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Analysis of ‘To Fanny’ by John Keats

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To Fanny

John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) studied to become a doctor. He had an aptitude for medicine as he got promotions quickly. With promotions came more responsibility and he was spending a lot time working as an apothecary. Keats was not happy that he was not getting enough time to write. In the year 1814 when he was 19 he wrote his first poem “An Imitation of Spenser”. He was drawn to fellow poets like Lord Byron and Leigh Hunt. When he got his apothecary’s license in 1816, he decided that writing was his true calling. From 1816 his work started to be published but was heavily criticised. Richard Woodhouse, a lawyer began to patronise Keats and he started documenting Keats life and work. This archive serves as the main source of information about Keats.

John Keats was smitten by Fanny Browne and wrote many lines on her, some as odes and some as sonnets. ‘To Fanny’ is a sonnet which declares his love for Fanny and there is a hint of sexual desire as well. In the first four lines he declares his love to be ‘guileless’. He has only one thought about her and her love entices him. There is nothing hidden about his love and it is without any ‘blots’. Keats wants all of Fanny – the shape, the fairness, her love, her kiss, her hands and her eyes. He thinks her eyes are divine. Then he becomes a little erotic when he says he says he wants ‘That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast’.  He wants her body and soul and does not want her to withhold even a miniscule portion of herself from him.  If she keeps back even ‘atom’s atom’ he would die. If by chance he survives he would live the life of a serf, her serf. In the midst of that misery he would forget the purpose of life and forget to enjoy the wanderings of the mind, ‘Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!’

‘To Fanny’ is a sonnet with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG.  The theme is about the pure and demanding love Keats felt for Fanny. Now it was known to Fanny that Keats was not a rich man and he suffered from tuberculosis. She still got engaged to him but did not marry him and the main constraint was his poor financial situation. Some analysts say that the word ‘unmasked’ could mean to indicate that she was aware of his disease. Anaphora, meaning repetition of words is used to enhance the lyrical quality. Some words repeated are ‘love, all, those, atom’.  Alliteration, words starting with the same letter used in one line, is seen with the repetition of words ‘warm, white’ and ‘midst of idle misery’. John Keats poems are generally filled with imagery of nature but in this poem we see nothing of it. It is a love poem with no metaphors or similes of nature. This proves that he was so consumed by his love for Fanny that his usual style of writing was forsaken and this poem during his peak of writing career, in 1819.