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

39. — To John Taylor.

My dear Taylor — Your alteration strikes me as being a great Improvement — And now I will attend to the punctuations you speak of — The comma should be at soberly, and in the other passage, the Comma should follow quiet. I am extremely indebted to you for this alteration, and also for your after admonitions. It is a sorry thing for me that any one should have to overcome prejudices in reading my verses — that affects me more than any hypercriticism on any particular passage — In Endymion, I have most likely but moved into the go-cart from the leading-strings — In poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from their centre.

1st. I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by singularity; It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.

2d. Its touches of beauty should never be half-way, thereby making the reader breathless, instead of content. The rise, the progress, the setting of Imagery should, like the sun, come natural to him, shine over him, and set soberly, although in magnificence, leaving him in the luxury of twilight. But it is easier to think what poetry should be, than to write it — And this leads me to

Another axiom — That if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all. — However it may be with me, I cannot help looking into new countries with “O for a Muse of Fire to ascend!” If Endymion serves me as a pioneer, perhaps I ought to be content — I have great reason to be content, for thank God I can read, and perhaps understand Shakspeare to his depths; and I have I am sure many friends, who, if I fail, will attribute any change in my life and temper to humbleness rather than pride — to a cowering under the wings of great poets, rather than to a bitterness that I am not appreciated. I am anxious to get Endymion printed that I may forget it and proceed. I have copied the 3rd Book and begun the 4th. On running my eye over the proofs, I saw one mistake — I will notice it presently, and also any others, if there be any. There should be no comma in “the raft branch down sweeping from a tall ash-top.” I have besides made one or two alterations, and also altered the thirteenth line p. 32 to make sense of it, as you will see. I will take care the printer shall not trip up my heels. There should be no dash after Dryope, in the line “Dryope’s lone lulling of her child.”

Remember me to Percy Street.

Your sincere and obliged friend

John Keats.

P.S.— You shall have a short preface in good time.


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