dead Brits – Keats

Well, that was a sumptuous interlude, although I fear I have been captivated by Keats for many wrong reasons, such as his life story (so short! so tragic! so prolific!) and what he said about negative capability, which totally rocks. Certainly, my favorite Keats take-aways are made much more interesting with the life back-story than without. They would be To Autumn and When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be. Oh, and On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer (that scene on a peak in Darien is brilliant).

(I didn’t have much coherent Keats in any mental drawer before this, beyond La Belle Dame Sans Merci and various fragments from the odes, so it didn’t take much reading to put me in a much better place.)

Very instructive to read his six odes (To Indolence, To Psyche, To A Grecian Urn, To A Nightingale, On Melancholy, To Autumn) viewed as a series keyed to his own development, as well as stand-alones. I only read the fragments from Endymion and Hyperion you find in most anthologies and very generally skimmed Isabella, but I did get all the way through and enjoy The Eve of St. Agnes. (I cannot report being wowed by the choice of hero’s name here, however. Let’s see: Roland, Lochinvar, Tristan, Gawain and Porphyro?!)

I have to say that after all that lushness, I feel rather as if I’d eaten

a heap
Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon

and now find myself hankering after, oh, I don’t know — raw carrots and chamomile tea, maybe?

Published by

Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

5 thoughts on “dead Brits – Keats”

  1. I had the fortune of having brilliant English teachers all through my schooling.

    One of my favourites (he was a high school teacher, who instilled in me a love of Shakespeare, teaching us Macbeth off the books (he’s Scottish, so), reading us Burns in in the broadest way, and introducing us to Keats and Coleridge) got me hooked on poetry by asking us to read the following verse—

    A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
    All garlanded with carven imag’ries
    Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
    And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
    Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
    As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
    And in the midst, ’mong thousand heraldries,
    And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
    A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

    — telling us to describe the chamber, and then asking us to list the colours that Keats mentioned in it. Of course there are none. It takes a particular genius to paint such a picture without using a single adjective of colour.

    From then on, I was hooked.

  2. Oh, and.

    Backstory or no backstory, “To Autumn” is to me the perfect poem. Sense, sound, movement and structure all meet sense in it. If you know autumn (as opposed to fall) and the gradual changing of the season (which I met when I lived in Britain during the 1990s), Keats’ (I use the word again, so sue me) genius reveals itself. I read the three verses as the three stages of autumn, even the three months — September/October, October/November, November/December.

    Oh, and: re the backstory and Keats’ poetry: you missed out this verse from “Nightingale”:

    Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
    What thou among the leaves hast never known,
    The weariness, the fever, and the fret
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
    Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
    Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
    And leaden-eyed despairs,
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
    Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

    Sorry for the loquaciousness. You’re talking about one of my icons here. Forgive me.

  3. I read ‘a casement high and triple-arched’ at least seven times over when I was reading “St. Agnes.” “The tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings” is to die for.

    And I won’t argue with you on ‘Autumn’ — so much comes together perfectly there (even more perfectly for the edgier less-accepting odes that have gone before…?)

    “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell” is the best part of ‘Nightingale’…

    Your enthusiasm is infectious — thanks for it!

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