Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • 1794: Keats’s parents marry, Oct
  • 1795: Keats born, Finsbury, 31 Oct, Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, 24 Moorfields Pavement Row, London
  • 1797: brother George born, 28 Feb
  • 1799: brother Tom born, 18 Nov
  • 1801: brother Edward born, 28 April (dies Dec 1802)
  • 1802: maternal grandparents retire, Keats’s father takes over their business
  • 1803: sister Fanny born, 3 June; with George, boards at school in Enfield, run by Rev. John Clarke; does well at school, winning some prizes (he leaves Clarke’s academy 1811)
  • 1804: father (age 30) dies in midnight riding accident, 16 April; mother hastily remarries, 27 June; children live with maternal grandparents
  • 1805: maternal grandfather dies, leaving considerable funds; children move to Edmonton with maternal grandmother
  • 1809: mother ill, Keats devoted to her care
  • 1810: mother dies of tuberculosis, March; guardians Abbey and Sandall appointed for the Keats children, July (Sandall passes away 1816)
  • 1811: leaves Clarke’s Enfield school; works on prose translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid; takes up apothecary apprenticeship, Edmonton, with Thomas Hammond
  • 1813-1815: trains as surgeon at Guy’s and St. Thomas’
  • 1814: first evidence of Keats writing poetry, perhaps spurred by reading Spencer with Charles Cowden Clarke (son of Rev. John Clarke); notable poems: Imitation of Spenser and On Peace; poem: Keats writes poem expressing his feeling, As from the darkening gloom a silver dove; poem: To Lord Byron; death of maternal grandmother, December
  • 1815: begins to write more poetry; poem: Written on the Day That Mr. Hunt Left Prison.; February; poem: Ode to Apollo; buys Wordsworth’s 2-volume collection of poems; registers to become student at Guy’s Hospital, October; as medical student, lives St. Thomas’s Street, London, October; begins to write poetry about wanting to write enduring poetry

November 1815: The Mathew Family

112 Goswell Street, London

Click the map to see a larger version.true
Click the map to see a larger version.

Home of the four Mathew sisters, met through one of his younger brothers, George. Through two of the sisters, Caroline and Anne, Keats meets their cousin, George Felton Mathew. Keats writes inconsequential early poems to the sisters: To Some Ladies, On Receiving a Curious Shell, and Woman! When I behold thee . . ., all of which end up in Keats’s first collection, Poems, by John Keats, published in March 1817. Keats, it seems, covers the cost of publication, which is not usual for an unknown writer, and also given the inexperience of his publishers.

With his brothers, Keats does quite a bit of suburban socializing at the Goswell Street residence around the summer of 1815.

For a short period, Keats is very close to Mathew, himself a budding poet. They exchange poems in 1815, and in October 1816 Mathew publishes a poem to Keats, To a Poetical Friend. Keats writes an epistle poem to George in November 1815 (To G. F. Mathew), which suggests some shared reading by the two. Like many of Keats’s verses at the time, the poem expresses Keats’s desire to write enduring poetry; in this case, he somewhat randomly imagines a kind of pastoral and embowered vision-space where he might sit, and rhyme (56) on Chatterton, Milton, Shakespeare, Fletcher, Burns, Beaumont, Spenser, and other immortal figures. In a way, then, this subject (and style) to a degree anticipates more ambitious (and slightly better) early poems like I Stood Tip-toe, and Sleep and Poetry, in which Keats continues to imagine himself as an inspired poet—though imagining being one is different that actually being one. Keats is greatly in need of a subject beyond an expression of infatuation with great poets and poetry.

Within a year, the friendship between Mathew and Keats slides, with Mathew perhaps feeling threatened by Keats’s growing aspirations—and poetic knowledge. Or perhaps Keats feels he has himself moved beyond the capabilities of Mathew. The latter will definitely be true as Keats moves into another circle of established poets, writers, artists, and publishers toward the end of 1816.

Over 1815, then, Keats broods over being a serious poet, and his poetry generally reveals not much more than this. He eventually moves away from the epistolary mode, though it at least allows him to explore a more natural voice, one less bogged down by cloying sentiments and pretension.

1815: the year Napoleon meets his Waterloo, William Wordsworth publishes his two-volume collected Poems, and Jane Austen publishes her Emma.

🗙

To Some Ladies

  • What though while the wonders of nature exploring,
  • I cannot your light, mazy footsteps attend;
  • Nor listen to accents that, almost adoring,
  • Bless Cynthia’s face, the enthusiast’s friend:
  • Yet over the steep, whence the mountain stream rushes,
  • With you, kindest friends, in idea I muse;
  • Mark the clear tumbling crystal, its passionate gushes,
  • Its spray that the wild flower kindly bedews.
  • Why linger you so, the wild labyrinth strolling?
  • Why breathless, unable your bliss to declare?
  • Ah! you list to the nightingale’s tender condoling,
  • Responsive to sylphs, in the moon beamy air.
  • ’Tis morn, and the flowers with dew are yet drooping,
  • I see you are treading the verge of the sea:
  • And now! ah, I see it — you just now are stooping
  • To pick up the keep-sake intended for me.
  • If a cherub, on pinions of silver descending,
  • Had brought me a gem from the fret-work of heaven;
  • And, smiles with his star-cheering voice sweetly blending,
  • The blessings of Tighe had melodiously given;
  • It had not created a warmer emotion
  • Than the present, fair nymphs, I was blest with from you,
  • Than the shell, from the bright golden sands of the ocean
  • Which the emerald waves at your feet gladly threw.
  • For, indeed, ’tis a sweet and peculiar pleasure,
  • (And blissful is he who such happiness finds,)
  • To possess but a span in the hour of leisure,
  • In elegant, pure, and aerial minds.
🗙

On Receiving a Curious Shell, and a Copy of Verses, from the Same Ladies

  • Hast thou from the caves of Golconda, a gem
  • Pure as the ice-drop that froze on the mountain?
  • Bright as the humming-bird’s green diadem,
  • When it flutters in sun-beams that shine through a fountain?
  • Hast thou a goblet for dark sparkling wine?
  • That goblet right heavy, and massy, and gold?
  • And splendidly mark’d with the story divine
  • Of Armida the fair, and Rinaldo the bold?
  • Hast thou a steed with a mane richly flowing?
  • Hast thou a sword that thine enemy’s smart is?
  • Hast thou a trumpet rich melodies blowing?
  • And wear’st thou the shield of the fam’d Britomartis?
  • What is it that hangs from thy shoulder, so brave,
  • Embroidered with many a spring-peering flower?
  • Is it a scarf that thy fair lady gave?
  • And hastest thou now to that fair lady’s bower?
  • Ah! courteous Sir Knight, with large joy thou art crown’d;
  • Full many the glories that brighten thy youth!
  • I will tell thee my blisses, which richly abound
  • In magical powers to bless, and to sooth.
  • On this scroll thou seest written in characters fair
  • A sun-beamy tale of a wreath, and a chain;
  • And, warrior, it nurtures the property rare
  • Of charming my mind from the trammels of pain.
  • This canopy mark: ’tis the work of a fay;
  • Beneath its rich shade did King Oberon languish,
  • When lovely Titania was far, far away,
  • And cruelly left him to sorrow, and anguish.
  • There, oft would he bring from his soft sighing lute
  • Wild strains to which, spell-bound, the nightingales listened;
  • The wondering spirits of heaven were mute,
  • And tears ’mong the dewdrops of morning oft glistened.
  • In this little dome, all those melodies strange,
  • Soft, plaintive, and melting, for ever will sigh;
  • Nor e’er will the notes from their tenderness change;
  • Nor e’er will the music of Oberon die.
  • So, when I am in a voluptuous vein,
  • I pillow my head on the sweets of the rose,
  • And list to the tale of the wreath, and the chain,
  • Till its echoes depart; then I sink to repose.
  • Adieu, valiant Eric! with joy thou art crown’d;
  • Full many the glories that brighten thy youth,
  • I too have my blisses, which richly abound
  • In magical powers, to bless and to sooth.
🗙

Woman, when I behold thee flippant, vain

  • Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain,
  • Inconstant, childish, proud, and full of fancies;
  • Without that modest softening that enhances
  • The downcast eye, repentant of the pain
  • That its mild light creates to heal again:
  • E’en then, elate, my spirit leaps, and prances,
  • E’en then my soul with exultation dances
  • For that to love, so long, I’ve dormant lain:
  • But when I see thee meek, and kind, and tender,
  • Heavens! how desperately do I adore
  • Thy winning graces;—to be thy defender
  • I hotly burn—to be a Calidore—
  • A very Red Cross Knight—a stout Leander—
  • Might I be loved by thee like these of yore.
  • Light feet, dark violet eyes, and parted hair;
  • Soft dimpled hands, white neck, and creamy breast,
  • Are things on which the dazzled senses rest
  • Till the fond, fixed eyes forget they stare.
  • From such fine pictures, heavens! I cannot dare
  • To turn my admiration, though unpossess’d
  • They be of what is worthy,—though not drest
  • In lovely modesty, and virtues rare.
  • Yet these I leave as thoughtless as a lark;
  • These lures I straight forget,—e’en ere I dine,
  • Or thrice my palate moisten: but when I mark
  • Such charms with mild intelligences shine,
  • My ear is open like a greedy shark,
  • To catch the tunings of a voice divine.
  • Ah! who can e’er forget so fair a being?
  • Who can forget her half retiring sweets?
  • God! she is like a milk-white lamb that bleats
  • For man’s protection. Surely the All-seeing,
  • Who joys to see us with his gifts agreeing,
  • Will never give him pinions, who intreats
  • Such innocence to ruin,—who vilely cheats
  • A dove-like bosom. In truth there is no freeing
  • One’s thoughts from such a beauty; when I hear
  • A lay that once I saw her hand awake,
  • Her form seems floating palpable, and near;
  • Had I e’er seen her from an arbour take
  • A dewy flower, oft would that hand appear,
  • And o’er my eyes the trembling moisture shake.
🗙

I stood tip-toe upon a little hill

Places of nestling green for Poets made

Story of Rimini

  • I stood tip-toe upon a little hill,
  • The air was cooling, and so very still,
  • That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
  • Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
  • Their scantly leaved, and finely tapering stems,
  • Had not yet lost those starry diadems
  • Caught from the early sobbing of the morn.
  • The clouds were pure and white as flocks new shorn,
  • And fresh from the clear brook; sweetly they slept
  • On the blue fields of heaven, and then there crept
  • A little noiseless noise among the leaves,
  • Born of the very sigh that silence heaves:
  • For not the faintest motion could be seen
  • Of all the shades that slanted o’er the green.
  • There was wide wand’ring for the greediest eye,
  • To peer about upon variety;
  • Far round the horizon’s crystal air to skim,
  • And trace the dwindled edgings of its brim;
  • To picture out the quaint, and curious bending
  • Of a fresh woodland alley, never ending;
  • Or by the bowery clefts, and leafy shelves,
  • Guess were the jaunty streams refresh themselves.
  • I gazed awhile, and felt as light, and free
  • As though the fanning wings of Mercury
  • Had played upon my heels: I was light-hearted,
  • And many pleasures to my vision started;
  • So I straightway began to pluck a posey
  • Of luxuries bright, milky, soft and rosy.
  • A bush of May flowers with the bees about them;
  • Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them;
  • And let a lush laburnum oversweep them,
  • And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them
  • Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets,
  • That they may bind the moss in leafy nets.
  • A filbert hedge with wild briar overtwined,
  • And clumps of woodbine taking the soft wind
  • Upon their summer thrones; there too should be
  • The frequent chequer of a youngling tree,
  • That with a score of light green brethen shoots
  • From the quaint mossiness of aged roots:
  • Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters
  • Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters
  • The spreading blue bells: it may haply mourn
  • That such fair clusters should be rudely torn
  • From their fresh beds, and scattered thoughtlessly
  • By infant hands, left on the path to die.
  • Open afresh your round of starry folds,
  • Ye ardent marigolds!
  • Dry up the moisture from your golden lids,
  • For great Apollo bids
  • That in these days your praises should be sung
  • On many harps, which he has lately strung;
  • And when again your dewiness he kisses,
  • Tell him, I have you in my world of blisses:
  • So haply when I rove in some far vale,
  • His mighty voice may come upon the gale.
  • Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight:
  • With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,
  • And taper fulgent catching at all things,
  • To bind them all about with tiny rings.
  • Linger awhile upon some bending planks
  • That lean against a streamlet’s rushy banks,
  • And watch intently Nature’s gentle doings:
  • They will be found softer than ring-dove’s cooings.
  • How silent comes the water round that bend;
  • Not the minutest whisper does it send
  • To the o’erhanging sallows: blades of grass
  • Slowly across the chequer’d shadows pass.
  • Why, you might read two sonnets, ere they reach
  • To where the hurrying freshnesses aye preach
  • A natural sermon o’er their pebbly beds;
  • Where swarms of minnows show their little heads,
  • Staying their wavy bodies ‘gainst the streams,
  • To taste the luxury of sunny beams
  • Temper’d with coolness. How they ever wrestle
  • With their own sweet delight, and ever nestle
  • Their silver bellies on the pebbly sand.
  • If you but scantily hold out the hand,
  • That very instant not one will remain;
  • But turn your eye, and they are there again.
  • The ripples seem right glad to reach those cresses,
  • And cool themselves among the em’rald tresses;
  • The while they cool themselves, they freshness give,
  • And moisture, that the bowery green may live:
  • So keeping up an interchange of favours,
  • Like good men in the truth of their behaviours
  • Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop
  • From low hung branches; little space they stop;
  • But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;
  • Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:
  • Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings,
  • Pausing upon their yellow flutterings.
  • Were I in such a place, I sure should pray
  • That nought less sweet, might call my thoughts away,
  • Than the soft rustle of a maiden’s gown
  • Fanning away the dandelion’s down;
  • Than the light music of her nimble toes
  • Patting against the sorrel as she goes.
  • How she would start, and blush, thus to be caught
  • Playing in all her innocence of thought.
  • O let me lead her gently o’er the brook,
  • Watch her half-smiling lips, and downward look;
  • O let me for one moment touch her wrist;
  • Let me one moment to her breathing list;
  • And as she leaves me may she often turn
  • Her fair eyes looking through her locks aubùrne.
  • What next? A tuft of evening primroses,
  • O’er which the mind may hover till it dozes;
  • O’er which it well might take a pleasant sleep,
  • But that ‘tis ever startled by the leap
  • Of buds into ripe flowers; or by the flitting
  • Of diverse moths, that aye their rest are quitting;
  • Or by the moon lifting her silver rim
  • Above a cloud, and with a gradual swim
  • Coming into the blue with all her light.
  • O Maker of sweet poets, dear delight
  • Of this fair world, and all its gentle livers;
  • Spangler of clouds, halo of crystal rivers,
  • Mingler with leaves, and dew and tumbling streams,
  • Closer of lovely eyes to lovely dreams,
  • Lover of loneliness, and wandering,
  • Of upcast eye, and tender pondering!
  • Thee must I praise above all other glories
  • That smile us on to tell delightful stories.
  • For what has made the sage or poet write
  • But the fair paradise of Nature’s light?
  • In the calm grandeur of a sober line,
  • We see the waving of the mountain pine;
  • And when a tale is beautifully staid,
  • We feel the safety of a hawthorn glade:
  • When it is moving on luxurious wings,
  • The soul is lost in pleasant smotherings:
  • Fair dewy roses brush against our faces,
  • And flowering laurels spring from diamond vases;
  • O’er head we see the jasmine and sweet briar,
  • And bloomy grapes laughing from green attire;
  • While at our feet, the voice of crystal bubbles
  • Charms us at once away from all our troubles:
  • So that we feel uplifted from the world,
  • Walking upon the white clouds wreath’d and curl’d.
  • So felt he, who first told, how Psyche went
  • On the smooth wind to realms of wonderment;
  • What Psyche felt, and Love, when their full lips
  • First touch’d; what amorous, and fondling nips
  • They gave each other’s cheeks; with all their sighs,
  • And how they kist each other’s tremulous eyes:
  • The silver lamp,—the ravishment,—the wonder—
  • The darkness,—loneliness,—the fearful thunder;
  • Their woes gone by, and both to heaven upflown,
  • To bow for gratitude before Jove’s throne.
  • So did he feel, who pull’d the boughs aside,
  • That we might look into a forest wide,
  • To catch a glimpse of Fawns, and Dryades
  • Coming with softest rustle through the trees;
  • And garlands woven of flowers wild, and sweet,
  • Upheld on ivory wrists, or sporting feet:
  • Telling us how fair, trembling Syrinx fled
  • Arcadian Pan, with such a fearful dread.
  • Poor nymph,—poor Pan,—how he did weep to find,
  • Nought but a lovely sighing of the wind
  • Along the reedy stream; a half heard strain,
  • Full of sweet desolation—balmy pain.
  • What first inspired a bard of old to sing
  • Narcissus pining o’er the untainted spring?
  • In some delicious ramble, he had found
  • A little space, with boughs all woven round;
  • And in the midst of all, a clearer pool
  • Than e’er reflected in its pleasant cool,
  • The blue sky here, and there, serenely peeping
  • Through tendril wreaths fantastically creeping.
  • And on the bank a lonely flower he spied,
  • A meek and forlorn flower, with naught of pride,
  • Drooping its beauty o’er the watery clearness,
  • To woo its own sad image into nearness:
  • Deaf to light Zephyrus it would not move;
  • But still would seem to droop, to pine, to love.
  • So while the Poet stood in this sweet spot,
  • Some fainter gleamings o’er his fancy shot;
  • Nor was it long ere he had told the tale
  • Of young Narcissus, and sad Echo’s bale.
  • Where had he been, from whose warm head out-flew
  • That sweetest of all songs, that ever new,
  • That aye refreshing, pure deliciousness,
  • Coming ever to bless
  • The wanderer by moonlight? to him bringing
  • Shapes from the invisible world, unearthly singing
  • From out the middle air, from flowery nests,
  • And from the pillowy silkiness that rests
  • Full in the speculation of the stars.
  • Ah! surely he had burst our mortal bars;
  • Into some wond’rous region he had gone,
  • To search for thee, divine Endymion!
  • He was a Poet, sure a lover too,
  • Who stood on Latmus’ top, what time there blew
  • Soft breezes from the myrtle vale below;
  • And brought in faintness solemn, sweet, and slow
  • A hymn from Dian’s temple; while upswelling,
  • The incense went to her own starry dwelling.
  • But though her face was clear as infant’s eyes,
  • Though she stood smiling o’er the sacrifice,
  • The Poet wept at her so piteous fate,
  • Wept that such beauty should be desolate:
  • So in fine wrath some golden sounds he won,
  • And gave meek Cynthia her Endymion.
  • Queen of the wide air; thou most lovely queen
  • Of all the brightness that mine eyes have seen!
  • As thou exceedest all things in thy shine,
  • So every tale, does this sweet tale of thine.
  • O for three words of honey, that I might
  • Tell but one wonder of thy bridal night!
  • Where distant ships do seem to show their keels,
  • Phoebus awhile delayed his mighty wheels,
  • And turned to smile upon thy bashful eyes,
  • Ere he his unseen pomp would solemnize.
  • The evening weather was so bright, and clear,
  • That men of health were of unusual cheer;
  • Stepping like Homer at the trumpet’s call,
  • Or young Apollo on the pedestal:
  • And lovely women were as fair and warm,
  • As Venus looking sideways in alarm.
  • The breezes were ethereal, and pure,
  • And crept through half closed lattices to cure
  • The languid sick; it cool’d their fever’d sleep,
  • And soothed them into slumbers full and deep.
  • Soon they awoke clear eyed: nor burnt with thirsting,
  • Nor with hot fingers, nor with temples bursting:
  • And springing up, they met the wond’ring sight
  • Of their dear friends, nigh foolish with delight;
  • Who feel their arms, and breasts, and kiss and stare,
  • And on their placid foreheads part the hair.
  • Young men, and maidens at each other gaz’d
  • With hands held back, and motionless, amaz’d
  • To see the brightness in each others’ eyes;
  • And so they stood, fill’d with a sweet surprise,
  • Until their tongues were loos’d in poesy.
  • Therefore no lover did of anguish die:
  • But the soft numbers, in that moment spoken,
  • Made silken ties, that never may be broken.
  • Cynthia! I cannot tell the greater blisses,
  • That follow’d thine, and thy dear shepherd’s kisses:
  • Was there a Poet born?—but now no more,
  • My wand’ring spirit must no further soar.—
🗙

Sleep and Poetry

“As I lay in my bed slepe full unmete
Was unto me, but why that I ne might
Rest I ne wist, for there n’as erthly wight
[As I suppose] had more of hertis ese
Than I, for I n’ad sickness nor disese.”

Chaucer

  • What is more gentle than a wind in summer?
  • What is more soothing than the pretty hummer
  • That stays one moment in an open flower,
  • And buzzes cheerily from bower to bower?
  • What is more tranquil than a musk-rose blowing
  • In a green island, far from all men’s knowing?
  • More healthful than the leafiness of dales?
  • More secret than a nest of nightingales?
  • More serene than Cordelia’s countenance?
  • More full of visions than a high romance?
  • What, but thee Sleep? Soft closer of our eyes!
  • Low murmurer of tender lullabies!
  • Light hoverer around our happy pillows!
  • Wreather of poppy buds, and weeping willows!
  • Silent entangler of a beauty’s tresses!
  • Most happy listener! when the morning blesses
  • Thee for enlivening all the cheerful eyes
  • That glance so brightly at the new sun-rise.
  • But what is higher beyond thought than thee?
  • Fresher than berries of a mountain tree?
  • More strange, more beautiful, more smooth, more regal,
  • Than wings of swans, than doves, than dim-seen eagle?
  • What is it? And to what shall I compare it?
  • It has a glory, and nought else can share it:
  • The thought thereof is awful, sweet, and holy,
  • Chacing away all worldliness and folly;
  • Coming sometimes like fearful claps of thunder,
  • Or the low rumblings earth’s regions under;
  • And sometimes like a gentle whispering
  • Of all the secrets of some wond’rous thing
  • That breathes about us in the vacant air;
  • So that we look around with prying stare,
  • Perhaps to see shapes of light, aerial lymning,
  • And catch soft floatings from a faint-heard hymning;
  • To see the laurel wreath, on high suspended,
  • That is to crown our name when life is ended.
  • Sometimes it gives a glory to the voice,
  • And from the heart up-springs, rejoice! rejoice!
  • Sounds which will reach the Framer of all things,
  • And die away in ardent mutterings.
  • No one who once the glorious sun has seen,
  • And all the clouds, and felt his bosom clean
  • For his great Maker’s presence, but must know
  • What ’tis I mean, and feel his being glow:
  • Therefore no insult will I give his spirit,
  • By telling what he sees from native merit.
  • O Poesy! for thee I hold my pen
  • That am not yet a glorious denizen
  • Of thy wide heaven—Should I rather kneel
  • Upon some mountain-top until I feel
  • A glowing splendour round about me hung,
  • And echo back the voice of thine own tongue?
  • O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen
  • That am not yet a glorious denizen
  • Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer,
  • Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air,
  • Smoothed for intoxication by the breath
  • Of flowering bays, that I may die a death
  • Of luxury, and my young spirit follow
  • The morning sun-beams to the great Apollo
  • Like a fresh sacrifice; or, if I can bear
  • The o’erwhelming sweets, ’twill bring to me the fair
  • Visions of all places: a bowery nook
  • Will be elysium—an eternal book
  • Whence I may copy many a lovely saying
  • About the leaves, and flowers—about the playing
  • Of nymphs in woods, and fountains; and the shade
  • Keeping a silence round a sleeping maid;
  • And many a verse from so strange influence
  • That we must ever wonder how, and whence
  • It came. Also imaginings will hover
  • Round my fire-side, and haply there discover
  • Vistas of solemn beauty, where I’d wander
  • In happy silence, like the clear meander
  • Through its lone vales; and where I found a spot
  • Of awfuller shade, or an enchanted grot,
  • Or a green hill o’erspread with chequered dress
  • Of flowers, and fearful from its loveliness,
  • Write on my tablets all that was permitted,
  • All that was for our human senses fitted.
  • Then the events of this wide world I’d seize
  • Like a strong giant, and my spirit teaze
  • Till at its shoulders it should proudly see
  • Wings to find out an immortality.
  • Stop and consider! life is but a day;
  • A fragile dew-drop on its perilous way
  • From a tree’s summit; a poor Indian’s sleep
  • While his boat hastens to the monstrous steep
  • Of Montmorenci. Why so sad a moan?
  • Life is the rose’s hope while yet unblown;
  • The reading of an ever-changing tale;
  • The light uplifting of a maiden’s veil;
  • A pigeon tumbling in clear summer air;
  • A laughing school-boy, without grief or care,
  • Riding the springy branches of an elm.
  • O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
  • Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
  • That my own soul has to itself decreed.
  • Then will I pass the countries that I see
  • In long perspective, and continually
  • Taste their pure fountains. First the realm I’ll pass
  • Of Flora, and old Pan: sleep in the grass,
  • Feed upon apples red, and strawberries,
  • And choose each pleasure that my fancy sees;
  • Catch the white-handed nymphs in shady places,
  • To woo sweet kisses from averted faces,—
  • Play with their fingers, touch their shoulders white
  • Into a pretty shrinking with a bite
  • As hard as lips can make it: till agreed,
  • A lovely tale of human life we’ll read.
  • And one will teach a tame dove how it best
  • May fan the cool air gently o’er my rest;
  • Another, bending o’er her nimble tread,
  • Will set a green robe floating round her head,
  • And still will dance with ever varied ease,
  • Smiling upon the flowers and the trees:
  • Another will entice me on, and on
  • Through almond blossoms and rich cinnamon;
  • Till in the bosom of a leafy world
  • We rest in silence, like two gems upcurl’d
  • In the recesses of a pearly shell.
  • And can I ever bid these joys farewell?
  • Yes, I must pass them for a nobler life,
  • Where I may find the agonies, the strife
  • Of human hearts: for lo! I see afar,
  • O’er sailing the blue cragginess, a car
  • And steeds with streamy manes — the charioteer
  • Looks out upon the winds with glorious fear:
  • And now the numerous tramplings quiver lightly
  • Along a huge cloud’s ridge; and now with sprightly
  • Wheel downward come they into fresher skies,
  • Tipt round with silver from the sun’s bright eyes.
  • Still downward with capacious whirl they glide;
  • And now I see them on a green-hill’s side
  • In breezy rest among the nodding stalks.
  • The charioteer with wond’rous gesture talks
  • To the trees and mountains; and there soon appear
  • Shapes of delight, of mystery, and fear,
  • Passing along before a dusky space
  • Made by some mighty oaks: as they would chase
  • Some ever-fleeting music on they sweep.
  • Lo! how they murmur, laugh, and smile, and weep:
  • Some with upholden hand and mouth severe;
  • Some with their faces muffled to the ear
  • Between their arms; some, clear in youthful bloom,
  • Go glad and smilingly athwart the gloom;
  • Some looking back, and some with upward gaze;
  • Yes, thousands in a thousand different ways
  • Flit onward—now a lovely wreath of girls
  • Dancing their sleek hair into tangled curls;
  • And now broad wings. Most awfully intent
  • The driver of those steeds is forward bent,
  • And seems to listen: O that I might know
  • All that he writes with such a hurrying glow.
  • The visions all are fled—the car is fled
  • Into the light of heaven, and in their stead
  • A sense of real things comes doubly strong,
  • And, like a muddy stream, would bear along
  • My soul to nothingness: but I will strive
  • Against all doubtings, and will keep alive
  • The thought of that same chariot, and the strange
  • Journey it went.
  • Is there so small a range
  • In the present strength of manhood, that the high
  • Imagination cannot freely fly
  • As she was wont of old? prepare her steeds,
  • Paw up against the light, and do strange deeds
  • Upon the clouds? Has she not shewn us all?
  • From the clear space of ether, to the small
  • Breath of new buds unfolding? From the meaning
  • Of Jove’s large eye-brow, to the tender greening
  • Of April meadows? Here her altar shone,
  • E’en in this isle; and who could paragon
  • The fervid choir that lifted up a noise
  • Of harmony, to where it aye will poise
  • Its mighty self of convoluting sound,
  • Huge as a planet, and like that roll round,
  • Eternally around a dizzy void?
  • Ay, in those days the Muses were nigh cloy’d
  • With honors; nor had any other care
  • Than to sing out and sooth their wavy hair.
  • Could all this be forgotten? Yes, a schism
  • Nurtured by foppery and barbarism,
  • Made great Apollo blush for this his land.
  • Men were thought wise who could not understand
  • His glories: with a puling infant’s force
  • They sway’d about upon a rocking horse,
  • And thought it Pegasus. Ah dismal soul’d!
  • The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll’d
  • Its gathering waves—ye felt it not. The blue
  • Bared its eternal bosom, and the dew
  • Of summer nights collected still to make
  • The morning precious: beauty was awake!
  • Why were ye not awake? But ye were dead
  • To things ye knew not of,—were closely wed
  • To musty laws lined out with wretched rule
  • And compass vile: so that ye taught a school
  • Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit,
  • Till, like the certain wands of Jacob’s wit,
  • Their verses tallied. Easy was the task:
  • A thousand handicraftsmen wore the mask
  • Of Poesy. Ill-fated, impious race!
  • That blasphemed the bright Lyrist to his face,
  • And did not know it,—no, they went about,
  • Holding a poor, decrepid standard out
  • Mark’d with most flimsy mottos, and in large
  • The name of one Boileau!
  • O ye whose charge
  • It is to hover round our pleasant hills!
  • Whose congregated majesty so fills
  • My boundly reverence, that I cannot trace
  • Your hallowed names, in this unholy place,
  • So near those common folk; did not their shames
  • Affright you? Did our old lamenting Thames
  • Delight you? Did ye never cluster round
  • Delicious Avon, with a mournful sound,
  • And weep? Or did ye wholly bid adieu
  • To regions where no more the laurel grew?
  • Or did ye stay to give a welcoming
  • To some lone spirits who could proudly sing
  • Their youth away, and die? ‘Twas even so:
  • But let me think away those times of woe:
  • Now ’tis a fairer season; ye have breathed
  • Rich benedictions o’er us; ye have wreathed
  • Fresh garlands: for sweet music has been heard
  • In many places;—some has been upstirr’d
  • From out its crystal dwelling in a lake,
  • By a swan’s ebon bill; from a thick brake,
  • Nested and quiet in a valley mild,
  • Bubbles a pipe; fine sounds are floating wild
  • About the earth: happy are ye and glad.
  • These things are doubtless: yet in truth we’ve had
  • Strange thunders from the potency of song;
  • Mingled indeed with what is sweet and strong,
  • From majesty: but in clear truth the themes
  • Are ugly clubs, the Poets Polyphemes
  • Disturbing the grand sea. A drainless shower
  • Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
  • ’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.
  • The very archings of her eye-lids charm
  • A thousand willing agents to obey,
  • And still she governs with the mildest sway:
  • But strength alone though of the Muses born
  • Is like a fallen angel: trees uptorn,
  • Darkness, and worms, and shrouds, and sepulchres
  • Delight it; for it feeds upon the burrs,
  • And thorns of life; forgetting the great end
  • Of poesy, that it should be a friend
  • To sooth the cares, and lift the thoughts of man.
  • Yet I rejoice: a myrtle fairer than
  • E’er grew in Paphos, from the bitter weeds
  • Lifts its sweet head into the air, and feeds
  • A silent space with ever sprouting green.
  • All tenderest birds there find a pleasant screen,
  • Creep through the shade with jaunty fluttering,
  • Nibble the little cupped flowers and sing.
  • Then let us clear away the choaking thorns
  • From round its gentle stem; let the young fawns,
  • Yeaned in after times, when we are flown,
  • Find a fresh sward beneath it, overgrown
  • With simple flowers: let there nothing be
  • More boisterous than a lover’s bended knee;
  • Nought more ungentle than the placid look
  • Of one who leans upon a closed book;
  • Nought more untranquil than the grassy slopes
  • Between two hills. All hail delightful hopes!
  • As she was wont, th’ imagination
  • Into most lovely labyrinths will be gone,
  • And they shall be accounted poet kings
  • Who simply tell the most heart-easing things.
  • O may these joys be ripe before I die.
  • Will not some say that I presumptuously
  • Have spoken? that from hastening disgrace
  • ’Twere better far to hide my foolish face?
  • That whining boyhood should with reverence bow
  • Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach? How!
  • If I do hide myself, it sure shall be
  • In the very fane, the light of Poesy:
  • If I do fall, at least I will be laid
  • Beneath the silence of a poplar shade;
  • And over me the grass shall be smooth shaven;
  • And there shall be a kind memorial graven.
  • But off Despondence! miserable bane!
  • They should not know thee, who athirst to gain
  • A noble end, are thirsty every hour.
  • What though I am not wealthy in the dower
  • Of spanning wisdom; though I do not know
  • The shiftings of the mighty winds that blow
  • Hither and thither all the changing thoughts
  • Of man: though no great minist’ring reason sorts
  • Out the dark mysteries of human souls
  • To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls
  • A vast idea before me, and I glean
  • Therefrom my liberty; thence too I’ve seen
  • The end and aim of Poesy. ’Tis clear
  • As any thing most true; as that the year
  • Is made of the four seasons—manifest
  • As a large cross, some old cathedral’s crest,
  • Lifted to the white clouds. Therefore should I
  • Be but the essence of deformity,
  • A coward, did my very eye-lids wink
  • At speaking out what I have dared to think.
  • Ah! rather let me like a madman run
  • Over some precipice; let the hot sun
  • Melt my Dedalian wings, and drive me down
  • Convuls’d and headlong! Stay! an inward frown
  • Of conscience bids me be more calm awhile.
  • An ocean dim, sprinkled with many an isle,
  • Spreads awfully before me. How much toil!
  • How many days! what desperate turmoil!
  • Ere I can have explored its widenesses.
  • Ah, what a task! upon my bended knees,
  • I could unsay those—no, impossible!
  • Impossible!
  • For sweet relief I’ll dwell
  • On humbler thoughts, and let this strange assay
  • Begun in gentleness die so away.
  • E’en now all tumult from my bosom fades:
  • I turn full hearted to the friendly aids
  • That smooth the path of honour; brotherhood,
  • And friendliness the nurse of mutual good.
  • The hearty grasp that sends a pleasant sonnet
  • Into the brain ere one can think upon it;
  • The silence when some rhymes are coming out;
  • And when they’re come, the very pleasant rout:
  • The message certain to be done to-morrow.
  • ’Tis perhaps as well that it should be to borrow
  • Some precious book from out its snug retreat,
  • To cluster round it when we next shall meet.
  • Scarce can I scribble on; for lovely airs
  • Are fluttering round the room like doves in pairs;
  • Many delights of that glad day recalling,
  • When first my senses caught their tender falling.
  • And with these airs come forms of elegance
  • Stooping their shoulders o’er a horse’s prance,
  • Careless, and grand — fingers soft and round
  • Parting luxuriant curls; — and the swift bound
  • Of Bacchus from his chariot, when his eye
  • Made Ariadne’s cheek look blushingly.
  • Thus I remember all the pleasant flow
  • Of words at opening a portfolio.
  • Things such as these are ever harbingers
  • To trains of peaceful images: the stirs
  • Of a swan’s neck unseen among the rushes:
  • A linnet starting all about the bushes:
  • A butterfly, with golden wings broad parted,
  • Nestling a rose, convuls’d as though it smarted
  • With over pleasure — many, many more,
  • Might I indulge at large in all my store
  • Of luxuries: yet I must not forget
  • Sleep, quiet with his poppy coronet:
  • For what there may be worthy in these rhymes
  • I partly owe to him: and thus, the chimes
  • Of friendly voices had just given place
  • To as sweet a silence, when I ’gan retrace
  • The pleasant day, upon a couch at ease.
  • It was a poet’s house who keeps the keys
  • Of pleasure’s temple. Round about were hung
  • The glorious features of the bards who sung
  • In other ages—cold and sacred busts
  • Smiled at each other. Happy he who trusts
  • To clear Futurity his darling fame!
  • Then there were fauns and satyrs taking aim
  • At swelling apples with a frisky leap
  • And reaching fingers, ’mid a luscious heap
  • Of vine leaves. Then there rose to view a fane
  • Of liny marble, and thereto a train
  • Of nymphs approaching fairly o’er the sward:
  • One, loveliest, holding her white hand toward
  • The dazzling sun-rise: two sisters sweet
  • Bending their graceful figures till they meet
  • Over the trippings of a little child:
  • And some are hearing, eagerly, the wild
  • Thrilling liquidity of dewy piping.
  • See, in another picture, nymphs are wiping
  • Cherishingly Diana’s timorous limbs;—
  • A fold of lawny mantle dabbling swims
  • At the bath’s edge, and keeps a gentle motion
  • With the subsiding crystal: as when ocean
  • Heaves calmly its broad swelling smoothness o’er
  • Its rocky marge, and balances once more
  • The patient weeds; that now unshent by foam
  • Feel all about their undulating home.
  • Sappho’s meek head was there half smiling down
  • At nothing; just as though the earnest frown
  • Of over thinking had that moment gone
  • From off her brow, and left her all alone.
  • Great Alfred’s too, with anxious, pitying eyes,
  • As if he always listened to the sighs
  • Of the goaded world; and Kosciusko’s worn
  • By horrid suffrance—mightily forlorn.
  • Petrarch, outstepping from the shady green,
  • Starts at the sight of Laura; nor can wean
  • His eyes from her sweet face. Most happy they!
  • For over them was seen a free display
  • Of out-spread wings, and from between them shone
  • The face of Poesy: from off her throne
  • She overlook’d things that I scarce could tell.
  • The very sense of where I was might well
  • Keep Sleep aloof: but more than that there came
  • Thought after thought to nourish up the flame
  • Within my breast; so that the morning light
  • Surprised me even from a sleepless night;
  • And up I rose refresh’d, and glad, and gay,
  • Resolving to begin that very day
  • These lines; and howsoever they be done,
  • I leave them as a father does his son.
🗙

Imitation of Spenser

  • Now Morning from her orient chamber came,
  • And her first footsteps touch’d a verdant hill;
  • Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame,
  • Silv’ring the untainted gushes of its rill;
  • Which, pure from mossy beds, did down distill,
  • And after parting beds of simple flowers,
  • By many streams a little lake did fill,
  • Which round its marge reflected woven bowers,
  • And, in its middle space, a sky that never lowers.
  • There the king-fisher saw his plumage bright
  • Vieing with fish of brilliant dye below;
  • Whose silken fins, and golden scales light
  • Cast upward, through the waves, a ruby glow:
  • There saw the swan his neck of arched snow,
  • And oar’d himself along with majesty;
  • Sparkled his jetty eyes; his feet did show
  • Beneath the waves like Afric’s ebony,
  • And on his back a fay reclined voluptuously.
  • Ah! could I tell the wonders of an isle
  • That in that fairest lake had placed been,
  • I could e’en Dido of her grief beguile;
  • Or rob from aged Lear his bitter teen:
  • For sure so fair a place was never seen,
  • Of all that ever charm’d romantic eye:
  • It seem’d an emerald in the silver sheen
  • Of the bright waters; or as when on high,
  • Through clouds of fleecy white, laughs the coerulean sky.
  • And all around it dipp’d luxuriously
  • Slopings of verdure through the glassy tide,
  • Which, as it were in gentle amity,
  • Rippled delighted up the flowery side;
  • As if to glean the ruddy tears, it tried,
  • Which fell profusely from the rose-tree stem!
  • Haply it was the workings of its pride,
  • In strife to throw upon the shore a gem
  • Outvieing all the buds in Flora’s diadem.
🗙

On Peace

  • O Peace! and dost thou with thy presence bless
  • The dwellings of this war-surrounded isle;
  • Soothing with placid brow our late distress,
  • Making the triple kingdom brightly smile?
  • Joyful I hail thy presence; and I hail
  • The sweet companions that await on thee;
  • Complete my joy — let not my first wish fail,
  • Let the sweet mountain nymph thy favourite be,
  • With England’s happiness proclaim Europa’s liberty.
  • O Europe! let not sceptred tyrants see
  • That thou must shelter in thy former state;
  • Keep thy chains burst, and boldly say thou art free;
  • Give thy kings law — leave not uncurbed the great;
  • So with the horrors past thou’lt win thy happier fate!
🗙

As from the darkening gloom a silver dove

  • As from the darkening gloom a silver dove
  • Upsoars, and darts into the eastern light,
  • On pinions that nought moves but pure delight;
  • So fled thy soul into the realms above,
  • Regions of peace and everlasting love;
  • Where happy spirits, crown’d with circlets bright
  • Of starry beam, and gloriously bedight,
  • Taste the high joy none but the blest can prove.
  • There thou or joinest the immortal quire
  • In melodies that even heaven fair
  • Fill with superior bliss, or, at desire
  • Of the omnipotent Father, cleavest the air,
  • On holy message sent. — What pleasures higher?
  • Wherefore does any grief our joy impair?
🗙

To Lord Byron

  • Byron, how sweetly sad thy melody!
  • Attuning still the soul to tenderness,
  • As if soft Pity, with unusual stress
  • Had touch’d her plaintive lute; and thou, being by,
  • Hadst caught the tones, nor suffer’d them to die.
  • O’ershading sorrow doth not make thee less
  • Delightful: thou thy griefs dost dress
  • With a bright halo, shining beamily;
  • As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
  • Its sides are ting’d with a resplendent glow,
  • Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,
  • And like fair veins in sable marble flow.
  • Still warble, dying swan, —still tell the tale,
  • The enchanting tale —the tale of pleasing woe.
🗙

Written on the Day That Mr. Leigh Hunt Left Prison

  • What though, for showing truth to flatter’d state,
  • Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he,
  • In his immortal spirit, been as free
  • As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
  • Minion of grandeur! think you he did wait?
  • Think you he nought but prison walls did see,
  • Till, so unwilling, thou unturn’dst the key?
  • Ah, no! far happier, nobler was his fate!
  • In Spenser’s halls he strayed, and bowers fair,
  • Culling enchanted flowers; and he flew
  • With daring Milton through the fields of air:
  • To regions of his own his genius true
  • Took happy flights. Who shall his fame impair
  • When thou art dead, and all thy wretched crew?
🗙

Ode to Apollo

  • 1
  • In thy western halls of gold
  • When thou sittest in thy state,
  • Bards, that erst sublimely told
  • Heroic deeds, and sang of fate,
  • With fervour seize their adamantine lyres,
  • Whose chords are solid rays, and twinkle radiant fires.
  • 2
  • There Homer with his nervous arms
  • Strikes the twanging harp of war,
  • And even the western splendour warms,
  • While the trumpets sound afar;
  • But, what creates the most intense surprise,
  • His soul looks out through renovated eyes.
  • 3
  • Then, through thy temple wide, melodious swells
  • The sweet majestic tone of Maro’s lyre;
  • The soul delighted on each accent dwells, —
  • Enraptured dwells, — not daring to respire,
  • The while he tells of grief around a funeral pyre.
  • 4
  • ’Tis awful silence then again:
  • Expectant stand the spheres;
  • Breathless the laurell’d peers,
  • Nor move, till ends the lofty strain,
  • Nor move till Milton’s tuneful thunders cease,
  • And leave once more the ravish’d heavens in peace.
  • 5
  • Thou biddest Shakspeare wave his hand,
  • And quickly forward spring
  • The Passions — a terrific band —
  • And each vibrates the string
  • That with its tyrant temper best accords,
  • While from their master’s lips pour forth the inspiring words.
  • 6
  • A silver trumpet Spenser blows,
  • And, as its martial notes to silence flee,
  • From a virgin chorus flows
  • A hymn in praise of spotless chastity.
  • ’Tis still! wild warblings from the Aeolian lyre
  • Enchantment softly breathe, and tremblingly expire.
  • 7
  • Next thy Tasso’s ardent numbers
  • Float along the pleased air,
  • Calling youth from idle slumbers,
  • Rousing them from pleasure’s lair: —
  • Then o’er the strings his fingers gently move,
  • And melt the soul to pity and to love.
  • 8
  • But when thou joinest with the Nine,
  • And all the powers of song combine,
  • We listen here on earth:
  • The dying tones that fill the air,
  • And charm the ear of evening fair,
  • From thee, great God of Bards, receive their heavenly birth.