Word like a Bell: John Keats, Music and the Romantic Poet

Word like a Bell: John Keats, Music and the Romantic Poet

Word like a Bell: John Keats, Music and the Romantic Poet

Word like a Bell: John Keats, Music and the Romantic Poet


"Music was supremely important to the Romantic poets, particularly to John Keats. In this first book-length study on the subject, John A. Minahan explores Keats's work in relation to the art of music. Word Like a Bell considers Keats's major poems as well as his letters and minor verse. Writing in a jargon-free style, Minahan examines the relationship between the musical and literary manifestations of Romantic theory, and the connection between that theory and Keats's work. He then offers new insights into Keats's poetry and his era, among them a detailed explanation of why the "Great Odes" ought to be considered a single extended piece. Also receiving extensive treatment are Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, whose ideas and creations illustrate how music influences every aspect of Romantic thought. In his exploration of the relationship between different but related arts, Minahan both locates Romanticism in its historical and aesthetic context and expands the capabilities of literary criticism. He finds that music enables Romanticism to voice its fundamental concern about time and its passage, and shows us that an understanding of poetry's relation to music can enrich our appreciation of both arts while deepening our own experiences of time. This interdisciplinary study will appeal to readers of poetry and literary criticism and to professional musicians who would increase their understanding of an age's art, songwriters interested in word/music relations, and poets who crave an extensive discussion of poetic technique and craft that uses music as a way to clarify such points." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


In his verse epistle "To Charles Cowden Clarke," John Keats writes:

But many days have passed since last my heart
Was warm'd luxuriously by divine Mozart;
By Arne delighted, or by Handel madden'd;
Or by the song of Erin pierc'd and sadden'd:
What time you were before the music sitting,
And the rich notes to each sensation fitting;
Since I have walk'd with you through shady lanes
That freshly terminate in open plains,
And revel'd in a chat that ceased not
When at night-fall among your books we got...


It's an early poem and overall not a very good one, full of the stilted diction and indulgent imagery marring Keats's first efforts. But it's an important work for us to know. When he wrote it in the fall of 1816, Keats was trying to learn his craft (and to make a living) as a poet. This was a particularly unsettled time in an unsettled life. Keats often took comfort in visits to Clarke, an old friend and the son of his schoolmaster at Enfield, who introduced him to both poetry and music. To visit with Clarke was to read and discuss Spenser and to listen while Clarke played the works of the great composers on the piano.

From an early age, then, the two arts were associated in Keats's mind. In fact, he never stopped associating poetry with music, and he went on to achieve greatness as a poet largely by drawing upon the energy of that association. Consider these somewhat more well-known passages:

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.