During his career as a poet, John Keats had a love affair with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne. Keats and her, had met in the fall of 1818, while they were neighbors in Hampstead and he was living in the Wentworth Place. Their love affair developed further when Brawne and her mother moved into the other side of Wentworth Place. All the while, Keats watched his brother fight and succumb to tuberculosis, an illness that would soon take Keats himself too.
Keats lived in the middle of the Romanticism era, a movement that promoted emotion, individuality, and subjectivity. And like a true romantic poet, Keats writes some of his best work throughout the love and tragedy that frequented his life. Which poses the question: how does Keats’ poetry change stylistically throughout his love affair with Fanny Brawne and his familial turned personal battle with tuberculosis? How do Keats’ works reflect the era of Romanticism as he experiences love and loss?
In order to answer this question, I asked my computer science group to create a stylistic fingerprint of three works by Keats. The first, “To Autumn,” written in September of 1819. The second, the rest of the “1819 Odes,” written between April and May of 1819. The third, Poems 1817, published in March of 1817. The stylistic fingerprint of each work quantifies Keats’ poetics in four different categories: average sentence length, crude sentence complexity rating, type-token ratio, and noun-verb-adjective-adverb ratio.
When I compared the results of “To Autumn” and Poems 1817, I was looking for larger stylistic differences than when I compared the results of “To Autumn” to the rest of the “1819 Odes.” Since Poems 1817, include works written before his brother became very ill and before he met Fanny Brawne, I expected the stylistic fingerprint to show steep changes. While the results were not as drastic as expected, they still showed that in three out of four categories, Poems 1817, has more stylistic differences than the “1819 Odes” when compared to “To Autumn.” However, it was more interesting to see how the turbulent events are depicted in the fingerprint and in what category.
If the average sentence length is understood as a reflection of a poet’s emotional state. Where long sentences translate orally into emotional rants. And if word class ratio is understood as a reflection of the work’s imaginative word choice, where poets use less nouns and more adjectives and verbs in their descriptions. And considering romantic poetry is famous for its irrational and imaginative style, the results of the stylistic fingerprint are consistent with the period and the growing amount of tragedy in his life. For example, Poems 1817 had the lowest average sentence length and the lowest percentage of verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, with the highest percentage of nouns. As this is Keats’ earliest work, and he has not yet met Fanny Brawne, nor has his brother steeped into his illness, this corpus’s results echo the lack of emotional charge that would inspire higher average sentence length and adjective-verb-adverb percentages, and lower noun percentages. Where as, “1819 Odes” had the median average sentence length and median percentage of verbs, adjectives, and nouns, with the highest percentage of adverbs (although, not by a significant amount). And, “To Autumn” had the highest average sentence length, and highest percentage of verbs and adjectives, with the lowest percentage of adverbs and nouns. It appears that the stylistic fingerprints of Keats’ “1819 Odes” and “To Autumn” are consistent with the death of his brother in the winter, his love affair blossoming in the spring and continuing in the fall, met with his looming destitution and growing illness also in the fall.
As expected, “To Autumn” has the highest type-token ratio. Because the corpus is only eleven lines, there is not much room for repeated words to create a lower ratio. Following that logic, the “1819 Odes” was expected to have the median ratio and Poems 1817 was expected have the lowest ratio. However, this was not the case. The results showed that Poems 1817 had the median ratio and the “1819 Odes” had the lowest ratio. Seeing as though each ratio is within a six-hundredth of the next and the disparity of corpus length, the results are not significant enough to make a reliable conclusion.
Unexpectedly, the crude sentence complexity rating proved the “1819 Odes” to have the most amount of punctuation per sentence and thus have the most complex sentences out of all the corpora. With “To Autumn” coming in second place and Poems 1817 coming in last place. Where, subjective to just the other corpora, crude sentence complexity rating reflects the level of chaos and number of different thoughts and feelings a poet would have to have in order to insight so much punctuation. I had expected “To Autumn” to reign in this category because of the way the corpus had performed in the average sentence length and the word class ratio. However, the success of the “1819 Odes” over “To Autumn” in this category, reveals that falling in love put Keats in more chaos, than the threat of poverty and his own impending terminal illness.
John Keats’ corpora in this stylistic fingerprint displays what it meant for him to experience love and loss. The richness of word class ratio and greater sentence lengths in “To Autumn” illustrate the passion and vividness Keats interpreted the world with while he was in love, even despite all of his hardships. In the “1819 Odes,” the wild and abundant amount of punctuation allow for the distinction between what it meant for Keats to be in love and what it meant for him to be falling in love. The comparison between “to Autumn” and the “1819 Odes” show that Keats was “crazy in love” during the spring of 1819, and after the summer he was still in love but it didn’t cause him chaos anymore, love enriched his life.