‘O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell’ by John Keats is a fourteen-line sonnet that is contained within one block of text. The sonnet follows the traditional Petrarchan or Italian form. This means that the poem is separated into one octet, or set of eight lines, and one sestet or set of six. The lines can be broken down further into two introductory quatrains, or sets of four lines. The poem follows a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA CDDCDC. It is the norm within Petrarchan sonnets to utilize the ABBA pattern in the first eight lines. The next six are often for interpretation. There are a few more common rhyme schemes used by poets, and Donne’s is quite close to a number of those.
In regards to the meter, it is also very well structured. The lines follow a pattern of iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, or syllables. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. One can look to the first line of the poem as a prime example of the impact this kind of alternating stress can have.
Explore O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he is going to have to dwell“with thee,” meaning Solitude. This force is treated as a companion to the speaker. Something that is almost human, following him along everywhere. He knows he can’t get rid of it, so he plans to make the best of his situation. It is the speaker’s intention to find somewhere peaceful, in a valley, amongst trees, bees, and deer to live out his days. This would make him sufficiently happy.
Yet, he adds, the companionship of one other person in this world would bring him greater joy still. If he could find a like-mind to live alongside him then he would reach the “highest bliss” attainable for a soul.
Additional Elements and Techniques
An additional element of the Petrarchan sonnet which is present in ‘O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell’ is the turn or volta which occurs between the octave and the sestet. The “turn” in a sonnet is when there is an important change or shift between sections. For example, it could result in an answer being provided to a question or a change in speaker. In the case of ‘O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell’ the speaker looks inward and shares his own reaction to his surroundings.
One of the most important techniques used by Keats in this piece is apostrophe. This is seen when a poem or speaker addresses a force, such as love, hate, or in this case, solitude as being independent.
Analysis of O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell
O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
In the first four lines of this piece, the speaker begins by exclaiming over the main theme of this piece, Solitude. As is immediately evident through the capitalization of solitude, the speaker is going to be addressing the force as a feature of the world with an agency all its own, almost as if it is a person.
He appears to mourn over the fact that he is forced to “dwell” with solitude. Immediately the speaker contrasts this statement with the next line in which he asks that his time of dwelling is not “among the jumbled heap…” He is seeking out a way of coexisting with the emotional state of loneliness and physical state of separation without it becoming too overwhelming or all-consuming.
The of solitude that the speaker is going to live is not going to be in a cityscape. It will be separate from the modern world, part of “Nature’s observatory.” A reader should take note of the use of enjambment at the end of line three. The use of the dash at this particular moment in the poem allows a reader a split second to wonder over where the speaker and Solitude are climbing to.
Their destination is somewhere out in the countryside, or within some kind of wilderness. It is a place in which he can live and observe nature. He might be alone, but at least he can look out at the “dell,” or small valley in the land.
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
In the next set of lines, he goes on to describe what it is he intends to see in this place. It is clear that the speaker is attempting to comfort himself. He has an entrenched concern for his own future and knows that living alone is going to be hard. Perhaps, he thinks, a world of natural wonder would make up for the missing human company.
There are “flowery slopes” in this place, as well as a “crystal,” or clear and sparkling river. From where he plans to be, the river will exist in the distance. It will seem to be the width of a hand, or a “span.” The speaker believes that he will happily keep “thy vigils,” a reference to Solitude’s company, if he is among “boughs pavillion’d.” Or more clearly, underneath a canopy of tree branches. In this place, he planning to see deer leaping and bees moving amongst the bells of “flox-glove” flowers.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
In the final six lines of ‘O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell’ the speaker turns inward and reveals how he feels, at a deeper level, about his situation. He expects that when he is within these “scenes” that he’s going to be happy to be alone with Solitude. There is still a desire in him for a companion though. A reader can easily take note of this transition at the beginning of line ten with the word “Yet.”
He would like to have someone to talk to who has an “innocent mind.” This person’s thoughts would be “refin’d” and pure. Just a simple conversation with someone else, who is a “kindred spirit” to the speaker, would give his soul pleasure. He thinks that there is probably nothing more pleasurable than experiencing Solitude with one other person. It would be the “highest bliss” one could achieve.