What are the main themes of "I had a dove" by John Keats?

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The main themes of "I had a dove" by John Keats are love and loss. The bird symbolizes a loss of freedom, despite all the speaker's attention and care, and it yearns for more than comfort and love. Ironically, the cause of its untimely death is its yearning for a freedom that the speaker does not understand.

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In Keats's short poem "I had a dove," the reader is aware that the speaker is devastated by the death of what he describes as his "pretty thing." The ownership of the bird is very pronounced, Keats using personal pronouns (I, you, and me) and the past tense to reveal his very personal sense of loss. The more that the speaker does for the bird, the more it suffers. He uses "silken thread" and ensures the bird has a peaceful existence. He even kisses it and feeds it lovingly. Yet, the speaker knows it is unhappy, grieving for something beyond his comprehension.

The speaker has freedom of choice, but not the dove. The dove is essentially controlled by the speaker, and such control is overwhelming for the dove to the point that it dies "grieving." It is Keats's use of very simple language and an almost childlike rhyme scheme that help the reader understand the speaker's immature attitude and lack of awareness. His possessiveness when he says, "Why should you leave me?" reinforces the theme of loss of freedom, and not only the man's personal sense of loss.

Mostly, grief cannot be quantified. It is more feeling that physical manifestation; hence, the speaker's inability to recognize the bird's grief at its lost freedom. The speaker now feels an unmistakable sense of loss for his "sweet bird," and the reader almost pities him.

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