Posts filed under ‘John Keats’

If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d

John Keats


If by dull rhymes our English must be chain'd,
And, like Andromeda, the Sonnet sweet
Fetter'd, in spite of pained loveliness;
Let us find out, if we must be constrain'd,
Sandals more interwoven and complete
To fit the naked foot of poesy;
Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress
Of every chord, and see what may be gain'd
By ear industrious, and attention meet:
Misers of sound and syllable, no less
Than Midas of his coinage, let us be
Jealous of dead leaves in the bay wreath crown;
So, if we may not let the Muse be free,
She will be bound with garlands of her own.

Precision, in poetry, is everything. This is what makes Keats so special – it's not that he has the finest voice in all of English poetry, it's that he has the finest ear. "Let us inspect the lyre, and weigh the stress / of every chord, and see what may be gain'd / By ear industrious, and attention meet" is as good a manifesto for the kind of exquisitely lyrical poetry that Keats writes as any. You have only to listen to the flow of this poem, the way every phrase in it sounds exactly right, to recognise why Keats is as spectacular a poet as he is.

March 30, 2006 at 10:37 pm 2 comments

Last Sonnet / Bright Star, would I were steadfast as thou art

John Keats


I WOULD that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!

I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!

First love is wonderful, isn’t it?

John Keats was the first poet I ever fell in love with – something breathtaking and unshamable about his engagement of beauty, the equal purity of his verses and his heart, spoke to my adolescent self in a way that can only be described as enchantment [1]. And while I am no longer as starry-eyed about his poetry as I was at 15, he remains, for me, one of the most exquisite and ravishing of all poets; the only writer, whose language, for sheer aestheticism, is fully the rival of Shakespeare’s.

It’s only fitting then, that if we must celebrate Valentine’s Day, we shall do it, Not chariot’d by Hallmark and its cards, but on “the viewless wings of Poesy”.

For more commentary, see Minstrels.
[1] Keats himself describes the feeling of discovering poetry for the first time: “I am brimful of the friendliness / that in a little cottage I have found / Of fair-hair’d Milton’s eloquent distress / And all his love for gentle Lycid drown’d / Of lovely Laura in her light green dress / And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown’d”

February 13, 2006 at 8:15 pm Leave a comment

Why did I laugh tonight?

John Keats

Listen (the voice is mine)

Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell
No God, no demon of severe response
Deigns to reply from heaven or from hell
Then to my human heart I turn at once:
Heart, thou and I are here, sad and alone,
Say, why did I laugh? O mortal pain!
O darkness! darkness! Forever must I moan
To question heaven and hell and heart in vain?
Why did I laugh? I know this being's lease
My fancy to it's utmost blisses spreads
Yet would I on this very midnight cease
And all the world's gaudy ensigns see in shreds
Verse, fame and beauty are intense indeed
But death intenser, death is life's high meed.

See commentary on Minstrels.

February 12, 2006 at 6:29 pm 1 comment