Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • Feb: Keats writes poetry, mainly influenced by Spenser
  • March: dresser for surgeon, Guy’s Hospital, London; has some immature poetic pretenses; writes a flimsy opening for a chivalric poem, Calidore; dresses in a somewhat pretentiously artistic, somewhat Byronic way—the persona of a poet; writes Woman! When I behold thee . . .
  • April: takes poetry seriously, April onwards; meets Severn, date uncertain, likely this spring, through his brother, George
  • May: first published poem, To Solitude; Abbey becomes sole trustee for family estate
  • June: writing sonnets; poem: To one who has been long in city pent
  • July: qualifies as apothecary
  • Aug-Sept: holidays at Margate with brother Tom; begins some obsession with poetic greatness
  • Aug: poem: To My Brother George
  • Sept: poem: To Charles Cowden Clarke: lives at Dean Street, Southwark
  • Oct: writes poem Chapman’s Homer; on the prospect of meeting Leigh Hunt: will be an Era in my existence; very keen to meet Men who in the admiration of Poetry do not jumble together Shakespeare and Darwin; meets Hunt via Clarke, who calls it a red-letter day: Hunt says he becomes intimate on the spot with Keats; meets Reynolds and glorious Haydon; during the month he likely writes Keen, Fitful Gusts and On Leaving Some Friends
  • Oct-Dec: poems: Sleep and Poetry; I stood tip-toe
  • Nov: lives 76 Cheapside, London; I particularly want to look into the beautiful Scenery—for poetical purposes; Haydon says he is going to send some of Keats’s poetry to Wordsworth—Keats is breathless; poem: Great spirits now on earth are sojourning
  • Dec: listed as certified apothecary; Haydon sketches Keats and makes life-mask; publicly noted as a new young poet, with Chapman’s Homer published; drops medical career, which Abbey calls foolhardy; poems: To G. A. W., To Kosciusko, Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition, perhaps On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt and To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crown’d
  • 1816: Spa Field Riots, London; Lord Byron leaves England (April) to avoid scandal, lives in Italy; Byron publishes Canto III of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage; Percy Shelley with Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont leave for Switzerland, where they meet Byron (Shelley marries Mary in December); Beau Brummel leaves England to avoid scandal; Elgin Marbles purchased by the nation; Shelley publishes Alastor collection; Hunt publishes Rimini; Coleridge publishes Christabel, Kubla Khan, The Pains of Sleep; birth of Charlotte Brontë; Vauxhall Bridge opens; very unfavorable weather, some crop failure, some famine (a.k.a. The Year Without a Summer ); the year of the Great Re-coinage to reestablish currency stability; Humphry Davy tests lamp for coal mining; stethoscope invented (France); divorce abolished in France; in London, The Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace established; first performance of Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville (in Rome)

9 October 1816: An Era in My Existence: Leigh Hunt, a Crash Course, & Chapman’s Homer

No. 8, Dean Street, Southwark, London

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

Where, in October 1816, Keats lodges with his brothers, George and Tom. Keats described the general area as a bit of a beastly place in dirt, turnings and windings (letter, 9 Oct 1816). Indeed, the location was completely unfashionable, though for Keats it placed him fairly close to Guy’s Hospital, where he was training. They took the second floor of the address, which may have been over a candy shop. Today, Dean Street (also once referred to as Weston Street) is called Stainer Street, off Tooley Street, though the area is developed for the London Bridge station.

No. 8 Dean Street in 1889, photo by Fred Holland Day
No. 8 Dean Street in 1889, photo by Fred Holland Day

Through Charles Cowden Clarke (the son of Keats’s former headmaster), Keats this month meets the famous Leigh Hunt—publisher, journalist, poet, critic. This immediately and crucially expands Keats’s social and cultural circle, which now suddenly includes established poets, writers, publishers, critics, and artists. Clarke (who tutors some of Keats’s earlier literary tastes) has shown a little of Keats’s poetry to Hunt. On 9 October, the prospect of meeting Hunt causes Keats to write to Clarke that it will be an Era in my existence to be acquainted with those who genuinely admire great poetry.

An 1815 pencil sketch of Leigh Hunt, by T. C. Wageman (National Portrait Gallery, NPG
        4505)
An 1815 pencil sketch of Leigh Hunt, by T. C. Wageman (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4505)

Through Hunt, Keats almost immediately meets Benjamin Robert Haydon (the artist and vocal champion of art) and John Hamilton Reynolds (poet and reviewer). Both begin to have some influence Keats’s tastes and ideas; they also further widen Keats’s circle of acquaintances particularly in the publishing and art world, of which Keats would have known very little; and both (but particularly Haydon) see that in order to poetically progress, Keats should move from Hunt’s influence. In short, the last few months of 1816 and into early 1817 mark, for Keats, a kind of crash course on the Regency London literary and artist culture. [For more on Hunt and his reputation, see 2 February 1815.]

This month Keats writes what is generally considered his best early poem, the ever-anthologized On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer. Keats writes the poem after pouring through a copy of the folio edition of Chapman’s translation with Clarke, searching for the some of the choicest passages; Clarke recollects their overwhelming enthusiasm with Chapman’s work. The next morning, Clarke finds a letter from Keats on his table that contains a draft of Keats’s poetic response.

Keats’s sonnet of discovery captures a young poet’s keen desire for inspiration and imaginative vision, though, in its fledgling enthusiasm, the poem also opens Keats up to certain class-based criticisms for not having the ability to read Homer in Greek. The poem is both strong and simple, and it expresses Keats’s early desires to be an inspired and genuine poet, a subject that obsesses (and plagues) much of his early poetry. The sonnet’s ending—envisioned as an explorer, Cortez, seeing with confused wonder from a peak—peripherally recalls the tropes of an earlier genre, the prospect poem, which is a variety of the topographical poem: the speaker looks out into the landscape from some position of height. If this kind of poem works well, then some insight is gained by looking out, which is consistent when Keats also compares himself to an astronomer discovering a new, unknown planet. This insight Keats almost manages, though in this case the insight is a feeling that seems to confuse, or at best conflate, broader historical circumstance with personal literary awe. We have, then, the allegory of a poet looking and discovering with some sense of profound uncertainty; this results in a feeling rather in action; and that action will, Keats hopes, be the inspired production of an equal amount of awe for other viewers. That is, Keats hopes to become the seen more that the seer—the active, accomplished poet rather than rather than the more passive gazer. Hunt will publish the poem in The Examiner at the beginning of August, while noting that the whole conclusion [of the poem] is equally powerful and quiet.

Keats also composes a few further sonnets at this time—Keen, Fitful Gusts and On Leaving Some Friends—that reference his new friendship with Hunt and further reflect his desire for poetic inspiration. In the first of the poems, he references the brimming friendliness of Hunt’s cottage (the idea of sociability cultivated by Hunt), as well as literary topics (like Milton and Petrarch) discussed with Hunt and his new friends. As he writes in the second of these poems, he hopes for a golden pen so that he can write down a line of glorious tone. This is touching and ambitious, given that Keats is, so to speak, a poetic newbie. But these are eager, overwritten verses—too many nouns demand an adjective—without much direction, with no larger aims, themes, or ideas in sight. Perhaps most importantly, they picture a young, keen poet who finds himself within a influential cultural circle—perhaps the most progressive of the Regency period. Lucky Keats.

So, here we find Keats, a poet in search of a subject of his own, in search of an identity and poetic character of his own. Like the astronomer he conjures in On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer, he wonders about this new, undiscovered planet that he sees above him. And like Cortez gazing out into a vast, unexpected and unexplored expanse, Keats is not quite sure, as a poet, what he now sees ahead of him. For Cortez, questions of eager uncertainty (wild surmise) cross the mind of Cortez and his followers: What is this, and what next? Well, at least for the young poet who has been spending his evenings at Hunt’s, they also picture a poet who has a good five miles to walk home—from Hampstead to Southwark—with the cold stars looking down upon him, which is how he describes himself in Keen, Fitful Gusts.

With his brothers, in mid-November Keats moves from Dean Street to 76 Cheapside.

Early draft (or fair copy) of On [the] first looking into
            Chapman’s Homer (Houghton Library, Harvard University, Keats MS 2.4). Click
        to expand.true
Early draft (or fair copy) of On [the] first looking into Chapman’s Homer (Houghton Library, Harvard University, Keats MS 2.4). Click to expand.
🗙

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

  • Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
  • And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
  • Round many western islands have I been
  • Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
  • Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
  • That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne;
  • Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
  • Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
  • Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
  • When a new planet swims into his ken;
  • Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
  • He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
  • Look’d at each other with a wild surmise—
  • Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
🗙

Keen, fitful gusts are whisp’ring here and there

  • Keen, fitful gusts are whisp’ring here and there
  • Among the bushes half leafless, and dry;
  • The stars look very cold about the sky,
  • And I have many miles on foot to fare.
  • Yet feel I little of the cool bleak air,
  • Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
  • Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
  • Or of the distance from home’s pleasant lair:
  • For I am brimfull of the friendliness
  • That in a little cottage I have found;
  • Of fair-hair’d Milton’s eloquent distress,
  • And all his love for gentle Lycid drown’d;
  • Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
  • And faithful Petrarch gloriously crown’d.
🗙

On Leaving Some Friends at an Early Hour

  • Give me a golden pen, and let me lean
  • On heap’d up flowers, in regions clear, and far;
  • Bring me a tablet whiter than a star,
  • Or hand of hymning angel, when ’tis seen
  • The silver strings of heavenly harp atween:
  • And let there glide by many a pearly car,
  • Pink robes, and wavy hair, and diamond jar,
  • And half discovered wings, and glances keen.
  • The while let music wander round my ears,
  • And as it reaches each delicious ending,
  • Let me write down a line of glorious tone,
  • And full of many wonders of the spheres:
  • For what a height my spirit is contending!
  • ’Tis not content so soon to be alone.
🗙

Calidore: A Fragment

  • Young Calidore is paddling o’er the lake;
  • His healthful spirit eager and awake
  • To feel the beauty of a silent eve,
  • Which seem’d full loath this happy world to leave;
  • The light dwelt o’er the scene so lingeringly.
  • He bares his forehead to the cool blue sky,
  • And smiles at the far clearness all around,
  • Until his heart is well nigh over wound,
  • And turns for calmness to the pleasant green
  • Of easy slopes, and shadowy trees that lean
  • So elegantly o’er the waters’ brim
  • And show their blossoms trim.
  • Scarce can his clear and nimble eye-sight follow
  • The freaks, and dartings of the black-wing’d swallow,
  • Delighting much, to see it half at rest,
  • Dip so refreshingly its wings, and breast
  • ’Gainst the smooth surface, and to mark anon,
  • The widening circles into nothing gone.
  • And now the sharp keel of his little boat
  • Comes up with ripple, and with easy float,
  • And glides into a bed of water lillies:
  • Broad leav’d are they and their white canopies
  • Are upward turn’d to catch the heavens’ dew.
  • Near to a little island’s point they grew;
  • Whence Calidore might have the goodliest view
  • Of this sweet spot of earth. The bowery shore
  • Went off in gentle windings to the hoar
  • And light blue mountains: but no breathing man
  • With a warm heart, and eye prepared to scan
  • Nature’s clear beauty, could pass lightly by
  • Objects that look’d out so invitingly
  • On either side. These, gentle Calidore
  • Greeted, as he had known them long before.
  • The sidelong view of swelling leafiness,
  • Which the glad setting sun in gold doth dress;
  • Whence ever and anon the jay outsprings,
  • And scales upon the beauty of its wings.
  • The lonely turret, shatter’d, and outworn,
  • Stands venerably proud; too proud to mourn
  • Its long lost grandeur: fir trees grow around,
  • Aye dropping their hard fruit upon the ground.
  • The little chapel with the cross above
  • Upholding wreaths of ivy; the white dove,
  • That on the window spreads his feathers light,
  • And seems from purple clouds to wing its flight.
  • Green tufted islands casting their soft shades
  • Across the lake; sequester’d leafy glades,
  • That through the dimness of their twilight show
  • Large dock leaves, spiral foxgloves, or the glow
  • Of the wild cat’s eyes, or the silvery stems
  • Of delicate birch trees, or long grass which hems
  • A little brook. The youth had long been viewing
  • These pleasant things, and heaven was bedewing
  • The mountain flowers, when his glad senses caught
  • A trumpet’s silver voice. Ah! it was fraught
  • With many joys for him: the warder’s ken
  • Had found white coursers prancing in the glen:
  • Friends very dear to him he soon will see;
  • So pushes off his boat most eagerly,
  • And soon upon the lake he skims along,
  • Deaf to the nightingale’s first under-song;
  • Nor minds he the white swans that dream so sweetly:
  • His spirit flies before him so completely.
  • And now he turns a jutting point of land,
  • Whence may be seen the castle gloomy, and grand:
  • Nor will a bee buzz round two swelling peaches,
  • Before the point of his light shallop reaches
  • Those marble steps that through the water dip:
  • Now over them he goes with hasty trip,
  • And scarcely stays to ope the folding doors:
  • Anon he leaps along the oaken floors
  • Of halls and corridors.
  • Delicious sounds! those little bright-eyed things
  • That float about the air on azure wings,
  • Had been less heartfelt by him than the clang
  • Of clattering hoofs; into the court he sprang,
  • Just as two noble steeds, and palfreys twain,
  • Were slanting out their necks with loosened rein;
  • While from beneath the threat’ning portcullis
  • They brought their happy burthens. What a kiss,
  • What gentle squeeze he gave each lady’s hand!
  • How tremblingly their delicate ancles spann’d!
  • Into how sweet a trance his soul was gone,
  • While whisperings of affection
  • Made him delay to let their tender feet
  • Come to the earth; with an incline so sweet
  • From their low palfreys o’er his neck they bent
  • And whether there were tears of languishment,
  • Or that the evening dew had pearl’d their tresses,
  • He feels a moisture on his cheek, and blesses
  • With lips that tremble, and with glistening eye,
  • All the soft luxury
  • That nestled in his arms. A dimpled hand,
  • Fair as some wonder out of fairy land,
  • Hung from his shoulder like the drooping flowers
  • Of whitest cassia, fresh from summer showers:
  • And this he fondled with his happy cheek
  • As if for joy he would no further seek;
  • When the kind voice of good Sir Clerimond
  • Came to his ear, like something from beyond
  • His present being: so he gently drew
  • His warm arms, thrilling now with pulses new,
  • From their sweet thrall, and forward gently bending,
  • Thank’d heaven that his joy was never ending;
  • While ’gainst his forehead he devoutly press’d
  • A hand heaven made to succour the distress’d;
  • A hand that from the world’s bleak promontory
  • Had lifted Calidore for deeds of glory.
  • Amid the pages, and the torches’ glare,
  • There stood a knight, patting the flowing hair
  • Of his proud horse’s mane: he was withal
  • A man of elegance, and stature tall:
  • So that the waving of his plumes would be
  • High as the berries of a wild ash tree,
  • Or as the winged cap of Mercury.
  • His armour was so dexterously wrought
  • In shape, that sure no living man had thought
  • It hard, and heavy steel: but that indeed
  • It was some glorious form, some splendid weed,
  • In which a spirit new come from the skies
  • Might live, and show itself to human eyes.
  • ’Tis the far-fam’d, the brave Sir Gondibert,
  • Said the good man to Calidore alert;
  • While the young warrior with a step of grace
  • Came up, — a courtly smile upon his face,
  • And mailed hand held out, ready to greet
  • The large-eyed wonder, and ambitious heat
  • Of the aspiring boy; who as he led
  • Those smiling ladies, often turned his head
  • To admire the visor arched so gracefully
  • Over a knightly brow; while they went by
  • The lamps that from the high-roof’d hall were pendent,
  • And gave the steel a shining quite transcendent.
  • Soon in a pleasant chamber they are seated;
  • The sweet-lipp’d ladies have already greeted
  • All the green leaves that round the window clamber,
  • To show their purple stars, and bells of amber.
  • Sir Gondibert has doff’d his shining steel,
  • Gladdening in the free, and airy feel
  • Of a light mantle; and while Clerimond
  • Is looking round about him with a fond,
  • And placid eye, young Calidore is burning
  • To hear of knightly deeds, and gallant spurning
  • Of all unworthiness; and how the strong of arm
  • Kept off dismay, and terror, and alarm
  • From lovely woman: while brimful of this,
  • He gave each damsel’s hand so warm a kiss,
  • And had such manly ardour in his eye,
  • That each at other look’d half staringly;
  • And then their features started into smiles
  • Sweet as blue heavens o’er enchanted isles.
  • Softly the breezes from the forest came,
  • Softly they blew aside the taper’s flame;
  • Clear was the song from Philomel’s far bower;
  • Grateful the incense from the lime-tree flower;
  • Mysterious, wild, the far heard trumpet’s tone;
  • Lovely the moon in ether, all alone:
  • Sweet too the converse of these happy mortals,
  • As that of busy spirits when the portals
  • Are closing in the west; or that soft humming
  • We hear around when Hesperus is coming.
  • Sweet be their sleep.
🗙

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.
🗙

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell

  • O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
  • Let it not be among the jumbled heap
  • Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
  • Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
  • Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
  • May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
  • ’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
  • Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
  • But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
  • Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
  • Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
  • Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
  • Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
  • When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
🗙

To one who has been long in city pent

  • To one who has been long in city pent,
  • ’Tis very sweet to look into the fair
  • And open face of heaven, — to breathe a prayer
  • Full in the smile of the blue firmament.
  • Who is more happy, when, with heart’s content,
  • Fatigued he sinks into some pleasant lair
  • Of wavy grass, and reads a debonair
  • And gentle tale of love and languishment?
  • Returning home at evening, with an ear
  • Catching the notes of Philomel, — an eye
  • Watching the sailing cloudlet’s bright career,
  • He mourns that day so soon has glided by:
  • E’en like the passage of an angel’s tear
  • That falls through the clear ether silently.
🗙

To My Brother George [1]

  • Many the wonders I this day have seen:
  • The sun, when first he kist away the tears
  • That fill’d the eyes of morn; — the laurel’d peers
  • Who from the feathery gold of evening lean; —
  • The ocean with its vastness, its blue green,
  • Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears, —
  • Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
  • Must think on what will be, and what has been.
  • E’en now, dear George, while this for you I write,
  • Cynthia is from her silken curtains peeping
  • So scantly, that it seems her bridal night,
  • And she her half-discover’d revels keeping.
  • But what, without the social thought of thee,
  • Would be the wonders of the sky and sea?
🗙

To Charles Cowden Clarke

  • Oft have you seen a swan superbly frowning,
  • 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 Libertas, — who has told you stories
  • 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
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
🗙

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.
🗙

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.—
🗙

Addressed to the Same

  • Great spirits now on earth are sojourning;
  • He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake,
  • Who on Helvellyn’s summit, wide awake,
  • Catches his freshness from archangel’s wing:
  • He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
  • The social smile, the chain for freedom’s sake:
  • And lo! — whose stedfastness would never take
  • A meaner sound than Raphael’s whispering.
  • And other spirits there are standing apart
  • Upon the forehead of the age to come;
  • These, these will give the world another heart,
  • And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
  • Of mighty workings? —
  • Listen awhile ye nations, and be dumb.
🗙

To G. A. W.

  • Nymph of the downward smile, and sidelong glance,
  • In what diviner moments of the day
  • Art thou most lovely? when gone far astray
  • Into the labyrinths of sweet utterance?
  • Or when serenely wand’ring in a trance
  • Of sober thought? or when starting away,
  • With careless robe, to meet the morning ray,
  • Thou spar’st the flowers in thy mazy dance?
  • Haply ’tis when thy ruby lips part sweetly,
  • And so remain, because thou listenest:
  • But thou to please wert nurtured so completely
  • That I can never tell what mood is best.
  • I shall as soon pronounce which Grace more neatly
  • Trips it before Apollo than the rest.
🗙

To Kosciusko

  • Good Kosciusko, thy great name alone
  • Is a full harvest whence to reap high feeling;
  • It comes upon us like the glorious pealing
  • Of the wide spheres — an everlasting tone.
  • And now it tells me, that in worlds unknown,
  • The names of heroes, burst from clouds concealing,
  • Are changed to harmonies, for ever stealing
  • Through cloudless blue, and round each silver throne.
  • It tells me too, that on a happy day,
  • When some good spirit walks upon the earth,
  • Thy name with Alfred’s and the great of yore
  • Gently commingling, gives tremendous birth
  • To a loud hymn, that sounds far, far away
  • To where the great God lives for evermore.
🗙

Written in Disgust of Vulgar Superstition

  • The church bells toll a melancholy round,
  • Calling the people to some other prayers,
  • Some other gloominess, more dreadful cares,
  • More heark’ning to the sermon’s horrid sound.
  • Surely the mind of man is closely bound
  • In some black spell; seeing that each one tears
  • Himself from fireside joys, and Lydian airs,
  • And converse high of those with glory crown’d.
  • Still, still they toll, and I should feel a damp,
  • A chill as from a tomb, did I not know
  • That they are dying like an outburnt lamp;
  • That ’tis their sighing, wailing ere they go
  • Into oblivion; — that fresh flowers will grow,
  • And many glories of immortal stamp.
🗙

On Receiving a Laurel Crown from Leigh Hunt

  • Minutes are flying swiftly; and as yet
  • Nothing unearthly has enticed my brain
  • Into a delphic labyrinth — I would fain
  • Catch an unmortal thought to pay the debt
  • I owe to the kind poet who has set
  • Upon my ambitious head a glorious gain —
  • Two bending laurel sprigs — ’tis nearly pain
  • To be conscious of such a coronet.
  • Still time is fleeting, and no dream arises
  • Gorgeous as I would have it — only I see
  • A trampling down of what the world most prizes,
  • Turbans and crowns, and blank regality;
  • And then I run into most wild surmises
  • Of all the many glories that may be.
🗙

To the Ladies Who Saw Me Crown’d

  • What is there in the universal earth
  • More lovely than a wreath from the bay tree?
  • Haply a halo round the moon — a glee
  • Circling from three sweet pair of lips in mirth;
  • And haply you will say the dewy birth
  • Of morning roses — riplings tenderly
  • Spread by the halcyon’s breast upon the sea —
  • But these comparisons are nothing worth.
  • Then is there nothing in the world so fair?
  • The silvery tears of April? — Youth of May?
  • Or June that breathes out life for butterflies?
  • No — none of these can from my favourite bear
  • Away the palm; yet shall it ever pay
  • Due reverence to your most sovereign eyes.