Poems, 1817, by John Keats


“Among the rest a shepheard (though but young

Yet hartned to his pipe) with all the skill

His few yeeres could, began to fit his quill.”

Britannia’s Pastorals. — BROWNE.

To George Felton Mathew.

Sweet are the pleasures that to verse belong,

And doubly sweet a brotherhood in song;

Nor can remembrance, Mathew! bring to view

A fate more pleasing, a delight more true

Than that in which the brother Poets joy’d,

Who with combined powers, their wit employ’d

To raise a trophy to the drama’s muses.

The thought of this great partnership diffuses

Over the genius loving heart, a feeling

Of all that’s high, and great, and good, and healing.

Too partial friend! fain would I follow thee

Past each horizon of fine poesy;

Fain would I echo back each pleasant note

As o’er Sicilian seas, clear anthems float

‘Mong the light skimming gondolas far parted,

Just when the sun his farewell beam has darted:

But ’tis impossible; far different cares

Beckon me sternly from soft “Lydian airs,”

And hold my faculties so long in thrall,

That I am oft in doubt whether at all

I shall again see Phoebus in the morning:

Or flush’d Aurora in the roseate dawning!

Or a white Naiad in a rippling stream;

Or a rapt seraph in a moonlight beam;

Or again witness what with thee I’ve seen,

The dew by fairy feet swept from the green,

After a night of some quaint jubilee

Which every elf and fay had come to see:

When bright processions took their airy march

Beneath the curved moon’s triumphal arch.

But might I now each passing moment give

To the coy muse, with me she would not live

In this dark city, nor would condescend

‘Mid contradictions her delights to lend.

Should e’er the fine-eyed maid to me be kind,

Ah! surely it must be whene’er I find

Some flowery spot, sequester’d, wild, romantic,

That often must have seen a poet frantic;

Where oaks, that erst the Druid knew, are growing,

And flowers, the glory of one day, are blowing;

Where the dark-leav’d laburnum’s drooping clusters

Reflect athwart the stream their yellow lustres,

And intertwined the cassia’s arms unite,

With its own drooping buds, but very white.

Where on one side are covert branches hung,

‘Mong which the nightingales have always sung

In leafy quiet; where to pry, aloof,

Atween the pillars of the sylvan roof,

Would be to find where violet beds were nestling,

And where the bee with cowslip bells was wrestling.

There must be too a ruin dark, and gloomy,

To say “joy not too much in all that’s bloomy.”

Yet this is vain — O Mathew lend thy aid

To find a place where I may greet the maid —

Where we may soft humanity put on,

And sit, and rhyme and think on Chatterton;

And that warm-hearted Shakspeare sent to meet him

Four laurell’d spirits, heaven-ward to intreat him.

With reverence would we speak of all the sages

Who have left streaks of light athwart their ages:

And thou shouldst moralize on Milton’s blindness,

And mourn the fearful dearth of human kindness

To those who strove with the bright golden wing

Of genius, to flap away each sting

Thrown by the pitiless world. We next could tell

Of those who in the cause of freedom fell:

Of our own Alfred, of Helvetian Tell;

Of him whose name to ev’ry heart’s a solace,

High-minded and unbending William Wallace.

While to the rugged north our musing turns

We well might drop a tear for him, and Burns.

Felton! without incitements such as these,

How vain for me the niggard Muse to tease:

For thee, she will thy every dwelling grace,

And make “a sun-shine in a shady place:”

For thou wast once a flowret blooming wild,

Close to the source, bright, pure, and undefil’d,

Whence gush the streams of song: in happy hour

Came chaste Diana from her shady bower,

Just as the sun was from the east uprising;

And, as for him some gift she was devising,

Beheld thee, pluck’d thee, cast thee in the stream

To meet her glorious brother’s greeting beam.

I marvel much that thou hast never told

How, from a flower, into a fish of gold

Apollo chang’d thee; how thou next didst seem

A black-eyed swan upon the widening stream;

And when thou first didst in that mirror trace

The placid features of a human face:

That thou hast never told thy travels strange.

And all the wonders of the mazy range

O’er pebbly crystal, and o’er golden sands;

Kissing thy daily food from Naiad’s pearly hands.

November, 1815.

To My Brother George.

Full many a dreary hour have I past,

My brain bewilder’d, and my mind o’ercast

With heaviness; in seasons when I’ve thought

No spherey strains by me could e’er be caught

From the blue dome, though I to dimness gaze

On the far depth where sheeted lightning plays;

Or, on the wavy grass outstretch’d supinely,

Pry ‘mong the stars, to strive to think divinely:

That I should never hear Apollo’s song,

Though feathery clouds were floating all along

The purple west, and, two bright streaks between,

The golden lyre itself were dimly seen:

That the still murmur of the honey bee

Would never teach a rural song to me:

That the bright glance from beauty’s eyelids slanting

Would never make a lay of mine enchanting,

Or warm my breast with ardour to unfold

Some tale of love and arms in time of old.

But there are times, when those that love the bay,

Fly from all sorrowing far, far away;

A sudden glow comes on them, nought they see

In water, earth, or air, but poesy.

It has been said, dear George, and true I hold it,

(For knightly Spenser to Libertas told it,)

That when a Poet is in such a trance,

In air he sees white coursers paw, and prance,

Bestridden of gay knights, in gay apparel,

Who at each other tilt in playful quarrel,

And what we, ignorantly, sheet-lightning call,

Is the swift opening of their wide portal,

When the bright warder blows his trumpet clear,

Whose tones reach nought on earth but Poet’s ear.

When these enchanted portals open wide,

And through the light the horsemen swiftly glide,

The Poet’s eye can reach those golden halls,

And view the glory of their festivals:

Their ladies fair, that in the distance seem

Fit for the silv’ring of a seraph’s dream;

Their rich brimm’d goblets, that incessant run

Like the bright spots that move about the sun;

And, when upheld, the wine from each bright jar

Pours with the lustre of a falling star.

Yet further off, are dimly seen their bowers,

Of which, no mortal eye can reach the flowers;

And ’tis right just, for well Apollo knows

‘Twould make the Poet quarrel with the rose.

All that’s reveal’d from that far seat of blisses,

Is, the clear fountains’ interchanging kisses.

As gracefully descending, light and thin,

Like silver streaks across a dolphin’s fin,

When he upswimmeth from the coral caves.

And sports with half his tail above the waves.

These wonders strange be sees, and many more,

Whose head is pregnant with poetic lore.

Should he upon an evening ramble fare

With forehead to the soothing breezes bare,

Would he naught see but the dark, silent blue

With all its diamonds trembling through and through:

Or the coy moon, when in the waviness

Of whitest clouds she does her beauty dress,

And staidly paces higher up, and higher,

Like a sweet nun in holy-day attire?

Ah, yes! much more would start into his sight —

The revelries, and mysteries of night:

And should I ever see them, I will tell you

Such tales as needs must with amazement spell you.

These are the living pleasures of the bard:

But richer far posterity’s award.

What does he murmur with his latest breath,

While his proud eye looks through the film of death?

“What though I leave this dull, and earthly mould,

Yet shall my spirit lofty converse hold

With after times. — The patriot shall feel

My stern alarum, and unsheath his steel;

Or, in the senate thunder out my numbers

To startle princes from their easy slumbers.

The sage will mingle with each moral theme

My happy thoughts sententious; he will teem

With lofty periods when my verses fire him,

And then I’ll stoop from heaven to inspire him.

Lays have I left of such a dear delight

That maids will sing them on their bridal night.

Gay villagers, upon a morn of May

When they have tired their gentle limbs, with play,

And form’d a snowy circle on the grass,

And plac’d in midst of all that lovely lass

Who chosen is their queen — with her fine head

Crowned with flowers purple, white, and red:

For there the lily, and the musk-rose, sighing,

Are emblems true of hapless lovers dying:

Between her breasts, that never yet felt trouble,

A bunch of violets full blown, and double,

Serenely sleep:— she from a casket takes

A little book — and then a joy awakes

About each youthful heart — with stifled cries,

And rubbing of white hands, and sparkling eyes:

For she’s to read a tale of hopes, and fears;

One that I foster’d in my youthful years:

The pearls, that on each glist’ning circlet sleep,

Gush ever and anon with silent creep,

Lured by the innocent dimples. To sweet rest

Shall the dear babe, upon its mother’s breast,

Be lull’d with songs of mine. Fair world, adieu!

Thy dales, and hills, are fading from my view:

Swiftly I mount, upon wide spreading pinions,

Far from the narrow bounds of thy dominions.

Full joy I feel, while thus I cleave the air,

That my soft verse will charm thy daughters fair,

And warm thy sons!” Ah, my dear friend and brother,

Could I, at once, my mad ambition smother,

For tasting joys like these, sure I should be

Happier, and dearer to society.

At times, ’tis true, I’ve felt relief from pain

When some bright thought has darted through my brain:

Through all that day I’ve felt a greater pleasure

Than if I’d brought to light a hidden treasure.

As to my sonnets, though none else should heed them,

I feel delighted, still, that you should read them.

Of late, too, I have had much calm enjoyment,

Stretch’d on the grass at my best lov’d employment

Of scribbling lines for you. These things I thought

While, in my face, the freshest breeze I caught.

E’en now I’m pillow’d on a bed of flowers

That crowns a lofty clift, which proudly towers

Above the ocean-waves. The stalks, and blades,

Chequer my tablet with their, quivering shades.

On one side is a field of drooping oats,

Through which the poppies show their scarlet coats

So pert and useless, that they bring to mind

The scarlet coats that pester human-kind.

And on the other side, outspread, is seen

Ocean’s blue mantle streak’d with purple, and green.

Now ’tis I see a canvass’d ship, and now

Mark the bright silver curling round her prow.

I see the lark down-dropping to his nest.

And the broad winged sea-gull never at rest;

For when no more he spreads his feathers free,

His breast is dancing on the restless sea.

Now I direct my eyes into the west,

Which at this moment is in sunbeams drest:

Why westward turn? ’Twas but to say adieu!

’Twas but to kiss my hand, dear George, to you!

August, 1816.

To Charles Cowden Clarke.

Oft have you seen a swan superbly frowning,

And with proud breast his own white shadow crowning;

He slants his neck beneath the waters bright

So silently, it seems a beam of light

Come from the galaxy: anon he sports —

With outspread wings the Naiad Zephyr courts,

Or ruffles all the surface of the lake

In striving from its crystal face to take

Some diamond water drops, and them to treasure

In milky nest, and sip them off at leisure.

But not a moment can he there insure them,

Nor to such downy rest can he allure them;

For down they rush as though they would be free,

And drop like hours into eternity.

Just like that bird am I in loss of time,

Whene’er I venture on the stream of rhyme;

With shatter’d boat, oar snapt, and canvass rent,

I slowly sail, scarce knowing my intent;

Still scooping up the water with my fingers,

In which a trembling diamond never lingers.

By this, friend Charles, you may full plainly see

Why I have never penn’d a line to thee:

Because my thoughts were never free, and clear,

And little fit to please a classic ear;

Because my wine was of too poor a savour

For one whose palate gladdens in the flavour

Of sparkling Helicon:— small good it were

To take him to a desert rude, and bare.

Who had on Baiae’s shore reclin’d at ease,

While Tasso’s page was floating in a breeze

That gave soft music from Armida’s bowers,

Mingled with fragrance from her rarest flowers:

Small good to one who had by Mulla’s stream

Fondled the maidens with the breasts of cream;

Who had beheld Belphoebe in a brook,

And lovely Una in a leafy nook,

And Archimago leaning o’er his book:

Who had of all that’s sweet tasted, and seen,

From silv’ry ripple, up to beauty’s queen;

From the sequester’d haunts of gay Titania,

To the blue dwelling of divine Urania:

One, who, of late, had ta’en sweet forest walks

With him who elegantly chats, and talks —

The wrong’d Libert as — who has told you stories

Of laurel chaplets, and Apollo’s glories;

Of troops chivalrous prancing; through a city,

And tearful ladies made for love, and pity:

With many else which I have never known.

Thus have I thought; and days on days have flown

Slowly, or rapidly — unwilling still

For you to try my dull, unlearned quill.

Nor should I now, but that I’ve known you long;

That you first taught me all the sweets of song:

The grand, the sweet, the terse, the free, the fine;

What swell’d with pathos, and what right divine:

Spenserian vowels that elope with ease,

And float along like birds o’er summer seas;

Miltonian storms, and more, Miltonian tenderness;

Michael in arms, and more, meek Eve’s fair slenderness.

Who read for me the sonnet swelling loudly

Up to its climax and then dying proudly?

Who found for me the grandeur of the ode,

Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load?

Who let me taste that more than cordial dram,

The sharp, the rapier-pointed epigram?

Shew’d me that epic was of all the king,

Round, vast, and spanning all like Saturn’s ring?

You too upheld the veil from Clio’s beauty,

And pointed out the patriot’s stern duty;

The might of Alfred, and the shaft of Tell;

The hand of Brutus, that so grandly fell

Upon a tyrant’s head. Ah! had I never seen,

Or known your kindness, what might I have been?

What my enjoyments in my youthful years,

Bereft of all that now my life endears?

And can I e’er these benefits forget?

And can I e’er repay the friendly debt?

No, doubly no; — yet should these rhymings please,

I shall roll on the grass with two-fold ease:

For I have long time been my fancy feeding

With hopes that you would one day think the reading

Of my rough verses not an hour misspent;

Should it e’er be so, what a rich content!

Some weeks have pass’d since last I saw the spires

In lucent Thames reflected:— warm desires

To see the sun o’er peep the eastern dimness,

And morning shadows streaking into slimness

Across the lawny fields, and pebbly water;

To mark the time as they grow broad, and shorter;

To feel the air that plays about the hills,

And sips its freshness from the little rills;

To see high, golden corn wave in the light

When Cynthia smiles upon a summer’s night,

And peers among the cloudlet’s jet and white,

As though she were reclining in a bed

Of bean blossoms, in heaven freshly shed.

No sooner had I stepp’d into these pleasures

Than I began to think of rhymes and measures:

The air that floated by me seem’d to say

“Write! thou wilt never have a better day.”

And so I did. When many lines I’d written,

Though with their grace I was not oversmitten,

Yet, as my hand was warm, I thought I’d better

Trust to my feelings, and write you a letter.

Such an attempt required an inspiration

Of a peculiar sort — a consummation; —

Which, had I felt, these scribblings might have been

Verses from which the soul would never wean:

But many days have past since last my heart

Was warm’d luxuriously by divine Mozart;

By Arne delighted, or by Handel madden’d;

Or by the song of Erin pierc’d and sadden’d:

What time you were before the music sitting,

And the rich notes to each sensation fitting.

Since I have walk’d with you through shady lanes

That freshly terminate in open plains,

And revel’d in a chat that ceased not

When at night-fall among your books we got:

No, nor when supper came, nor after that —

Nor when reluctantly I took my hat;

No, nor till cordially you shook my hand

Mid-way between our homes:— your accents bland

Still sounded in my ears, when I no more

Could hear your footsteps touch the grav’ly floor.

Sometimes I lost them, and then found again;

You chang’d the footpath for the grassy plain.

In those still moments I have wish’d you joys

That well you know to honour:—“Life’s very toys

With him,” said I, “will take a pleasant charm;

It cannot be that ought will work him harm.”

These thoughts now come o’er me with all their might:—

Again I shake your hand — friend Charles, good night.

September, 1816.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56