Letters of John Keats to His Family and Friends, by John Keats

46. — To John Hamilton Reynolds.

My dear Reynolds — In hopes of cheering you through a Minute or two, I was determined will he nill he to send you some lines, so you will excuse the unconnected subject and careless verse. You know, I am sure, Claude’s Enchanted Castle,56 and I wish you may be pleased with my remembrance of it. The Rain is come on again — I think with me Devonshire stands a very poor chance. I shall damn it up hill and down dale, if it keep up to the average of six fine days in three weeks. Let me have better news of you.

Tom’s remembrances to you. Remember us to all.

Your affectionate friend,

John Keats.

Dear Reynolds! as last night I lay in bed,

There came before my eyes that wonted thread

Of shapes, and shadows, and remembrances,

That every other minute vex and please:

Things all disjointed come from north and south —

Two Witch’s eyes above a Cherub’s mouth,

Voltaire with casque and shield and habergeon,

And Alexander with his nightcap on;

Old Socrates a-tying his cravat,

And Hazlitt playing with Miss Edgeworth’s cat;

And Junius Brutus, pretty well so so,

Making the best of’s way towards Soho.

Few are there who escape these visitings —

Perhaps one or two whose lives have patent wings,

And thro’ whose curtains peeps no hellish nose,

No wild-boar tushes, and no Mermaid’s toes;

But flowers bursting out with lusty pride,

And young Æolian harps personify’d;

Some Titian colours touch’d into real life —

The sacrifice goes on; the pontiff knife

Gleams in the Sun, the milk-white heifer lows,

The pipes go shrilly, the libation flows:

A white sail shows above the green-head cliff,

Moves round the point, and throws her anchor stiff;

The mariners join hymn with those on land.

You know the Enchanted Castle — it doth stand

Upon a rock, on the border of a Lake,

Nested in trees, which all do seem to shake

From some old magic-like Urganda’s Sword.

O Phœbus! that I had thy sacred word

To show this Castle, in fair dreaming wise,

Unto my friend, while sick and ill he lies!

You know it well enough, where it doth seem

A mossy place, a Merlin’s Hall, a dream;

You know the clear Lake, and the little Isles,

The mountains blue, and cold near neighbour rills,

All which elsewhere are but half animate;

There do they look alive to love and hate,

To smiles and frowns; they seem a lifted mound

Above some giant, pulsing underground.

Part of the Building was a chosen See,

Built by a banish’d Santon of Chaldee;

The other part, two thousand years from him,

Was built by Cuthbert de Saint Aldebrim;

Then there’s a little wing, far from the Sun,

Built by a Lapland Witch turn’d maudlin Nun;

And many other juts of aged stone

Founded with many a mason-devil’s groan.

The doors all look as if they op’d themselves

The windows as if latch’d by Fays and Elves,

And from them comes a silver flash of light,

As from the westward of a Summer’s night;

Or like a beauteous woman’s large blue eyes

Gone mad thro’ olden songs and poesies.

See! what is coming from the distance dim!

A golden Galley all in silken trim!

Three rows of oars are lightening, moment whiles

Into the verd’rous bosoms of those isles;

Towards the shade, under the Castle wall,

It comes in silence — now ’tis hidden all.

The Clarion sounds, and from a Postern-gate

An echo of sweet music doth create

A fear in the poor Herdsman, who doth bring

His beasts to trouble the enchanted spring —

He tells of the sweet music, and the spot,

To all his friends, and they believe him not.

O that our dreamings all, of sleep or wake,

Would all their colours from the sunset take:

From something of material sublime,

Rather than shadow our own soul’s day-time

In the dark void of night. For in the world

We jostle — but my flag is not unfurl’d

On the Admiral-staff — and so philosophise

I dare not yet! Oh, never will the prize,

High reason, and the love of good and ill,

Be my award! Things cannot to the will

Be settled, but they tease us out of thought;

Or is it that imagination brought

Beyond its proper bound, yet still confin’d,

Lost in a sort of Purgatory blind,

Cannot refer to any standard law

Of either earth or heaven? It is a flaw

In happiness, to see beyond our bourn —

It forces us in summer skies to mourn,

It spoils the singing of the Nightingale.

Dear Reynolds! I have a mysterious tale,

And cannot speak it: the first page I read

Upon a Lampit rock of green sea-weed

Among the breakers; ’twas a quiet eve,

The rocks were silent, the wide sea did weave

An untumultuous fringe of silver foam

Along the flat brown sand; I was at home

And should have been most happy — but I saw

Too far into the sea, where every maw

The greater on the less feeds evermore. —

But I saw too distinct into the core

Of an eternal fierce destruction,

And so from happiness I far was gone.

Still am I sick of it, and tho’ to-day,

I’ve gather’d young spring-leaves, and flowers gay

Of periwinkle and wild strawberry,

Still do I that most fierce destruction see —

The Shark at savage prey — the Hawk at pounce —

The gentle Robin, like a Pard or Ounce,

Ravening a worm — Away, ye horrid moods!

Moods of one’s mind! You know I hate them well.

You know I’d sooner be a clapping Bell

To some Kamtschatkan Missionary Church,

Than with these horrid moods be left i’ the lurch.

56 The famous picture now belonging to Lady Wantage, and exhibited at Burlington House in 1888. Whether Keats ever saw the original is doubtful (it was not shown at the British Institution in his time), but he must have been familiar with the subject as engraved by Vivarès and Woollett, and its suggestive power worked in his mind until it yielded at last the distilled poetic essence of the “magic casement” passage in the Ode to a Nightingale. It is interesting to note the theme of the Grecian Urn ode coming in also amidst the “unconnected subject and careless verse” of this rhymed epistle.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44