Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • Jan-Feb: in Rome; desperately ill; Severn reports, His stomach is ruined and the state of his mind the worst possible one in his condition; Severn: his suffering now is beyond description; Keats desires a bottle of opium to kill himself; Severn: Keats is desiring his death with dreadful earnestness
  • Feb: in Rome; I shall soon be laid in the quiet grave—thank God for the quiet grave—O! I can feel the cold earth upon me—the daisies growing over me—O for this quiet—it will be my first; Keats dies, 23 February, 11 pm; buried the morning of 26 February
  • 1821: Percy Shelley publishes Adonais (July); De Quincey publishes Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (anonymously; then with his name, 1822); Hazlitt’s Table-Talk; born: Dostoyevsky, Baudelaire, and Flaubert; death of: Napoleon, Queen Caroline, and Polidori (Byron’s physician); Guardian newspaper founded; gold standard restored by Bank of England; Missouri becomes 24th US state; a number of central American countries declare independence from Spain; Greek revolution begins; Russia claims sovereignty over present-day Alaska; first modern nature reserve established (by Charles Waterton, West Yorkshire); two-man rubber masticator (for recycling rubber) invented (London, by Thomas Handcock)

Keats’s Poetic Development: Some Key Factors & Keats’s Greater Conversation

Fine Judgement

Draft of To Autumn, letter to Bailey, Spenser, Milton, Clarke, Tom Keats,
        Shakespeare, Fanny Brawne, Hunt, Wordsworth . . . ©2021 G. Kim Blank (click to enlarge).true
Draft of To Autumn, letter to Bailey, Spenser, Milton, Clarke, Tom Keats, Shakespeare, Fanny Brawne, Hunt, Wordsworth . . . ©2021 G. Kim Blank (click to enlarge).

At least twelve key factors or moments (some of them significantly conflated) might at this point be identified in chasing down and articulating what went into Keats’s rapid and remarkable poetic progress, or at least those that emerge from this study of Keats’s development:

~First: Keats’s constant practice in writing poetry since about 1814, and possibly a little earlier. This reduces to the result of such practice: the poetry itself. It involves (not surprisingly) Keats trying to get it right; his clarity of purpose sounds everywhere in his drive to write enduring poetry. This factor is thus connected to most of the others below. But at least one thread could be useful in order to gauge Keats’s progress, and it revolves around ideas of escape. First, for Keats, he voices a growing awareness that imagination for its own sake—as an escape, as it were, from the slings and arrows of human fate—needs to evolve into imagination as a way of knowing and then representing the subject, in a way that, paradoxically, does not escape from addressing those slings and arrows. Second, what we can see develop is the very deliberate escape from the confines of short history into the meaning of long history, and this clearly works itself into the thematics of his greatest poetry. Then there is the complex issue of Keats’s developing style: What becomes apparent is that in Keats’s best work—that is, much of the last year or so of his writing, from about September 1818 (with his start on Hyperion) until September 1819 (with the completion of To Autumn)—there develops a more syntactically natural style that remarkably couples with a new denseness to accompany that clarity; the new poetry is generally fairly descriptive but with learned purpose, and without much distracting poetic decorum via neither odd nor expected diction, intrusive rhythm, or over-determined sound for its own sake. Nothing is lost in the abstract; Keats, in his best work, almost always keeps us within the experience of the senses.

~Second, and corresponding with the above: his increasingly very deliberate study of poetry—most tellingly, of Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Chaucer, and Spenser—as well as art and drama (see his crucial analysis of Edmund Kean’s acting), beginning in earnest over 1815 into 1816, but set off by the early literary tutelage of Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of his headmaster at Clarke’s Academy in Enfield; it should be added that Keats’s progressive and free-thinking education at Clarke’s influences his direction, disposition, values, and tastes; and, very importantly, for its students, the school purposefully fostered the aptitude for self-mastering subjects, which is evident in the kind of scholarly discipline Keats takes into his desire to become a poet. Behind this is the obvious picture: Keats as a voracious, critical reader and re-reader; for Keats, reading is often the conflated act of discovery and own poetic coming-into-being—that is, for Keats, (re)reading is often paired with writing (many early depictions of Keats place him with reading material); as a result, it is not unprofitable to read Keats’s poetry as being about reading. Keats is also an underestimated student of poetic forms. For example, his parsing of the shortcomings of sonnet form takes us to his unique stanza forms in the so-called great odes of 1819. Keats’s annotations in what he reads (notes and underlinings) are material evidence of his critical bent. This deliberate study of poetry takes us to the third factor.

~Third: beginning 1816 and into 1817, Keats’s letters reflect the development of a complex and increasingly original poetics that anticipates and then his progress; he purposefully formulates what kind of poet he needs to become and what kind of poetry he needs to write. Recognizable, and by the end of 1817, and in particular his letter of 21/27 December, is a direction in his thinking that we might usefully term Keatsian. From his poetics and then into his poetry, Keats becomes a poet of controlled, contemplated risk, in both tone (in his lyrical poems) and narrative (in, for example, The Eve of St Agnes and Isabella).

~Fourth: as part of Keats’s development of a poetics, is his understanding that knowing what kind of poetry he does not want to write is as important as figuring out what kind of poetry he desires to write. For example, consider Keats’s dawning by crucial recognition that no matter how extraordinary Milton’s accomplishment, and particularly that of Paradise Lost, Milton’s style is not his style; Keats comes to recognize this in his attempts with his Hyperion project(s). Keats nevertheless profits by, for example, understanding how Milton’s descriptions powerfully hold a subject, so that they act as both description and action; but Keats seems to feel that Milton’s style actually draws too much attention to its style. Thus, as in the case of studying Wordsworth (as well as coming to terms with Hunt’s poetry and Robert Burn’s poetical career), Keats comes to distinguish his own poetical character in light of other major poets—his precursor figures. And in the case of Shakespeare, Keats learns that contrasts and oppositions are not exclusive, but deeply bonded by imaginative acts that embrace and then fold into the subject.

~Fifth: the crucial fact of Keats, starting mainly in late 1816, finding himself within an astonishing intellectual, literary, and supportive network. Much of this is initiated by and channeled through his meeting with critic, poet, publisher, and celebrity journalist Leigh Hunt through Clarke in October 1816; more than a few within this grouping figure in the development of Keats’s poetics and in encouraging his poetic aspirations. This network includes Benjamin Robert Haydon (painter, public defender of art), John Hamilton Reynolds (poet, writer, reviewer, lawyer), Joseph Severn (painter), Horace Smith (poet, novelist), John Taylor (publisher, scholar), James Augustus Hessey (bookseller, publisher, journal editor), Benjamin Bailey (poet, scholar, translator), James Rice, Jr. (attorney), Charles Wentworth Dilke (scholar, civil servant), Charles Wells (solicitor, minor writer), Charles Brown (minor librettist, business person, but very supportive friend), William Haslam (business person), William Hazlitt (famous literary critic, essayist, lecturer), Richard Woodhouse, Jr. (scholar, literary advisor); and on the periphery, the brilliant young poet and implicit rival Percy Shelley, whom Keats also meets via Hunt. We can (for better and then worse) view Hunt as Keats’s early mentor and promoter, but moving away from Hunt’s sphere of influence (as a literary model) is also key [and this can itself be a separate factor; see the Fifth Factor, below]. We cannot forget that Haydon also introduces Keats to the premier poet of the age, William Wordsworth, and they have contact in late 1817 into very early 1818—Keats is driven to articulate his deep ambivalence toward Wordsworth’s accomplishment and style. Within this above group, Hazlitt might be singled out as spurring and challenging Keats’s tastes and development: his ideas about poetic style and genius, as well as his critical lauding of the Elizabethan poetic temper, as well as his critical views about Milton, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth, push Keats to establish fairly particular poetic goals. Important, too, is Keats, in corresponding with Bailey, establishing his argument that the imagination is a prime agent of knowing and truth. [For a graphing of this, see Keats’s social network.

~Sixth: the Leigh Hunt factor: Without Hunt and Hunt’s connections, without Hunt’s early encouragements, and without Keats’s anxiety of influence concerning Hunt’s poetry and poetics, would Keats have continued on his poetic path as we know it—would he have developed that highly sought-after original voice? Almost certainly not. That is, at a certain point (emerging in 1817), and with a few close friends who advise him away from Hunt’s influence, Keats critically assesses Hunt’s poetic prowess and style in order to develop his own particular, unique direction. The limits of the poetry of sociability strikes him.

~Seventh: Keats short but valuable visit with Benjamin Bailey at Oxford over September into October 1817: by looking at Keats’s letters while with Bailey, and later to Bailey, we see that Bailey’s theological conceptualizing importantly challenges and begins to force Keats’s thinking about the imagination as a form of knowing, and beauty as a deep form of truth [see 3 September 1817 and 28 November 1817].

~Eighth: preparing Endymion for publication. By copying and reading over the poem as it moves toward publication, Keats comes to an important moment of realization: it is the work of an immature poet, but he views the poem as a necessary step in his poetic growth; he declares, in effect, no more of that, and time to move forward. That is, Keats comes both to play down the poem and to place it in the larger course of his progress, agreeing that while it is slipshod, its failure is necessary as a step toward being among the greatest (letters, 9 Oct 1818).

~Ninth: on the immediate threshold of his greatest work, into his personal world comes the agonizing death of his younger brother, Tom, in December 1818. The loss of Tom profoundly deepens Keats’s thinking and feeling about mortality in the face of death, suffering, sadness, and difficult resolve, and it shapes most of his thinking about how beauty, art, and nature will (to quote from his Ode on a Grecian Urn) remain, in midst of other woe / Than ours, a friend to man. This quality of profundity—and the understated style of expression—is simply not present in much of his earlier work. In short, the idea of death and duration, which must have been with him since the early deaths of his parents, is now to be more fully reckoned with in his thoughts and then into his poetry.

~Tenth: not long after Tom passes away, Keats begins what evolves into a very long journal letter to his remaining younger brother, George, and his wife, Georgiana, who have moved to America in search of opportunities. The letter, which dates from 14 February to 3 May 1819, and is taken up on at least thirteen days and amounts to almost 16,000 words (counting the transcribed poems), works through and up to the very threshold dates when he is writes his greatest poetry. The letter provides some of the background and, importantly, the momentum for the astonishing leap his poetry makes in spring 1819. The letter begins, mid-February, with Keats waiting for spring to rouse his imaginative capabilities, and then it works its way through subjects, theories, and concerns that are at the core of what separates his early poetry from this later work: life as an allegory, categories of indolence, mutability, disinterestedness of mind, the speculative mind, the meaning of Wordsworth’s one human heart, speculations about human purpose, poetry being as fine as philosophy, worries about life as a poet, struggles with perfectibility in a world of death and loss, the world as a vale of soul-making, how pain and suffering are necessary for a feeling heart—and at the end of the letter, he mentions that he is working on a sonnet form more suited to natural language, which in fact he puts into practice in the innovative stanza forms of his odes. This opportunity for conversation, set off by death and separation, is then a further step toward and factor in his poetic progress. So, the letter which, back in February, begins by confessing that his poetic life seems stuck, ends on 3 May with him writing, every thing is in delightful forwardness.

~Eleventh: although as an adult Keats’s finances are in a constant state of uncertainty under the management of the family trustee, Richard Abbey, the trickle of funds he receives allows him to pursue his career as a poet—much to Abbey’s disfavor. That is, Keats does not have to work while he pursues his desire to be a poet. At the same time, Keats would have been aware that the clock was, as it were, ticking down on the period of time bought by his family money, and this, no doubt, was a source of urgency for his rapid poetic progress. The generosity of his closest friends also, at a few key moments, helps him.

~And finally, twelfth: this we might call the Junkets factor: Keats’s complicated, unique, and ultimately unknowable capacities—his innate creative and imaginative potential, his unlearned emotional and intellectual nature, his drive (will power) to succeed, and his profound ability to fuse novel relationship with inductive thinking that cannot be reduced to a moment, a cause, a reason, or even to a particular insight on the part of Keats. But without this unseen, insoluble Junkets factor, nothing else happens.

These, then, are some of the overlapping and moving parts of what propels Keats forward and underwrites his remarkable and remarkably fast poetic progress. They are not, of course, the whole story, but some features and factors that, in the course of the present examination, are seen to contribute to the growth of a poet’s mind.

The span and nature of Keats’s poetic​ progress might thus be distilled: Keats is a full-time poet for about four years, 1816-1819, with the first three years generally resulting in poor, random, or middling attempts to find a voice, a style, a worthy subject; this poetry is largely occasional, too often overly poeticized, and for the most part motivated by unformed yet serious ambition rather than informed purpose, with the subtext often reducible to his desire to be poet. Of course there are poetic moments that anticipate his unique form of greatness.

And in the case of Endymion (which takes up Keats’s attentions for the better part of 1817), the project-poem openly acts as an apprenticeship to poetry, a test of perseverance, and, in the end, a self-warning about potential poetic pitfalls. Keats is fully aware that it is a very imperfect piece, despite the effort it took. It is a poem that also shows how Keats was certain that such a poem was going to be pulled into the moment of his own times—that is, more particularly, Keats was perfectly aware that the deeply partisan review culture of his time would, as it were, draw his attempt at an epic romance poem into the limiting, small-mindedness of contemporary party politics; and in the end, after his death, this happens, and it immediately turns Keats into the victim he never wanted to be, beginning with an epitaph on his grave that he never wanted. His too-obviously escapist poem could not escape. When poetry (or art) offends or challenges or complicates culturally-determined tastes, or when it is simply not very strong, criticism can degenerate into value judgment clothed in politics and confined tastes. The easy criticisms can level the work with a range of labels: as treasonous, seditious, irreverent, diseased, flippant, childish—these were all, in fact, put on to Keats’s poetry. His better work simply transcends those charges and qualities, and contemporary history is left far behind. And so in determining the larger meaning of Keats’s poetry (beyond, that is, clamouring elements that tie him to his own material history), we should take him at his word, that his deepest creative efforts are not directed to a passing public—to any thing in existence—but, as he writes, to the eternal Being, the Principle of Beauty,—and the Memory of great Men (to Reynolds, 9 April 1818). This is the poetic conversation Keats desires to have.

Keats’s last year of writing (mainly 1819) is marked by his success in finding and developing a voice and forms—and now highly conceptualized subjects—that balance yet conflate intensity and impersonality: there’s an empathetic imagination as a form of knowing that explores the mutual, mutable relationship of sensation and thought attuned to that larger principle of beauty. He now comes to achieve this without a forced poetic register, and with forms that frame the subject rather than detracting from it. Keats in part predicts this achievement when, just on the verge of his great year, he declares his determination to write independently & with judgment (to Hessey, 8 Oct 1818). His emphasis means all.

Perhaps, then, we can conclude that Keats, in his final year of writing, arrives at moments of fine poetic judgement, and, thankfully, literary history has come to judge his work accordingly.

Keats Reading, Reading Keats. ©2021 G. Kim Blank (click to enlarge).true
Keats Reading, Reading Keats. ©2021 G. Kim Blank (click to enlarge).
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Hyperion: A Fragment. BOOK I

  • Deep in the shady sadness of a vale
  • Far sunken from the healthy breath of morn,
  • Far from the fiery noon, and eve’s one star,
  • Sat gray-hair’d Saturn, quiet as a stone,
  • Still as the silence round about his lair;
  • Forest on forest hung above his head
  • Like cloud on cloud. No stir of air was there,
  • Not so much life as on a summer’s day
  • Robs not one light seed from the feather’d grass,
  • But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest.
  • A stream went voiceless by, still deadened more
  • By reason of his fallen divinity
  • Spreading a shade the Naiad ’mid her reeds
  • Press’d her cold finger closer to her lips.
  • Along the margin-sand large foot-marks went,
  • No further than to where his feet had stray’d,
  • And slept there since. Upon the sodden ground
  • His old right hand lay nerveless, listless, dead,
  • Unsceptred; and his realmless eyes were closed;
  • While his bow’d head seem’d list’ning to the Earth,
  • His ancient mother, for some comfort yet.
  • It seem’d no force could wake him from his place;
  • But there came one, who with a kindred hand
  • Touch’d his wide shoulders, after bending low
  • With reverence, though to one who knew it not.
  • She was a Goddess of the infant world;
  • By her in stature the tall Amazon
  • Had stood a pigmy’s height she would have ta’en
  • Achilles by the hair and bent his neck;
  • Or with a finger stay’d Ixion’s wheel.
  • Her face was large as that of Memphian sphinx,
  • Pedestal’d haply in a palace court,
  • When sages look’d to Egypt for their lore.
  • But oh! how unlike marble was that face
  • How Beautiful, if sorrow had not made
  • Sorrow more beautiful than beauty’s self.
  • There was a listening fear in her regard,
  • As if calamity had but begun;
  • As if the vanward clouds of evil days
  • Had spent their malice, and the sullen rear
  • Was with its stored thunder labouring up.
  • One hand she press’d upon that aching spot
  • Where beats the human heart, as if just there,
  • Though an immortal, she felt cruel pain
  • The other upon Saturn’s bended neck
  • She laid, and to the level of his ear
  • Leaning with parted lips, some words she spake
  • In solemn tenour and deep organ tone
  • Some mourning words, which in our feeble tongue
  • Would come in these like accents; O how frail
  • To that large utterance of the early Gods!
  • “Saturn, look up! — though wherefore, poor old King?
  • I have no comfort for thee, no not one
  • I cannot say, “ O wherefore sleepest thou?”
  • For heaven is parted from thee, and the earth
  • Knows thee not, thus afflicted, for a God;
  • And ocean too, with all its solemn noise,
  • Has from thy sceptre pass’d; and all the air
  • Is emptied of thine hoary majesty.
  • Thy thunder, conscious of the new command,
  • Rumbles reluctant o’er our fallen house;
  • And thy sharp lightning in unpractised hands
  • Scorches and burns our once serene domain.
  • O aching time! O moments big as years!
  • All as ye pass swell out the monstrous truth,
  • And press it so upon our weary griefs
  • That unbelief has not a space to breathe.
  • Saturn, sleep on:—O thoughtless, why did I
  • Thus violate thy slumbrous solitude?
  • Why should I ope thy melancholy eyes?
  • Saturn, sleep on! while at thy feet I weep.”
  • As when, upon a tranced summer-night,
  • Those green-rob’d senators of mighty woods,
  • Tall oaks, branch-charmed by the earnest stars,
  • Dream, and so dream all night without a stir,
  • Save from one gradual solitary gust
  • Which comes upon the silence, and dies off,
  • As if the ebbing air had but one wave;
  • So came these words and went; the while in tears
  • She touch’d her fair large forehead to the ground,
  • Just where her falling hair might be outspread,
  • A soft and silken mat for Saturn’s feet.
  • One moon, with alteration slow, had shed
  • Her silver seasons four upon the night,
  • And still these two were postured motionless,
  • Like natural sculpture in cathedral cavern;
  • The frozen God still couchant on the earth,
  • And the sad Goddess weeping at his feet:
  • Until at length old Saturn lifted up
  • His faded eyes, and saw his kingdom gone,
  • And all the gloom and sorrow of the place,
  • And that fair kneeling Goddess: and then spake,
  • As with a palsied tongue, and while his beard
  • Shook horrid with such aspen-malady:
  • “O tender spouse of gold Hyperion,
  • Thea, I feel thee ere I see thy face;
  • Look up, and let me see our doom in it;
  • Look up, and tell me if this feeble shape,
  • Is Saturn’s; tell me, if thou hear’st the voice
  • Of Saturn; tell me, if this wrinkling brow,
  • Naked and bare of its great diadem,
  • Peers like the front of Saturn. Who had power
  • To make me desolate? whence came the strength?
  • How was it nurtur’d to such bursting forth,
  • While Fate seem’d strangled in my nervous grasp?
  • But it is so; and I am smother’d up,
  • And buried from all godlike exercise
  • Of influence benign on planets pale,
  • Of admonitions to the winds and seas,
  • Of peaceful sway above man’s harvesting,
  • And all those acts which Deity supreme
  • Doth ease its heart of love in.—I am gone
  • Away from my own bosom: I have left
  • My strong identity, my real self,
  • Somewhere between the throne, and where I sit
  • Here on this spot of earth. Search, Thea, search!
  • Open thine eyes eterne, and sphere them round
  • Upon all space: space starr’d, and lorn of light;
  • Space region’d with life-air; and barren void;
  • Spaces of fire, and all the yawn of hell.—
  • Search, Thea, search! and tell me, if thou seest
  • A certain shape or shadow, making way
  • With wings or chariot fierce to repossess
  • A heaven he lost erewhile: it must — it must
  • Be of ripe progress — Saturn must be King.
  • Yes, there must be a golden victory;
  • There must be Gods thrown down, and trumpets blown
  • Of triumph calm, and hymns of festival
  • Upon the gold clouds metropolitan,
  • Voices of soft proclaim, and silver stir
  • Of strings in hollow shells; and there shall be
  • Beautiful things made new, for the surprise
  • Of the sky-children; I will give command:
  • Thea! Thea! Thea! where is Saturn?”
  • This passion lifted him upon his feet,
  • And made his hands to struggle in the air,
  • His Druid locks to shake and ooze with sweat,
  • His eyes to fever out, his voice to cease.
  • He stood, and heard not Thea’s sobbing deep;
  • A little time, and then again he snatch’d
  • Utterance thus. — “But cannot I create?
  • Cannot I form? Cannot I fashion forth
  • Another world, another universe,
  • To overbear and crumble this to nought?
  • Where is another Chaos? Where?”—That word
  • Found way unto Olympus, and made quake
  • The rebel three.—Thea was startled up,
  • And in her bearing was a sort of hope,
  • As thus she quick-voic’d spake, yet full of awe.
  • “This cheers our fallen house: come to our friends,
  • O Saturn! come away, and give them heart;
  • I know the covert, for thence came I hither.”
  • Thus brief: then with beseeching eyes she went
  • With backward footing through the shade a space:
  • He follow’d, and she turn’d to lead the way
  • Through aged boughs, that yielded like the mist
  • Which eagles cleave upmounting from their nest.
  • Meanwhile in other realms big tears were shed,
  • More sorrow like to this, and such like woe,
  • Too huge for mortal tongue or pen of scribe:
  • The Titans fierce, self-hid, or prison-bound,
  • Groan’d for the old allegiance once more,
  • And listen’d in sharp pain for Saturn’s voice.
  • But one of the whole mammoth-brood still kept
  • His sov’reignty, and rule, and majesty;—
  • Blazing Hyperion on his orbed fire
  • Still sat, still snuff’d the incense, teeming up
  • From man to the sun’s God; yet unsecure:
  • For as among us mortals omens drear
  • Fright and perplex, so also shuddered he—
  • Not at dog’s howl, or gloom-bird’s hated screech,
  • Or the familiar visiting of one
  • Upon the first toll of his passing-bell,
  • Or prophesyings of the midnight lamp;
  • But horrors, portion’d to a giant nerve,
  • Oft made Hyperion ache. His palace bright,
  • Bastion’d with pyramids of glowing gold,
  • And touch’d with shade of bronzed obelisks,
  • Glar’d a blood-red through all its thousand courts,
  • Arches, and domes, and fiery galleries;
  • And all its curtains of Aurorian clouds
  • Flush’d angerly: while sometimes eagle’s wings,
  • Unseen before by Gods or wondering men,
  • Darken’d the place; and neighing steeds were heard,
  • Not heard before by Gods or wondering men.
  • Also, when he would taste the spicy wreaths
  • Of incense, breath’d aloft from sacred hills,
  • Instead of sweets, his ample palate took
  • Savour of poisonous brass and metal sick:
  • And so, when harbour’d in the sleepy west,
  • After the full completion of fair day,—
  • For rest divine upon exalted couch
  • And slumber in the arms of melody,
  • He pac’d away the pleasant hours of ease
  • With stride colossal, on from hall to hall;
  • While far within each aisle and deep recess,
  • His winged minions in close clusters stood,
  • Amaz’d and full of fear; like anxious men
  • Who on wide plains gather in panting troops,
  • When earthquakes jar their battlements and towers.
  • Even now, while Saturn, rous’d from icy trance,
  • Went step for step with Thea through the woods,
  • Hyperion, leaving twilight in the rear,
  • Came slope upon the threshold of the west;
  • Then, as was wont, his palace-door flew ope
  • In smoothest silence, save what solemn tubes,
  • Blown by the serious Zephyrs, gave of sweet
  • And wandering sounds, slow-breathed melodies;
  • And like a rose in vermeil tint and shape,
  • In fragrance soft, and coolness to the eye,
  • That inlet to severe magnificence
  • Stood full blown, for the God to enter in.
  • He enter’d, but he enter’d full of wrath;
  • His flaming robes stream’d out beyond his heels,
  • And gave a roar, as if of earthly fire,
  • That scar’d away the meek ethereal Hours
  • And made their dove-wings tremble. On he flared,
  • From stately nave to nave, from vault to vault,
  • Through bowers of fragrant and enwreathed light,
  • And diamond-paved lustrous long arcades,
  • Until he reach’d the great main cupola;
  • There standing fierce beneath, he stampt his foot,
  • And from the basements deep to the high towers
  • Jarr’d his own golden region; and before
  • The quavering thunder thereupon had ceas’d,
  • His voice leapt out, despite of godlike curb,
  • To this result: “O dreams of day and night!
  • O monstrous forms! O effigies of pain!
  • O spectres busy in a cold, cold gloom!
  • O lank-eared Phantoms of black-weeded pools!
  • Why do I know ye? why have I seen ye? why
  • Is my eternal essence thus distraught
  • To see and to behold these horrors new?
  • Saturn is fallen, am I too to fall?
  • Am I to leave this haven of my rest,
  • This cradle of my glory, this soft clime,
  • This calm luxuriance of blissful light,
  • These crystalline pavillions, and pure fanes,
  • Of all my lucent empire? It is left
  • Deserted, void, nor any haunt of mine.
  • The blaze, the splendor, and the symmetry,
  • I cannot see—but darkness, death and darkness.
  • Even here, into my centre of repose,
  • The shady visions come to domineer,
  • Insult, and blind, and stifle up my pomp.—
  • Fall!— No, by Tellus and her briny robes!
  • Over the fiery frontier of my realms
  • I will advance a terrible right arm
  • Shall scare that infant thunderer, rebel Jove,
  • And bid old Saturn take his throne again.”—
  • He spake, and ceas’d, the while a heavier threat
  • Held struggle with his throat but came not forth;
  • For as in theatres of crowded men
  • Hubbub increases more they call out “Hush!”
  • So at Hyperion’s words the Phantoms pale
  • Bestirr’d themselves, thrice horrible and cold;
  • And from the mirror’d level where he stood
  • A mist arose, as from a scummy marsh.
  • At this, through all his bulk an agony
  • Crept gradual, from the feet unto the crown,
  • Like a lithe serpent vast and muscular
  • Making slow way, with head and neck convuls’d
  • From over-strained might. Releas’d, he fled
  • To the eastern gates, and full six dewy hours
  • Before the dawn in season due should blush,
  • He breath’d fierce breath against the sleepy portals,
  • Clear’d them of heavy vapours, burst them wide
  • Suddenly on the ocean’s chilly streams.
  • The planet orb of fire, whereon he rode
  • Each day from east to west the heavens through,
  • Spun round in sable curtaining of clouds;
  • Not therefore veiled quite, blindfold, and hid,
  • But ever and anon the glancing spheres,
  • Circles, and arcs, and broad-belting colure,
  • Glow’d through, and wrought upon the muffling dark
  • Sweet-shaped lightnings from the nadir deep
  • Up to the zenith,— hieroglyphics old,
  • Which sages and keen-eyed astrologers
  • Won from the gaze of many centuries:
  • Now lost, save what we find on remnants huge
  • Of stone, or marble swart; their import gone,
  • Their wisdom long since fled.— Two wings this orb
  • Possess’d for glory, two fair argent wings,
  • Ever exalted at the God’s approach:
  • And now, from forth the gloom their plumes immense,
  • Rose, one by one, till all outspreaded were;
  • While still the dazzling globe maintain’d eclipse,
  • Awaiting for Hyperion’s command.
  • Fain would he have commanded, fain took throne
  • And bid the day begin, if but for change.
  • He might not:— No, though a primeval God:
  • The sacred seasons might not be disturb’d.
  • Therefore the operations of the dawn
  • Stay’d in their birth, even as here ’tis told.
  • Those silver wings expanded sisterly,
  • Eager to sail their orb; the porches wide
  • Open’d upon the dusk demesnes of night;
  • And the bright Titan, phrenzied with new woes,
  • Unus’d to bend, by hard compulsion bent
  • His spirit to the sorrow of the time;
  • And all along a dismal rack of clouds,
  • Upon the boundaries of day and night,
  • He stretch’d himself in grief and radiance faint.
  • There as he lay, the heaven with its stars
  • Look’d down on him with pity, and the voice
  • Of Coelus, from the universal space,
  • Thus whisper’d low and solemn in his ear.
  • “O brightest of my children dear, earth-born
  • And sky-engendered, Son of Mysteries
  • All unrevealed even to the powers
  • Which met at thy creating; at whose joys
  • And palpitations sweet, and pleasures soft,
  • I, Coelus, wonder, how they came and whence;
  • And at the fruits thereof what shapes they be,
  • Distinct, and visible; symbols divine,
  • Manifestations of that beauteous life
  • Diffus’d unseen throughout eternal space:
  • Of these new-form’d art thou, oh brightest child!
  • Of these, thy brethren and the Goddesses!
  • There is sad feud among ye, and rebellion
  • Of son against his sire. I saw him fall,
  • I saw my first-born tumbled from his throne!
  • To me his arms were spread, to me his voice
  • Found way from forth the thunders round his head!
  • Pale wox I, and in vapours hid my face.
  • Art thou, too, near such doom? vague fear there is:
  • For I have seen my sons most unlike Gods.
  • Divine ye were created, and divine
  • In sad demeanour, solemn, undisturb’d,
  • Unruffled, like high Gods, ye liv’d and ruled:
  • Now I behold in you fear, hope, and wrath;
  • Actions of rage and passion; even as
  • I see them, on the mortal world beneath,
  • In men who die.— This is the grief, O Son!
  • Sad sign of ruin, sudden dismay, and fall!
  • Yet do thou strive; as thou art capable,
  • As thou canst move about, an evident God;
  • And canst oppose to each malignant hour
  • Ethereal presence:—I am but a voice;
  • My life is but the life of winds and tides,
  • No more than winds and tides can I avail:—
  • But thou canst.— Be thou therefore in the van
  • Of circumstance; yea, seize the arrow’s barb
  • Before the tense string murmur.— To the earth!
  • For there thou wilt find Saturn, and his woes.
  • Meantime I will keep watch on thy bright sun,
  • And of thy seasons be a careful nurse.”—
  • Ere half this region-whisper had come down,
  • Hyperion arose, and on the stars
  • Lifted his curved lids, and kept them wide
  • Until it ceas’d; and still he kept them wide:
  • And still they were the same bright, patient stars.
  • Then with a slow incline of his broad breast.
  • Like to a diver in the pearly seas,
  • Forward he stoop’d over the airy shore,
  • And plung’d all noiseless into the deep night.
×

To Autumn

1

  • Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
  • Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
  • Conspiring with him how to load and bless
  • With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
  • To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
  • And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
  • To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
  • With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
  • And still more, later flowers for the bees,
  • Until they think warm days will never cease,
  • For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

2

  • Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
  • Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
  • Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
  • Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
  • Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
  • Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
  • Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
  • And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
  • Steady thy laden head across a brook;
  • Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
  • Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

3

  • Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
  • Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
  • While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
  • And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
  • Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
  • Among the river sallows, borne aloft
  • Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
  • And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
  • Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
  • The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
  • And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.
×

The Eve of St. Agnes

1

  • St. Agnes’ Eve-Ah, bitter chill it was!
  • The owl, for all it his feathers, was a-cold;
  • The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,
  • And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
  • Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers, while he told
  • His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
  • Like pious incense from a censer old,
  • Seem’d taking flight for heaven, without a death,
  • Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer he saith.

2

  • His prayer he saith, this patient, holy man;
  • Then takes his lamp, and riseth from his knees,
  • And back returnth, meagre, barefoot, wan,
  • Along the chapel aisle by slow degrees:
  • The sculptur’d dead, on each side, seem to freeze,
  • Emprison’d in black, purgatorial rails:
  • Knights, ladies, praying in dumb orat’ries,
  • He passeth by; and his weak spirit fails
  • To think how they may ache in icy hoods and mails.

3

  • Northward he turneth through a little door,
  • And scarce three steps, ere Music’s golden tongue
  • Flatter’d to the tears this aged man and poor;
  • But no-already had his deathbell rung;
  • The joys of all his life were said and sung:
  • His was harsh penance on St. Agnes’ Eve:
  • Another way he went,and soon among
  • Rough ashes sat he for his soul’s reprieve,
  • And all night kept awake, for sinners’ sake to grieve

4

  • The ancient Beadsman heard the prelude soft;
  • And so it chanc’d, for many a door was wide,
  • From a hurry to and fro. Soon, up aloft,
  • The silver, snarling trumpets’ gan to chide:
  • The level chambers,ready with their pride,
  • Were glowing to receive a thousand guests:
  • The carved angels, ever eager-eyed,
  • Star’d, where upon their heads the cornice rests,
  • With hair blown back, and wings put cross-wise on their breasts.

5

  • At length burst in the argent revelry,
  • With plume, tiara, and all rich array,
  • Numerous as the shadows haunting fairily
  • The brain, new stuff’d, in youth, with triumphs gay
  • Of old romance. These let us wish away,
  • And turn, sole-thoughted, to one Lady there,
  • Whose heart had brooded, all that wintry day,
  • On love, and wing’d St. Agnes’ saintly care,
  • As she had heard old dames full many times declare.

6

  • They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,
  • Young virgins might have visions of delight,
  • And soft adorings from their loves receive
  • Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
  • If the ceremonies due they did aright;
  • As, supperless to bed they must retire,
  • And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
  • Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
  • Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.

7

  • Full of this whim was thoughtful Madeline:
  • The music, yearning like a God in pain,
  • She scarcely heard: her maiden eyes divine,
  • Fix’d on the floor, saw many a sweeping train
  • Pass by - she heeded not at all: in vain
  • Came many a tiptoe,amorous cavalier,
  • And back retir’d; not cool’d by high disdain,
  • But she saw not: her heart was otherwhere:
  • She sigh’d for Agnes’ dreams, the sweetest of the year.

8

  • She danc’d along with vague, regardless eyes,
  • Anxious lips, her breathing quick and short:
  • The hallow’d hour was near at hand: she sighs
  • Amid the timbrels, and the throng’d resort
  • Of whisperers in anger, or in sport;
  • ‘Mid looks of love, defiance, hate and scorn,
  • Hoodwink’d with faery fancy; all amort,
  • Save to St. Agnes and her lambs unshorn,
  • And all the bliss to be before to-morrow morn.

9

  • So, purposing each moment to retire,
  • She linger’d still. Meantime,across the moors,
  • Had come young Porphyro, with heart on fire
  • For Madeline. Beside the portal doors,
  • Buttress’d from moonlight, stands he, and implores
  • All saints to give him sight of Madeline,
  • But for one moment in the tedious hours,
  • That he might gaze and worship all unseen;
  • Perchance speak, kneel, touch, kiss - in sooth such thing have been.

10

  • He ventures in: let no buzz’d whisper tell:
  • All eyes be muffled, or a hundred swords
  • Will storm his heart, Love’s fev’rous citadel:
  • For him, those chambers held barbarian hordes,
  • Hyena foeman, and hot-blooded lords,
  • Whose very dogs would execrations howl
  • Against his lineage: not one breast affords
  • Him any mercy, in that mansion foul,
  • Save one old beldame, weak in body and soul.

11

  • Ah, happy chance! the aged creature came,
  • Shuffling along with ivory-headed wand,
  • To where he stood, hid from the torch’s flame,
  • Behind a broad half-pillar, far beyond
  • The sound of merriment and chorus bland:
  • He startled her; but soon she knew his face,
  • And grasp’s his fingers in her palsied hand,
  • Saying, ″Mercy, Porphyro! hie thee from this place;
  • They are all here to-night, the whole bloody thirsty race!

12

  • ″Get hence! get hence! there’s dwarfish Hildebrand;
  • He had a fever late, and in the fit
  • He cursed three and thine, both the house and land:
  • Then there’s that old Lord Maurice, not a whit
  • More tame for his gray hairs- Alas me! flit!
  • Flit like a ghost away. Ah,″-‶ Gossip dear,
  • We’re safe enough; here in this arm-chair sit,
  • And tell me how″-‶Good Saints! not here, not here;
  • Follow me,child, or else these stones will be thy bier.‶

13

  • He follow’d through a lowly arched way,
  • Brushing the cobwebs with his lofty plume,
  • And as she mutter’d ″Well-a-well-a-day!″
  • He found him in a little moonlight room,
  • Pale, lattic’d, chill, and silent as a tomb.
  • ″Now tell me, where is Madeline,″ said he,
  • ″O tell me, Angela, by the holy loom
  • Which non but secret sisterhood may see,
  • When they St. Agnes’ wool are we having piously.″

14

  • ″St. Agnes! Ah! it is St. Agnes’ Eve-
  • Yet men will murder upon holy days:
  • Thou must hold water in a witch’ s sieve,
  • And be liege-lord of all the Elves and Fays,
  • To venture so: it fills me with amaze
  • To see thee, Porphyro! - St. Agnes’ Eve!
  • God’s help! my lady fair the conjuror plays
  • This very night: good angels her deceive!
  • But let me laugh awhile, I’ve mickle time to grieve.″

15

  • Feebly she laugheth in the languid moon,
  • While Porphyro upon her face doth look,
  • Like puzzled urchin on an aged crone
  • Who keepeth clos’d a wond’rous riddle-book,
  • As spectacled she sits in chimney nook.
  • But soon his eyes grew brilliant, when she told
  • His lady’s purpose; and he scarce could brook
  • Tears, at the thought of those enchantments cold,
  • And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.

16

  • Sudden a thought came like a full-blown rose,
  • Flushing his brow, and in his painted heart
  • Made purple riot: then doth he purpose
  • A stratagem, that makes the beldame start:
  • “A cruel man and impious thou art:
  • Sweet lady, let her pray, and sleep and dream
  • Alone with her good angles, far apart
  • From wicked men like thee. Go, go!-I deem
  • Thou canst not surely be the same that thou didst seem.”

17

  • “I will not harm her, by all the saints I swear,‶
  • Quoth Porphyro: ″O may I ne′er find grace
  • When my weak voice shall whisper its last prayer,
  • If one of her soft ringlets I displace,
  • Or look with ruffian passion in her face:
  • Good Angela, believe me by these tears;
  • Or will, even in a moment′s space,
  • Awake, with horrid shout, my foemen′s ears,
  • And beard them, though they be more fang′d than wolves and bears.”

18

  • “Ah! why wilt thou affright a feeble soul?
  • A poor, weak, palsy-stricken, churchyard thing,
  • Whose passing-bell may ere the midnight toll;
  • Whose prayers for thee, each morn and evening,
  • Were never miss’d” - Thus plaining, doth she bring
  • A gentler speech from burning Porphyro;
  • So woful, and of such deep sorrowing,
  • That Angela gives promise she will do
  • Whatever he shall wish, betide her weal or woe.

19

  • Which was, to lead him, in close secrecy,
  • Even to Madeline’s chamber, and there hide
  • Him in closet, of such privacy
  • That he might see her beauty unespy’d,
  • And win perhaps that night a peerless bride,
  • While legion’d faeries pac’d the coverlet,
  • And pale enchantment held her sleepy-eyed.
  • Never on such a night have lovers met,
  • Since Merlin paid his Demon all the monstrous debt.

20

  • “It shall be as thou wishest,” said the Dame:
  • “All cates and dainties shall be stored there
  • Quickly on this feast-night: by the tambour frame
  • Her own lute thou wilt see: no time to spare,
  • For I am slow and feeble, and scarce dare
  • On such a catering trust my dizzy head.
  • Wait here, my child, with patience; kneel in prayer
  • The while: Ah! thou must needs the lady wed,
  • Or may I never leave my grave among the dead.”

21

  • So saying, she hobbled off with busy fear.
  • The lover’s endless minutes slowly pass’d;
  • The dame return’d, and whisper’d in his ear
  • To follow her; with aged eyes aghast
  • From fright of dim espial. Safe at last,
  • Through many a dusky gallery, they gain
  • The maiden’s chamber, silken, hush’d, and chaste;
  • Where Porphyro took covert, pleas’d amain.
  • His poor guide hurried back with agues in her brain.

22

  • Her falt’ring hand upon the balustrade,
  • Old Angela was feeling for the stair,
  • When Madeline, St. Agnes’ charmed maid,
  • Rose, like a mission’d spirit, unaware:
  • With silver taper’s light, and pious care,
  • She turn’d, and down the aged gossip led
  • To a safe level matting. Now prepare,
  • Young Porphyro, for gazing on that bed;
  • She comes, she comes again, like ring-dove fray’d and fled.

23

  • Out went the taper as she hurried in;
  • Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died:
  • She clos’d the door, she panted, all akin
  • To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
  • No uttered syllable, or, woe betide!
  • But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
  • Paining with eloquence her balmy side;
  • As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
  • Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell.

24

  • A casement high and triple-arch’d there was,
  • All garlanded with carven imag’ries
  • Of fruits, and flowers, and bunches of knot-grass,
  • And diamonded with panes of quaint device,
  • Innumerable of stains and splendid dyes,
  • As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damask’d wings;
  • And in the midst, ‘mong thousand heraldries,
  • And twilight saints, and dim emblazonings,
  • A shielded scutcheon blush’d with blood of queens and kings.

25

  • Full on this casement shone the wintry moon,
  • And threw warm gules on Madeline’s fair breast,
  • As down she knelt for heaven’s grace and boon;
  • Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
  • And on her silver cross soft amethyst,
  • And on her hair a glory, like a saint:
  • She seem’d a splendid angel, newly drest,
  • Save wings, for heaven:—Porphyro grew faint:
  • She knelt, so pure a thing, so free from mortal taint.

26

  • Anon his heart revives: her vespers done,
  • Of all its wreathed pearls her hair she frees;
  • Unclasps her warmed jewels one by one;
  • Loosens her fragrant boddice; by degrees
  • Her rich attire creeps rustling to her knees:
  • Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed,
  • Pensive awhile she dreams awake, and sees,
  • In fancy, fair St. Agnes in her bed,
  • But dares not look behind, or all the charm is fled.

27

  • Soon, trembling in her soft and chilly nest,
  • In sort of wakeful swoon, perplex’d she lay,
  • Until the poppied warmth of sleep oppress’d
  • Her soothed limbs, and soul fatigued away;
  • Flown, like a thought, until the morrow-day;
  • Blissfully haven’d both from joy and pain;
  • Clasp’d like a missal where swart Paynims pray;
  • Blinded alike from sunshine and from rain,
  • As though a rose should shut, and be a bud again.

28

  • Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
  • Porphyro gaz’d upon her empty dress,
  • And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
  • To wake into a slumberous tenderness;
  • Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
  • And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
  • Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,
  • And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
  • And ‘tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo!—how fast she slept.

29

  • Then by the bed-side, where the faded moon
  • Made a dim, silver twilight, soft he set
  • A table, and, half anguish’d, threw thereon
  • A cloth of woven crimson, gold, and jet:—
  • O for some drowsy Morphean amulet!
  • The boisterous, midnight, festive clarion,
  • The kettle-drum, and far-heard clarinet,
  • Affray his ears, though but in dying tone:—
  • The hall door shuts again, and all the noise is gone.

30

  • And still she slept an azure-lidded sleep,
  • In blanched linen, smooth, and lavender’d,
  • While he forth from the closet brought a heap
  • Of candied apple, quince, and plum, and gourd;
  • With jellies soother than the creamy curd,
  • And lucent syrops, tinct with cinnamon;
  • Manna and dates, in argosy transferr’d
  • From Fez; and spiced dainties, every one,
  • From silken Samarcand to cedar’d Lebanon.

31

  • These delicates he heap’d with glowing hand
  • On golden dishes and in baskets bright
  • Of wreathed silver: sumptuous they stand
  • In the retired quiet of the night,
  • Filling the chilly room with perfume light.—
  • “And now, my love, my seraph fair, awake!
  • Thou art my heaven, and I thine eremite:
  • Open thine eyes, for meek St. Agnes’ sake,
  • Or I shall drowse beside thee, so my soul doth ache.”

32

  • Thus whispering, his warm, unnerved arm
  • Sank in her pillow. Shaded was her dream
  • By the dusk curtains:—’twas a midnight charm
  • Impossible to melt as iced stream:
  • The lustrous salvers in the moonlight gleam;
  • Broad golden fringe upon the carpet lies:
  • It seem’d he never, never could redeem
  • From such a stedfast spell his lady’s eyes;
  • So mus’d awhile, entoil’d in woofed phantasies.

33

  • Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,—
  • Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be,
  • He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
  • In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy”:
  • Close to her ear touching the melody;—
  • Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
  • He ceas’d—she panted quick—and suddenly
  • Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
  • Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.

34

  • Her eyes were open, but she still beheld,
  • Now wide awake, the vision of her sleep:
  • There was a painful change, that nigh expell’d
  • The blisses of her dream so pure and deep
  • At which fair Madeline began to weep,
  • And moan forth witless words with many a sigh;
  • While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
  • Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,
  • Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.

35

  • “Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
  • Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
  • Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
  • And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:
  • How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
  • Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
  • Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
  • Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
  • For if thy diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”

36

  • Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
  • At these voluptuous accents, he arose
  • Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
  • Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose;
  • Into her dream he melted, as the rose
  • Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
  • Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
  • Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
  • Against the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.

37

  • ‘Tis dark: quick pattereth the flaw-blown sleet:
  • “This is no dream, my bride, my Madeline!”
  • ‘Tis dark: the iced gusts still rave and beat:
  • “No dream, alas! alas! and woe is mine!
  • Porphyro will leave me here to fade and pine.—
  • Cruel! what traitor could thee hither bring?
  • I curse not, for my heart is lost in thine,
  • Though thou forsakest a deceived thing;—
  • A dove forlorn and lost with sick unpruned wing.”

38

  • “My Madeline! sweet dreamer! lovely bride!
  • Say, may I be for aye thy vassal blest?
  • Thy beauty’s shield, heart-shap’d and vermeil dyed?
  • Ah, silver shrine, here will I take my rest
  • After so many hours of toil and quest,
  • A famish’d pilgrim,—sav’d by miracle.
  • Though I have found, I will not rob thy nest
  • Saving of thy sweet self; if thou think’st well
  • To trust, fair Madeline, to no rude infidel.

39

  • “Hark! ‘tis an elfin-storm from faery land,
  • Of haggard seeming, but a boon indeed:
  • Arise—arise! the morning is at hand;—
  • The bloated wassaillers will never heed:—
  • Let us away, my love, with happy speed;
  • There are no ears to hear, or eyes to see,—
  • Drown’d all in Rhenish and the sleepy mead:
  • Awake! arise! my love, and fearless be,
  • For o’er the southern moors I have a home for thee.”

40

  • She hurried at his words, beset with fears,
  • For there were sleeping dragons all around,
  • At glaring watch, perhaps, with ready spears—
  • Down the wide stairs a darkling way they found.—
  • In all the house was heard no human sound.
  • A chain-droop’d lamp was flickering by each door;
  • The arras, rich with horseman, hawk, and hound,
  • Flutter’d in the besieging wind’s uproar;
  • And the long carpets rose along the gusty floor.

41

  • They glide, like phantoms, into the wide hall;
  • Like phantoms, to the iron porch, they glide;
  • Where lay the Porter, in uneasy sprawl,
  • With a huge empty flaggon by his side:
  • The wakeful bloodhound rose, and shook his hide,
  • But his sagacious eye an inmate owns:
  • By one, and one, the bolts full easy slide:—
  • The chains lie silent on the footworn stones;—
  • The key turns, and the door upon its hinges groans.

42

  • And they are gone: ay, ages long ago
  • These lovers fled away into the storm.
  • That night the Baron dreamt of many a woe,
  • And all his warrior-guests, with shade and form
  • Of witch, and demon, and large coffin-worm,
  • Were long be-nightmar’d. Angela the old
  • Died palsy-twitch’d, with meagre face deform;
  • The Beadsman, after thousand aves told,
  • For aye unsought for slept among his ashes cold.
×

Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil

1

  • Fair Isabel, poor simple Isabel!
  • Lorenzo, a young palmer in Love’s eye!
  • They could not in the self-same mansion dwell
  • Without some stir of heart, some malady;
  • They could not sit at meals but feel how well
  • It soothed each to be the other by;
  • They could not, sure, beneath the same roof sleep
  • But to each other dream, and nightly weep.

2

  • With every morn their love grew tenderer,
  • With every eve deeper and tenderer still;
  • He might not in house, field, or garden stir,
  • But her full shape would all his seeing fill;
  • And his continual voice was pleasanter
  • To her, than noise of trees or hidden rill;
  • Her lute-string gave an echo of his name,
  • She spoilt her half-done broidery with the same.

3

  • He knew whose gentle hand was at the latch,
  • Before the door had given her to his eyes;
  • And from her chamber-window he would catch
  • Her beauty farther than the falcon spies;
  • And constant as her vespers would he watch,
  • Because her face was turn’d to the same skies;
  • And with sick longing all the night outwear,
  • To hear her morning-step upon the stair.

4

  • A whole long month of May in this sad plight
  • Made their cheeks paler by the break of June:
  • “To-morrow will I bow to my delight,
  • To-morrow will I ask my lady’s boon. ” —
  • “O may I never see another night,
  • Lorenzo, if thy lips breathe not love’s tune. ” —
  • So spake they to their pillows; but, alas,
  • Honeyless days and days did he let pass;

5

  • Until sweet Isabella’s untouch’d cheek
  • Fell sick within the rose’s just domain,
  • Fell thin as a young mother’s, who doth seek
  • By every lull to cool her infant’s pain:
  • “How ill she is, ” said he, “ I may not speak,
  • And yet I will, and tell my love all plain:
  • If looks speak love-laws, I will drink her tears,
  • And at the least ’twill startle off her cares.”

6

  • So said he one fair morning, and all day
  • His heart beat awfully against his side;
  • And to his heart he inwardly did pray
  • For power to speak; but still the ruddy tide
  • Stifled his voice, and puls’d resolve away —
  • Fever’d his high conceit of such a bride,
  • Yet brought him to the meekness of a child:
  • Alas! when passion is both meek and wild!

7

  • So once more he had wak’d and anguished
  • A dreary night of love and misery,
  • If Isabel’s quick eye had not been wed
  • To every symbol on his forehead high;
  • She saw it waxing very pale and dead,
  • And straight all flush’d; so, lisped tenderly,
  • “Lorenzo! ” — here she ceas’d her timid quest,
  • But in her tone and look he read the rest.

8

  • “O Isabella, I can half perceive
  • That I may speak my grief into thine ear;
  • If thou didst ever any thing believe,
  • Believe how I love thee, believe how near
  • My soul is to its doom: I would not grieve
  • Thy hand by unwelcome pressing, would not fear
  • Thine eyes by gazing; but I cannot live
  • Another night, and not my passion shrive.

9

  • “Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold,
  • Lady! thou leadest me to summer clime,
  • And I must taste the blossoms that unfold
  • In its ripe warmth this gracious morning time.”
  • So said, his erewhile timid lips grew bold,
  • And poesied with hers in dewy rhyme:
  • Great bliss was with them, and great happiness
  • Grew, like a lusty flower in June’s caress.

10

  • Parting they seem’d to tread upon the air,
  • Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart
  • Only to meet again more close, and share
  • The inward fragrance of each other’s heart.
  • She, to her chamber gone, a ditty fair
  • Sang, of delicious love and honey’d dart;
  • He with light steps went up a western hill,
  • And bade the sun farewell, and joy’d his fill.

11

  • All close they met again, before the dusk
  • Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil,
  • All close they met, all eves, before the dusk
  • Had taken from the stars its pleasant veil
  • Close in a bower of hyacinth and musk,
  • Unknown of any, free from whispering tale.
  • Ah! better had it been for ever so,
  • Than idle ears should pleasure in their woe.

12

  • 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.

13

  • 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.

14

  • With her two brothers this fair lady dwelt,
  • Enriched from ancestral merchandize,
  • And for them many a weary hand did swelt
  • In torched mines and noisy factories,
  • And many once proud-quiver’d loins did melt
  • In blood from stinging whip; — with hollow eyes
  • Many all day in dazzling river stood,
  • To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.

15

  • For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,
  • And went all naked to the hungry shark;
  • For them his ears gush’d blood; for them in death
  • The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark
  • Lay full of darts; for them alone did seethe
  • A thousand men in troubles wide and dark:
  • Half-ignorant, they turn’d an easy wheel,
  • That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.

16

  • Why were they proud? Because their marble founts
  • Gush’d with more pride than do a wretch’s tears? —
  • Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mounts
  • Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs? —
  • Why were they proud? Because red-lin’d accounts
  • Were richer than the songs of Grecian years? —
  • Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,
  • Why in the name of Glory were they proud?

17

  • Yet were these Florentines as self-retired
  • In hungry pride and gainful cowardice,
  • As two close Hebrews in that land inspired,
  • Paled in and vineyarded from beggar-spies;
  • The hawks of ship-mast forests — the untired
  • And pannier’d mules for ducats and old lies — .
  • Quick cat’s-paws on the generous stray-away, —
  • Great wits in Spanish, Tuscan, and Malay.

18

  • How was it these same ledger-men could spy
  • Fair Isabella in her downy nest?
  • How could they find out in Lorenzo’s eye
  • A straying from his toil? Hot Egypt’s pest
  • Into their vision covetous and sly!
  • How could these money-bags see east and west? —
  • Yet so they did — and every dealer fair
  • Must see behind, as doth the hunted hare.

19

  • O eloquent and famed Boccaccio!
  • Of thee we now should ask forgiving boon,
  • And of thy spicy myrtles as they blow,
  • And of thy roses amorous of the moon,
  • And of thy lilies, that do paler grow
  • Now they can no more hear thy ghittern’s tune,
  • For venturing syllables that ill beseem
  • The quiet glooms of such a piteous theme.

20

  • Grant thou a pardon here, and then the tale
  • Shall move on soberly, as it is meet;
  • There is no other crime, no mad assail
  • To make old prose in modern rhyme more sweet:
  • But it is done — succeed the verse or fail —
  • To honour thee, and thy gone spirit greet;
  • To stead thee as a verse in English tongue,
  • An echo of thee in the north-wind sung.

21

  • These brethren having found by many signs
  • What love Lorenzo for their sister had,
  • And how she lov’d him too, each unconfines
  • His bitter thoughts to other, well nigh mad
  • That he, the servant of their trade designs,
  • Should in their sister’s love be blithe and glad,
  • When ’twas their plan to coax her by degrees
  • To some high noble and his olive-trees.

22

  • And many a jealous conference had they,
  • And many times they bit their lips alone,
  • Before they fix’d upon a surest way
  • To make the youngster for his crime atone;
  • And at the last, these men of cruel clay
  • Cut Mercy with a sharp knife to the bone;
  • For they resolved in some forest dim
  • To kill Lorenzo, and there bury him.

23

  • So on a pleasant morning, as he leant
  • Into the sun-rise, o’er the balustrade
  • Of the garden-terrace, towards him they bent
  • Their footing through the dews; and to him said,
  • “You seem there in the quiet of content,
  • Lorenzo, and we are most loth to invade
  • Calm speculation; but if you are wise,
  • Bestride your steed while cold is in the skies.

24

  • “To-day we purpose, ay, this hour we mount
  • To spur three leagues towards the Apennine;
  • Come down, we pray thee, ere the hot sun count
  • His dewy rosary on the eglantine.”
  • Lorenzo, courteously as he was wont,
  • Bow’d a fair greeting to these serpents’ whine;
  • And went in haste, to get in readiness,
  • With belt, and spur, and bracing huntsman’s dress.

25

  • And as he to the court-yard pass’d along,
  • Each third step did he pause, and listen’d oft
  • If he could hear his lady’s matin-song,
  • Or the light whisper of her footstep soft;
  • And as he thus over his passion hung,
  • He heard a laugh full musical aloft;
  • When, looking up, he saw her features bright
  • Smile through an in-door lattice, all delight.

26

  • “Love, Isabel!” said he, “I was in pain
  • Lest I should miss to bid thee a good morrow:
  • Ah! what if I should lose thee, when so fain
  • I am to stifle all the heavy sorrow
  • Of a poor three hours’ absence? but we’ll gain
  • Out of the amorous dark what day doth borrow.
  • Good bye! I’ll soon be back.” — “Good bye!” said she —
  • And as he went she chanted merrily.

27

  • So the two brothers and their murder’d man
  • Rode past fair Florence, to where Arno’s stream
  • Gurgles through straiten’d banks, and still doth fan
  • Itself with dancing bulrush, and the bream
  • Keeps head against the freshets. Sick and wan
  • The brothers’ faces in the ford did seem,
  • Lorenzo’s flush with love. — They pass’d the water
  • Into a forest quiet for the slaughter.

28

  • There was Lorenzo slain and buried in,
  • There in that forest did his great love cease;
  • Ah! when a soul doth thus its freedom win,
  • It aches in loneliness — is ill at peace
  • As the break-covert blood-hounds of such sin:
  • They dipp’d their swords in the water, and did tease
  • Their horses homeward, with convulsed spur,
  • Each richer by his being a murderer.

29

  • They told their sister how, with sudden speed,
  • Lorenzo had ta’en ship for foreign lands,
  • Because of some great urgency and need
  • In their affairs, requiring trusty hands.
  • Poor Girl! put on thy stifling widow’s weed,
  • And ’scape at once from Hope’s accursed bands;
  • To-day thou wilt not see him, nor to-morrow,
  • And the next day will be a day of sorrow.

30

  • She weeps 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:
  • His image in the dusk she seem’d to see,
  • And to the silence made a gentle moan,
  • Spreading her perfect arms upon the air,
  • And on her couch low murmuring “Where? O where?”

31

  • But Selfishness, Love’s cousin, held not long
  • Its fiery vigil in her single breast;
  • She fretted for the golden hour, and hung
  • Upon the time with feverish unrest —
  • Not long — for soon into her heart a throng
  • Of higher occupants, a richer zest,
  • Came tragic; passion not to be subdued,
  • And sorrow for her love in travels rude.

32

  • In the mid days of autumn, on their eves,
  • The breath of Winter comes from far away,
  • And the sick west continually bereaves
  • Of some gold tinge, and plays a roundelay
  • Of death among the bushes and the leaves
  • To make all bare before he dares to stray
  • From his north cavern. So sweet Isabel
  • By gradual decay from beauty fell,

33

  • Because Lorenzo came not. Oftentimes
  • She ask’d her brothers, with an eye all pale,
  • Striving to be itself, what dungeon climes
  • Could keep him off so long? They spake a tale
  • Time after time, to quiet her. Their crimes
  • Came on them, like a smoke from Hinnom’s vale;
  • And every night in dreams they groan’d aloud,
  • To see their sister in her snowy shroud.

34

  • And she had died in drowsy ignorance,
  • But for a thing more deadly dark than all;
  • It came like a fierce potion, drunk by chance,
  • Which saves a sick man from the feather’d pall
  • For some few gasping moments; like a lance,
  • Waking an Indian from his cloudy hall
  • With cruel pierce, and bringing him again
  • Sense of the gnawing fire at heart and brain.

35

  • It was a vision. — In the drowsy gloom,
  • The dull of midnight, at her couch’s foot
  • Lorenzo stood, and wept: the forest tomb
  • Had marr’d his glossy hair which once could shoot
  • Lustre into the sun, and put cold doom
  • Upon his lips, and taken the soft lute
  • From his lorn voice, and past his loamed ears
  • Had made a miry channel for his tears.

36

  • Strange sound it was, when the pale shadow spake;
  • For there was striving, in its piteous tongue,
  • To speak as when on earth it was awake,
  • And Isabella on its music hung:
  • Languor there was in it, and tremulous shake,
  • As in a palsied Druid’s harp unstrung;
  • And through it moan’d a ghostly under-song,
  • Like hoarse night-gusts sepulchral briars among.

37

  • Its eyes, though wild, were still all dewy bright
  • With love, and kept all phantom fear aloof
  • From the poor girl by magic of their light,
  • The while it did unthread the horrid woof
  • Of the late darken’d time, — the murderous spite
  • Of pride and avarice, — the dark pine roof
  • In the forest, — and the sodden turfed dell,
  • Where, without any word, from stabs he fell.

38

  • Saying moreover, “Isabel, my sweet!
  • Red whortle-berries droop above my head,
  • And a large flint-stone weighs upon my feet;
  • Around me beeches and high chestnuts shed
  • Their leaves and prickly nuts; a sheep-fold bleat
  • Comes from beyond the river to my bed:
  • Go, shed one tear upon my heather-bloom,
  • And it shall comfort me within the tomb.

39

  • “I am a shadow now, alas! alas!
  • Upon the skirts of Human-nature dwelling
  • Alone: I chant alone the holy mass,
  • While little sounds of life are round me knelling,
  • And glossy bees at noon do fieldward pass,
  • And many a chapel bell the hour is telling,
  • Paining me through: those sounds grow strange to me,
  • And thou art distant in Humanity.

40

  • “I know what was, I feel full well what is,
  • And I should rage, if spirits could go mad;
  • Though I forget the taste of earthly bliss,
  • That paleness warms my grave, as though I had
  • A Seraph chosen from the bright abyss
  • To be my spouse: thy paleness makes me glad;
  • Thy beauty grows upon me, and I feel
  • A greater love through all my essence steal.”

41

  • The Spirit mourn’d “Adieu!” — dissolv’d, and left
  • The atom darkness in a slow turmoil;
  • As when of healthful midnight sleep bereft,
  • Thinking on rugged hours and fruitless toil,
  • We put our eyes into a pillowy cleft,
  • And see the spangly gloom froth up and boil:
  • It made sad Isabella’s eyelids ache,
  • And in the dawn she started up awake;

42

  • “Ha! ha! ” said she, “ I knew not this hard life,
  • I thought the worst was simple misery;
  • I thought some Fate with pleasure or with strife
  • Portion’d us — happy days, or else to die;
  • But there is crime — a brother’s bloody knife!
  • Sweet Spirit, thou hast school’d my infancy:
  • I’ll visit thee for this, and kiss thine eyes,
  • And greet thee morn and even in the skies.”

43

  • When the full morning came, she had devised
  • How she might secret to the forest hie;
  • How she might find the clay, so dearly prized,
  • And sing to it one latest lullaby;
  • How her short absence might be unsurmised,
  • While she the inmost of the dream would try.
  • Resolv’d, she took with her an aged nurse,
  • And went into that dismal forest-hearse.

44

  • See, as they creep along the river side,
  • How she doth whisper to that aged Dame,
  • And, after looking round the champaign wide,
  • Shows her a knife. — “What feverous hectic flame
  • “Burns in thee, child? — What good can thee betide,
  • That thou should’st smile again?” — The evening came,
  • And they had found Lorenzo’s earthy bed;
  • The flint was there, the berries at his head.

45

  • Who hath not loiter’d in a green church-yard,
  • And let his spirit, like a demon-mole,
  • Work through the clayey soil and gravel hard,
  • To see scull, coffin’d bones, and funeral stole;
  • Pitying each form that hungry Death hath marr’d,
  • And filling it once more with human soul?
  • Ah! this is holiday to what was felt
  • When Isabella by Lorenzo knelt.

46

  • She gaz’d into the fresh-thrown mould, as though
  • One glance did fully all its secrets tell;
  • Clearly she saw, as other eyes would know
  • Pale limbs at bottom of a crystal well;
  • Upon the murderous spot she seem’d to grow,
  • Like to a native lily of the dell:
  • Then with her knife, all sudden, she began
  • To dig more fervently than misers can.

47

  • Soon she turn’d up a soiled glove, whereon
  • Her silk had play’d in purple phantasies,
  • She kiss’d it with a lip more chill than stone,
  • And put it in her bosom, where it dries
  • And freezes utterly unto the bone
  • Those dainties made to still an infant’s cries:
  • Then ’gan she work again; nor stay’d her care,
  • But to throw back at times her veiling hair.

48

  • That old nurse stood beside her wondering,
  • Until her heart felt pity to the core
  • At sight of such a dismal labouring,
  • And so she kneeled, with her locks all hoar,
  • And put her lean hands to the horrid thing:
  • Three hours they labour’d at this travail sore;
  • At last they felt the kernel of the grave,
  • And Isabella did not stamp and rave.

49

  • Ah! wherefore all this wormy circumstance?
  • Why linger at the yawning tomb so long?
  • O for the gentleness of old Romance,
  • The simple plaining of a minstrel’s song!
  • Fair reader, at the old tale take a glance,
  • For here, in truth, it doth not well belong
  • To speak: — O turn thee to the very tale,
  • And taste the music of that vision pale.

50

  • With duller steel than the Persean sword
  • They cut away no formless monster’s head,
  • But one, whose gentleness did well accord
  • With death, as life. The ancient harps have said,
  • Love never dies, but lives, immortal Lord:
  • If Love impersonate was ever dead,
  • Pale Isabella kiss’d it, and low moan’d.
  • ’Twas love; cold, — dead indeed, but not dethroned.

51

  • In anxious secrecy they took it home,
  • And then the prize was all for Isabel:
  • She calm’d its wild hair with a golden comb,
  • And all around each eye’s sepulchral cell
  • Pointed each fringed lash; the smeared loam
  • With tears, as chilly as a dripping well,
  • She drench’d away: — and still she comb’d, and kept
  • Sighing all day — and still she kiss’d, and wept.

52

  • Then in a silken scarf, — sweet with the dews
  • Of precious flowers pluck’d in Araby,
  • And divine liquids come with odorous ooze
  • Through the cold serpent-pipe refreshfully, —
  • She wrapp’d it up; and for its tomb did choose
  • A garden-pot, wherein she laid it by,
  • And cover’d it with mould, and o’er it set
  • Sweet basil, which her tears kept ever wet.

53

  • And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun,
  • And she forgot the blue above the trees,
  • And she forgot the dells where waters run,
  • And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze;
  • She had no knowledge when the day was done,
  • And the new morn she saw not: but in peace
  • Hung over her sweet basil evermore,
  • And moisten’d it with tears unto the core.

54

  • And so she ever fed it with thin tears,
  • Whence thick, and green, and beautiful it grew,
  • So that it smelt more balmy than its peers
  • Of basil-tufts in Florence; for it drew
  • Nurture besides, and life, from human fears,
  • From the fast mouldering head there shut from view:
  • So that the jewel, safely casketed,
  • Came forth, and in perfumed leafits spread.

55

  • O Melancholy, linger here awhile!
  • O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!
  • O Echo, Echo, from some sombre isle,
  • Unknown, Lethean, sigh to us — O sigh!
  • Spirits in grief, lift up your heads, and smile;
  • Lift up your heads, sweet Spirits, heavily,
  • And make a pale light in your cypress glooms,
  • Tinting with silver wan your marble tombs.

56

  • Moan hither, all ye syllables of woe,
  • From the deep throat of sad Melpomene!
  • Through bronzed lyre in tragic order go,
  • And touch the strings into a mystery;
  • Sound mournfully upon the winds and low;
  • For simple Isabel is soon to be
  • Among the dead: She withers, like a palm
  • Cut by an Indian for its juicy balm.

57

  • O leave the palm to wither by itself;
  • Let not quick Winter chill its dying hour! —
  • It may not be — those Baalites of pelf,
  • Her brethren, noted the continual shower
  • From her dead eyes; and many a curious elf,
  • Among her kindred, wonder’d that such dower
  • Of youth and beauty should be thrown aside
  • By one mark’d out to be a noble’s bride.

58

  • And, furthermore, her brethren wonder’d much
  • Why she sat drooping by the basil green,
  • And why it flourish’d, as by magic touch;
  • Greatly they wonder’d what the thing might mean:
  • They could not surely give belief, that such
  • A very nothing would have power to wean
  • Her from her own fair youth, and pleasures gay,
  • And even remembrance of her love’s delay.

59

  • Therefore they watch’d a time when they might sift
  • This hidden whim; and long they watch’d in vain;
  • For seldom did she go to chapel-shrift,
  • And seldom felt she any hunger-pain;
  • And when she left, she hurried back, as swift
  • As bird on wing to breast its eggs again;
  • And, patient as a hen-bird, sat her there
  • Beside her basil, weeping through her hair.

60

  • Yet they contriv’d to steal the basil-pot,
  • And to examine it in secret place:
  • The thing was vile with green and livid spot,
  • And yet they knew it was Lorenzo’s face:
  • The guerdon of their murder they had got,
  • And so left Florence in a moment’s space,
  • Never to turn again. — Away they went,
  • With blood upon their heads, to banishment.

61

  • O Melancholy, turn thine eyes away!
  • O Music, Music, breathe despondingly!
  • O Echo, Echo, on some other day,
  • From isles Lethean, sigh to us — o sigh!
  • Spirits of grief, sing not you “ Well-a-way!”
  • For Isabel, sweet Isabel, will die;
  • Will die a death too lone and incomplete,
  • Now they have ta’en away her basil sweet.

62

  • Piteous she look’d on dead and senseless things,
  • Asking for her lost basil amorously;
  • And with melodious chuckle in the strings
  • Of her lorn voice, she oftentimes would cry
  • After the pilgrim in his wanderings,
  • To ask him where her basil was; and why
  • ’Twas hid from her: “ For cruel ’tis, ” said she,
  • “To steal my basil-pot away from me.”

63

  • And so she pined, and so she died forlorn,
  • Imploring for her basil to the last.
  • No heart was there in Florence but did mourn
  • In pity of her love, so overcast.
  • And a sad ditty of this story born
  • From mouth to mouth through all the country pass’d:
  • Still is the burthen sung — “ O cruelty,
  • “To steal my basil-pot away from me!”
×

ENDYMION: A Poetic Romance.

[from the title page:]

“THE STRETCHED METRE OF AN ANTIQUE SONG”

[from the dedication page:]

INSCRIBED TO THE MEMORY OF THOMAS CHATTERTON.

PREFACE.

[on pages vii-ix of the original text]

KNOWING within myself the manner in which this Poem has been produced, it is not without a feeling of regret that I make it public.

What manner I mean, will be quite clear to the reader, who must soon perceive great inexperience, immaturity, and every error denoting a feverish attempt, rather than a deed accomplished. The two first books, and indeed the two last, I feel sensible are not of such completion as to warrant their passing the press; nor should they if I thought a year’s castigation would do them any good;—it will not: the foundations are too sandy. It is just that this youngster should die away: a sad thought for me, if I had not some hope that while it is dwindling I may be plotting, and fitting myself for verses fit to live.

This may be speaking too presumptuously, and may deserve a punishment: but no feeling man will be forward to inflict it: he will leave me alone, with the conviction that there is not fiercer hell than the failure in a great object. This is not written with the least atom of purpose to forestall criticisms of course, but from the desire I have to conciliate men who are competent to look, and who do look with a zealous eye, to the honour of English literature.

The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness, and all the thousand bitters which those men I speak of must necessarily taste in going over the following pages.

I hope I have not in too late a day touched the beautiful mythology of Greece and dulled its brightness: for I wish to try once more, before I bid it farewel [sic].

Teignmouth,
April 10, 1818.

ENDYMION

BOOK 1.

  • A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
  • Its loveliness increases; it will never
  • Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
  • A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
  • Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
  • Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
  • A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
  • Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
  • Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
  • Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkened ways
  • Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
  • Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
  • From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
  • Trees old, and young sprouting a shady boon
  • For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
  • With the green world they live in; and clear rills
  • That for themselves a cooling covert make
  • ’Gainst the hot season; the mid forest brake,
  • Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
  • And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
  • We have imagined for the mighty dead;
  • All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
  • An endless fountain of immortal drink,
  • Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.
  • Nor do we merely feel these essences
  • For one short hour; no, even as the trees
  • That whisper round a temple become soon
  • Dear as the temple’s self, so does the moon,
  • The passion poesy, glories infinite,
  • Haunt us till they become a cheering light
  • Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast,
  • That, whether there be shine, or gloom o’ercast,
  • They alway must be with us, or we die.
  • Therefore, ’tis with full happiness that I
  • Will trace the story of Endymion.
  • The very music of the name has gone
  • Into my being, and each pleasant scene
  • Is growing fresh before me as the green
  • Of our own vallies: so I will begin
  • Now while I cannot hear the city’s din;
  • Now while the early budders are just new,
  • And run in mazes of the youngest hue
  • About old forests; while the willow trails
  • Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
  • Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
  • Grows lush in juicy stalks, I’ll smoothly steer
  • My little boat, for many quiet hours,
  • With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
  • Many and many a verse I hope to write,
  • Before the daisies, vermeil rimm’d and white,
  • Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
  • Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
  • I must be near the middle of my story.
  • O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
  • See it half finished: but let autumn bold,
  • With universal tinge of sober gold,
  • Be all about me when I make an end.
  • And now at once, adventuresome, I send
  • My herald thought into a wilderness:
  • There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
  • My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
  • Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.
  • Upon the sides of Latmos was outspread
  • A mighty forest; for the moist earth fed
  • So plenteously all weed-hidden roots
  • Into o’er-hanging boughs, and precious fruits.
  • And it had gloomy shades, sequestered deep,
  • Where no man went; and if from shepherd’s keep
  • A lamb strayed far a-down those inmost glens,
  • Never again saw he the happy pens
  • Whither his brethren, bleating with content,
  • Over the hills at every nightfall went.
  • Among the shepherds, ’twas believed ever,
  • That not one fleecy lamb which thus did sever
  • From the white flock, but pass’d unworried
  • By angry wolf, or pard with prying head,
  • Until it came to some unfooted plains
  • Where fed the herds of Pan: ay great his gains
  • Who thus one lamb did lose. Paths there were many,
  • Winding through palmy fern, and rushes fenny,
  • And ivy banks; all leading pleasantly
  • To a wide lawn, whence one could only see
  • Stems thronging all around between the swell
  • Of turf and slanting branches: who could tell
  • The freshness of the space of heaven above,
  • Edg’d round with dark tree tops? through which a dove
  • Would often beat its wings, and often too
  • A little cloud would move across the blue.
  • Full in the middle of this pleasantness
  • There stood a marble altar, with a tress
  • Of flowers budded newly; and the dew
  • Had taken fairy phantasies to strew
  • Daisies upon the sacred sward last eve,
  • And so the dawned light in pomp receive.
  • For ’twas the morn: Apollo’s upward fire
  • Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre
  • Of brightness so unsullied, that therein
  • A melancholy spirit well might win
  • Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine
  • Into the winds: rain-scented eglantine
  • Gave temperate sweets to that well-wooing sun;
  • The lark was lost in him; cold springs had run
  • To warm their chilliest bubbles in the grass;
  • Man’s voice was on the mountains; and the mass
  • Of nature’s lives and wonders puls’d tenfold,
  • To feel this sun-rise and its glories old.
  • Now while the silent workings of the dawn
  • Were busiest, into that self-same lawn
  • All suddenly, with joyful cries, there sped
  • A troop of little children garlanded;
  • Who gathering round the altar, seemed to pry
  • Earnestly round as wishing to espy
  • Some folk of holiday: nor had they waited
  • For many moments, ere their ears were sated
  • With a faint breath of music, which ev’n then
  • Fill’d out its voice, and died away again.
  • Within a little space again it gave
  • Its airy swellings, with a gentle wave,
  • To light-hung leaves, in smoothest echoes breaking
  • Through copse-clad vallies, — ere their death, o’ertaking
  • The surgy murmurs of the lonely sea.
  • And now, as deep into the wood as we
  • Might mark a lynx’s eye, there glimmered light
  • Fair faces and a rush of garments white,
  • Plainer and plainer shewing, till at last
  • Into the widest alley they all past,
  • Making directly for the woodland altar.
  • O kindly muse! let not my weak tongue faulter
  • In telling of this goodly company,
  • Of their old piety, and of their glee:
  • But let a portion of ethereal dew
  • Fall on my head, and presently unmew
  • My soul; that I may dare, in wayfaring,
  • To stammer where old Chaucer used to sing.
  • Leading the way, young damsels danced along,
  • Bearing the burden of a shepherd song;
  • Each having a white wicker over brimm’d
  • With April’s tender younglings: next, well trimm’d,
  • A crowd of shepherds with as sunburnt looks
  • As may be read of in Arcadian books;
  • Such as sat listening round Apollo’s pipe,
  • When the great deity, for earth too ripe,
  • Let his divinity o’er-flowing die
  • In music, through the vales of Thessaly:
  • Some idly trailed their sheep-hooks on the ground,
  • And some kept up a shrilly mellow sound
  • With ebon-tipped flutes: close after these,
  • Now coming from beneath the forest trees,
  • A venerable priest full soberly,
  • Begirt with ministring looks: alway his eye
  • Stedfast upon the matted turf he kept,
  • And after him his sacred vestments swept.
  • From his right hand there swung a vase, milk-white,
  • Of mingled wine, out-sparkling generous light;
  • And in his left he held a basket full
  • Of all sweet herbs that searching eye could cull:
  • Wild thyme, and valley-lilies whiter still
  • Than Leda’s love, and cresses from the rill.
  • His aged head, crowned with beechen wreath,
  • Seem’d like a poll of ivy in the teeth
  • Of winter hoar. Then came another crowd
  • Of shepherds, lifting in due time aloud
  • Their share of the ditty. After them appear’d,
  • Up-followed by a multitude that rear’d
  • Their voices to the clouds, a fair wrought car,
  • Easily rolling so as scarce to mar
  • The freedom of three steeds of dapple brown:
  • Who stood therein did seem of great renown
  • Among the throng. His youth was fully blown,
  • Shewing like Ganymede to manhood grown;
  • And, for those simple times, his garments were
  • A chieftain king’s: beneath his breast, half bare,
  • Was hung a silver bugle, and between
  • His nervy knees there lay a boar-spear keen.
  • A smile was on his countenance; he seem’d,
  • To common lookers on, like one who dream’d
  • Of idleness in groves Elysian:
  • But there were some who feelingly could scan
  • A lurking trouble in his nether lip,
  • And see that oftentimes the reins would slip
  • Through his forgotten hands: then would they sigh,
  • And think of yellow leaves, of owlet’s cry,
  • Of logs piled solemnly. — Ah, well-a-day,
  • Why should our young Endymion pine away!
  • Soon the assembly, in a circle rang’d,
  • Stood silent round the shrine: each look was chang’d
  • To sudden veneration: women meek
  • Beckon’d their sons to silence; while each cheek
  • Of virgin bloom paled gently for slight fear.
  • Endymion too, without a forest peer,
  • Stood, wan, and pale, and with an awed face,
  • Among his brothers of the mountain chase.
  • In midst of all, the venerable priest
  • Eyed them with joy from greatest to the least,
  • And, after lifting up his aged hands,
  • Thus spake he: “Men of Latmos! shepherd bands!
  • Whose care it is to guard a thousand flocks:
  • Whether descended from beneath the rocks
  • That overtop your mountains; whether come
  • From vallies where the pipe is never dumb;
  • Or from your swelling downs, where sweet air stirs
  • Blue hare-bells lightly, and where prickly furze
  • Buds lavish gold; or ye, whose precious charge
  • Nibble their fill at ocean’s very marge,
  • Whose mellow reeds are touch’d with sounds forlorn
  • By the dim echoes of old Triton’s horn:
  • Mothers and wives! who day by day prepare
  • The scrip, with needments, for the mountain air;
  • And all ye gentle girls who foster up
  • Udderless lambs, and in a little cup
  • Will put choice honey for a favoured youth:
  • Yea, every one attend! for in good truth
  • Our vows are wanting to our great god Pan.
  • Are not our lowing heifers sleeker than
  • Night-swollen mushrooms? Are not our wide plains
  • Speckled with countless fleeces? Have not rains
  • Green’d over April’s lap? No howling sad
  • Sickens our fearful ewes; and we have had
  • Great bounty from Endymion our lord.
  • The earth is glad: the merry lark has pour’d
  • His early song against yon breezy sky,
  • That spreads so clear o’er our solemnity.”
  • Thus ending, on the shrine he heap’d a spire
  • Of teeming sweets, enkindling sacred fire;
  • Anon he stain’d the thick and spongy sod
  • With wine, in honour of the shepherd-god.
  • Now while the earth was drinking it, and while
  • Bay leaves were crackling in the fragrant pile,
  • And gummy frankincense was sparkling bright
  • ’Neath smothering parsley, and a hazy light
  • Spread greyly eastward, thus a chorus sang:
  • “O thou, whose mighty palace roof doth hang
  • From jagged trunks, and overshadoweth
  • Eternal whispers, glooms, the birth, life, death
  • Of unseen flowers in heavy peacefulness;
  • Who lov’st to see the hamadryads dress
  • Their ruffled locks where meeting hazels darken;
  • And through whole solemn hours dost sit, and hearken
  • The dreary melody of bedded reeds —
  • In desolate places, where dank moisture breeds
  • The pipy hemlock to strange overgrowth;
  • Bethinking thee, how melancholy loth
  • Thou wast to lose fair Syrinx — do thou now,
  • By thy love’s milky brow!
  • By all the trembling mazes that she ran,
  • Hear us, great Pan!
  • “O thou, for whose soul-soothing quiet, turtles
  • Passion their voices cooingly ’mong myrtles,
  • What time thou wanderest at eventide
  • Through sunny meadows, that outskirt the side
  • Of thine enmossed realms: O thou, to whom
  • Broad leaved fig trees even now foredoom
  • Their ripen’d fruitage; yellow girted bees
  • Their golden honeycombs; our village leas
  • Their fairest blossom’d beans and poppied corn;
  • The chuckling linnet its five young unborn,
  • To sing for thee; low creeping strawberries
  • Their summer coolness; pent up butterflies
  • Their freckled wings; yea, the fresh budding year
  • All its completions — be quickly near,
  • By every wind that nods the mountain pine,
  • O forester divine!
  • “Thou, to whom every faun and satyr flies
  • For willing service; whether to surprise
  • The squatted hare while in half sleeping fit;
  • Or upward ragged precipices flit
  • To save poor lambkins from the eagle’s maw;
  • Or by mysterious enticement draw
  • Bewildered shepherds to their path again;
  • Or to tread breathless round the frothy main,
  • And gather up all fancifullest shells
  • For thee to tumble into Naiads’ cells,
  • And, being hidden, laugh at their out-peeping;
  • Or to delight thee with fantastic leaping,
  • The while they pelt each other on the crown
  • With silvery oak apples, and fir cones brown —
  • By all the echoes that about thee ring,
  • Hear us, O satyr king!
  • “O Hearkener to the loud clapping shears,
  • While ever and anon to his shorn peers
  • A ram goes bleating: Winder of the horn,
  • When snouted wild-boars routing tender corn
  • Anger our huntsmen: Breather round our farms,
  • To keep off mildews, and all weather harms:
  • Strange ministrant of undescribed sounds,
  • That come a swooning over hollow grounds,
  • And wither drearily on barren moors:
  • Dread opener of the mysterious doors
  • Leading to universal knowledge — see,
  • Great son of Dryope,
  • The many that are come to pay their vows
  • With leaves about their brows!
  • “Be still the unimaginable lodge
  • For solitary thinkings; such as dodge
  • Conception to the very bourne of heaven,
  • Then leave the naked brain: be still the leaven,
  • That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
  • Gives it a touch ethereal — a new birth:
  • Be still a symbol of immensity;
  • A firmament reflected in a sea;
  • An element filling the space between;
  • An unknown — but no more: we humbly screen
  • With uplift hands our foreheads, lowly bending,
  • And giving out a shout most heaven rending,
  • Conjure thee to receive our humble paean,
  • Upon thy Mount Lycean!”
  • Even while they brought the burden to a close,
  • A shout from the whole multitude arose,
  • That lingered in the air like dying rolls
  • Of abrupt thunder, when Ionian shoals
  • Of dolphins bob their noses through the brine.
  • Meantime, on shady levels, mossy fine,
  • Young companies nimbly began dancing
  • To the swift treble pipe, and humming string.
  • Aye, those fair living forms swam heavenly
  • To tunes forgotten — out of memory:
  • Fair creatures! whose young childrens’ children bred
  • Thermopylae its heroes — not yet dead,
  • But in old marbles ever beautiful.
  • High genitors, unconscious did they cull
  • Time’s sweet first-fruits — they danc’d to weariness,
  • And then in quiet circles did they press
  • The hillock turf, and caught the latter end
  • Of some strange history, potent to send
  • A young mind from its bodily tenement.
  • Or they might watch the quoit-pitchers, intent
  • On either side; pitying the sad death
  • Of Hyacinthus, when the cruel breath
  • Of Zephyr slew him, — Zephyr penitent,
  • Who now, ere Phoebus mounts the firmament,
  • Fondles the flower amid the sobbing rain.
  • The archers too, upon a wider plain,
  • Beside the feathery whizzing of the shaft,
  • And the dull twanging bowstring, and the raft
  • Branch down sweeping from a tall ash top,
  • Call’d up a thousand thoughts to envelope
  • Those who would watch. Perhaps, the trembling knee
  • And frantic gape of lonely Niobe,
  • Poor, lonely Niobe! when her lovely young
  • Were dead and gone, and her caressing tongue
  • Lay a lost thing upon her paly lip,
  • And very, very deadliness did nip
  • Her motherly cheeks. Arous’d from this sad mood
  • By one, who at a distance loud halloo’d,
  • Uplifting his strong bow into the air,
  • Many might after brighter visions stare:
  • After the Argonauts, in blind amaze
  • Tossing about on Neptune’s restless ways,
  • Until, from the horizon’s vaulted side,
  • There shot a golden splendour far and wide,
  • Spangling those million poutings of the brine
  • With quivering ore: ’twas even an awful shine
  • From the exaltation of Apollo’s bow;
  • A heavenly beacon in their dreary woe.
  • Who thus were ripe for high contemplating
  • Might turn their steps towards the sober ring
  • Where sat Endymion and the aged priest
  • ’Mong shepherds gone in eld, whose looks increas’d
  • The silvery setting of their mortal star.
  • There they discours’d upon the fragile bar
  • That keeps us from our homes ethereal;
  • And what our duties there: to nightly call
  • Vesper, the beauty-crest of summer weather;
  • To summon all the downiest clouds together
  • For the sun’s purple couch; to emulate
  • In ministring the potent rule of fate
  • With speed of fire-tailed exhalations;
  • To tint her pallid cheek with bloom, who cons
  • Sweet poesy by moonlight: besides these,
  • A world of other unguess’d offices.
  • Anon they wander’d, by divine converse,
  • Into Elysium; vieing to rehearse
  • Each one his own anticipated bliss.
  • One felt heart-certain that he could not miss
  • His quick gone love, among fair blossom’d boughs,
  • Where every zephyr-sigh pouts, and endows
  • Her lips with music for the welcoming.
  • Another wish’d, mid that eternal spring,
  • To meet his rosy child, with feathery sails,
  • Sweeping, eye-earnestly, through almond vales:
  • Who, suddenly, should stoop through the smooth wind,
  • And with the balmiest leaves his temples bind;
  • And, ever after, through those regions be
  • His messenger, his little Mercury.
  • Some were athirst in soul to see again
  • Their fellow huntsmen o’er the wide champaign
  • In times long past; to sit with them, and talk
  • Of all the chances in their earthly walk;
  • Comparing, joyfully, their plenteous stores
  • Of happiness, to when upon the moors,
  • Benighted, close they huddled from the cold,
  • And shar’d their famish’d scrips. Thus all out-told
  • Their fond imaginations, — saving him
  • Whose eyelids curtain’d up their jewels dim,
  • Endymion: yet hourly had he striven
  • To hide the cankering venom, that had riven
  • His fainting recollections. Now indeed
  • His senses had swoon’d off: he did not heed
  • The sudden silence, or the whispers low,
  • Or the old eyes dissolving at his woe,
  • Or anxious calls, or close of trembling palms,
  • Or maiden’s sigh, that grief itself embalms:
  • But in the self-same fixed trance he kept,
  • Like one who on the earth had never stept —
  • Aye, even as dead-still as a marble man,
  • Frozen in that old tale Arabian.
  • Who whispers him so pantingly and close?
  • Peona, his sweet sister: of all those,
  • His friends, the dearest. Hushing signs she made,
  • And breath’d a sister’s sorrow to persuade
  • A yielding up, a cradling on her care.
  • Her eloquence did breathe away the curse:
  • She led him, like some midnight spirit nurse
  • Of happy changes in emphatic dreams,
  • Along a path between two little streams, —
  • Guarding his forehead, with her round elbow,
  • From low-grown branches, and his footsteps slow
  • From stumbling over stumps and hillocks small;
  • Until they came to where these streamlets fall,
  • With mingled bubblings and a gentle rush,
  • Into a river, clear, brimful, and flush
  • With crystal mocking of the trees and sky.
  • A little shallop, floating there hard by,
  • Pointed its beak over the fringed bank;
  • And soon it lightly dipt, and rose, and sank,
  • And dipt again, with the young couple’s weight, —
  • Peona guiding, through the water straight,
  • Towards a bowery island opposite;
  • Which gaining presently, she steered light
  • Into a shady, fresh, and ripply cove,
  • Where nested was an arbour, overwove
  • By many a summer’s silent fingering;
  • To whose cool bosom she was used to bring
  • Her playmates, with their needle broidery,
  • And minstrel memories of times gone by.
  • So she was gently glad to see him laid
  • Under her favourite bower’s quiet shade,
  • On her own couch, new made of flower leaves,
  • Dried carefully on the cooler side of sheaves
  • When last the sun his autumn tresses shook,
  • And the tann’d harvesters rich armfuls took.
  • Soon was he quieted to slumbrous rest:
  • But, ere it crept upon him, he had prest
  • Peona’s busy hand against his lips,
  • And still, a sleeping, held her finger-tips
  • In tender pressure. And as a willow keeps
  • A patient watch over the stream that creeps
  • Windingly by it, so the quiet maid
  • Held her in peace: so that a whispering blade
  • Of grass, a wailful gnat, a bee bustling
  • Down in the blue-bells, or a wren light rustling
  • Among sere leaves and twigs, might all be heard.
  • O magic sleep! O comfortable bird,
  • That broodest o’er the troubled sea of the mind
  • Till it is hush’d and smooth! O unconfin’d
  • Restraint! imprisoned liberty! great key
  • To golden palaces, strange minstrelsy,
  • Fountains grotesque, new trees, bespangled caves,
  • Echoing grottos, full of tumbling waves
  • And moonlight; aye, to all the mazy world
  • Of silvery enchantment! — who, upfurl’d
  • Beneath thy drowsy wing a triple hour,
  • But renovates and lives? — Thus, in the bower,
  • Endymion was calm’d to life again.
  • Opening his eyelids with a healthier brain,
  • He said: “I feel this thine endearing love
  • All through my bosom: thou art as a dove
  • Trembling its closed eyes and sleeked wings
  • About me; and the pearliest dew not brings
  • Such morning incense from the fields of May,
  • As do those brighter drops that twinkling stray
  • From those kind eyes, — the very home and haunt
  • Of sisterly affection. Can I want
  • Aught else, aught nearer heaven, than such tears?
  • Yet dry them up, in bidding hence all fears
  • That, any longer, I will pass my days
  • Alone and sad. No, I will once more raise
  • My voice upon the mountain-heights; once more
  • Make my horn parley from their foreheads hoar:
  • Again my trooping hounds their tongues shall loll
  • Around the breathed boar: again I’ll poll
  • The fair-grown yew tree, for a chosen bow:
  • And, when the pleasant sun is getting low,
  • Again I’ll linger in a sloping mead
  • To hear the speckled thrushes, and see feed
  • Our idle sheep. So be thou cheered, sweet,
  • And, if thy lute is here, softly intreat
  • My soul to keep in its resolved course.”
  • Hereat Peona, in their silver source,
  • Shut her pure sorrow drops with glad exclaim,
  • And took a lute, from which there pulsing came
  • A lively prelude, fashioning the way
  • In which her voice should wander. ’Twas a lay
  • More subtle cadenced, more forest wild
  • Than Dryope’s lone lulling of her child;
  • And nothing since has floated in the air
  • So mournful strange. Surely some influence rare
  • Went, spiritual, through the damsel’s hand;
  • For still, with Delphic emphasis, she spann’d
  • The quick invisible strings, even though she saw
  • Endymion’s spirit melt away and thaw
  • Before the deep intoxication.
  • But soon she came, with sudden burst, upon
  • Her self-possession — swung the lute aside,
  • And earnestly said: “Brother, ’tis vain to hide
  • That thou dost know of things mysterious,
  • Immortal, starry; such alone could thus
  • Weigh down thy nature. Hast thou sinn’d in aught
  • Offensive to the heavenly powers? Caught
  • A Paphian dove upon a message sent?
  • Thy deathful bow against some dear-herd bent,
  • Sacred to Dian? Haply, thou hast seen
  • Her naked limbs among the alders green;
  • And that, alas! is death. No, I can trace
  • Something more high perplexing in thy face!”
  • Endymion look’d at her, and press’d her hand,
  • And said, “Art thou so pale, who wast so bland
  • And merry in our meadows? How is this?
  • Tell me thine ailment: tell me all amiss! —
  • Ah! thou hast been unhappy at the change
  • Wrought suddenly in me. What indeed more strange?
  • Or more complete to overwhelm surmise?
  • Ambition is no sluggard: ’tis no prize,
  • That toiling years would put within my grasp,
  • That I have sigh’d for: with so deadly gasp
  • No man e’er panted for a mortal love.
  • So all have set my heavier grief above
  • These things which happen. Rightly have they done:
  • I, who still saw the horizontal sun
  • Heave his broad shoulder o’er the edge of the world,
  • Out-facing Lucifer, and then had hurl’d
  • My spear aloft, as signal for the chace —
  • I, who, for very sport of heart, would race
  • With my own steed from Araby; pluck down
  • A vulture from his towery perching; frown
  • A lion into growling, loth retire —
  • To lose, at once, all my toil breeding fire,
  • And sink thus low! but I will ease my breast
  • Of secret grief, here in this bowery nest.
  • “This river does not see the naked sky,
  • Till it begins to progress silverly
  • Around the western border of the wood,
  • Whence, from a certain spot, its winding flood
  • Seems at the distance like a crescent moon:
  • And in that nook, the very pride of June,
  • Had I been used to pass my weary eves;
  • The rather for the sun unwilling leaves
  • So dear a picture of his sovereign power,
  • And I could witness his most kingly hour,
  • When he doth tighten up the golden reins,
  • And paces leisurely down amber plains
  • His snorting four. Now when his chariot last
  • Its beams against the zodiac-lion cast,
  • There blossom’d suddenly a magic bed
  • Of sacred ditamy, and poppies red:
  • At which I wondered greatly, knowing well
  • That but one night had wrought this flowery spell;
  • And, sitting down close by, began to muse
  • What it might mean. Perhaps, thought I, Morpheus,
  • In passing here, his owlet pinions shook;
  • Or, it may be, ere matron Night uptook
  • Her ebon urn, young Mercury, by stealth,
  • Had dipt his rod in it: such garland wealth
  • Came not by common growth. Thus on I thought,
  • Until my head was dizzy and distraught.
  • Moreover, through the dancing poppies stole
  • A breeze, most softly lulling to my soul;
  • And shaping visions all about my sight
  • Of colours, wings, and bursts of spangly light;
  • The which became more strange, and strange, and dim,
  • And then were gulph’d in a tumultuous swim:
  • And then I fell asleep. Ah, can I tell
  • The enchantment that afterwards befel?
  • Yet it was but a dream: yet such a dream
  • That never tongue, although it overteem
  • With mellow utterance, like a cavern spring,
  • Could figure out and to conception bring
  • All I beheld and felt. Methought I lay
  • Watching the zenith, where the milky way
  • Among the stars in virgin splendour pours;
  • And travelling my eye, until the doors
  • Of heaven appear’d to open for my flight,
  • I became loth and fearful to alight
  • From such high soaring by a downward glance:
  • So kept me stedfast in that airy trance,
  • Spreading imaginary pinions wide.
  • When, presently, the stars began to glide,
  • And faint away, before my eager view:
  • At which I sigh’d that I could not pursue,
  • And dropt my vision to the horizon’s verge;
  • And lo! from the opening clouds, I saw emerge
  • The loveliest moon, that ever silver’d o’er
  • A shell for Neptune’s goblet: she did soar
  • So passionately bright, my dazzled soul
  • Commingling with her argent spheres did roll
  • Through clear and cloudy, even when she went
  • At last into a dark and vapoury tent —
  • Whereat, methought, the lidless-eyed train
  • Of planets all were in the blue again.
  • To commune with those orbs, once more I rais’d
  • My sight right upward: but it was quite dazed
  • By a bright something, sailing down apace,
  • Making me quickly veil my eyes and face:
  • Again I look’d, and, O ye deities,
  • Who from Olympus watch our destinies!
  • Whence that completed form of all completeness?
  • Whence came that high perfection of all sweetness?
  • Speak, stubborn earth, and tell me where, O where
  • Hast thou a symbol of her golden hair?
  • Not oat-sheaves drooping in the western sun;
  • Not — thy soft hand, fair sister! let me shun
  • Such follying before thee — yet she had,
  • Indeed, locks bright enough to make me mad;
  • And they were simply gordian’d up and braided,
  • Leaving, in naked comeliness, unshaded,
  • Her pearl round ears, white neck, and orbed brow;
  • The which were blended in, I know not how,
  • With such a paradise of lips and eyes,
  • Blush-tinted cheeks, half smiles, and faintest sighs,
  • That, when I think thereon, my spirit clings
  • And plays about its fancy, till the stings
  • Of human neighbourhood envenom all.
  • Unto what awful power shall I call?
  • To what high fane? — Ah! see her hovering feet,
  • More bluely vein’d, more soft, more whitely sweet
  • Than those of sea-born Venus, when she rose
  • From out her cradle shell. The wind out-blows
  • Her scarf into a fluttering pavilion;
  • ’Tis blue, and over-spangled with a million
  • Of little eyes, as though thou wert to shed,
  • Over the darkest, lushest blue-bell bed,
  • Handfuls of daisies.” — “Endymion, how strange!
  • Dream within dream!” — “She took an airy range,
  • And then, towards me, like a very maid,
  • Came blushing, waning, willing, and afraid,
  • And press’d me by the hand: Ah! ’twas too much;
  • Methought I fainted at the charmed touch,
  • Yet held my recollection, even as one
  • Who dives three fathoms where the waters run
  • Gurgling in beds of coral: for anon,
  • I felt upmounted in that region
  • Where falling stars dart their artillery forth,
  • And eagles struggle with the buffeting north
  • That balances the heavy meteor-stone; —
  • Felt too, I was not fearful, nor alone,
  • But lapp’d and lull’d along the dangerous sky.
  • Soon, as it seem’d, we left our journeying high,
  • And straightway into frightful eddies swoop’d;
  • Such as aye muster where grey time has scoop’d
  • Huge dens and caverns in a mountain’s side:
  • There hollow sounds arous’d me, and I sigh’d
  • To faint once more by looking on my bliss —
  • I was distracted; madly did I kiss
  • The wooing arms which held me, and did give
  • My eyes at once to death: but ’twas to live,
  • To take in draughts of life from the gold fount
  • Of kind and passionate looks; to count, and count
  • The moments, by some greedy help that seem’d
  • A second self, that each might be redeem’d
  • And plunder’d of its load of blessedness.
  • Ah, desperate mortal! I ev’n dar’d to press
  • Her very cheek against my crowned lip,
  • And, at that moment, felt my body dip
  • Into a warmer air: a moment more,
  • Our feet were soft in flowers. There was store
  • Of newest joys upon that alp. Sometimes
  • A scent of violets, and blossoming limes,
  • Loiter’d around us; then of honey cells,
  • Made delicate from all white-flower bells;
  • And once, above the edges of our nest,
  • An arch face peep’d, — an Oread as I guess’d.
  • “Why did I dream that sleep o’er-power’d me
  • In midst of all this heaven? Why not see,
  • Far off, the shadows of his pinions dark,
  • And stare them from me? But no, like a spark
  • That needs must die, although its little beam
  • Reflects upon a diamond, my sweet dream
  • Fell into nothing — into stupid sleep.
  • And so it was, until a gentle creep,
  • A careful moving caught my waking ears,
  • And up I started: Ah! my sighs, my tears,
  • My clenched hands; — for lo! the poppies hung
  • Dew-dabbled on their stalks, the ouzel sung
  • A heavy ditty, and the sullen day
  • Had chidden herald Hesperus away,
  • With leaden looks: the solitary breeze
  • Bluster’d, and slept, and its wild self did teaze
  • With wayward melancholy; and I thought,
  • Mark me, Peona! that sometimes it brought
  • Faint fare-thee-wells, and sigh-shrilled adieus! —
  • Away I wander’d — all the pleasant hues
  • Of heaven and earth had faded: deepest shades
  • Were deepest dungeons; heaths and sunny glades
  • Were full of pestilent light; our taintless rills
  • Seem’d sooty, and o’er-spread with upturn’d gills
  • Of dying fish; the vermeil rose had blown
  • In frightful scarlet, and its thorns out-grown
  • Like spiked aloe. If an innocent bird
  • Before my heedless footsteps stirr’d, and stirr’d
  • In little journeys, I beheld in it
  • A disguis’d demon, missioned to knit
  • My soul with under darkness; to entice
  • My stumblings down some monstrous precipice:
  • Therefore I eager followed, and did curse
  • The disappointment. Time, that aged nurse,
  • Rock’d me to patience. Now, thank gentle heaven!
  • These things, with all their comfortings, are given
  • To my down-sunken hours, and with thee,
  • Sweet sister, help to stem the ebbing sea
  • Of weary life.”
  • Thus ended he, and both
  • Sat silent: for the maid was very loth
  • To answer; feeling well that breathed words
  • Would all be lost, unheard, and vain as swords
  • Against the enchased crocodile, or leaps
  • Of grasshoppers against the sun. She weeps,
  • And wonders; struggles to devise some blame;
  • To put on such a look as would say, Shame
  • On this poor weakness! but, for all her strife,
  • She could as soon have crush’d away the life
  • From a sick dove. At length, to break the pause,
  • She said with trembling chance: “Is this the cause?
  • This all? Yet it is strange, and sad, alas!
  • That one who through this middle earth should pass
  • Most like a sojourning demi-god, and leave
  • His name upon the harp-string, should achieve
  • No higher bard than simple maidenhood,
  • Singing alone, and fearfully, — how the blood
  • Left his young cheek; and how he used to stray
  • He knew not where; and how he would say, nay,
  • If any said ’twas love: and yet ’twas love;
  • What could it be but love? How a ring-dove
  • Let fall a sprig of yew tree in his path;
  • And how he died: and then, that love doth scathe
  • The gentle heart, as northern blasts do roses;
  • And then the ballad of his sad life closes
  • With sighs, and an alas! — Endymion!
  • Be rather in the trumpet’s mouth, — anon
  • Among the winds at large — that all may hearken!
  • Although, before the crystal heavens darken,
  • I watch and dote upon the silver lakes
  • Pictur’d in western cloudiness, that takes
  • The semblance of gold rocks and bright gold sands,
  • Islands, and creeks, and amber-fretted strands
  • With horses prancing o’er them, palaces
  • And towers of amethyst, — would I so tease
  • My pleasant days, because I could not mount
  • Into those regions? The Morphean fount
  • Of that fine element that visions, dreams,
  • And fitful whims of sleep are made of, streams
  • Into its airy channels with so subtle,
  • So thin a breathing, not the spider’s shuttle,
  • Circled a million times within the space
  • Of a swallow’s nest-door, could delay a trace,
  • A tinting of its quality: how light
  • Must dreams themselves be; seeing they’re more slight
  • Than the mere nothing that engenders them!
  • Then wherefore sully the entrusted gem
  • Of high and noble life with thoughts so sick?
  • Why pierce high-fronted honour to the quick
  • For nothing but a dream?” Hereat the youth
  • Look’d up: a conflicting of shame and ruth
  • Was in his plaited brow: yet, his eyelids
  • Widened a little, as when Zephyr bids
  • A little breeze to creep between the fans
  • Of careless butterflies: amid his pains
  • He seem’d to taste a drop of manna-dew,
  • Full palatable; and a colour grew
  • Upon his cheek, while thus he lifeful spake.
  • “Peona! ever have I long’d to slake
  • My thirst for the world’s praises: nothing base,
  • No merely slumberous phantasm, could unlace
  • The stubborn canvas for my voyage prepar’d —
  • Though now ’tis tatter’d; leaving my bark bar’d
  • And sullenly drifting: yet my higher hope
  • Is of too wide, too rainbow-large a scope,
  • To fret at myriads of earthly wrecks.
  • Wherein lies happiness? In that which becks
  • Our ready minds to fellowship divine,
  • A fellowship with essence; till we shine,
  • Full alchemiz’d, and free of space. Behold
  • The clear religion of heaven! Fold
  • A rose leaf round thy finger’s taperness,
  • And soothe thy lips: hist, when the airy stress
  • Of music’s kiss impregnates the free winds,
  • And with a sympathetic touch unbinds
  • Eolian magic from their lucid wombs:
  • Then old songs waken from enclouded tombs;
  • Old ditties sigh above their father’s grave;
  • Ghosts of melodious prophecyings rave
  • Round every spot where trod Apollo’s foot;
  • Bronze clarions awake, and faintly bruit,
  • Where long ago a giant battle was;
  • And, from the turf, a lullaby doth pass
  • In every place where infant Orpheus slept.
  • Feel we these things? — that moment have we stept
  • Into a sort of oneness, and our state
  • Is like a floating spirit’s. But there are
  • Richer entanglements, enthralments far
  • More self-destroying, leading, by degrees,
  • To the chief intensity: the crown of these
  • Is made of love and friendship, and sits high
  • Upon the forehead of humanity.
  • All its more ponderous and bulky worth
  • Is friendship, whence there ever issues forth
  • A steady splendour; but at the tip-top,
  • There hangs by unseen film, an orbed drop
  • Of light, and that is love: its influence,
  • Thrown in our eyes, genders a novel sense,
  • At which we start and fret; till in the end,
  • Melting into its radiance, we blend,
  • Mingle, and so become a part of it, —
  • Nor with aught else can our souls interknit
  • So wingedly: when we combine therewith,
  • Life’s self is nourish’d by its proper pith,
  • And we are nurtured like a pelican brood.
  • Aye, so delicious is the unsating food,
  • That men, who might have tower’d in the van
  • Of all the congregated world, to fan
  • And winnow from the coming step of time
  • All chaff of custom, wipe away all slime
  • Left by men-slugs and human serpentry,
  • Have been content to let occasion die,
  • Whilst they did sleep in love’s elysium.
  • And, truly, I would rather be struck dumb,
  • Than speak against this ardent listlessness:
  • For I have ever thought that it might bless
  • The world with benefits unknowingly;
  • As does the nightingale, upperched high,
  • And cloister’d among cool and bunched leaves —
  • She sings but to her love, nor e’er conceives
  • How tiptoe Night holds back her dark-grey hood.
  • Just so may love, although ’tis understood
  • The mere commingling of passionate breath,
  • Produce more than our searching witnesseth:
  • What I know not: but who, of men, can tell
  • That flowers would bloom, or that green fruit would swell
  • To melting pulp, that fish would have bright mail,
  • The earth its dower of river, wood, and vale,
  • The meadows runnels, runnels pebble-stones,
  • The seed its harvest, or the lute its tones,
  • Tones ravishment, or ravishment its sweet,
  • If human souls did never kiss and greet?
  • “Now, if this earthly love has power to make
  • Men’s being mortal, immortal; to shake
  • Ambition from their memories, and brim
  • Their measure of content; what merest whim,
  • Seems all this poor endeavour after fame,
  • To one, who keeps within his stedfast aim
  • A love immortal, an immortal too.
  • Look not so wilder’d; for these things are true,
  • And never can be born of atomies
  • That buzz about our slumbers, like brain-flies,
  • Leaving us fancy-sick. No, no, I’m sure,
  • My restless spirit never could endure
  • To brood so long upon one luxury,
  • Unless it did, though fearfully, espy
  • A hope beyond the shadow of a dream.
  • My sayings will the less obscured seem,
  • When I have told thee how my waking sight
  • Has made me scruple whether that same night
  • Was pass’d in dreaming. Hearken, sweet Peona!
  • Beyond the matron-temple of Latona,
  • Which we should see but for these darkening boughs,
  • Lies a deep hollow, from whose ragged brows
  • Bushes and trees do lean all round athwart,
  • And meet so nearly, that with wings outraught,
  • And spreaded tail, a vulture could not glide
  • Past them, but he must brush on every side.
  • Some moulder’d steps lead into this cool cell,
  • Far as the slabbed margin of a well,
  • Whose patient level peeps its crystal eye
  • Right upward, through the bushes, to the sky.
  • Oft have I brought thee flowers, on their stalks set
  • Like vestal primroses, but dark velvet
  • Edges them round, and they have golden pits:
  • ’Twas there I got them, from the gaps and slits
  • In a mossy stone, that sometimes was my seat,
  • When all above was faint with mid-day heat.
  • And there in strife no burning thoughts to heed,
  • I’d bubble up the water through a reed;
  • So reaching back to boy-hood: make me ships
  • Of moulted feathers, touchwood, alder chips,
  • With leaves stuck in them; and the Neptune be
  • Of their petty ocean. Oftener, heavily,
  • When love-lorn hours had left me less a child,
  • I sat contemplating the figures wild
  • Of o’er-head clouds melting the mirror through.
  • Upon a day, while thus I watch’d, by flew
  • A cloudy Cupid, with his bow and quiver;
  • So plainly character’d, no breeze would shiver
  • The happy chance: so happy, I was fain
  • To follow it upon the open plain,
  • And, therefore, was just going; when, behold!
  • A wonder, fair as any I have told —
  • The same bright face I tasted in my sleep,
  • Smiling in the clear well. My heart did leap
  • Through the cool depth. — It moved as if to flee —
  • I started up, when lo! refreshfully,
  • There came upon my face, in plenteous showers,
  • Dew-drops, and dewy buds, and leaves, and flowers,
  • Wrapping all objects from my smothered sight,
  • Bathing my spirit in a new delight.
  • Aye, such a breathless honey-feel of bliss
  • Alone preserved me from the drear abyss
  • Of death, for the fair form had gone again.
  • Pleasure is oft a visitant; but pain
  • Clings cruelly to us, like the gnawing sloth
  • On the deer’s tender haunches: late, and loth,
  • ’Tis scar’d away by slow returning pleasure.
  • How sickening, how dark the dreadful leisure
  • Of weary days, made deeper exquisite,
  • By a fore-knowledge of unslumbrous night!
  • Like sorrow came upon me, heavier still,
  • Than when I wander’d from the poppy hill:
  • And a whole age of lingering moments crept
  • Sluggishly by, ere more contentment swept
  • Away at once the deadly yellow spleen.
  • Yes, thrice have I this fair enchantment seen;
  • Once more been tortured with renewed life.
  • When last the wintry gusts gave over strife
  • With the conquering sun of spring, and left the skies
  • Warm and serene, but yet with moistened eyes
  • In pity of the shatter’d infant buds, —
  • That time thou didst adorn, with amber studs,
  • My hunting cap, because I laugh’d and smil’d,
  • Chatted with thee, and many days exil’d
  • All torment from my breast; — ’twas even then,
  • Straying about, yet, coop’d up in the den
  • Of helpless discontent, — hurling my lance
  • From place to place, and following at chance,
  • At last, by hap, through some young trees it struck,
  • And, plashing among bedded pebbles, stuck
  • In the middle of a brook, — whose silver ramble
  • Down twenty little falls, through reeds and bramble,
  • Tracing along, it brought me to a cave,
  • Whence it ran brightly forth, and white did lave
  • The nether sides of mossy stones and rock, —
  • ’Mong which it gurgled blythe adieus, to mock
  • Its own sweet grief at parting. Overhead,
  • Hung a lush screen of drooping weeds, and spread
  • Thick, as to curtain up some wood-nymph’s home.
  • `Ah! impious mortal, whither do I roam?’
  • Said I, low voic’d `ah, whither! ’tis the grot
  • Of Proserpine, when hell, obscure and hot,
  • Doth her resign; and where her tender hands
  • She dabbles, on the cool and sluicy sands:
  • Or ’tis the cell of Echo, where she sits,
  • And babbles thorough silence, till her wits
  • Are gone in tender madness, and anon,
  • Faints into sleep, with many a dying tone
  • Of sadness. O that she would take my vows,
  • And breathe them sighingly among the boughs,
  • To sue her gentle ears for whose fair head,
  • Daily, I pluck sweet flowerets from their bed,
  • And weave them dyingly — send honey-whispers
  • Round every leaf, that all those gentle lispers
  • May sigh my love unto her pitying!
  • O charitable Echo! hear, and sing
  • This ditty to her! — tell her’ — so I stay’d
  • My foolish tongue, and listening, half afraid,
  • Stood stupefied with my own empty folly,
  • And blushing for the freaks of melancholy.
  • Salt tears were coming, when I heard my name
  • Most fondly lipp’d, and then these accents came:
  • ’Endymion! the cave is secreter
  • Than the isle of Delos. Echo hence shall stir
  • No sighs but sigh-warm kisses, or light noise
  • Of thy combing hand, the while it travelling cloys
  • And trembles through my labyrinthine hair.’
  • At that oppress’d I hurried in. — Ah! where
  • Are those swift moments? Whither are they fled?
  • I’ll smile no more, Peona; nor will wed
  • Sorrow the way to death; but patiently
  • Bear up against it: so farewel, sad sigh;
  • And come instead demurest meditation,
  • To occupy me wholly, and to fashion
  • My pilgrimage for the world’s dusky brink.
  • No more will I count over, link by link,
  • My chain of grief: no longer strive to find
  • A half-forgetfulness in mountain wind
  • Blustering about my ears: aye, thou shalt see,
  • Dearest of sisters, what my life shall be;
  • What a calm round of hours shall make my days.
  • There is a paly flame of hope that plays
  • Where’er I look: but yet, I’ll say ’tis naught —
  • And here I bid it die. Have not I caught,
  • Already, a more healthy countenance?
  • By this the sun is setting; we may chance
  • Meet some of our near-dwellers with my car.”
  • This said, he rose, faint-smiling like a star
  • Through autumn mists, and took Peona’s hand:
  • They stept into the boat, and launch’d from land.
×

Ode on a Grecian Urn

1.

  • Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, 
  • Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, 
  • Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  • A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 
  • What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape 
  • Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
  • In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
  • What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
  • What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
  • What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

2.

  • Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  • Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
  • Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, 
  • Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
  • Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
  • Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
  • Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
  • Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
  • She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  • For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

3.

  • Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  • Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
  • And, happy melodist, unwearied, 
  • For ever piping songs for ever new; 
  • More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
  • For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, 
  • For ever panting, and for ever young;
  • All breathing human passion far above, 
  • That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
  • A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 

4.

  • Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  • To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
  • Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  • And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed? 
  • What little town by river or sea shore, 
  • Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
  • Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 
  • And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
  • Will silent be; and not a soul to tell 
  • Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

5.

  • O Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede 
  • Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
  • With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  • Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought 
  • As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral! 
  • When old age shall this generation waste, 
  • Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  • Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, 
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all 
  • Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

[Text based on the published version in Keats’s 1820 collection.]

× Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Blank, G. Kim. “Keats’s Poetic Development: Some Key Factors & Keats’s Greater Conversation.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.17 , University of Victoria, 28 April 2022. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1821-02-28.html.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “Keats’s Poetic Development: Some Key Factors & Keats’s Greater Conversation,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.17 , last modified 28th April 2022. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1821-02-28.html.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “Keats’s Poetic Development: Some Key Factors & Keats’s Greater Conversation.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.17 , last modified 28th April 2022. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1821-02-28.html.