Analysis Of John Keats 's ' On Seeing The Elgin Marbles '

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In his sonnet “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles,” John Keats uses Greek art as inspiration for a reflection on the inevitability of death and how in the end even his best memories may not feel good enough. The impending role that mortality has on his existence is shown through Keats’s careful use of similes, diction, and a quirk to the rhyme scheme. The generalized images that the words create and the cluttered meter contribute to Keats’s theme that memories crumble over time like the Elgin Marbles, and eventually, the memories may not seem like anything better than a waste of precious time. The opening octet focuses on mortality as an impending doom. Keats’s poem begins with a dark confession: “My spirit is too weak—mortality / Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,” (906, lines 1-2). Similes are used in this poem to highlight the comparison between mortality and a sickly flaw or setback. In this instance, the heavy weight of mortality is compared to “unwilling sleep,” (2). This points to the idea that an overthinking mind resists the body’s urge to be shut off, but eyelids will inevitability close regardless of the mind’s unwillingness. Similarly, although death is usually unwanted, it will happen anyway. Through the use of figurative language, Keats showcases the similarities between the inevitability of death and a failed refusal to sleep. Keats uses another simile to highlight the likeness between mortality and a sickly being: “And each imagined pinnacle and steep / Of godlike hardship tells me I must die / Like a sick eagle looking at the sky” (3-5). In the simile in line 2, the body fought against yet lost to its natural urge to sleep. However, in the simile in line 5, the bird longed to fulfill its natural instinct to f... ... middle of paper ... ...han his personal memories. This supports the poem’s theme that over the course of a life, memories lose their significance and grandeur. “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” is a somber sonnet with a bitter tone. The inevitability of death looms relentlessly over the speaker’s head as he reflects upon his life- a life that is not good enough. Keats’s sense of doom throughout the poem is almost unyielding, but line six offers a small comfort: “Yet ‘tis a gentle luxury to weep” (6). Although death is inevitable and life does not always feel like it is good enough, at least people still have the “gently luxury” of being able to cry, laugh, smile, and feel. Possessing emotions and memories is a privilege that only the living are guaranteed to have. Even with mortality looming over each and every head, Keats reminds himself to be grateful of the feeling of anything at all.

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