Date of Award

Fall 12-2017

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Emily B. Stanback

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Craig Carey

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Nicole Jordan

Committee Member 3 Department



John Keats’s Isabella; or the Pot of Basil (1818) has been read, like many of Keats’s of works, as an allegory for the death that surrounded the poet and his life’s tragic circumstances. Isabella has also been studied in regard to its gothic horror elements. Such previous readings identify a theme of mortality and decay within the poem, but I argue these themes serve a larger purpose, one related to the possibilities created by regeneration. Isabella, a young woman whose lover, Lorenzo, is murdered by her own brothers, removes Lorenzo’s head from his corpse and places it in a potted basil plant. She sustains the plant on her own tears until her brothers steal it from her, and her “sad ditty” is born from her mourning. Because the poem ends with the memorialization of a loved one and the creation of an immortal story, I read the poem in a much more positive light than scholars typically do. I argue that Keats attempts to show decay’s natural role in our everyday lives, as well as how death serves as a source for the inspiration and the cultivation of art. Isabella’s devotion and the leaves of the basil plant and become metaphors for the poetic process and the creation of leaves of verse; the perpetuation of Isabella’s tragic story, her “sad ditty,” becomes a larger metaphor for the proliferation of those leaves of verse and the immortal potential of art itself.