they will realize with a start a melody as if the sea nymphs were singing in a body.”

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