Notes on Isabella by John Keats
Written in 1818, published in 1820
Taken from the story of Isabella, a macabre Italian romance by Boccaccio, that appeared in his work 'Decamerone'. It was originally written for a volime by Reynolds and Keats, containing poems inspired by Boccaccio's Decamerone. This volume was never finished and the poem was published by Keats in one of his own volumes.
Keats was dissatisfied with the poem- he called it a 'weak-sided poem' that was 'too smokeable'. The poem has proved to be popular and has been of a particular inspiration to visual artists - the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood used the subject various times in their paintings.
Charles Lamb called it 'the finest thing in the volume'
Critics have recently been reassessing the poems social and political dimensions. Bernard Shaw wrote that stanzas 14 and 15 'contain all the Factory Commission Reports that Marx read, and that Keats did not read because they were not yet written in his time'.
This poem represents a transition between Endymion and the later great Odes. The poem is written in ottava rima stanzas - these stanzas have 8 lines, rhyming aba ba bcc
Rhyme is rarely forced in this poem, although it does not yet show the self-restraint and clearness of the later works.
This poem shows a decline in Hunt's influence on Keats's language. Instead the poem has a vigorous, consonantal verbal texture.
The repetition of the lines from stanza 55 in stanza 61 acts like a Greek chorus. The poem has a sensual and tender complexity, and strives to recreate a medieval atmosphere.
The poem represents the first successful narrative of Keats's career, although it does have its problems. Keats pauses in the narrative at stanza 19 to apologise to Boccaccio for transforming his story, which shows that he is still struggling with his role as a poet.