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

51. — To John Hamilton Reynolds.

My dear Reynolds — It is an awful while since you have heard from me — I hope I may not be punished, when I see you well, and so anxious as you always are for me, with the remembrance of my so seldom writing when you were so horribly confined. The most unhappy hours in our lives are those in which we recollect times past to our own blushing — If we are immortal that must be the Hell. If I must be immortal, I hope it will be after having taken a little of “that watery labyrinth” in order to forget some of my school-boy days and others since those.

I have heard from George at different times how slowly you were recovering — It is a tedious thing — but all Medical Men will tell you how far a very gradual amendment is preferable; you will be strong after this, never fear. We are here still enveloped in clouds — I lay awake last night listening to the Rain with a sense of being drowned and rotted like a grain of wheat. There is a continual courtesy between the Heavens and the Earth. The heavens rain down their unwelcomeness, and the Earth sends it up again to be returned to-morrow. Tom has taken a fancy to a physician here, Dr. Turton, and I think is getting better — therefore I shall perhaps remain here some Months. I have written to George for some Books — shall learn Greek, and very likely Italian — and in other ways prepare myself to ask Hazlitt in about a year’s time the best metaphysical road I can take. For although I take poetry to be Chief, yet there is something else wanting to one who passes his life among Books and thoughts on Books — I long to feast upon old Homer as we have upon Shakspeare, and as I have lately upon Milton. If you understood Greek, and would read me passages, now and then, explaining their meaning, ’twould be, from its mistiness, perhaps, a greater luxury than reading the thing one’s self. I shall be happy when I can do the same for you. I have written for my folio Shakspeare, in which there are the first few stanzas of my “Pot of Basil.” I have the rest here finished, and will copy the whole out fair shortly, and George will bring it you — The compliment is paid by us to Boccace, whether we publish or no: so there is content in this world —mine is short — you must be deliberate about yours: you must not think of it till many months after you are quite well:— then put your passion to it, and I shall be bound up with you in the shadows of Mind, as we are in our matters of human life. Perhaps a Stanza or two will not be too foreign to your Sickness.

Were they unhappy then? — It cannot be —

Too many tears for lovers have been shed,

Too many sighs give we to them in fee,

Too much of pity after they are dead,

Too many doleful stories do we see,

Whose matter in bright gold were best be read;

Except in such a page where Theseus’ spouse

Over the pathless waves towards him bows.

But, for the general award of love

The little sweet doth kill much bitterness;

Though Dido silent is in under-grove,

And Isabella’s was a great distress,

Though young Lorenzo in warm Indian clove

Was not embalm’d, this truth is not the less —

Even bees, the little almsmen of spring-bowers,

Know there is richest juice in poison-flowers.

   ——————

She wept alone for pleasures not to be;

Sorely she wept until the night came on,

And then, instead of love, O misery!

She brooded o’er the luxury alone:

What might have been too plainly did she see,61

And to the silence made a gentle moan,

Spreading her perfect arms upon the air,

And on her couch low murmuring “Where? O where?”

I heard from Rice this morning — very witty — and have just written to Bailey. Don’t you think I am brushing up in the letter way? and being in for it, you shall hear again from me very shortly:— if you will promise not to put hand to paper for me until you can do it with a tolerable ease of health — except it be a line or two. Give my Love to your Mother and Sisters. Remember me to the Butlers — not forgetting Sarah.

Your affectionate Friend

John Keats.

61 Changed in the printed version to —“His image in the dusk she seemed to see.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/keats/john/letters/letter51.html

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